“It was years ago, I know, and I’m still hurt. But I’ve totally forgiven him. I mean, that’s the healthy thing to do. Isn’t it?”
Sara’s statement perplexed me. So I dug a little deeper.
“You’ve forgiven him, yet not forgotten what he did? How does that work?”
She tossed back her head and announced “It’s smart to remember people’s faults. Otherwise, you could get caught out again.”
“Can you completely forgive, though, if you keep the memory of how someone hurt you alive?”
Audibly drawing a breath, she scoffed and told me “the old idea you should forgive and forget isn’t wise anymore. You must absolve others and set them free, but you can’t lose sight of their behavior or they might repeat it.”
“What about setting yourself free?”
“I’ve never thought of it like that before.”
Memories are ghosts. They’re shadows living in our imaginations. When we feed them, they gain color and strength.
Forget them, though, and they starve. Their energy fades and you are free again.
“How often do you think about the past Sara?”
“I don’t know. I guess I think about how he hurt me when the prospect of meeting someone new arises, and when I see couples walking hand-in-hand. Oh, and when I watch romantic movies. Or dramas on TV when one partner’s cruel and the other’s a victim.”
“That’s pretty much all the time then?”
Ghosts aren’t real. They’re only illusions. Your mind doesn’t know they are fake though. If you replay occasions when the apparitions of the past injure you, your brain reacts like the event’s real.
You go into fight-or-flight. Your heart races and anxiety grows. Soon, you can’t sleep at night and you’re nervous and guarded.
“What’s the worst that could happen if you let the memory go?”
Sara glared. “I told you. Someone else might treat me like he did.”
Unfortunately, you can’t ensure no one will harm you just by bearing in mind all the ways they could do so if you let them. That’s like considering the many places along the road your car could crash before climbing behind the wheel. It makes the journey stressful.
Considering old ghosts just creates new ones to dodge in the future.
“How can I forget, anyhow? It isn’t possible to disremember on purpose. Surely, if it’s going to happen, it will by itself, over time?”
“Nope. Time doesn’t heal. Not really. Not unless you let go. You mustn’t feed ghosts. Otherwise, they can’t leave.”
Luckily, ghosts aren’t as demanding as you might think. They don’t sit at the dinner table and wait to be fed. You have to stop conjuring them with conversations about them and entertaining their memory.
If they are strong because you’ve fed them for a long time, you probably need to re-frame thoughts in which they appear too, and shift your focus.
Sometimes, focusing on making new, superior memories to replace old painful ones helps. Or, you can emphasize recollections of good times you’ve had already.
Letting go means not blaming ghosts for your current problems as well. When you hold painful memories in high esteem — giving them pride of place in your brain — you lend them power. Rather than explain away difficulties as ‘not your fault’ it’s best to take responsibility for them.
Sara eventually did just that. She stopped using her ghosts as excuses not to enter a fresh relationship and took a leap of faith. Now she hardly remembers when she was with her ex and his ghost is fading fast.
Copyright © 2019 Bridget Webber. All rights reserved