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Why "forgive and forget" is the original toxic positivity

Updated: Apr 11

One of the most common ways most of us have learned about forgiveness is alongside the phrase “forgive and forget”.

It is probably one of the earliest incarnations of the try Instagram-type, toxic positivity meme therapy, which floods our lives now. It speaks about forgiveness like it's just a switch you can flick, and forgetting in this context is like an outright request to gaslight yourself.

The problem with the phrase is that it brushes aside accountability for the people but not for ourselves.

We're not hard-wired to forget danger (and that is how our brains process being wronged). In fact, it is by not doing that that we survived this long. Remembering which people could be trusted and who was onside has been an incredible survival technique up until now.

But this saying also encourages us to deny our own perception. That person harmed you, but ignore it. Don't make a fuss. Move on. Pretend it didn't happen. Don't look for ways that you can protect yourself in the future. Where else may you have heard these types of messages?

For people socialised as women or from troubled childhoods, these messages have come loud and strong from many untrustworthy sources. We have been taught to ignore our bodies and our instincts and just toe the line.

And this kind of messaging leads to people being very out of touch, not only with themselves but hyper-vigilant to dangers because if they cannot trust their internal narrative, then maybe everything is untrustworthy.

This is why I believe this particular phrase, “forgive and forget” is not only unhelpful but actively harmful.

It doesn't mean you cannot learn, release or move on. That's the forgiveness part (and that's what I teach in the Forgiveness First Aid Kit), but alongside this, I believe it's important to learn and notice our choices. But “Learn and notice” doesn't have the same alliterative allure. Maybe it should be “learn and leap” or “forgive and forge ahead”. But generally, I'd be wary of anything which takes You further away from being able to read your own responses.


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