We all know we’re supposed to “forgive and forget” in order to move on from past hurts and get the most out of life. But of course, that’s often easier said than done, and it can even be confusing. Does forgiving mean being a doormat and letting people hurt us? Does forgetting mean we don’t get wiser with experience? Why forgive?
Navigating hurt isn’t easy. But it can be helpful to remind ourselves that forgiving isn’t really for the person who has hurt you – it’s for you. By no means should you “forget” the experience, because that’s just foolish. But forgiveness is empowering because it allows you to move on and not let the person who hurt you continue to have a hold over your thoughts and feelings – after all, that experience is in the past and no longer exists. That’s the forgetting part – you learn from your mistake (or theirs), but you forget the anger or sadness or whatever other negative emotion is associated with that experience. Life is hard; it is unfair; it is uncertain. Loving yourself enough to forgive, forget and move on is a healthy thing, because it’s an indication that you are embracing the present moment as it actually exists, rather than dwelling on things that no longer have any bearing on who you are at this moment.
This doesn’t mean we stick around for more abuse or act like doormats. It’s smart, and necessary, to move on from people and situations that have caused you harm. But you shouldn’t beat yourself up about these things, either, by continuing to think about them. Many of us are trapped by “ghosts” of the past. Sometimes letting go can feel like a loss of control or power. Letting go and moving on can even feel like insult added to the injury – as if to diminish or deny the validity and intensity of your own feelings (“if I let it go, were my feelings about it worth nothing?”). It can become a vicious loop.
I believe there’s a very simple way out of that cycle of hurt:
Love your past, but don’t live it.
Love your mistakes, your bad judgment calls, your feelings, your thoughts – all of it. Accept that it was all necessary to get you to this point. And then forgive yourself. You can love the “old you” who experienced that painful situation without continuing to live it. Moving on doesn’t mean that experience was invalid or you were necessarily wrong to act or feel the way you did. It’s who you were and what you were capable of at that time. But now you’re different – now you’re in this moment. So cut yourself some slack – love yourself for screwing up, feeling what you felt, and so on.
That was then, this is now – love your past, but don’t relive it. You have new, better memories (and mistakes) to make, so get to it!