How to Deal With Someone Who Has Hurt You

If you were hurt or wronged severely 25 years ago and you wanted to forgive, you might turn to your faith or your own strength of will. There wasn’t much hope in science. Michael McCullough and coworkers conducted a systematic review and found 58 high-quality papers on the topic of forgiveness in 1998. Concerning interventions, very few studies have been conducted and reported on. The majority of these studies involved only a handful of people as demonstrations.

The study of forgiveness had a dramatic increase in early 1998. Twenty-five years on, and there have been tens of thousands of research conducted. Recently, over 30 qualitative review chapters were added to the new book I co-edited with Nathaniel G. Wade called Handbook of Forgiveness, 2nd edition. Forgiveness’ effects on mental health, substance abuse, and PTSD were only some of the topics covered in the many research cited throughout this book. According to other analyses of the literature, forgiving others can improve bonds with family, friends, coworkers, and communities. The key stress hormone cortisol is reduced and the bonding peptide oxytocin is increased, according to other studies. They demonstrated an improvement in self-soothing abilities as measured by heart rate variability. Some research suggests that people who forgive more frequently have better physical health.

So, in those just 25 years, we have learned a great deal about forgiveness and how to aid those who wish to forgive. We also recognize that forgiving an offender is only part of the solution when confronting wrongdoing. People have several options when faced with injustice: they can fight for redress, hand the problem over to a higher authority, bear with it, accept it, or simply move on with their life. Mindfulness training can also help them regulate their emotions. Forgiveness has many positive outcomes, but only for those who actively seek it. Six recent discoveries are presented that can aid in alleviating interpersonal tension, despair, and anxiety and fostering more flourishing and optimism.

Scientifically considering the concept of forgiveness

In recent years, researchers have discovered three effective methods for assisting people in forgiving others. Let’s start with the benefits to the forgiver. Second, we might learn to cope with the unfair circumstances of life by reflecting on the impact of perceived injustices. Third, forgiveness is just one option available to us when confronted with wrongdoing.

People are more likely to forgive when they consider what’s in it for them. Forgiveness can be prompted by thinking about the positive outcomes for just 10 minutes. This is one of the findings from our RCTs on the REACH Forgiveness program. We had participants spend the same amount of time as they would in a forgiveness group learning about the positive outcomes of forgiving others. They were equally as tolerant whether they thought about the positive outcomes for themselves for eight hours, six hours, five hours, two hours, one hour, or only 10 minutes. It’s funny how science may work in unexpected ways, because even our “placebo control group” helped people forgive more often.

An openness to new and frequently surprising alternatives is crucial to scientific inquiry. Then we put them to the test to determine which ones actually work.

Don’t forget, we have choices.

The burden of forgiving is lightened when we realize there are other ways to deal with wrongs.

We all “keep score” when we’ve been wronged. The injustice gap is a running tally of how much unfairness is ascribed to each individual hurt or transgression. A good estimate of the injustice gap did not appear until 2015. We knew from theory and practice that it hurt worse when people denied responsibility for their actions and added insult to injury by refusing to take responsibility for their hurtful behavior. However, when the wrongdoers took responsibility for their actions and sought forgiveness, our feelings of injustice faded away. The greater the disparity in perceived unfairness, the more challenging it is to address. In reality, the gulf between us and those who have done us wrong can feel more like a canyon we can’t traverse with forgiveness than a chasm we can.

People’s adaptability improves when they understand that forgiveness is not required to close all gaps in justice on its own. We can use a cocktail of measures, including forgiveness, to bring their perception of wrongdoing down to a more tolerable level. I’ll give you a few choices.

Perform an energetic form of waiting. Maybe we should try out active waiting. Forgiveness typically occurs fast and effortlessly. For 18 days, McCullough and his team asked patients with fresh wounds to rate how much they had forgiven. Most people forget, forgive, or accept whatever had happened within three days. Preparing to wait productively. Until it didn’t, that is. McCullough and his associates each developed a plan of action. Others were quick to forgive. In a short time, others followed suit. Some did it in the end. The general populace was remarkably hardy. But some people couldn’t seem to go over their anger, even after weeks had passed. Others continued to seethe and became more hostile as time passed. The moral: Forgiveness is a matter of perspective. We also recognize that while we have a tendency to forgive easily, this is not always the case.

