Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
Psychologist Everett Worthington Jr., a pioneer researcher in the field of forgiveness, constructed a 5-step model to facilitate the process of forgiveness. It is one of the techniques most favored by counselors specializing in forgiveness and reconciliation.
Worthington is not an armchair scientist. He has endured one of the most horrific traumas that a person ever experiences. In 1996, his aged mother, living in Knoxville, was raped and beaten to death. His heroic struggle in coming to terms with such a brutal event and subsequent forgiveness of the perpetrators should be an inspiration to all.
Worthington's 5-step technique of forgiveness is called REACH. REACH, an acronym, stands for the following:
Recall the hurt
Empathize with the one who hurt you
Altruistic gift of forgiveness, offer
Commitment to forgive, make
Hold on to the forgiveness
Step 1 Recall the Hurt. When we are hurt, it is natural to experience fear or anger. So, when you encounter the wrongdoer in person or in your thoughts, you might tense up, withdraw into your shell or lash out at him or her in your mind. Fear prompts us to run and anger prompts us to attack. It is natural for a victim to try to physically and mentally avoid the aggressor. Mental avoidance consists of trying to forget or distract the mind from focusing on painful thoughts related to the event. Physical avoidance is relatively easy, but escaping thoughts is more difficult and can highly frustrating. . It is difficult to forgive if fear or anger still dominates your psyche. You're just trying to protect yourself or attack the other and forgiveness doesn't have a chance in such a position. The way to overcome the fear or the anger is to recall the event and still try to relax. Take deep, slow and calming breaths as you visualize the event and recall the hurt event fully. Do not hesitate to seek help from a friend or a therapist if it's difficult to do on your own.
Step 2 Empathize with the person who hurt you. Explain the hurtful act, not from your perspective, but from that of the other. Why did wrongdoer do what he or she did? Still better, explain the hurtful event as the wrongdoer's lawyer might do. The purpose of this imaginative exercise is not to arrive at the most accurate explanation of the wrongdoer's actions but to find a plausible explanation with which you can (live.) live and let go. For example, you may say to yourself, "People who attack others are themselves usually in a state of fear, anger or hurt" or, "People are not thinking rationally when they hurt others." An attempt to stop a negative thought has the opposite effect; it increases the negative thought. Try this instead, "I will stop all thoughts of forgiveness today." You'll likely find yourself thinking about forgiveness in spite of yourself.
Step 3 Altruistic gift of forgiveness. Recall a time when you felt guilty for hurting or offending someone and how that person forgave you. Your victim gave you a gift and you perhaps felt grateful. Why did that person give you that gift? Because he or she realized that you needed it! Giving the gift makes us feel better. As the saying goes, "If you want to be happy for a lifetime, help someone." A gift is given to help the other person. Offer the gift of forgiveness for the wrongdoer's own good. You might get a gift in exchange, that is, your own peace of mind.
Step 4 Commit yourself. Make a commitment to yourself to forgive publicly so you don't have a chance to back out later. Such public commitment may include announcing your intention to a group you belong to, write a "certificate of forgiveness" with a specific date on the certificate; write a letter of forgiveness to the wrongdoer and reading it out loud, or tell a trusted friend about your act of forgiveness.
Step 5 Hold onto forgiveness. Memories of the hurtful event will surface even after you have forgiven the wrongdoer. Hopefully, the memories will not be as emotional and disturbing as they were before you exercised your prerogative of forgiveness. Forgiveness should be genuine. Learn to interrupt all thoughts related to revenge and self-pity. There are half a dozen or more well-designed studies measuring the consequences of procedures like REACH and of learning and practicing forgiveness. These studies consistently show that forgiveness reduces chronic anger, fear and stress, increases optimism and brings health benefits.
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Copyright 2003, Mind Publications
Posted February 2003