By Chad D. Olson, LMFT
The New Year is about fresh starts and new beginnings. This New Year, I want you to consider anyone who you haven’t forgiven. Is there anyone who has hurt you in some way? Are you are still holding onto the pain caused by another’s actions? Do you resent or wish revenge against the offender? The purpose of this article is to try and help you see the benefits of forgiveness and give you the tools necessary to forgive.
I want to be clear that I don’t believe that forgiveness is synonymous with condoning the action or even trusting the person who hurt us. Some people believe that they can’t possibly forgive the person who hurt them because they believe that means they think the offense acceptable. We must remember that forgiveness is for you, not necessarily for the person who hurt you. In fact, sometimes the offender isn’t sorry and won’t change, but we can still forgive.
Research from the Mayo Clinic showed that forgiveness can lead to healthier relationships, greater spiritual and psychological wellbeing, less anxiety, depression, stress, and higher self-esteem. They also reported some physiological benefits including lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system and improved heart health.
Some of the earliest research regarding forgiveness was conducted by a psychologist by the name of Everett Worthington Jr. In order to help people forgive, Worthington created a step-by-step process using the acronym R.E.A.C.H.
R – Recall the Hurt – Pretending that you haven’t been hurt doesn’t make the feelings go away, allowing the negative feelings to manifest themselves in other ways, so we need to first acknowledge the offense.
E – Empathize with the Offender – Empathy is approaching an issue from the other’s perspective. It does not justify what they did, but it allows you to have context around the offense.
A – Altruistic Gift – Remember that the benefits of forgiveness are not necessarily for the offender, they are for those who have been offended. Whether the person “deserves” your forgiveness is not the question. The question is whether holding on to the grudge and pain is negatively affecting you. In order to alleviate yourself from these negative feelings, give yourself the gift of forgiveness.
C – Commit to forgive – Make a conscientious decision to forgive. I recently heard a presentation from Jan Graff from the Graff Stress Management group in St. George. He suggested that we forgive out loud being specific about who we are forgiving, and the specific offense we are forgiving. He then suggested to make sure the statement is in the present tense: “I forgive…” rather than “I will forgive…” or “I should forgive…”
H – Hold onto Forgiveness – There will be times when the hurt and memories will still be present, but when those moments come, reflect back to the day when you forgave, which can be defined as the decision you made to let go of resentment and desiring revenge.
Life is tough sometimes because people do things that may hurt us; so we have the opportunity to make a choice to either hold onto our pain or choose freedom through forgiveness. We also must remember that each one of us needs forgiveness too. We are human – we make mistakes. Forgive yourself and forgive others – it is a key to happiness.
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