Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Forgive, Forget and Let Go

Forgiveness is one of those concepts that most people have difficulty grasping. While we all have a mental image of what forgiveness "should" look like when others forgive us, knowing how to forgive ourselves or someone else isn't as easy to understand.

When someone else causes us emotional harm, whether unintentional or intentional, learning to let go of this pain can be one of the most difficult transitions we go through. Social workers in the prison system work with families on the process of forgiveness to help ease the transition between incarceration and life on the outside. Similar to restorative justice programs which involve the victim of a crime and the offender, these prison programs seek to develop an understanding of the offenders act(s) and come to terms with the eventual return to society.

The families involved tend to view forgiveness as an admission that the past is completely forgotten and life can return to normal as if nothing happened. As you can imagine, this effort at denying the behavior has a negative effect.

Carrying emotional pain, anger, anxiety, and other distressing thoughts about a situation or someone often is easier for us than beginning the forgiveness process. Cognitive-behavioral therapists often stress positive thoughts since it can be easier to invest more time in negative thoughts and redirect energy toward positive change. The more we concentrate our emotional energy on carrying a grudge and not forgiving someone, the more likely we are to become anxious, depressed and negative about the general situation.

Since it is often easy to think of forgiveness in terms of forgetting, we need to examine how we forget. Human memory does not work like computer memory. There is no way to reformat the past. Instead, we look at situations through different lenses. Psychologists often refer to these lenses as perspective. Reality of our situation is how we view it at the time that the impression or memory was formed.

Forgetting a past hurt refers to relearning the circumstances surround the situation, reprocess it through a fresh perspective, and move toward forgiveness. When we look at the outcome of what happened, we can either become bitter and angry or view the end result as an opportunity for personal growth and change.

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