Is It Possible to "Forgive" If You Can't Forget?

Updated on February 04, 2011
T.L. asks from Altadena, CA
22 answers

I am taking a psych course (trying to better myself) and I was doing fine until the topic of forgiveness came up.
Seems the pat answer is to forgive because holding onto the anger doesn't hurt the other person, it just hurts you.
Ok, I get that. But if you say you forgive but you can't forget what was done, then have you really forgiven or are you just saying so. There are some past traumatic events that play like bad movies in my head. Sure I can tell the person I forgive them, but every time I remember the event I still have the hateful feeling. So, can you really forgive the person if you can't forget the trauma?

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A very special thank you to all the mamas who responded. I understand it alot better now.

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answers from Kansas City on

I recommend watching the lifetime movie "Amish Grace". It was about the horrible school shooting where the guy killed a bunch of little Amish girls. It is an amazing story of forgiveness, and shows how they all had trouble with it, especially since forgiving doesnt have to mean forgetting.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Forgiving someone is letting go of the power they hold over you, letting go of the anger that anchors you. I dont think you ever forget, but yes you can relinquish the control that memory holds on you.

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answers from Dallas on

My pastor told a little story. he said if you hit me with a frying pan, I'll forgive you for it, but I'll always stand about a frying pan away from you! So to forgive is not to forget. You dont have to trust that person again or absolve them of responsibility. But forgiveness is a choice. It's not a case of forgetting the incident or even getting over it. You just choose not to hold a grudge or be angry at that wrongdoer. Sometimes that takes gaining a better understanding of the other persons motives or thought process when they caused the offense. If I can understand why they did it, it seems to help a lot. It also helps to write out all my hurt feelings in an angry letter and then burn it. It's cathartic to get it all out and it's freeing to burn it and literally let it go.

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answers from Denver on

I actually think that what is meant by "forgiving" is not staying angry, not wanting a confrontation, not letting the event color your interactions...including interactions with THAT person if you CHOOSE to keep them in your life. Just....allowing yourself to move on and not let the event have any power over you anymore.

It doesn't mean that you don't stay wary with someone who causedy ou harm

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answers from Boston on

I think that you can't really forgive if you do forget. Forgetting implies that the hurt/trauma/whatever is gone for both parties. Forgiving implies that the memory is still there, but no longer causes one person to feel malice towards the other.

How to do that, I'm not sure.

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answers from Las Vegas on

ummm a tough one for sure.. My experience has been that when I truly forgive, I no longer have an "emotional attachment" to the situation even though yes, I still remember it... For me, it's how I feel about an experience that tell me IF the situation still affects me or not.. For years I hated a man whom when I was ten molested me. Whenever I thought about forgiving him, this anger would boil up in me and I 'd think forget you buddy, like I should forgive you for violating me.... (not that he ever was seeking out my forgiveness) ... then one day, YEARS later and after much self-help and introspection and when I finally learned what people meant when they would say, "forgiveness is for you. not the other person".... I wrote the guy a letter and told him how his molesting had affected me when I was a kid and changed who I was and truly whom I might have become. I also noted that despite all this, I was doing GREAT (which in fact I am) but felt it necessary to let him know that I no longer wished to have a silent bond of perpetrator to victim.... that said, I was releasing him to the past... (I said a lot more too) but that was the gist.

Mind you, I knew going into that situation I needed to not have an attachment to a desired outcome.. so to answer your question....
YES.. you can forgive and not forget..... The difference as mentioned is in the emotion and attachment.. To me, I think when you truly forgive, then a situation doesn't have the power over you it once did..

this is just my experience..

good luck with your class :)

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answers from Chicago on

I believe that it's up to both parties to make things right. The person who wronged the other should make amends. It's interesting that when someone makes amends, it makes things all right.

You can come to terms with what was done to you. That's a personal journey and often includes looking at what you've done to others.

I've found that deciding to take that journey ends in success. And it's amazing how when I look at what I've done to others and I make amends to them, that the person who wronged me often makes amends without me ever making a move toward them. You get back what you give.

