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The power of Forgiveness

Posted on 14 March, 2020 at 22:45

Written by Dirk Vermooten (March 2020)  In October 2006, after a long shift at the fire department, 20-year-old Matt Swatzell fell asleep while driving and crashed into June Fitzgerald, who was pregnant and had her 19-month old daughter, Faith with her in the car. Faith survived the crash, but June and her unborn child did not. It is hard to imagine how devastating this must have been for her husband. Still, we could probably put ourselves in his shoes and find it in your heart to forgive Matt – it was an accident after all. And, that is exactly how it played out. June’s husband did indeed forgive the person who killed his wife and child and continues to have contact with him many years later.

But, what if it if the wrong-doing was not an accident? According to the book:”Why Forgive?”, Steven McDonald was a young police officer in 1986 when he was shot by a teenager in New York’s Central Park, an incident that left him paralysed. “I forgave him because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart,” McDonald wrote.

If these people can forgive in the most horrific of circumstances, surely, we too can forgive those that have wronged us. But, let’s face it, it is not an easy process, and, in most cases, we have to forgive many times before it truly sets us free. You see, forgiveness (or unforgiveness if we choose it), has everything to do with the forgiver, and very little with the person that is being forgiven (or not).

In fact, according to Harvard Medical School, forgiveness can have powerful health benefits. Research shows that forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and hostility; reduced substance abuse; higher self-esteem; and greater life satisfaction – all this to the benefit of the forgiver. In stark contrast, unforgiveness leads to high blood pressure, digestive problems, poor quality sleep, increased stress, chronic back pain, anxiety and depression.

So, forgiving is good for us. Yet, most of us find it to be quite a difficult process and we need lots of practice to get it right. According to Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, one of the best ways is to practice forgiveness is with the REACH method. REACH stands for Recall, Emphasize, Altruistic gift, Commit, and Hold.

Recall - The first step is to recall the wrongdoing in an objective way. The goal is not to think of the person in a negative light nor to wallow in self-pity, but to come to a clear understanding of the wrong that was done. Visualize the person and situation and all the feelings that come with it. Don't push aside anything, especially if it makes you feel angry or upset.

Empathise - Next, try to understand the other person's point of view regarding why he or she hurt you, but without minimizing or downplaying the wrong that was done. Sometimes the wrongdoing was not personal, but due to something the other person was dealing with.

Altruistic gift - This step is about addressing your own shortcomings. Recall a time when you treated someone harshly and were forgiven. How did it make you feel? Recognizing this helps you realize that forgiveness is an altruistic gift that you can give to others.

Commit - Commit yourself to forgive. For instance, write about your forgiveness in a journal or a letter that you don't send or tell a friend.

Hold - Finally, hold on to your forgiveness. This step is tough because memories of the event will often recur. "Forgiveness is not erasure," says Dr. VanderWeele. "Rather, it's about changing your reaction to those memories." When the bad feelings arise, remind yourself that you have forgiven and that ultimately you are the one that suffers in body and spirit if unforgiveness creeps back.

It is like Lewis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

 

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