Day 2 – Psychology of Forgiveness

Day 2 of 4 • This day’s reading

The psychology of memory can explain why ‘forgiving and forgetting’ is rarely the case! Our memories are so powerful and a single experience can become entrenched in our long-term memory to the point that it becomes a cue for future expectations. 

We do not have a giant USB or SD card in our brains. God designed us with such precision that even our memories leave biological footprints in our brains. Repeated experiences exist in our long-term memory due to the neural connections in our brain, and these experiences become strengthened after each one. This is likened to a dirt path which is formed by constant footsteps. For example, someone who has suffered from abuse on one occasion will have that memory of abuse strengthened or reinforced if they were to experience it again on another occasion. You can’t physically go into your brain and rewire the neural connections that have strengthened those memories over time. 

That we‘ve forgiven doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten. That we’ve forgiven doesn’t mean that we can forget because in the short paragraph above, we have learnt that our memories are both biological and psychological. 

So what do we do when we have forgiven but we still remember?

A true sign of forgiveness is even when you remember their faults and offences, you say in your heart and to your mind, ‘God’s grace is bigger than what you did to me and how you made me feel’. Forgiveness is you relating to someone according to their God-given identity. Forgiveness refuses to reduce people to their mistakes, shortcomings and ‘aliases’ that hide their true identity and worth. Forgiveness is a weighty call to choose honour above vengeance’.

Kanayo (@doctorkanayo)

While it would be handy to have a ‘sea of forgetfulness’ for all our negative experiences, what we can do is make a conscious effort to decide how we respond to our memories and to perhaps be intentional about forming new memories where possible. Creating new memories will do two things: it will weaken the existing neural connections in your brain from the negative experience that you had and form new neural connections for the positive experiences that you will intentionally create. 

God models this formation of new memories so well. He forgives completely and He doesn’t stay angry forever. He has compassion on us ‘again’ and again. (Micah 7:18-19). It doesn’t say that Our God is never angry. We can take comfort in the fact that our emotional response to offence and hurt are normal, yet, because of this newness in Christ, our right to ‘remain’ offended dissipates. Just like our God will again have compassion on us, we too will again have compassion on others. 

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