My dear and talented friend, Pam Benson-Owens, wrote a post on Facebook today about authentic “okayness,” (Yes, she acknowledged that wasn’t a real word.) that had strong nuggets of wisdom in it and a useful list of things that are not okay.
The one that caught my attention, as is often the case when I know it applies to me, was this:
“Tell someone you’ve forgiven them but remind them that you won’t forget. (If that is the case, just go on and keep your forgiveness.)”
How many times have you done this? I know I am guilty of it.
As I thought it through, it occurred to me that as a child of divorce and family instability, I have noticed a few things in my personality that I think are magnified due to those experiences. The first is a sense of chronological history and a narrative that flows through my memories from childhood until now. I have a very well-developed memory and I think it may be partly due to genetics, but it is magnified by the survival instinct that human beings have that turns past actions and behaviors into a predictive pattern.
Think about it: If your family is somewhat unpredictable, it would be a great skill to be able to observe past actions, discern a pattern, and then use it to predict and avoid conflicts of many kinds.
The downside of this, of course, is that you have devoted much energy and brain capacity into forming those memories and they persist even after the danger or uncertainty of that situation is past.
The second is a wariness and lack of trust that people who love me must often surmount. The most notable case in my life was my husband, who gently lowered my barriers to commitment and true intimacy with a steady wave of love, encouragement, and commitment. I have never experienced anything quite like it, and he still teases me that he will be reassuring me that he is “here for a lifetime” when we are celebrating fifty or more years of marriage! I do count on his teasing me about it even then.
What do we do to forget, when we have decided to forgive?
I don’t know an easy answer to that question, but suspect it ties back to the only action I have ever seen humans take that is effective in changing behavior.
We choose to turn that memory aside, to rob it of its emotional resonance, and then consistently choose to think about the present, the good things people have done (There are nearly always some you can think of!), and the forgiveness we have given.
It won’t be easy; it won’t be immediate, and like any other choice-based program, it will depend completely on your commitment to doing it, day after day, year after year, until at some point, you won’t even have to think about it.
It’s a New Year. Join me in trying a “forgiving and then forgetting” program? We really have nothing to lose other than a negative memory that will lose its power over us if we allow it. As a bonus, we can be role models for our children, partners, friends, and even those we have forgiven.
Happy New Year – make it a great one!