"Does forgiving someone for something they did to you really help you? I believe that the phrase “forgive and forget” has been used in the past but needs clarification. Any thoughts on this?"
Forgiveness is VITAL to your own well being. The person most harmed by a spirit of unforgivenness will always be YOU. If the situation has left you feeling like LESS than who you are (frightened, wounded, vulnerable, broken), instead of MORE (wiser, stronger, understanding, equipped, better able to empathize and help others) then you are not healed, still poisoned by it, and will remain lame until you take action to change the outcome of it.
Forgiving someone is something you PURPOSE to do. What is meant by this is, it is work that you must perform diligently upon yourself in order to aid the process. Even if you have gotten past the point of wanting harm upon the offender, if you are still allowing the hurtful "loop" to play in your mind, reliving the experience, the feelings to come back to tear at you, you are performing a form of self-mutilation that will be unable to heal no matter how much time has passed. And I seriously question that any person could reach a point of true forgiveness while they continue to tear at the wound.
What can you do to change the cycle?
Most people remain completely unaware of whatever role they played in the incident. As long as they had no role in what happened, they have no power to make sure it does not happen again. There are of course always cases when someone is assaulted or harmed simply by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but in most relationships you had with a person who hurt you, was there not a role you played in arriving where you did? Of course there was. So understanding why you were there, what your role was, and most especially if this is a continuous replay throughout your life -- what cycle are you caught up in that is causing this turn of events and how can you stop it?
There is a book out there I highly recommend for women that is call the "Emotionally Abused Woman" (link at bottom) which talks specifically about roles, those of the abuser and those of the abusee. You will easily recognize parents, teachers, siblings, lovers, friends when you read this, and more importantly, you will also recognize YOURSELF, as it lists out the types of 'partners' these abusive personality types draw and are drawn to.
It will also help you to remove yourself from the victim mentality by shifting from me the person into the 'role type' and it will help you to de-personalize the abuser. Very helpful when trying to put into perspective situations and relationships.
Healing is an OFFENSIVE role, not defensive. If you want to change your life, you are going to have to accept the fact that you have a role in every situation, and you are also responsible for it. Until you fully grasp this aspect of it, you will never be able to feel 'safe' in any relationship.
And make peace with the truth that every situation and experience we have, we've played a role in. So many victims remain just that because they refuse to take any responsibility for how they contribute to every situation and relationship.