In a study at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, psychologists studied the connection between forgiving and forgetting by presenting participants with difficult scenarios in which someone made a mistake or hurt them, and gave them a set of words to associate with the scenario. They then scaled each participant’s ability to forgive the transgressor. They compared the outcome with the same participants’ abilities to later recall specific words associated with the scenario. Participants who were able to forgive were also able to forget—they were unable to remember the words associated with the scenario. In other words, the negative thing that had happened had taken a backseat to other concerns.
Divorce and forgiveness are not two words that blend naturally together, but if your ultimate goal is to heal after divorce, they’re two words you may have to put together as well as you can.
Psychology Today stresses the importance of forgiveness, citing the negative effect of holding grudges on a person’s stress levels, tension, depression, anxiety, and other related mood issues. Being unable to forgive is the same as being angry, which is known to pervade more areas of life than just moods. People who have higher levels of anger are less likely to have satisfactory interpersonal relationships, more likely to be unhappy at work, and even more prone to cardiovascular disease.
Scientists at Berkeley have discovered that forgiveness in close relationships leads people to be less inclined to retaliate against the other person, behavior that could ultimately be detrimental to the retaliator. Instead, people who are able to effectively “let it go” are more able to spend their energy on productive tasks. What’s more, the negative physical side effects of being unable to forgive become greater with age.
Forgiveness is not about downplaying or belittling the gravity of the situation in the past. By forgiving the other person, you are not excusing them for their wrongdoings, nor are you weak or naïve. To ensure that you do not slip into allowing forgiveness to weaken you, try creating boundaries for yourself. In other words, use this process as a chance to make rules about what you will and will not take from or say to the other person. You don’t need to tell them the things they did that hurt you are okay if they’re not, but you can still forgive them and yourself.
The Divorce Coach on SinceMyDivorce.com explains that self-forgiveness is paramount to healing after a painful divorce. Forgiveness is acceptance, not admitting that something was a failure. Forgive yourself relies on being able to recognize that you did the things you did because you are a human being with flaws who made mistakes.
Fear and new insecurities can get in the way of being able to forgive, but remembering that forgiveness is a process may help quell those problems. Even when you thought you were finished with forgiveness, new feelings may arise, or old anger and agitation may surface. Many people associate forgiveness with returning to their old ways, the ones that got them into the mess in the first place. However, you are in control of not letting history repeat itself. Forgiving does not mean giving in.
Woman’s Divorce.com explains that forgiveness is done for selfish reasons. You don’t need to carry around the weight you carry around when you’re angry, because you have the choice to look forward instead of behind. Of course, this idea sounds great on paper (or on the internet), but in practice, it’s a different animal. Remember that forgiveness—that will hopefully lead to forgetting—is not often done in one fell swoop. It may take several swoops over several years, and the harsh reality is that the memories may never fully go away. But they can fade away enough so you can learn from them and move on, unburdened, to lead a happy life.
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