Forget "Forgive and Forget" Because Forgiveness Isn't Linear

Forgiveness is an interesting topic. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of the sayings about forgiveness, including, “Forgive and forget.” However, as I’ve been struggling with forgiveness lately, I realize that forgiveness is a journey, and not always something we can easily forget.

Faced with new and old opportunities to forgive (and re-forgive) I’ve been able to see that forgiveness isn’t always a one-time thing. You can forgive someone today and then feel hurt about the same situation tomorrow. Forgiveness isn’t linear. It’s a process that can constantly surprise you and give you more opportunities to grow in your compassion and love for others.

With forgiveness comes a lot of mixed emotions. The one I find hardest to deal with is anger. But I’m learning that it’s through the anger that I find freedom.

Accepting anger and your resistance to forgiveness

Anger isn’t a bad emotion. I’ve had to learn this and continue to tell myself this whenever I’m faced with anger. To be honest, I’m afraid of anger, thinking being angry at someone makes me a bad person.

When it came to my recent struggle of forgiving someone from the past, my anger was very much alive inside of me and I felt as if the original wound had returned. Even over a decade later, I was torn between wanting to let go because I knew that’s what all the enlightened masters teach, but also feeling vindictive and not wanting to grant forgiveness to someone who was so cruel and malicious to me for several years.

When there’s a really stressful or traumatic experience, lasting however long, it’s hard to move on. There continue to be triggers that reawaken the pain. And just when you felt like you had let it all go and forgiven the other person, you’re given another opportunity to forgive again. This is the non-linear fashion of forgiveness. For on the other side of forgiveness, we are learning love. And love is a choice that we must choose everyday.

I’ve been dealing with a formerly gaping wound I had managed to sew back together over years of healing that opened again. I felt the immense pain and self-righteous anger that I did back then. But also with guilt. Why was I still hurt? Shouldn’t I have moved on and let go completely by now? 

Despite what I thought I should have felt, the truth is, I didn’t. I was still angry. The pain of the past had come rushing back to me and I was inundated by it. I was consumed again with the feelings I had felt back then. And rather than trying to pretend that that wasn’t true or berate myself for the fact, I’ve worked to forgive again. To let go more. To realize that forgiveness is a journey.

Realizing hurt and letting go

Anger is a secondary emotion, it covers up the truth, which is hurt. When things happen that affect us deeply, it’s generally easier to get angry than it is to admit that we’re hurt. 

Because to admit to being hurt means admitting to vulnerability. It’s as if we think never getting hurt is strength. However, if you risk your heart or live life openly, people who are jealous will attack you or people who are immature might hurt you accidentally. And it’s okay to feel angry about that. 

But once you accept and allow your anger, you can then look underneath to see where you’re hurt and why. By allowing the truth and rawness of these emotions to surface and be felt, you can then transmute them and finally move on. At least, until you get the next chance to forgive.

I know it’s hard to let go of anything that matters to us. By why does our self-righteousness matter? Why do we obsessively need to feel right?

It’s all ego.

At the end of the day, the only person who suffers from self-righteous anger is you. When we put our egos aside and realize that we don’t need to hold onto this hurt any longer because it just prevents us from living open-hearted lives, we get to make a decision: Do I still want to suffer?

Sometimes the answer is yes. Because holding onto old hurts serves us in some way. Usually, it’s so we can continue to play the victim. It takes a lot of maturity and wisdom to let go and forgive and realize that no matter what happened or happens to us, we are responsible for our lives.

So let go. Forgive. And then forgive again when you’re triggered, again. Because life teaches us and constantly gives us opportunities to practice giving more love.

Forgiveness is a process and a practice

I’m not an enlightened master. But I hope to be. And I’m learning that as a human, to become enlightened, you don’t have to not feel. Rather, you just learn not to become attached to the feelings. 

So instead of beating myself up for still being hurt and struggling to forgive, I allow the feelings to be felt and practice the art of forgiveness. For forgiveness is a practice. One that must be exercised everyday until the pain of the past no longer hurts so much you can’t think straight or properly function, but becomes a soft memory that reminds you that forgiveness (aka love) is the only thing that will release you from the pain. 


Brittany Noelle Roa is an interdisciplinary artist with an MFA in Physical Theatre who uses her art and creativity to heal herself and others. She loves learning about health and wellness so she can optimize her human potential to live a full and happy life.

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