MAXINE HARLEY: Forgive but not forget?

We’re often advised that forgiving the wrong doing of others lightens our own emotional burden, and shifts our energy from anger and blame into understanding and compassion.

What if this ‘turning the other cheek’ way of responding is just naïve, passive and even unhelpful to the other person’s personal awareness and insight.

What would they do with that other cheek if they haven’t yet realised the impact of their earlier behaviour and felt genuine shame and remorse, and tried their best to make it right?

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month – a very emotive subject at any time of the year.

Are we saying that something as devastating as child abuse should be forgiven and forgotten?

Maybe what happened can’t be forgotten by the victim because it resulted in emotional and physical scars, in the loss of innocence, and a childhood changed by the unrestrained desires of an underdeveloped mind.

Forgiveness is a matter of choice. It’s important not to be pushed or cajoled – or guilt-tripped by family or religion - into premature forgiveness. We must live with our own decisions so they must surely be of our own making.

Forgiveness doesn’t take away the other person’s responsibility for what happened. Instead it’s a statement of emotional detachment from the impact of it – but only if and when the time feels right for us to forgive.

A good place to start to exercise forgiveness is to:

:: Forgive the minor slips ups that you and others make - when it’s not a big deal.

:: Forgive yourself for anything you’ve done that harmed you. You had your reasons, although they might not have been clear to you at the time.

:: Forgive people who genuinely didn’t know any better, and couldn’t reasonably have been expected to behave differently due to their family conditioning or mental ill-health.

Forgiveness doesn’t always have to involve forgetting. Remembering an event can help us to filter out what and whom we’ll allow into our lives in future.

We become empowered when we choose not to allow prior wrong doing of others to shape our adult character, personality and future growth.

Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)

Maxine Harley has a masters degree in psychotherapy, has written two books, and created four new approaches to psychological, emotional and physical well-being. She lives happily in Chichester with her daughter and grandson.