Personal Growth

How to Forgive When You Can’t (or Shouldn’t) Forget

January 12, 2016

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When someone we love hurts us, we often get pretty paradoxical advice about what to do next:

“Forgive and forget!”


“Learn from the past.”

Can we do both?

No matter how good our intentions, we can pretty much guarantee that at some point or another, we’ll hurt someone close to us.

We’ll feel hurt by those we trust and love, too.

Things get tricky when you feel like you’ve been wronged and you’re not ready or willing to forget about it. As a conscious, loving, and growth-minded person, you know you should forgive and move on to a more positive place.

But sometimes that whole “forgive and forget” thing doesn’t quite add up. What if there’s a pattern of hurtful behavior? Or “wiping the slate clean” isn’t the wisest or safest path for you in a relationship?

How can you embrace forgiveness and still take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, financially, and physically?

In this MarieTV, I answer a question from Lindsey, who asks about something many people struggle with: “Do you have any suggestions about how to forgive without forgetting?”

Keep reading after the video for more advice, including four ways to open your heart and move toward forgiveness.

Why Forgiveness Matters

“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” ~ Nelson Mandela

First, let’s set the record straight: Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you condone their behavior.

Forgiveness definitely doesn’t mean tolerating further abuse or lack of respect. When you forgive someone, you might not instantly –– or ever –– fully trust them again.

Even if you fully forgive someone, you don’t have to keep them in your life.

Forgiveness isn’t something you do for the person who wronged you. It’s something you do for yourself.

Studies actually indicate that forgiveness helps improve our physical and mental health.

But even when you know it’s good for you, it can be hard to forgive when you’re reeling in the emotional pain caused by someone you thought you could trust.

Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s vital to our spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

Forgiveness is a skill you can build. It starts with letting go of resentment, so you can move on with your life and be the person you want to be.

Letting Go of Resentment

Want to reach your full potential in life? Then you’ll need to learn how to release resentment and let go of grudges.

Harboring resentment means you’re putting up walls against others. Put up enough walls and your life will get smaller and smaller. You’ll be constantly bumping into the fear and bitterness you’re hanging onto from things that happened to you in the past. No thanks!

When you forgive others, you tear down these emotional walls and mental barriers. Forgiveness is the path out of hurt so that you can live and love fully again.

It’s easier to forgive another person when you remember that we’re all human. We all make mistakes.

Can you think of a time when you let another person down? Even when I’m trying my best, I can disappoint the people I love most. There are other times I’ve realized I messed up big time and I practically begged for forgiveness.

None of us is perfect.

We all need to give and receive forgiveness to maintain the relationships we cherish.

When someone you love hurts you, forgiveness is the path to repairing your relationship –– or to healing yourself if it’s time to let them go.

When you cling to resentment instead of opening up to forgiveness, you can be eaten up inside by pain, anger, and the fear of being hurt again. This holds you back from loving new people and exploring more of your potential.

Replace resentment with forgiveness and you just might find deeper love within a relationship, more peace with your decisions, or greater freedom in your soul.

How to Forgive When You Can’t Forget

“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else: You are the one who gets burned.” ~ Buddha

When I think forgiving someone is going to be impossible, I take inspiration from some unbelievably courageous acts of forgiveness throughout history.

Louis Zamperini, a World War II veteran who was tortured in a Japanese prison camp, had nightmares for years after the war. When he committed to forgiving his captors, his nightmares stopped. He even visited some of the former guards and imprisoned war criminals to tell them he’d forgiven them.

Scarlett Lewis’s 6-year-old son, Jesse, was killed in 2012 during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. She chose forgiveness as part of her healing journey, seeking compassion for the shooter and his mother. She said forgiveness let her drop the weight of anger and “regain her personal power.”

Two days after the horrific murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, families of those lost appeared in court for the killer’s bond hearing. Stunningly, many of them stepped up to the mic to express forgiveness for the man who’d murdered their loved ones in a hate crime.

None of these people condoned the horrible things that happened to them or their loved ones. They’ll never forget the pain and loss.

But they found the strength to forgive, so they could release the burden of anger and hate.

When you forgive, you give yourself a gift. The gift of mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom.

When you’re ready to give yourself the gift of forgiveness, the four heart-centered steps below will help.

4 Heart-Centered Steps to Forgiveness

If you’re struggling with resentment or anger and ready to forgive someone who’s hurt or betrayed you, you’re not alone. This is hard stuff.

Lead with your heart, and give yourself time. You may not be able to forgive right away, but every day a small step is progress toward freeing yourself from resentment.

When someone has wronged you, follow these four heart-centered steps to forgiveness.

1. Ask Yourself These 2 Questions

When I find myself harboring anger or pain, I check myself by asking these simple questions:

  • What would love do? When I reframe my situation this way, I can make choices informed from a compassionate and loving place, instead of one of hurt.
  • Will what I’m doing or thinking bring happiness? If your mindset or actions won’t bring happiness for you or those around you, allow yourself to change them.

2. Forgive Yourself First

When we get hurt, our first instinct is often to blame ourselves with thoughts like, How could I have been so naive?

This is not your fault. Release your self-blaming thoughts. Tell yourself, I forgive you, and embrace this as an opportunity to strengthen your soul.

Anytime I’ve been burned, I ask myself, How can I grow from this? What can I learn?

3. Repeat This Forgiveness Mantra

Remember: Forgiveness isn’t easy. So before I ask you to take the final step, I offer you this moment to summon the strength you need.

Say this mantra or prayer to yourself, God, the universe, smurf fairies, or whatever suits you:

While I don’t know how, I’m willing to forgive. Please, show me the way.

4. Forgive the Other Person

I know, this is easier said than done. You might find any number of approaches to forgiveness helpful — spiritual, faith-based, or psychological.

Whatever works for you, what I’ve seen to be the most important factor in any approach is willingness.

Shifting your energy slightly from “I can’t” to “I’m willing” can radically change your ability to move forward.

Forgiveness Takes Practice

Here’s something important I want you to take away:

Forgiveness isn’t a weakness. It’s the ultimate sign of courage and strength.

I’m aware that you may be facing damage from unspeakable events or transgressions. Forgiveness is an enormous task and a virtue most of us spend our entire lives trying to embody. It may seem outside of your capacity right now.

That’s okay.

Like building your muscles, skills, and endurance through running, cycling, swimming, yoga, dance, you can build the strength to forgive over time.

Now, let’s turn this insight into action.

Grab a notebook, and spend five to ten minutes writing your answers to these questions:

  1. Who or what are you currently struggling to forgive? Write down anything you’re holding onto, whether it happened yesterday or years ago.
  2. What blame are you putting on yourself that you can forgive?
  3. What would it feel like to let go of the pain or resentment you’re harboring for the other person? Describe the pain — an anchor, a chain, a cage, etc. — and how you would cut it loose.

The only way we’ll soothe pain, for ourselves and others, is by staying open and willing to the miracle of healing.

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