What does forgiveness mean?

Everett believes there are two types of forgiveness. “Decisional forgiveness” involves deciding to forgive a personal offense and letting go of angry and resentful thoughts and feelings toward the person who has wronged you. “Emotional forgiveness” involves replacing the negative emotions with positive feelings like compassion, sympathy, and empathy. Research shows that emotional forgiveness is where most health benefits lie. This type of forgiveness can reduce our stressful reaction to a transgression—and stress has been shown to lead to a suppressed immune system and an increased risk for cardiovascular issues. Emotional forgiveness also keeps us from ruminating over the wrong that was done to us, and rumination can be harmful, too: It has been associated with a number of mental health problems, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression. Decisional forgiveness is more important in repairing and reconciling relationships.

Can we learn to become more forgiving?

Interventions have been designed to help people reach emotional forgiveness. Everett has developed a five-step process called REACH that has been tested with positive results in more than 20 controlled scientific studies.


R is for “recall”—remembering the hurt that was done to you as objectively as you can.

E is for “empathize”—trying to understand the viewpoint of the person who wronged you.

A is for the “altruism”—thinking about a time you hurt someone and were forgiven, then offering the gift of forgiveness to the person who hurt you.

C is for “committing”—publicly forgiving the person who wronged you

H is for “holding on”—not forgetting the hurt, but reminding yourself that you made the choice to forgive.

Why are certain offenses harder to forgive?

After an offense, we experience an “injustice gap”—an ongoing mental computation in which we balance the amount of injustice done to us with subsequent events related to the transgression. For example, the offender might make things seem more unjust, by continuing a pattern of hurts that shows no sign of ending. That would make the injustice gap even larger. On the other hand, the offender might do things that restore some sense of justice to thinking about the offense—like making a sincere apology, making restitution, or perhaps making amends beyond mere restitution and apology. In those cases, the injustice gap narrows. Research reveals that the difficulty of forgiving is directly related to the size of the injustice gap.

How can marriages be enriched through forgiveness and reconciliation?

Often when we talk about whether we should forgive someone else, we really mean: Should we adopt a stance that says, “I trust you again”? Reconciliation is the restoration of trust when trust has been damaged in a relationship. Whereas forgiveness—decisional or emotional or both—is something within a person, reconciliation happens between people. Reconciliation depends on mutually trustworthy behavior until trust can be restored. Everett teaches couples how to forgive and restore trust using The Hope-Focused Approach to Couple Enrichment, which is composed of two portions: FREE (Forgiveness and Reconciliation through Experiencing Empathy) and HOPE (Handling Our Problems Effectively). Research supports the effectiveness of this approach, which he has also applied with parents.

How do religions view forgiveness?

Most religions advocate forgiveness. However, the conditions for granting forgiveness differ across religions. Christianity, for example, tends to be more unilateral in advocating the granting of forgiveness, and its believers are often urged to make a unilateral decision to forgive personal offenses. Other religions advocate more conditional forgiveness—that is, forgiving only if certain conditions are met by the offender. To help people forgive, Everett has created both secular and Christian manuals that people can use to run or participate in forgiveness groups. There are available at no cost, and he gives explicit permission to modify them to fit your situation.

Can communities become more forgiving?

Everett is just completing a project attempting to see the community impact in Christian colleges when a campus organizes a two-week “Forgiveness blitz.”