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3 Tips to Make It Easier to Forgive and Forget

By Kaitlin Vogel
August 03, 2023

Whether the argument is over a minor transgression, like a friend forgetting your birthday, or a larger-scale disagreement, like blabbing something shared in confidence, after the dust has settled and profuse apologies are given, we're told that the best way to move forward is to forgive and forget. But what often goes unacknowledged is that the forgetting part of the equation isn't always easy.

But difficulty aside, truly forgiving and forgetting is a goal worth working toward, not only for the sake of our relationships, but also for our own health and well‑being. Research suggests that forgiveness may lead to improved psychosocial well‑being and reduced psychological distress. And the results of another study even suggest that adults who couldn’t move on from their anger and hostility experienced greater cognitive decline later in life compared to those who more readily offered forgiveness.

Why Forgetting Is Often Harder Than Forgiving

Making the choice to forgive is one thing, but truly moving on is another matter entirely. It often comes down to developing a deeper awareness and understanding of your own emotions.

“Sometimes when we say we forgive someone, we do it to make them feel better and not because we truly feel that way,” says Rachel Eddins, L.P.C., a therapist based in Houston. “If you're finding it difficult to forget something that happened to you because of someone else, and you have chosen to forgive them, it’s most likely because you haven’t fully processed your emotions.”

To make progress on the forgiveness front, it’s crucial to process your emotions completely—and offer compassion and acceptance from a place of truth and authenticity. In fact, research that compares decisional forgiveness and emotional forgiveness suggests that those who have emotionally forgiven someone, and not those who just decided to forgive, are more able to forget.

How to Forgive Someone Who Hurt You

No matter whether the incident is big or small, highly personal or just plain petty, it can be challenging to get out of your head and into your heart, which is often required to truly move forward after you’ve tried to forgive someone. If you’re trying to make the difficult transition from simply deciding to forgive someone to truly committing to forgiveness, keep the following three tips in mind.

1. Accept That You’ll Feel Uncomfortable Things

When feelings are uncomfortable, attempting to avoid them may be your first instinct. But whether you're experiencing anger, betrayal, or shame, it’s essential to do the opposite and face these emotions head-on.

“When you're able to face the feelings, you realize your own strength and are better able to work through them,” explains Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist based in Santa Barbara, California. “You don't have to keep those feelings at bay with all sorts of tactics—that's what makes true forgetting difficult.”

Peck compares the experience of drowning out negative emotions to trying to push a beach ball underwater: It takes so much energy and effort, and ultimately, it will come floating back to the surface. But allowing the beach ball to surface means that it can no longer rob you of your valuable energy or inhibit you from moving forward with intention.

2. Think Through the Situation with Empathy

When we feel someone has wronged us, it’s all too easy to think negatively about them. But what if you exercised compassion instead? Journaling with the intention of being empathetic, suggests the American Psychological Association, may help you move to a more positive place and develop an understanding of why someone may have hurt you in the first place.

As you write about your experience with your overlooked birthday, for example, put yourself in the other person's shoes. You may realize they've been dealing with work stress and relationship problems and didn’t mean to overlook your special day.

3. Look to the Future, Not the Past

Even though you may have made the conscious choice to forgive someone, that doesn’t mean your relationship will go back to the way it was previously.

Saba Harouni Lurie, L.M.F.T., a therapist based in Los Angeles, says that in instances of betrayal, for example, moving on requires an acceptance that a rupture in your relationship has occurred, rather than simply trying to get back to the way things were before.

Give yourself—and your relationship—the permission to transform and move on to a new stage. Instead of dwelling on how things were before the words or actions of your friend, partner, or family member caused a rift in your relationship, challenge yourself to think about how you can strengthen your connection going forward. How can you more openly discuss your needs in this relationship? How might you grow closer after this bump in the road?

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