Forgetting the Past

I get perplexed when I hear someone say, “Forget the past,” or “In order to forgive you have to forget.”  I can see if these phrases were used as metaphors but in most insistences, they are not.  Truth is, some folks take it literally, as if we as human beings can willfully forget a memory.   Can we?

Sometimes our minds will voluntarily remove memories without any conscious effort on our part.  And it seems our brain is not biased on which memories it chooses to retain (pleasant or unpleasant memories).  I’m talking from personal experience.  Wouldn’t it be nice, though if we could just delete or transfer unnecessary data, especially recollections that contain wounding memories?  I wonder if it would make us better off as human beings or worse off.

Remembering a bad memory could benefit us, right?  Example, my son burnt himself on the oven stovetop.  I warned him previously, probably several times over the years about touching the top of the stove.  For whatever reason, he touched it and as a result burnt his hand.  In this scenario, we have a human being and an object.  Seems silly to ask my son to just forget the incident and forgive the stove.  I’m sure initially, this was a bad memory; he was hurt and he cried.  However, in this case, I want my son to remember so the next time he is near the stove, he will be more cautious.  He now has had an experience with the stove and has felt the result of his actions after touching the stove.  This memory will hopefully keep him safer in the future.

Stoves are different than humans.  It wasn’t the stoves intent to burn my little boy.  Part of its job is to heat up and cook food so it was doing what it was designed to do.  My son’s burnt hand healed in a couple days and there was no scar.  While my son’s actions caused this temporary wound, he probably forgot the incident itself but kept the memory of the consequence.

What if someone was burnt from head to toe by an incident that was not caused by their own actions, but by someone else’s?  Would the memory fade away as easily for this burning victim as it did for my son?  I would think that this person would be reminded often of the incident.  Would it be fair to tell this person to just forget it?  What about the wife who was abused for years by her husband or the parent who lost their child or relinquished their infant, or the kid who was physically, sexually or emotionally abused?  It’s human nature to remember.

I don’t buy into the “forgive and forget theory.”  Here is why.

If anyone has adopted an animal that was abused, then you understand the ramifications of how a bad memory can have everlasting effects.  Like the animal, we may also flinch when someone raises their hand, or run and hide in our bedroom behind locked doors to avoid verbal or physical abuse by the perpetrator.  Do we believe that we can just tell the animal to forget the past?  Do we believe that just stating this one line sentence has the power (if we so choose) to eradicate a bad memory of an upsetting experience?

When a parent or an authoritative figure bullies a child, the child’s voice and feelings are suppressed because they fear the repercussions of defending themselves.  The abused child is unable to grieve and therefore is unable to heal.  As that same child moves into adulthood, they may carry some effects of the “abused child” with them.  As an adult, they finally have their voice and are now capable of defending themselves but more importantly, healing themselves.

Truth is some memories just last longer like the ones that cause a wound of the heart.  Damaging or critical words barked at us can remain etched deep in our brain like a leech unwilling to loosen its hold.  As much as we would like nothing better to forget the memory long after we are free from the situation or the people who helped create those painful incidents, we still carry those memories with us, like it or not.

I am not endorsing hate or revenge but what I am saying is that we should not use a blanket policy for the “forgive and forget theory.”  It is a little more complex than that.  Otherwise, we are making light of a situation that may need some serious treatment or intervention.

We have seen tried and true results in support groups helping people with common issues to heal from their past and/or unhealthy habits.  Who better to understand you than a person who has had a similar experience?  Support groups understand that it’s okay to feel denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.  These like minds do not tell their fellow comrades to forget the past or make someone feel trivial for feeling as they do.  Support groups allow each individual to speak about their struggle and they listen with empathy.  They come together communally so each person understands that they are not alone.  In due course, they allow each individual to evolve from a place of lack to a place of abundance.

Telling someone to forget a memory or incident is like telling someone to ignore the problem.  If you ignore a serious flesh wound, you risk having more serious complications.  It could become infected, or gangrene could set in, or a number of other conditions. Unlike a computer brain, we cannot reprogram our mind; take it back to manufacture’s settings, or wipe the memory clean.  In order to heal our mind’s memory, we have to actually remember the incident, the people, the words, and the actions until all those things have no power over us any longer.  Once we have reclaimed our power and we can remember with no pain or hatred, then we have forgiven.    Image