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How to forgive

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How to forgive

Forgiveness is something you do for yourself.

But when the harm done to you or someone you love is severe, it can be very hard to forgive. If you want to practice forgiveness but are finding it difficult, these suggestions may help.

How to forgive

Dr. Everett Worthington, a psychologist who has researched forgiveness for decades, has developed a five-step process called REACH:

R is for Recall.
 Recall the events and the hurt as accurately and objectively as you can.

E is for Empathize. Try to understand what happened from the point of view of the person who wronged you.

A is for the Altruistic gift of forgiveness. Recall a time that you hurt someone else and were forgiven. And offer this gift to the person who wronged you.

C is for Committing yourself to forgive publicly. Write a letter of forgiveness (whether you send it or not), write in a journal, tell a trusted friend, or, if you can, tell the person who wronged you.

H is for Holding onto forgiveness. Forgiving is not forgetting. Memories of the wrong and feelings will come up. Remind yourself that you have made a choice to forgive.

Dr. Robert Enright suggests a four-phase process in Forgiveness is a Choice:

  • Uncover your anger; honestly examine the unjust act and your feelings about it
  • Decide to forgive; be willing to turn your back on the past and look toward the future
  • Work on forgiveness; forgiving is a process that takes recommitment and concrete actions
  • Discovery and release; be open to discovering the meaning of suffering, the need for forgiveness, the fact that you are not alone, and a new purpose in life

Dr. Sonja Lyubormirsky offers additional exercises in her book The How of Happiness:

  • Appreciate being forgiven; reflect on a time when you were forgiven; or seek forgiveness for a wrong you have done
  • Imagine forgiveness; imagine what you might say to the person and how you would feel
  • Write a letter of forgiveness; not necessarily to send, but to write out what happened and how it affected you, what you wish the person had done, and end with a statement of understanding and forgiveness
  • Write the other person’s apology letter; imagine the explanation the person would give for her behavior and how she feels about the harm she has done

Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman
The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Forgiving and Reconciling, by Everett Worthington
Forgiveness is a Choice, by Robert Enright

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