Can you forgive and forget?
We do not always behave or conduct ourselves as we should and there are certain times when we wish we had not spoken, or acted, as we did. Sometimes, we have to accept that our relationship with someone has been broken. However, later there often comes a time when we might wish to try to make amends. But what happens when the other person says it is too late or that they are no longer interested?
A case study
John is a 75-year-old client of mine. He had been married twice and his second wife had died just a year ago. John was referred to me by his doctor because he was feeling depressed and lonely. He now recognises that many years ago, he made his children's step-mother his priority over his two young sons, Richard and Michael. Now, after being retired for some months, he is a lonely man, and would desperately like to spend some of his time with his two children. Richard, his eldest son, has accepted that his father could have made him a greater priority over his step-mother but has learned to be somewhat philosophical about this and is now more than happy to develop an affectionate relationship with him.
However, Michael, the younger son, who is unmarried and works in the City of London, has a different attitude. John has telephoned him to see if they can meet for lunch, but Michael is always too busy! His predominate attitude is to not see or speak to his father whom he blames for his anger towards him, and in a type of delayed retaliation, is determined not to give his father the pleasure of any interaction. However, this is not a conscious position but something that comes from deep within himself. He is acutely aware that his behaviour causes his father pain, but he just cannot forget his own anger and unhappiness from his own childhood.
Why is it that Richard can let go off the past whilst Michael holds onto his feelings of resentment and anger?
Michael finds it very difficult to speak about the situation and will not even discuss the subject. If he were to go to a therapist, it would almost certainly help him to recognise the cause of his feelings and to enable him to ‘move on'. It might also assist him to ‘let go' of the image of how he would have liked his father to have been during his childhood years.
But the challenge now is to encourage Michael to see the importance of living in the present and not in the past. Everyone makes errors of judgement and errors of priorities as to what, or whom, is most important. If we stay deeply entrenched with our feelings of anger and resentment, it can not only destroy the happiness of the object of our resentment, but can also destroy us.
Seeking help through a mediation service can provide the ideal opportunity to share thoughts and feelings with the aim of gaining some closure on the past; accepting it and moving on.
The challenge in this case is to encourage father and son to come together and take that first step towards understanding the importance of bringing the past into the open and recognising the cause(s) of the deeply held resentment.
Forgive and forget
Despite the familiar cliché ‘forgive and forget', most of us find that to forget the past is nearly impossible. But forgiveness does not involve erasing the past. Forgiveness involves selective remembering. The chances are that the forgiver will still remember the painful aspects but without the hurtful feelings that used to accompany it.
It is also the case that forgiveness can bring benefits to the person who gives that gift. If you can bring yourself to forgive and forget, it can bring about both physical and mental benefits as you feel the anger, bitterness and resentment slipping away. Negative emotions that can accompany a failure to forgive are invariably harmful over a period, and the longer that period, the greater the risk of damage to your health.
This is not necessarily an easy road but one that is certainly worth taking.
The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London.
- Resentment can damage your health
- Anger can be dissipated with help
- Life is too short for long argument