I have yet to meet a human being who has not felt wronged by another at one time or another. Whether a family member, co-worker, or random strangers someone has wronged us along the way. Having a feeling is one thing, and feelings are signposts for where we are in life. When we hold onto negative feelings like anger and blame, we suffer far more than the original “offender”.
Not only do reliving “wrongs” build up anger and resentment within us, but these thoughts literally color our experience of life far after the event. They also raise levels of adrenaline and other hormones that can be physically toxic over time as well.
“Forgiving a person who has wronged you is never easy, but dwelling on those events and reliving them over and over can fill your mind with negative thoughts and suppressed anger,”
Health, Religion, and Spirituality at the
says Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, co-director of the Initiative on Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Yet, when you learn to forgive, you are no longer trapped by the past actions of others and can finally feel free.”
Letting go, as the term implies, rarely just happens on its own. By making a clear decision we begin to let go. This is known as “Decisional Forgiveness”. The next step is “Emotional Forgiveness”. Moving from our intellect to our feelings can be challenging. Like anything, once we make a decision, we follow it up with action and the action helps us to ground that decision emotionally. First we believe, then we act and then we see the results.
Results are rarely instantaneous. However, we can receive immediate benefits by practicing forgiveness. Over time, the resentment will subside and release. Practicing forgiveness is directly linked to lower levels of depression, anxiety, and hostility; reduced substance abuse; higher self-esteem; and greater life satisfaction.
One of the best ways is to practice forgiveness is with the REACH method. The REACH model was originally developed by Everett Worthington. It is a five step model for practicing forgiveness. REACH is an acronym for Recall, Emphasize, Altruistic gift, Commit, and Hold.
Recall: As the name implies, you want to relive the situation, the feelings, the details of how it occurred. DO oyur best to view the details objectively and still allow yourself the full range of subjective emotion.
Empathize: Without minimizing your sense of wrong, begin to see through the other person’s eyes. What might their thoughts have been? What was going on for them? You don’t have to invalidate your own feelings to see through their eyes, and at the same time most people are reacting to their own emotional state more than you.
Altruistic gift: Recall a time when you clearly were in the wrong and were forgiven. Remember how it felt to you, and imagine what it might be like to give that gift to another.
Commit: Commit to live in forgiveness of the other person. Get that YOU deserve the relief of forgiving others. Even if on some level you feel they do not deserve it, YOU DO. You deserve to live a life free of the burden of the wrongs done by others. You deserve the joy that comes with letting go of resentment.
Hold: Any time your mind replays the situation, hold on to your forgiveness. Imagine the other person having all the wonderful things in life that you crave and more. We build empathy by imagining others success, especially in the forgiveness process.
Practicing forgiveness frees up emotional energy for other concerns. Practicing forgiveness promotes greater personal serenity as well as physical and emotional health.