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When 'Forgive & Forget' Does Not Apply

Somewhere along the way popular culture adopted the mantra "Forgive and Forget." I see it all the time in the bad TV I watch after a long day at work (see: self-care). There's a conflict, terrible things are said, there's yelling/screaming/fighting, feelings are hurt, and everyone goes home. The next day/week/month the two parties come together hoping for resolution and reciting one of the following mantras:

1. We have to forgive and forget. 

2. We need to move forward/ move on. 

3. The past is the past. 

Okay, that's all well and good -- but what if this apology is part of a much larger relational pattern? Namely: Cause harm, apologize, ask forgiveness, repeat.  This simplified version of conflict resolution -- that we must forgive and forget-- has the potential to trap us in unhealthy, toxic relationships far beyond their expiration date. It forgoes a deeper exploration of the issue in favor of a speedy, surface level resolution. By 'moving forward' and 'leaving the past in the past' we stay stuck. Instead of looking inward and assessing whether the relationship in question still meets our needs, or taking time to examine the ways our own behavior contributes to the dysfunction -- we avoid introspection and grind on. 

I would offer that it is not forgive and forget -- it's dig in. It's look inward. It's examine toxic relational patterns. For anyone who finds themselves in a high conflict friendship or romantic relationship, a more appropriate approach might look something like this:

Look Inward; Set boundaries; Reassess the relationship

Look Inward: Check in with yourself and ask the tough questions. Is this relationship meeting your needs? If not, what's missing? What change do you wish to see? How can you move toward that change? What's stopping you?

Set Boundaries: Sometimes I think many of us missed the day in class where they taught us how to set healthy, appropriate boundaries with the people in our lives. Or the day they told us it was even okay to do so. The good news is, it's never too late to define, for yourself, the things you will or will not tolerate in relationship with others. So figure out what you need, what you will no longer accept, and lay it all on the table. 

Reassess the Relationship: If, after expressing your needs and setting boundaries the other party cannot abide by this 'new world order' it might be time to reassess the relationship altogether. Are they willing to respect your needs and request for boundaries? If the answer is no it may be time to consider parting ways. Everyone deserves respect and if a relationship is no longer serving you it's okay to let go. 

Let's all take better care of ourselves by loosening the grip of this 'forgive and forget' mindset because sometimes it just doesn't cut it. 

When is it something more?

If you are worried about your personal safety, physical or emotional, then this might not be something you can negotiate on your own. There are many agencies and mental health professionals who specialize in helping victims of domestic violence and the impact of emotional and/or physical abuse. If you are wondering whether you may fall into this category, this is excellent resource for better understanding what constitutes domestic violence, abuse, and when/how to seek help:

Are you in an Abusive Relationship?

If this is an emergency and you need someone to talk to now please contact: 

National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.thehotline.org, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

 

Warmly,

Kaitlyn Overman
MAEd, LMHCA, NCC


 

More From Kaitlyn Overman

Kaitlyn Overman is a Mental Health Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in work with adolescents and young adults dealing with issues related to grief and loss, social anxiety, life transitions, identity development, depression, anxiety, and the impacts of trauma and abuse. 

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