Lighthouse at night, (c) 2009 Martin Belam. Via flickr. (CC BY SA 2.0)

Forget, Then Forgive to Move Forward (and not the other way around)

Forrest ChristianChange, Coaching 6 Comments

In my lessons on the Tao of Joe: Redeeming Our Stories, I’ve pointed out that the patriarch’s model was to forget well before he ever forgave. Forgetting not only the wrongs, he forgot those who had wronged him (in his case, his brothers).

Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh (Forget), saying, “God made me forget all my hardships and my parental home.” [Genesis 40, The Message]

It’s important because if you’ve a Hidden High Potential, you’ve likely got a lot of resentments. And not just about work.

It wasn’t just the Jewish Bible. Will Shakespeare agreed, often enough to use the formulation several times over the years. Take, for example, King Lear’s words:

              You must bear with me:
Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish.

[King Lear, Act IV, Scene 7]

It seems weird to us, having been pounded with the reverse formulation, that we should “Forgive and Forget”. A daytime television show even carried the phrase as its title some years back. Forgive first, then forget the wrong.

It doesn’t actually work like that.

It turns out that there is probably some brain chemistry that makes the Bard and the Bible more accurate than Oprah on this one. There is a chemical blocker that can, as you recall a painful event, make it store back in your brain in a less vibrant way. You “forget” much of the pain, and that then lets you deal with it.

Not dealing with something, putting it out of your mind, does actually work, contrary to much of psychotherapists. You want to remember it less, and then work out the various splitting and other issues, perhaps in analysis of some form.

One of the best ways to forget the pain of wrongs done because you are a hidden high potential (HHP) is to get work that fits rather than continuing to try and extract that pound of flesh out of your “abusers”.

Image Credit: Lighthouse at night. © 2009 Martin Belam (CC BY-SA 2.0). Via flickr.

Comments 6

  1. I would say it’s less whether you deal with it or put it out of your mind, and more about whether either approach lessens the power of it. Maybe you’re right that for some people, putting things in the past reduces their power. For me, I seem to need a more conscious metabolism.

  2. Post

    It’s about forgetting and not simply time away from the event. For many people in most situations, time does indeed aid in forgetting and the pain of the event lessens. But for those with PTSD, the event is constantly real. The remembering of the event is, as far as the brain is concerned, a reliving of it. Nazi concentration camp survivors who had successfully buried the memories of their experience — by not talking about it, moving to new countries, etc. — found that in old age their barriers weakened and they were once again living in that time. It’s horrible to see. So it’s not about time but about truly forgetting. I probably wasn’t clear enough.

    The idea that we need to forget events in order to deal with them comes from Karim Nader of McGill University. His innovations have treated several people with PTSD with some stunning results. It turns out that when we remember something, we don’t look at it like a file on teh computer. We get it, then we re-store the memory again. For most of us, this process of re-storing the memory makes it hazy. We lose track of what actually happened. Our memory becomes clouded over time.

    Not everyone who has a traumatic event occur gets PTSD. There were many people held hostage in Lebanon over the years, and some fared better than others even though the experience was the same. The difference seems to be that in PTSD sufferers, the events never diminish. They’re always there.

    The treatment involves the injection of a hormone while the victim is remembering, vividly, the event. It take a few times, but the victim becomes detached from the memory and able to deal with it.

    So you idea of “conscious metabolism” is really very close to the science.

    There’s a write-up in Newsweek in 2007 or so about Karim Nader and post-traumatic stress disorder. It may be interesting.

  3. I’ve read about this idea, of helping people forget traumatic things with this hormone treatment.
    Frankly, it terrifies me. Perhaps because I don’t fully understand it. I don’t want to forget anything. Reduce the power of past events to overwhelm me in the present? Sure — but to me that’s not forgetting. Forgetting is erasing the memory, not merely metabolizing it.
    To what extent is altering a memory more like forgetting or more like accepting / getting used to / metabolizing, I’m not sure.
    Maybe as long as what we’re altering is the power of the memory, and its present force, I’d be willing to consider it okay; but if we’re altering actual details, real history, then I remain terrified. (And, ha, choose to remain terrified.)

  4. Post

    I should probably say more, but it turns out that all processing of events is forgetting. Or remembering differently. This is what talk therapies do. They get you to talk abou the event and then process it differently. What it is doing is making the memory less salient.

    Before we had abstract thought as a species, “remembering” meant experiencing again something. So when the Israelites wrote about “G*d remembering my sin” it meant that he was experiencing it again and would get just as angry.

    Each time you recall a memory, you are “overwriting” the previous memory. The more you ponder memories, the less reliable they become. Again, that’s what talk therapies do. (They can also just get you to reinforce the power of the memory, and keep you a victim.)

    It is this process of forgetting, of making it less salient, that allows us to forgive. If I am reliving the reality of an incident, I’ll be damned if I’m going to forgive you. When I can forget the pain, put it in the past (which means that the “re-membering” is no longer “re-living”) and I can make less fight/flight choices.

    I’d be interested in any of you Hebrew specialists chiming in about whether “forgive” had a “forget” component in Jewish scriptures.

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