Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?

Recently, Diana Abu Jaber, author, asked "Is there someone you haven't forgiven? Are you going to?" in her Facebook status.

I started to answer this question in the comments section a couple of times, but my answer was just way too long. It seems like the answer should be short. Either yes or no and if the first was no, either yes or no for the second, but instead these two simple questions really made me think.

Forgiveness is a tricky thing. Often we think we've forgiven only to realize we haven't. Sometimes we forgive someone but allow them to continue to mistreat us. Other times we think we haven't forgiven someone when in reality we have let the transgression go while refusing to allow the transgressor to hurt us again.

Over the years I have come to realize that forgiving doesn't need to mean forgetting. Forgiveness is always more about the forgiver than the forgivee. I learned that I could remember a hurt or a lesson learned from a betrayal. I embraced the idea that forgiving someone didn't mean inviting them back into my life to hurt me all over again. It took some hard hits and some life-changing betrayals for me to come to this realization.

I thought about Diana's question for quite a while. I have forgiven the worst betrayal I ever experienced. I have no desire to ever see, talk to , or know about the betrayer again, but I have forgiven the betrayal in the sense that I no longer let it dominate my life. Yet, I ask myself if I've forgiven the person. I think I have, but I'm a self-preservationist. Being near said person again would be inviting pain and heartache into my life. I'm not willing to do that. I have forgiven but not forgotten.

As I thought about Diana's questions, Mary Chapin Carpenter's line "Forgiveness doesn't come with a debt" from the song, I Take My Chances, popped into my head and decided to stick around. But is that true? Is forgiveness debt free? If I hurt you and you forgive me, am I really off the hook completely? Don't I owe you something - an apology at the very least... You'll likely get it even if you don't think it's necessary. In 2010, I blogged about apologizing to someone 19/20 years after hurting him. In the end, the person in question told me the apology was unnecessary, but I could never have lived with myself if I hadn't apologized. It was an apology I owed. It was a debt. And, I'm glad I apologized. Yet, I have to admit, I have forgiven people where I don't feel I'm owed an apology and other people whose apology I wouldn't believe if offered.

I like to think I live from a place of love. Forgiveness is a large part of living from a place of love. One can't live from a place of love with a lack of forgiveness in one's heart. So I tend to let things go. Bitterness, resentment, and anger do me more damage than the person I feel them toward. A betrayal or bad act may end our relationship, but if I hang on to the pain, I'm the one who has to carry the weight of that around. When someone hurts me, I express it somehow - whether to the person, via poem, in a letter (sent or not), in my fiction, or whatever - and then I release the negativity from it. I focus on finding the life lesson that will help me be a better person, but I don't dwell on pain, anger, or hatred. Yet, there's a part of me that questions whether I'm as successful at this as I think.

Holding a grudge just feels like renting space in my life, or at least my thoughts, to someone who doesn't deserve it. I have no desire to do that. There can be a fine line between letting a grudge go and inviting a pattern to continue. I must admit I've been guilty of inviting, even welcoming, negative and/or hurtful patterns of behavior into my life in the hopes the outcome would somehow be different. It rarely happens. So I'm working on forgiving without inviting people to perpetuate hurtful patterns in my life.

I can't promise I will ever both forgive and forget because I find forgetting dangerous. In the end, forgiving makes sense if for no other reason than it releases the forgiver and holding a grudge rarely affects the betrayer at all. Remembering helps us to break hurtful patterns and move forward with the life we're meant to live. I remember the good and the bad, so I can find the way to being the best me I can be.

Thinking about it now, I realize many of the poems in all three of my books of poetry and my novel all somehow touch on forgiveness as well as forgetting. Because I write so much about interpersonal relationships, hurts and betrayals often figure into my work drive home the idea of forgiveness from both the side of the forgiver and the forgivee. To check them out, visit my Amazon Author's Page or my website,


  1. Hi TL Cooper,

    I like your site, you have some interesting posts. My site My Perfect Pitch compliments yours, consisting of interesting articles from a published author, plus a free resource of over 1000 traditional book publishers currently accepting submissions - the largest on the web. Keep up the good work.

    Regards, Brian


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