Seek redress. Seeing justice done can help close the gap between those who feel wronged and those who do not. The guy who ran me off the road on my bike one morning was eventually ticketed for speeding less than a mile from where he’d been so rude and abusive to me. I did not harbor resentment. He paid for his own misdeeds.

Give up trying. The feeling of injustice can be mitigated if we consciously give the situation up to God, fate, or karma. When we let up trying so hard, we make room for success.

Make the choice to accept it. There are four degrees of tolerance for unfair treatment. We could start by pretending it’s not a huge deal and working from there. That mental gimmick rarely works, and it never fools us. Therefore, one should not advocate for such a method of injustice tolerance.

A second option is to just grit our teeth and put up with it. Even though it may reduce external and interpersonal tensions, doing so comes with expenses that can twist our gut and exacerbate internal stresses.

Finally, and most importantly for our social lives, we could refrain. Forbearance is accepting wrongdoing so that the relationship or group can continue to function normally. This doesn’t imply we have to avoid saying or doing anything that might upset our significant other, superior, or coworkers. But tolerance can include an outright rejection of unfavorable responses for the sake of our connection.

Acceptance, the fourth option, is the most beneficial to our own mental health. Life is too short to harbor resentment, so maybe we should let it go. Then, we can use mindfulness to calm ourselves down when we start to sense the want to react adversely.

Of course, there are less-than-ideal strategies we employ in an effort to lessen feelings of resentment. Healing is not guaranteed by condoning, rationalizing, excusing, or ignoring the wrongdoing. Furthermore, harboring resentment and actively or passively seeking retribution accomplishes nothing positive. That’s why we shouldn’t become stuck on the idea of forgiveness, but rather consider all of our possibilities. There are other responses to unfair treatment. Combining these legal means of coping can help us close the justice gap.

Intent on making an effort to forgive

Consider the most trying situation in which you were able to forgive. Keep that in mind, and you’ll show yourself that you really are capable of forgiving, no matter how difficult. Then give yourself over to the process of forgiving and spending time doing so.

The best predictor of successful forgiving, according to meta-analyses of numerous studies, is the amount of time spent trying to forgive. Think about how much better off you’ll be if you can forgive. Many of them exist. Your immediate and future physical health, as well as your spiritual well-being, can all benefit from a consistent practice of forgiveness. You must determine whether you can forgive with minimal effort or whether you need to go all out. To make the most of your therapy session, it is recommended that you first complete a six- or two-hour DIY forgiveness handbook.

Think of the Shortcuts

Opportunities abound for those who wish to forgive. Some condensed forms are provided below.

Your minister, rabbi, imam, or priest can point you in the right direction, as forgiving others has been a central tenet of many world religions and philosophies for centuries. Communities that actively practice forgiveness have refined and perfected their approaches over time. From Greater Good to the Mayo Clinic to Focus on the Family to Psychology Today and countless others, the internet offers a bewildering variety of resources. The internet is full with short films, podcasts, blogs, and insightful (and even Un insightful) responses to posts. Many online resources (albeit not always systematically) draw from published protocols that have been tested in RCTs. You can find helpful information on the websites of several psychologists.

Use interventions with supporting evidence as necessary.

Interventions supported by evidence tend to be more permanent. 53 randomized controlled experiments aimed at encouraging forgiveness were examined by Nathaniel Wade and colleagues in 2014. About 2,300 people were included in the studies. They discovered four key factors:

There were two models (my REACH Forgiveness model, which is briefly discussed in the sidebar below, and Robert Enright’s process model) that have been supported by roughly a third of all investigations.
Both programs were just as successful as the sum of all others per treatment hour.

The more one sought forgiveness, the more readily it was granted.

People who participated in forgiveness programs reported feeling less depressed and anxious and having more optimism for the future.

These treatments are accessible in the forms of psychoeducational groups, do-it-yourself workbooks, psychotherapy, couples therapy, and group therapy, and have undergone rigorous testing on a global scale. About 1,800 people were included in a more recent qualitative review of research conducted after the 2014 meta-analysis by Nathaniel Wade and Marilyn Tittler. The results backed up those from 2014.

