Through forgiveness you hold the power to rewrite your history. Learn how to forgive someone with an open mind and this five-step process from someone who understands how painful forgiveness can at first seem.
“I am willing to forgive” is one of the most liberating phrases you could ever hold on to.
How we feel about the past depends on our memories. Our memory is the source of either contentment or bitterness, pride or shame.
According to the book Authentic Happiness, written by Martin Seligman, Ph. D., there are two ways we can increase our level of happiness in regards to the past:
- Gratitude, and
Gratitude amplifies our good memories. By attaching positive tag lines to the picture of the past in our mind, we enjoy an enhanced intensity and frequency of the good times.
Today, let us focus on forgiveness rather than resentment (or any other negative emotion, for that matter).
Breaking Free from Negativity
World renowned researcher Barbara Fredrickson claims that positive emotions have a grander purpose in evolution.
She discovered that experiencing positive emotions broadens our minds and builds our resourcefulness, making us more resilient to adversity, open-minded, and prone to growth.
Negative emotions, on the other hand, narrow our perspective so that we can only see the immediate threat–real or imagined. In the moment, our firefighting negative emotions about the past tend to trump our broadening and building positive emotions that ensure a better future.
The only way out of a painful past is to change our thoughts by either learning to forgive, forget, or suppress bad memories. Suppressing our thoughts often backfires, and there’s no known ways to enhance forgetting.
I highly recommend forgiveness.
Why We Don’t Forgive
There are a few main reasons why we hold onto resentment and an unforgiving mind. The usual suspects include the following:
- Forgiving is unjust. We want to catch and punish the perpetrator in order to help other victims.
- Forgiving may be loving toward the perpetrator, but it also shows a want of love toward the victim.
- Forgiving blocks revenge, and revenge often seems right and natural.
And as Dr. Seligman states in Authentic Happiness, “Forgiveness transforms bitterness into neutrality or even into positively tinged memories, and so makes much greater life satisfaction possible.”
Why Forgiveness is Good
The core reasoning behind forgiveness lies in this one truth: We shall set ourselves free.
1. Forgiveness is liberating.
It is unlikely that we’re hurting the perpetrator by not forgiving, but it’s a sure way to punish ourselves.
When we let go of the frequent, intense negative thoughts about past hurts, we break down the limiting walls we have built and allow contentment to flow into our lives.
Forgiveness makes serenity and peace possible, and it is a proven practice that increases the intensity and frequency of pleasures and positive emotions.
2. Forgiveness is a strength.
Dr. Seligman lists forgiveness–also known as mercy–as a signature strength.
There are many paths to achieving authentic happiness, and he calls these paths our strengths. Through practicing our strengths on a daily basis, we are able to amplify our happiness and positive emotions about the past, present, and future. We are able to amplify love in our lives.
The straightest road to love is to have the intrinsic capacity to love and be loved. Other than that, there are many routes and strengths from which love can be wrought, one of which is forgiveness. Learn how to forgive and you will learn how to live the good life. Essentially, you are learning how to love.
3. Forgiveness strengthens relationships.
Marriage researcher John Gottman is well known in his field for making accurate predictions of the future success and failure in new marriages. He discovered that marriages improve over time when there is a common thread of forgiveness woven into the relationship on a daily basis.
Successful partnerships are between two people who continually, and consciously, practice forgiving one another.
Forgiveness, it seems, is a key ingredient in successful marriages. That makes me think that forgiveness is therefore key in successful relationships of any kind.
How to Forgive Someone in 5 Steps
Regardless of your relationship to the perpetrator, here is a scientifically studied and proven five-step process to help you forgive them. This is called the REACH method, and it was designed by author and psychologist Everett Worthington.
R: Recall the hurt as objectively as possible.
Conjure up a possible scenario, even if you have to stretch your imagination a bit.
Try to understand from the perpetrator’s point of view why this person hurt you. Try to remember that people hurt innocents when they feel their survival is threatened. They attack others usually because they are themselves in a state of fear, worry, and hurt. People often don’t think when they hurt others; they just lash out.
A: Altruistic gift of forgiveness.
Think of a time when you hurt another, and they offered you the gift of loving forgiveness. It feels good to receive this ultimate gift, because we need it. Giving this gift usually makes us feel better. Don’t do it grudgingly, however, as that defeats the purpose.
C: Commit yourself to forgive publicly.
Write a letter or a poem. Say it out loud to the other person. Create a “certificate of forgiveness” which details why you are forgiving them, and sign and date it. Do something in writing or in speech that clearly states your willingness to forgive.
H: Hold onto forgiveness.
Hurtful memories will revisit you, but it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. Remind yourself of your commitment to forgive. Read the certificate, letter, poem, or speech that you’ve written in the previous step. Memories come back to us, just don’t wallow in them.
This is a scientific practice. In at least eight controlled-outcome studies measuring consequences of procedures like REACH, it turns out that less anger, less stress, more optimism, better reported health, and more forgiveness ensued, and the effects were sizable.
Accepting Yourself as Human
Holding a grudge doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s a call for love from yourself as well as to yourself. Even if you’re not ready to forgive at this time, you can proclaim your willingness to forgive. You can decide that you no longer wish to hurt and you can choose love instead, no matter how long it’s been since the incident.
- Have you experienced positive change by forgiving someone?
- When have you been forgiven, and how did that feel?
- Do you have any helpful tips or insights about how to forgive another person?
Please share your thoughts, lessons learned in peaceful living, helpful insights you’ve gained along the way, and any inspiring stories of forgiveness with me in the comments.
Share this post with someone who deserves to be at peace.
Forgive yourself for not wanting to forgive.
Free watercolor background by Angie Makes, with lettering by Aim Happy.