What 4 Relationship Experts Taught Me About Forgiving And Forgetting

6 Min Read

"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 to 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 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."

4 Min Read

Tips To Help Women Move Beyond #OKBoomer at Work

When I first heard #OKBoomer, I cringed and thought — here we go again.

Yet another round of generation bashing, this time Millennials against Baby Boomers. This new social media conflict will not help workplace dynamics.

Throughout my career, I've heard countless rants about long-established workplace norms that younger generations perceive as overly repressive rules that subvert identity, familial obligations, civility, and respect for the environment.

I get it. I remember how I felt early in my career being told that I couldn't wear pants, had to wear pantyhose (even in 90-degree weather) and that I wasn't allowed to speak to executives. Seriously?

Gen X here to the rescue.

Sandwiched between the much larger Baby Boomer and Millennial generations, Gen Xers are often overlooked. Please allow me to build a bridge to the opportunity ahead.

For me, the generation challenge is a communications opportunity. And the stakes are high, because we spend about 70% of our day communicating. Within that timeframe, we spend about 45% listening, 30% speaking, 16% reading, and 9% writing.

By 2030, most Baby Boomers will have retired, and approximately 75% of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials. That gives us about a decade to continue working together to create a work environment that is better for women, people of color, and the younger generations.

As a multigenerational workplace scholar, I'm often asked, what is a generation, and why do they matter?

Karl Mannheim, the founder of sociology, concluded that key historical events significantly impact people during their youth. Essentially, when you were born and what was happening where you lived during your formative childhood years, help define what is important to you and help set your value system.

Think of it this way, if the games you played growing up allowed you to advance to the next level regardless of if it took one attempt or fifty, you might have a different perspective on what mastering a task looks like than someone who didn't.

If technology has almost always allowed you to be more efficient, you may seek to perform a job as quickly as possible, so that you are being productive, not because you are looking for a short cut.

If the answer to any question was always a Google search away, you might get frustrated when your questions go unanswered and are told to figure it out.

These examples begin to explain why Baby Boomers and Millennials value different things. However, there are always going to be outliers. I study generational-related values, because they frame how we show up and what we expect when we come to work.

In my recent study of 1,400 Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z women, I examined strategies for communicating. I was particularly interested in interpersonal communications — the process by which people exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal and non-verbal messages. It turns about that the most essential characteristics by generation were active listening (paying attention to others), collaboration (teamwork), and empathy (showing understanding for others).

Baby Boomers believe they are best at "paying attention to others."

Given our hectic schedules at work, you may be tempted to multitask while speaking or try to get by gleaning the gist of a conversation in a conference call while working on a report at the same time. But this isn't deeply effective. Active listening is crucial because being highly engaged in a conversation helps everyone involved have clarity and alignment on exchange. It also helps build rapport and trust between participants.

Some practical ways to demonstrate active listening include:

  • Asking specific questions or paraphrasing what you've heard
  • Using non-verbal cues such as making eye contact and not looking at your device
  • Maintain body language that shows you are interested and the speaker has your full attention

Gen X believes they are best at "working with others."

Lots of us have heard the expression, "There's no 'I' in a team." Teams that collaborate well have a better chance for sustained and repeatable success.

Effective ways to demonstrate collaboration are:

  • Establishing clear goals and expectations for the team
  • Being accountable for the team and yourself
  • Providing and being open to feedback

Both Millennials and Gen Z believe they are most effective at "showing understanding for others."

The workplace is more diverse than ever before. Some organizations may have a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer, Millennial, and a Gen Zer, all working alongside each other. By showing empathy, we can demonstrate that we appreciate and respect each other's perspectives and are open to understanding how they feel about a situation, idea, or concept.

Effective ways to demonstrate empathy are:

  • Listening without judging or forming an opinion
  • Being slow to criticize
  • Acknowledging the other person's feelings as valid for them

So, instead of dismissing a generation with a hashtag, let try to open a dialogue. For example, next time you are working a Baby Boomers demonstrate that you are actively listening to what they are saying. Try sending a summary email about your deliverables on an assignment Gen Xers to highlight your collaborative skills. And take time to let Millennials and Gen Z know that you appreciate and understand their point of view.

If you'd like to hear more on this subject, you can listen to my recent Ted Talk here: