Grudges, anger, frustration are heavy loads to carry. We hang onto people’s urges and weak moments and replay them in our minds. We let instances of low emotional or social awareness get to us and create entire stories around them.
Sometimes though, our rumination is warranted. Sometimes our mental stories are real. Perhaps your boss keeps unfairly singling you out at a meeting. Or a partner has cheated on you and broken your trust. Perhaps a child has overstepped their boundaries and needs to be reminded of them. Or a friend, family member or acquaintance has falsely accused you of something and you need to set the record straight.
Knowing how to respond is such situations depends on your ability to differentiate between forgiving and forgetting, and knowing when to do one or both. It allows you to move on with the knowledge of the past and with the wisdom of knowing what to do with it.
I’ve found that a 2×2 framework with the sincerity of the apology on one axis and the importance of the relationship on the other, can help in most situations. If you’re struggling with letting go of moments from your past that have no place in your future, take a moment to draw out the framework in your mind and walk through it in the following manner:
An Important Relationship and a Sincere Apology
If the relationship is important to you, and the apology is sincere, it’s wise to forgive and forget, even though it may definitely not be easy to do so. Try and see the other person as human and fallible, and the importance of (re)building a relationship of trust. If you keep struggling, you may want to reflect on whether you’re unforgiving of your own self as well. If the apology is a recurring event though, as in a partner who sincerely apologizes for repeatedly betraying you, forgetting is not the way to go.
An Unimportant Relationship and a Sincere Apology
Often, misunderstandings between people are based on inadequate knowledge and the brain’s confirmation bias of trying to fill in the gaps with its own set of beliefs about people and situations. If they apologize sincerely, forgive and forget – and even work on trying to see whether something good can come out of it. Who knows the two of you may laugh later on about how your relationship blossomed from where it began into a truly genuine one.
An Unimportant Relationship and an Insincere Apology
Move on. Forgive and forget. The insincere apology is not worth mulling over. Limit your exposure to the other person if you need to, but most importantly, do not feed hate. Remember, the opposite of love is not hate – its indifference. Hatred keeps you obsessed with what happened and traps you in a prison of the past. Indifference frees you to live your life and opens you up to the goodness all around you.
An Important Relationship and an Insincere Apology
This is definitely the trickiest one. Although your brain’s natural wiring will want you to hang on to the incident in order to learn from it, doing so by holding grudges will defeat the purpose. Difficult as it may be, do your best to forgive, but do not forget. Try and remind yourself that the insincerity of their apology is simply a reflection of their low self-awareness. If it’s a child, you’ll want to see it as part of their development journey. If it’s a partner or a friend, you may want to help them or create healthy boundaries for yourself. An insincere apology signals little thought or regret on their part, and can lead to possible recurrence if you’re not vigilant.
Needless to say, life is way too complicated to fit neatly into quadrants. Take this as a general guide and see whether you find something here that helps you deal with situations that you’ve been holding on to – perhaps for way too long.