Forgiving is the Key to Forgetting Painful Memories and Moving On

A new study suggests that forgiving is the key to forgetting painful memories and moving on with your life – which is of paramount importance for individuals experiencing separation and divorce.

Forgiving is the Key to Forgetting

New research from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland proves that your mother was right when she told you to "forgive and forget." A new study released on May 13, 2014 has revealed that people are better at suppressing items of information associated with memories for wrongs they have already forgiven than for offences that are still unforgiven. So when it comes to forgetting painful memories and moving on, forgiveness is paramount in separating or divorcing couples.

Forgiving is the Key to Forgetting Painful Memories and Moving On

The study suggests that forgiving is the key to forgetting painful memories and moving on with your life - which is of paramount importance for individuals experiencing separation and divorce. Researchers Saima Noreen, Malcolm MacLeod, and Raynette Bierman of the University's School of Psychology and Neuroscience gave study participants a series of hypothetical scenarios containing transgressions such as infidelity, slander, and theft. They asked participants to:
  1. evaluate the offence, and then
  2. decide whether or not they would forgive the offender.
In a follow-up session, researchers presented the same participants with a subset of the original scenarios, pairing each scenario with a neutral cue word. They then showed participants some of the cue words, written in either red or green; participants were instructed to recall the related scenario if the cue word was green, and to avoid thinking about the scenario if the cue word was red. The results of the experiment revealed that when people have forgiven the person who wronged them, their memories related to the offence become more susceptible to forgetting. When people have not forgiven their transgressor, however, they are less successful in suppressing details related to the offence. "The ability to forget such upsetting memories may, in turn, provide an effective coping strategy that ultimately enables people to move on with their lives," explained Dr. Noreen, the lead author of the study. "We hope that in time, new fields of enquiry may combine forgetting and forgiveness-based interventions that, in turn, give rise to powerful therapeutic tools that will enable people to 'forgive and forget' more effectively. In the meantime, it would seem that while forgiving remains an effortful process, forgetting may actually become easier as a result." Founded in 1413, St. Andrews is Scotland's first university and the third oldest in the English-speaking world.

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