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How to forgive: A step-by-step process, part 2

How to forgive: A step-by-step process, part 2

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In part one of "How to forgive," we discussed what forgiveness is, its importance, and why some people find themselves trapped and hesitant to let go of painful feelings. Realizing that many people need assistance as well as direction in moving forward, a forgiveness help model was developed.

The REACH process

Through extensive research in the field of forgiveness, Everett Worthington, a psychologist and counselor, created the REACH model. REACH is an acronym, detailed below, for the five-step tool he developed to help others in this sometimes difficult process.

Worthington had to come face to face with his own model after suffering a tragedy few of us could ever imagine. His aged mother was raped and beaten to death by drug addicts. In his darkest hour, he needed to test the validity of his own concepts. He discovered that they really do work.

  1. Recall the hurt. Accept that a wrong was done to you. Often in trying to protect ourselves we try to deny the hurt. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “Forgiveness is taking seriously the awfulness of what has happened when you are treated unfairly. Forgiveness is not pretending that things are other than the way they are.”

Forgiveness begets more forgiveness ... it becomes a habit, a practice that enables us to live with the uncertainties of life without becoming jaded or resentful.

–Stephen Haynes from

A person’s natural reaction when hurt is to physically avoid the offender, but mentally avoiding them can be much more difficult and frustrating. With this step, try to be as objective as possible without fantasizing about revenge, dwelling on victimization or wishing for an apology that may never come.

  1. Empathize. Roberts admits empathy is a very difficult step and, at times, a major hurdle. Try to see things from the offender’s point of view and identify with the pressures that may have influenced their actions. Let’s look at Everett Worthington’s example. In empathizing with the killers, it is important that we not focus on the crime itself but look at the bigger picture, the generalization of what was going on psychologically.“Remember,” Roberts stresses, “[Don’t dwell on] the specific crime: these young men acted out of total disregard for another human being and out of their own selfish needs. Now, has this man Worthington — have you, have I, anybody — acted out of total disregard at various times in our lives for somebody else who is in a situation with us and out of selfish needs?” In our own moments of panic and desperation we will act irresponsibly and out of disregard for others. This is the perspective from which to gain empathy.


  1. Altruistic gift of forgiveness. At the heart of the word forgiveness is "give." Forgiving our offender is a gift to them. Remember a time when we hurt a person and how we felt when they forgave us. We’ve all felt a sense of freedom and gratitude.If we find it difficult to be a “willing” giver, try praying for the person every day for two weeks: for their health, prosperity, happiness and anything else we would want for ourselves. If in the beginning it feels like lip-service, still continue with the practice; eventually the heart will catch up.
  2. Commit to forgive. We can make forgiveness tangible by announcing our intention, whether it be to a group we belong to, writing a letter to the offender and reading it aloud to a friend, or just confiding in a trusted friend about our decision. Try writing a letter to the offender stating what they did and why it hurt or made you angry. Conclude with a bold statement that you forgive them, and then bury the letter. Try using your backyard or in a potted plant that from then on can be considered your “forgiveness tree.”It’s also a step toward healing to acknowledge what we have gained from the relationship. Many people focus solely on the act or hurt and forget the person as a whole. That uncle that embarrassed us at the family reunion also used to take us out for hamburgers and joke until we smiled. Remember sitting around the kitchen table and laughing with the same sister-in-law that forgot to send a thank-you note? There is more to that person than the terrible act or hurt that was committed.

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  1. Hold onto forgiveness. The offense does not need be re-lived over and over again. However, memories may continue to surface. Some people become discouraged thinking that if there is still emotional residual, forgiveness may not have sunk in. Worthington reminds us that “a painful memory does not disqualify the hard work of forgiveness.” Think back when the peace of forgiveness was felt and when you felt true, unconditional love for the person. Forgiveness is a choice. If there are doubts concerning the depth of forgiveness, then simply work through the REACH steps again. How long does this process take?

Healing depends on the severity of the transgression and where we are in our personal progression. Forgiving once does not mean we won’t ever have to forgive again. We need to be kind to ourselves and be patient. For a while we may have to forgive all over again, day after day.

Stephen Haynes from states that “forgiveness begets more forgiveness ... it becomes a habit, a practice that enables us to live with the uncertainties of life without becoming jaded or resentful.” Jesus’ directive to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21) has more to do with practice as a way of life than with a definitive number of when we have permission to stop.

It takes effort and won’t certainly be magic, but one morning — whether it’s dewy or not — we can wake up and be free.

Ramona Siddoway is a freelance writer who has published articles in Belgium, Angola, and the United States. She currently resides with her husband in Houston, Texas. You can read more about forgiveness at

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