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answers from Little Rock on

My best friend stole money out of my wallet in high school and was later found to have stolen money from the morning donuts sales that she and I sold together as well as from the our local high school restaurant and the teachers running it. As a result she was no longer able to sell morning donuts or work in the high school restaurant. I made up my mind that I was going to forgive her and continue our friendship. I will admit that the friendship was somewhat strained on my part, because I had lost trust. I no longer could leave my purse in her care while running to the restroom. I no longer felt comfortable with looking in my wallet for lunch money with her around, etc. We had been friends since we were toddlers because her grandmother lived on one side of us and her aunt on the other. Her parents lived on the other side of the block and often walked to the aunts or the grandparents house and would stop to chat with my parents along the way. We became fast friends quite young. Yes, her stealing from me was huge hurt to me because friendship is built on trust. I had lost that trust. Despite my decision to continue the friendship, things were never the same. We still check up on each other now that we are adults and visit occasionally and now that I am older, I no longer feel that hurt on those visits. I still would never leave my purse unattended while with her because I cannot forget the past. You can forgive even if you can't forget. Just don't put yourself in a situation that would allow the past to repeat itself.

I am not sure what happened in your past, but perhaps a counselor or a good Church could help you get past the hurt.

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answers from Phoenix on

There are many things that I cant forget but I have moved past to have a better realtionship with the people that may have hurt me, so if forgiving is moving past and putting it behind you then yes you can forgive but not forget.

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answers from Milwaukee on

I struggle with this one too. My answer for me at least is no...but at the same time I don't want to forigive certain people either. I don't carry the problem or dwell on it, I've moved on and in one instance have a fine relationship with the person. BUT, that doesn't mean it's all been brushed under the just means I've moved on. It also means for me that I still keep that person at arms lengths for certain things.

IMO it depends. And I'm sorry-if someone did something they KNOW is wrong and they hurt you-I'm talking bigger then your kid drove your car without asking and wrecked it-why should you forgive and forget? To me that is making the 'thing' ok and I'm not ok with letting people off that easy.

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answers from Provo on

I do believe it is possible and it is definitely best for us!! I found out in hard times you sure know the people who are going to stick with you forever. To my surprise, blood does not mean anything!! I looked to my family for help and they basically kicked me in the face. I still have two children at home so they were not only punishing me but punishing my poor innocent children. I was at a total loss and I could not believe they would do this. I did read a lot of self-help books and empowered myself. I came to the realization that this was how my dysfunctional family handled things. Everyone down the line has always treated each other like this. It is a reaction for them. It takes a very strong person to break the cycle of what has been going on for generations. I think I find my comfort in knowing that they are doing only what they were taught. It is really not an issue for me much anymore except I have learned that I want to become so much more for my children. Things that have gone on have brought my immediate family a whole lot closer. I know that I want to avoid the drama associated with them and live my life to the fullest. I have forgiven them because they are doing only what they were taught but I also have come to realize that I don't want that drama as part of my life. I do not trust them anymore and I don't think I ever want to live a lifestyle as an unhappy person. I will never forget what has gone on and will not set myself up to be broken again.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I really like the "frying pan" explanation.

The thing is, when you've been hurt, and then forgiven that person, you have changed in some way" greater understanding, learning experience, etc.

Since you have changed as a result of that interaction, you deal with the situation wiser and stronger and more evolved.

So--yes I think you can forgive without forgetting, but if the hurt continues strongly, then I think the forgiveness step isn't over yet. My .02.

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answers from New York on

Forgetting is a cognitive action that may or may not happen (probably not). Forgiveness is a choice. When you are working therapeutically with people it is very very difficult for people to truly move forward after a trauma b/c they simply cannot let go of the hurt and anger.

When you make a choice to forgive someone, it involves consciously letting go of the anger and hurt. It means NOT bringing the issue up again, not allowing the issue to slant your view of the person and really allowing the person to be connected to you again.

So, yes it is possible. For people who are truly able to forgive it can be incredibly healing and powerful. Those who cannot forgive in the truest sense are often eaten away by the anger and relationships are destroyed.

