"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."
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With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.