Telling someone to ‘forgive and forget’ can cause more harm than good.
It is normal to be unsure of what to say or how to act when somebody confides in you. If they tell you about the abuse which they have endured and the pain they have felt, you might resort to using cliches. With the hopes of making them feel better, you might say something like “Forgive and forget”. While you may be trying to help, you might actually be making things worse.
There are 10 reasons why you should not say ‘Forgive and forget’:
1. It invalidates the abuse
The concept of ‘forgiving and forgetting’ works only when the thing you are supposed to forgive and forget is meaningless. If somebody has pulled a harmless prank and your friend seems to insist on holding a grudge, you can suggest that it is better for their own emotional wellbeing if they were to forgive. However, you cannot just tell somebody to forgive – or even worse, to forget – years of physical, emotional, and mental abuse. Abuse can result in anxiety, depression, addiction, suicidal thoughts, etc., and in saying that the victim should just move on, you are invalidating the gravity of their trauma.
2. It is impossible to forget
You know that you cannot voluntarily forget events in your life – so why tell a victim to? Even with time, the human brain blurs only small parts of our traumatic experiences. You cannot expect somebody to benefit from advice which is impossible to follow.
3. It gives the impression that you do not care
When victims hear their friends and family say “Forgive and forget”, they hear them say “Enough already, just let it go.” In other words, they get the impression that you are tired of listening to them and that you want them to pretend as if nothing ever happened. Eventually, this will push them away as they feel not only misunderstood but as though they are a burden.
4. It makes them feel weak
It can take somebody years to understand the abuse they have endured. After finally being able to process what has happened, they have only just begun to feel the anger and pain that they should have felt long ago. If somebody has recently stopped blaming themselves for the things others have done to them, they are only just beginning the healing process. Telling them to forgive means taking away their sense of reality. What is more, it hinders them from fully healing.
5. It is judgemental
Telling a victim that the only choice they have is to ‘forgive and forget’ is not helping. It is telling them that if they do not do as you say, they are cold, stubborn, or cruel. Therefore, instead of being supportive and helping them heal, you are telling them that their process of healing is wrong.
6. It is a command
After enduring a long period of abuse, criticism, and commands, the last thing the victim wants to hear is another command. If you do not show kindness, compassion, and understanding, they will distance themselves from you to protect their wellbeing.
If you truly want to help somebody, just offer them a shoulder to cry on. Be patient, listen to what they have to say, and ask them how you can help. More often than not, they just need somebody who will listen and show kindness. They do not expect anything from you — they do not even need you to offer advice. They just need you to be there and be kind.