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answers from Harrisburg on

Forgiveness says "You did me wrong, I realize you don't know better or didn't know what you have done, so I will not keep the malice in my heart against what you did, because it only hurts me"

You NEVER forget the incident, but to STOP letting that incident hurt you over and over again, it's a decision you have to make.

You forgive the PERSON, you don't forget the INCIDENT, but you use it as a learning experience for your self in order to move on.


answers from Detroit on

I learned just this year that I have to forgive because that is for me what i have to forget is the negative feeling behind the action and that may take time. My steps to forgetting or releasing the negative actions are to trust in faith that the person will not do it again or let the person go thier way while I go another or deal with the person with a long handled spoon.

An old fake BFF-let her go completely
An old BFF-I went one way and she went the other and if we meet up hopefully we both have matured to start again
My sister which is the hardest-deal with a long handled spoon on my terms only until I am confident she will not try to insert her negativty

It is a challenge!


answers from Dayton on

I believe it is possible. I have done so in my own life. That being the case I will say the offender (my dad) did make big changes in his life. It would have been harder to forgive if he hadn't.

Edit: N.S. said it better than me, but that is more or less my point. :)



answers from Honolulu on

Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting... it never did, in fact in some cases you should never forget and even tell the proper authorities while still forgiving.



answers from Seattle on

One of my favorite quotes of all time:

"The definition of forgiveness: To give up ALL HOPE for a better past."

Not condoning, accepting, forgetting, repeating, or in any other way saying "it's okay". Just not living in the past.



answers from Columbus on

If you have a "hateful feeling" when you see the person, then you have not truly forgiven them. (no judgment--just stating the facts)

I think that just because you forgive a person doesn't mean that you forget what they did, or try to forget. That would be impossible and/or foolish in some cases.

I do believe, however, that forgiving them helps YOU, though they may not need or care about the forgiveness.

Particularly if these were bad/traumatic experiences, you may need therapy to help you work through it. Therapy is not a bad thing or a dirty word! Its just a tool, though a psychological one, to help you on your road to good health.

This is pretty mild, at least compared to what you hinted you went through, but I had a friend, who I thought was a very close friend, betray me. It took me a long time to forgive.... and part of that was forgiving myself for trusting someone who was so self-centered. I never trusted her again, but I was able to at least treat her with basic decency and courtesy. And I felt better having forgiven her for her failings and for forgiving me for mine.


answers from Dallas on

Yes you never forget and even still can feel some anger or hurt feelings about the offense but you no longer hold the it against them. That is the wonderful thing about forgiveness. It's a choice on your part whether the other person acknowledges anything or not. I think the problem is that some people continue to fall back into the same trap with that person and never really hold any responsibility of THEIR part in the problem by being emotionally or physically available to them over and over again. I mean if someone's hurt you and they don't change, it then becomes your fault at some point. I don't believe that I have to accept everyone into my life and that some are just simply toxic and not healthy for me or my family.
Playing something over and over in your mind is not forgiving. It's bitterness and resentment building each time you play it again. Forgiveness is no longer owning it and giving the problem to the person it belongs to. You know, letting it go. True forgiveness if for YOUR benefit as much as theirs if they are willing to except it and change. But it's always beneficial for you :)
Good luck with your class.



answers from Los Angeles on

I love you
I am sorry.
Please forgive me
Thank you

This is said to YOU, yourself, your god/divinity, your power. Forgiveness is about you and no one else. You are carrying that negative feeling, it is up to you to let it go. You do not have to forget, you just have to reapply the energy to that situation. Instead of the old "oh why did i...or why couldn't I, or how dare he...replace it with...
I love you...i am glad that I was able to have this experience
I am sorry...i am feel sad that i had to experience this
please forgive me...for whatever my part was in all of this.
Thank you...for allowing me the experience and the opportunity to clear this from my experience.

Forgiveness comes from within, for within.

Family Success Coach



answers from Boston on

It is hard but it is possible. The Wednesdays Letters by Jason F. Wright is a good book to read about forgiving but not forgetting.

Next question: Do You Think Forgiveness Is Really That Important?

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