Man Yee Ho, a professor at Chinese University in Hong Kong, recently oversaw a massive study spanning six locations in five nations and four continents. Using a do-it-yourself workbook, the study looked into how well REACH Forgiveness works. The workbook was written in response to a worldwide campaign for better mental health care for those without access due to lack of resources or time.

Ho’s team recruited around 4,600 people for the study, which is more than twice as many as were included in all previous randomized controlled studies combined. Forgiveness and well-being rose, whereas depression and anxiety fell. Furthermore, people’s attribute forgivingness grew, indicating they felt more assured in their ability to forgive in the future. Over two-thirds of the global population may access the workbooks in their native language because to the fact that they are available for free in English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Ukrainian, and Indonesian. Both self-forgiveness and couples therapy have incorporated the REACH Forgiveness steps into their practices.

Even the deepest wounds can be forgiven if you really want to.

There are three types of hurts that are particularly difficult to forgive. These are the people that repeatedly hurt us, the major injuries we’ve experienced, and the sum of all three.

The habitual miscreant. It’s not easy to forgive a partner who has wronged you or a toxic relative who you’re forced to spend a lot of time around. When these people are allowed to act unchecked, they cause injustice gaps to widen rapidly. Co-rumination, in which both partners indulge in wallowing in their respective wounds, or co-rumination incorporating a trustworthy and sympathetic third party who feeds our hate, can prolong the pain. A sympathetic and sympathetically-minded outsider can nonetheless keep us on edge. How is it possible to forgive someone who has been mistreated repeatedly?

When we’ve been injured or offended multiple times, we prefer to attribute it to the person rather than the incident. Our minds say, “I just can’t forgive her.” To forgive the unforgivable, though, it helps to know how generalization occurs. It’s easier to forgive a single wrong than it is to forgive multiple wrongs committed by the same person. Next, we select an existing wound. Also, another. We can put the power of generalization to use by finally concluding, “I forgive her.” As such, Rule of Thumb 6a is to provide forgiveness, one hurt at a time, even for those who repeatedly wrong you.

That major thing that’s going to happen. The severity of the wrongdoing may make it appear impossible to forgive. The chasm in fair treatment appears to be wider than the Mississippi River. Some people have the superpower of forgiving such acts through sheer force of will, but the rest of us who lack that ability must chip away at the injustice gap through the use of those methods. Use the options that don’t involve asking for forgiveness (6b).

Huge occurrences that keep happening. Repeated traumatic incidents, such as sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, acts of discrimination, gaslighting, or bullying, are especially challenging to overcome. After the victim has recovered from the shock or PTSD caused by the abuse, they often benefit from forgiveness counseling. The most well-supported model for long-term treatment is an adaptation of Enright’s process model.

You can forget almost anything if you really try. Like a COVID vaccine won’t provide permanent immunity, the REACH Forgiveness workbook won’t be able to eradicate all unforgiveness. But it’s a fantastic beginning. Keep in mind that forgiveness isn’t the only option when dealing with wrongdoing. Recent studies have shown that the forgiver can start to experience the positive effects of forgiveness on their relationships, mental health, spiritual health, and physical health within just two hours.

Forgiveness through the REACH Process

Consider the most challenging situation you were able to forgive. Keep in mind that you have the ability to forgive.

Think on how your relationship may benefit from forgiveness if it were safe, sensible, and possible, then run through the positive outcomes in your mind.

Follow these five simple actions to achieve true forgiveness in your heart.

R = Try to remember the pain dispassionately.
E — Feel for your tormentor. Do what you can to put yourself in their shoes. If you can’t find a way to forgive, try to replace any bad, unforgiving feelings with more positive ones like sympathy, compassion, or even love (especially in romantic relationships).
A = Forgiveness granted voluntarily. There is no one deserving of mercy. It is up to you to decide whether or not to forgive. Giving it would be a selfless act if you decide to do so.
C = Choose to fully embrace your sense of emotional forgiveness.
When you’re not sure if you’ve truly forgiven someone,
H = Hold on to forgiveness.

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