REACHing for Forgiveness

August 21, 2023
Emma Showalter

Despite spending 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela maintained the belief that harboring resentment instead of practicing forgiveness “is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” 

Another term for harboring resentment is known as grudge-holding. A grudge acts as a barrier to forgiveness, as there is a tendency to believe that offering forgiveness would give the transgressor a pass for their behavior and that no restitution is needed. This often results from a person feeling as though they have been wronged and are owed something in return. 

From personal experience, I can attest to the complexities of grudges as impediments to forgiveness. On the one hand, holding a grudge can feel like a form of validation. Specifically, if the transgressor doesn’t acknowledge their wrongdoings, a person can hold a grudge to validate and acknowledge the anger that they feel is warranted. On the other hand, harboring anger will only make a person feel angrier, even if the transgressor has since forgotten about the situation, moved, or in some instances, passed away (Sahu et al. 2014). 

To combat grudge-holding, it is essential to understand the nuanced differences between decisional and emotional forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness is a “behavioral intention to resist an unforgiving stance and to respond differently toward a transgressor” (Worthington et al. 2007). In essence, it is the decision to control one’s behaviors (e.g., outward hostility) towards a transgressor. However, emotional forgiveness is “replacing the negative, unforgiving emotions with positive, other-oriented ones” (Worthington & Wade, 1999). Research has found that emotional forgiveness, rather than decisional forgiveness, leads to greater well-being. 

While emotionally forgiving someone is much easier said than done, here are a few tips from the REACH Forgiveness Model (Worthington 2006):

Recall the hurt.
Empathize with the person who hurt you.
Altruistic gift of forgiveness.
Commit to the emotional forgiveness that was experienced.
Hold on to forgiveness when doubts arise. 

To echo the words of Nelson Mandela, will we drink the poison of holding a grudge, or will we REACH out to forgive? Taking these steps to forgive may free you toward greater personal well-being.


  1. Sahu et al. (2014). Depression is more than just sadness: A case of excessive anger and its management in depression. Indian J Psychol Med, 36(1):77-79. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.127259 

  2. Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2006). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

  3. Worthington et al. (2007). Forgiveness, health, and well-being : A review of evidence for emotional versus decisional forgiveness, dispositional forgivingness, and reduced unforgiveness. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30(4), 291–302.

  4. Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Wade, N. G. (1999). The psychology of unforgiveness and forgiveness and implications for clinical practice. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 18(4), 385–418.

  5. Sharma, M., & Rush, S. E. (2014). Mindfulness-based stress reduction as a stress management intervention for healthy individuals: A systematic review. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 19(4), 271-286. 

Emma Showalter graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychological Sciences in 2023. She currently works in employee experience at Lincoln Financial Group. Her research interests include industrial-organizational psychology with a focus on training and development, motivation and productivity. Her hobbies include reading, traveling and spending time with family and cat, Soleil. Be sure to check back each week for another wellness tip of the week!


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