"Forgive and forget." What weight does this everyday phrase hold? What do forgiveness and forgetting really mean?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the number one definition for forgiveness is to “stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake." And to forget is to: “fail to remember."
But these aren't static, objective words. They are words that require action, and they are subjective to the beholder. In my eyes, I was moved by the idea that forgiving includes the action of recognizing and accepting certain emotions; therefore, this suggests a direct correlation to being able to “forget." To play devil's advocate, when not connected to a memory or person, emotions, over time, will fade — possibly giving the illusion of forgiveness, without direct or conscious intention.
In my case, finding and understanding the correlation became extremely subjective to the end of a relationship I was analyzing. In my 24 years, I've never felt the need to hold a grudge. I always forgave, and forgetting came naturally. I was struggling to understand why in the present, I was unable to forgive or forget my most recent breakup.
To better comprehend it, I spoke with four relationship experts on their experiences with the forgiving and forgetting dilemma and discovered three common themes – acceptance, rumination, and boundaries. Along with grasping the correlation of forgiving and forgetting, I understood why I hadn't been able to accept either word this time around and in this, I found acceptance, which helped me let go of lingering resentment and enabled me to set new boundaries for future relationships.
“Forgetting the past can seem helpful in the process of healing, but can also be harmful for your future," warns LMSW, sex and relationships therapist Carli Blau. Ideally, if you want to grow after a failed relationship, you're going to need to address what caused the breakup, as well as the emotions surrounding it — no matter how painful it is. This is your first forward movement in the stage of acceptance, and a period that LMHC, relationship counselor and dating coach, Samantha Burns recognizes as self-forgiveness.
"Acceptance means you have forgiven yourself for losing your sense of self in the relationship, for not liking or loving yourself, for losing your values, for compromising too much, for being overly naïve or trusting, for ignoring your inner voice or suspicions, for your role in the relationship dissatisfaction, for tolerating excuses, for blaming yourself, and for feeling as though you're not enough."
Thus, there are two parts to acceptance: coming to terms with the situation, and coming to terms with your feelings around the situation. “In forgiving someone else, it actually has nothing to do with someone else and their actions, but we're essentially giving ourselves permission to stop feeling negative emotions within ourselves as a result of the situation," explains Blau.
Love and relationship coach Sarika Jain shares her personal experience of realizing this form of acceptance, saying, "On a spiritual level, I had to 'learn my lesson' and release the psychic cord I had with this man – and other past lovers (whom I thought I had 'forgotten') – to magnetize the partnership I truly deserved. Coming to this acceptance was a huge part of forgiveness and letting go."
Essentially, acceptance is your personal form of forgiveness. If you can't offer self-forgiveness, then you won't be able to offer forgiveness to others, which will result in resentment and hinder your ability to move forward.
Rumination & Resentment
“Resentments keep memories alive," explains licensed psychologist Dr. Lauren Hazzouri. This enlightening theory supports the emotional correlation between forgiving and forgetting as when one is trying to forgive — yet can't forget the feelings of love that were once there, and now anger or hurt has replaced that love — “The rumination that comes with resentment keeps reinforcing the memory from the past in present day," says Dr. Hazzouri. “The rumination makes it hard to forget." Samantha Burns further expands on why forgetting love is so difficult, stating: “Being in love activates the same brain regions as those used in drug and alcohol addiction. So when you break up with someone, it's as though your brain and body are going through a withdrawal."
For anyone who's experienced a breakup, they have probably experienced a “relapse," where behavior like texting, calling or sleeping with your ex only draws out the addiction. Burns connects this “relapse" period to the rumination that Dr. Hazzouri depicts as the culprit that makes actively forgetting a seemingly impossible task. "During this process, your ex is constantly on your mind, where it feels like every minute or hour, you're ruminating and obsessing about the relationship and why it didn't work out. This certainly makes it challenging to forget."
So, how can one simply avoid ruminating or stewing in anger? Through the aforementioned acceptance that forgiveness allows. Since resentment is a paralyzing emotion, it is through harboring this emotion that will hinder forgetting — thus we must forgive first. Sarika Jain quotes Ken Wilber's, The Theory Behind Forgiveness, stating, "The primal emotion of the ego, according to this teaching is fear followed by resentment. As the Upanishads put it, 'Wherever there is other, there is fear.' In other words, whenever we split seamless awareness into a subject versus an object, into a self versus an other, then that self feels fear, simply because there are now so many 'others' out there that can harm it. Out of this fear grows resentment."
Jain efficiently concludes, “The reality is, unless we don't learn what we need to from any breakup, we begin to grow a layer of resentment, fear, regret, anger in our hearts – energetically known as the 'heart wall'."
In order to break a cycle similar to inward acceptance, you need to set physical and emotional boundaries — in order for them not to be crossed in the future. Maybe the relationship got to a point where you disliked yourself, maybe you gave into compromising, maybe you knew in your heart it wasn't going to work but let it continue because the love was too good in the moment.
Dr Hazzouri explains the situation, saying, "Healthy people attach to healthy others and when they mistake a sickie for a wellie, they set boundaries and move on. Others of us with unhealthy attachment, dismiss red flags, hang on, hold on, and mistake others' abusive behaviors as a sign of our own worth or value." Regardless of the trigger, you need to set boundaries so when these red flags or deal breakers appear in the relationship, you know how to address it before letting it get any further.
"Setting boundaries is a part of the forgiveness process. As a part of forgiving in a healthy way, you can't forget the boundaries that were crossed. If we forget the fact that a boundary was crossed, then we're removing our responsibility to uphold our boundaries for ourselves," says Blau. As a part of setting emotional boundaries for the future, physical boundaries can be set up for the present — while you're on the path of forgiveness. Samantha Burns explains, "You can begin the healing process and dwell less on your ex when you set up healthy boundaries by creating an ex-free environment and removing triggers (people, places or things) from your surroundings." It may seem extreme, but in order for some people to heal, this may be required.
Dr. Hazzouri reinforces that “Taking responsibility is responding, not reacting, to people and situations. Responding is setting appropriate boundaries, inviting in healthy others, and walking away when the other person is a distraction from all that we are."
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.