Forgiveness is the essence of letting go. A remarkable movement has emerged among people who have been victimized directly, or indirectly by someone who is still incarcerated. This project brings prisoners together with their victims, or relatives of their victims, with the sole purpose of allowing prisoners to express their remorse for their crimes while being forgiven for those they have harmed.
Those who have participated say that moving through this difficult process and forgiving people who have done them unspeakable harm is the only way they have found that they can free themselves of anger and hurt, and move into a happier and more peaceful existence.
When we decide to let go of old hurts or fresh insults, we foster compassion for others and enhance social bonding, which build inner reserves of well-being.
Dr. Worthington a psychologist has written the defining book on forgiveness. Worthington describes a five-step process he calls REACH. It is recommended for anyone who wants to forgive, but cannot.
R stands for recall the hurt, in as objective a way as you can. Do not think of the other person as evil. Do not wallow in self-pity. Take deep, slow, calming breaths as you visualize the event.
E stands for empathize. Try to understand from the perpetrator’s point of view why this person hurt you. This is not easy, but make up a possible story that the person might tell you if challenged to explain. To help you do this, remember the following:
A stands for giving the altruistic (selfless) gift of forgiveness, another difficult step. First recall a time you felt wronged, felt guilty, and you were forgiven. This was a gift you were given by another person because you needed it, and you were grateful for this gift. Giving this gift usually makes us feel better. We give it because it is for the trespasser’s own good. If you give the give half-heartedly, however, it will not set you free.
C stands for commit yourself to forgive publicly. In Worthington’s groups, his clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” write a letter of forgiveness to the offender, write it in their diary, write a poem or song, or tell a trusted friend what they have done. These are all contracts of forgiveness that lead to the final step.
H stands for hold onto forgiveness. This is another difficult step, because memories of the event will surely recur. It is important to realize that the memories do not mean unforgiveness. Remind yourself that you have forgiven, and read the documents you composed.
Not only is important is it to forgive others, but also to forgive ourselves for our own wrongs. AA steps # 8 and #9 sums up this idea.
8. Made a list of all persons we have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure others.
If you have never attempted this exercise, it can release current and past pain. Even those you have hurt in the past reject your attempts at forgiveness, at least you can feel the peace of having attempted to right your wrong.
Try this exercise: Close your eyes, bring your attention into your hear and ask if are holding on to any grievances, hostilities, resentments, or regrets. If any come to mind, ask what occurred that led to the blockage in your hear. Then, ask what needs to occur now in order to release these toxins. Look for the gift that every life experience offers, even painful ones, and express your gratitude for the experience.