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Forgiveness Is within Your Reach

by Everett L. Worthington Jr., PhD

Wellness image

Coping with cancer is stressful – not only for the person diagnosed but also for everyone in his or her life. When people are under stress, little annoyances often compound into bigger issues. People do and say things they regret. Emotions flare. Past wounds resurface. When one person lashes out, the other is left with hurt feelings, resentment, and anger. Con­versely, the one who delivered the barb might feel guilt, remorse, shame, and self-condemnation.

After these kinds of interactions, we want to forgive and forget. Yet sometimes we don’t know how to get past the hurt and grasp the freedom of forgiveness. Whether you need to forgive yourself or someone else, here are some things you can do to set yourself on the path to forgiveness.

REACH Forgiveness of Others
For­giveness isn’t always easy, but here are a few steps you can take to help you forgive someone who has hurt you.

Recall the hurt
To heal, you have to face the fact that you’ve been hurt. Make the choice not to view the person who hurt you as a jerk. Decide to forgive. Choose not to pursue payback. Decide to treat the offender as a valued person.

Empathy is all about put­ting yourself in the other person’s chair. Build empathy by pretending that the person who hurt you is in an empty chair across from you. Tell them what is bothering you. When you’ve had your say, sit in the other chair and respond. Even if you find you can’t empathize with the person, you might feel sym­pathy, compassion, or love for them, which can also help you heal from hurt.

Altruistic gift
We all can remember a time when we wronged someone and that person forgave us. We felt light and free and didn’t want to wrong them again. You can give that same gift to someone who has hurt you.

Once you’ve forgiven some­one, write a note to remind yourself of your forgiveness – something as simple as “Today, I forgave John for hurting me” is adequate.

Hold on to forgiveness
The reason for writing a commitment note is because there may be times when you doubt that you really forgave the person who wronged you. Reread the note. You did forgive them.

Accept yourself as someone who is flawed but precious.

Author of Article photo

Dr. Everett Worthington Jr.

Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself
If you’re feeling guilt, shame, or remorse, you can apply these ideas to forgive yourself. But you must remember to forgive yourself responsibly; don’t use forgiveness as an excuse to just let your­self off the hook for wrongdoing. To deal with your self-blame because you feel you did something wrong or failed to live up to your own standards, follow these three steps:

♦ STEP 1: Seek a higher forgiveness.
First, make things right with that which you consider sacred. For many, that would be God or a higher power. Others might feel they need to reconnect with humanity or with nature.

♦ STEP 2: Repair relationships.
If you feel that you’ve hurt someone else, try to pick up the pieces. Even if you’ve done what feels like unrepairable dam­age, you can do things to pay forgiveness forward so perhaps others won’t expe­rience fallout from your acts.

♦ STEP 3: Rethink ruminations.
Some­times regret and remorse dominate us because we are feeling a bit perfec­tionistic. Rethink those unrealistic assumptions, and remember that you’re not perfect. No one is.

Once you’ve completed steps 1-3, these next three steps can help you cultivate inner peace:

♦ STEP 4: REACH emotional self-forgiveness.
Apply the “REACH Forgiveness” steps to yourself.

♦ STEP 5: Rebuild self-acceptance.
Accept yourself as someone who is flawed but precious. Talking with a loved one is often paramount in re­building a positive sense of self.

♦ STEP 6: Resolve to live virtuously.
If you’ve made mistakes, make up your mind not to make the same ones again.

Winning the battle against cancer and emerging a victor is a huge triumph, but the stress of having had the disease can linger well into survivorship. You can improve your quality of life (and the quality of life for those you love) by committing to “REACH Forgive­ness” – for yourself and for others.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dr. Everett Worthington Jr. is a clinical psychologist who has studied forgiveness for more than 30 years. For additional in­formation and resources to help you “REACH Forgiveness,” visit and and

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2015.