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Ep. 170: Everett L Worthington, Jr - Forgiveness is a Choice!

November 18, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 170
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 170: Everett L Worthington, Jr - Forgiveness is a Choice!
Show Notes Transcript

The highest rent you’ll ever pay is for the hurts, sorrows, and unforgiveness that occupy the space in your heart and mind. While thinking of those hurtful breakups, toxic relationships, unresolved lies, or the unrepairable damaging acts of others, it may be hard to channel the wisdom of poet Edwin Hubbel Chapin, "Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it foregoes revenge.” However, what ancient wisdom already has known, the research now shows that there's an extraordinary healing power in taking steps to forgive others and even yourself.

On this episode, Commonwealth Professor Emeritus working from the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, clinical psychologist, and author, Dr. Everett Worthington, Ph.D., discusses how forgiveness is a choice and a skill that can emerge with appropriate mental framing and psychological and prosocial practices.

About Everett L Worthington, Jr
Everett Worthington, Ph.D., is Commonwealth Professor Emeritus working from the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. He holds a Faculty Affiliate appointment at the Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University (Human Flourishing Program). He continues to be active in research and speaking around the world. He is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Virginia. He has published over 40 books and around 500 articles and scholarly chapters, mostly on forgiveness, humility and positive psychology, marriage, and family topics, and religion and spirituality. He also has developed the REACH Forgiveness model being tested currently in a global grant-funded randomized controlled trials in 5 countries (six sites), and he has developed numerous other positive psychological interventions.

Website: www.EvWorthington-forgiveness.com 


About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

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Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. I'm your host Sucheta Kamath. And I believe, by tying the findings from neuroscience psychology education, into everyday transformation, a lot can happen to our personal and collective growth. As I've shared with you before, this podcast is fueled with multiple goals, one to translate the science of developing prefrontal cortex and lifelong journey of this prefrontal cortex as it encounters many bumps. Second is to really motivate you, and motivate your current self to do something, so that the future self is taken care of. And the disconnect, sometimes we feel between the current self and the future self needs to be minimized. And this knowledge that we bring to you should help with that. And lastly, is to really help you fine tune the playbook that we all need to have, so that we have some personal tips, and some guidebook that tells us what we should do. And what does the science say about self-change? And what do the experts say about it. So with that in mind, today's a very special day because we have a very special guests who's going to talk about forgiveness. And one of the ways executive function plays a role in self-directed emotional management is to rise above adversity. And recently, I saw a TED Talk by the former private secretary to Nelson Mandela Zelda la Grange, who tells the story that Mandela was taken to court by South African Rugby Union after he commissioned an inquiry into the sports and particularly discriminatory behaviors. And when he entered the courtroom, he went straight to the rugby Union's lawyer and shook their hand and conversed with them. And not just, you know, general language or English but their own language. And this was really a very critical point in Zelda's observation, and she kind of didn't like it that he should even approach and he said something beautiful, he said, You must never allow the enemy to determine the grounds for battle. And, and this really struck a chord with me as we get ready to talk about forgiveness. So today, I have Dr. Everett Worthington, who is a Commonwealth Professor Emeritus working from the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. He holds a faculty affiliate appointment at the Institute for quantitative social sciences, Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University in the human flourishing program, he continues to be active in research and speaking around the world. And I love his signature, which says my salary has retired but I haven't. One wonderful thing to know about him that it probably will take you lifetime to catch up with the work he has done. He's a licensed clinical psychologist in Virginia, he has published over 40 books, and around 500 articles and scholarly chapters mostly on forgiveness, utility, positive psychology, marriage, and family topic. And religion and spirituality. All topics are my favorite, but the most important thing that that he doesn't just talk about and research, but he has brought these amazing tools one, particularly his REACH program, and I'm really looking forward to him talking about it. So with that introduction, welcome to the show. How are you?

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: I'm good Sucheta. Thank you for inviting me on.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, there's so many things we can talk about. And let's start with defining forgiveness. And you have studied forgiveness for over 30 years. What got you interested and have you ever had to forgive any anything really horrendous?

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: I really got interested in studying forgiveness because I'm a clinical psychologist and I did couples counseling so for years yours I only saw couples. And it seemed like almost every couples case boiled down to forgiveness sooner or later. So that really got me started on it. I wrote a little clinical article about it. And then one of my graduate students just entering our program, our doctoral program in counseling psychology was Mike McCalla. And Mike has become just an absolutely terrific psychologist. But Mike wanted to study forgiveness scientifically. And I thought, good. I'm all for that. So I, you know, we jumped on that and started a program in research on forgiveness, and that was followed up by several other really talented graduate students, Steven Sandage, Jennifer Ripley, and they drugged me kicking and screaming into the study of forgiveness. I have had some difficult times in my own life with forgiveness. They came I kind of ironically after I started studying forgiveness, but in 1996, my mother was murdered. And it was a home invasion on Christmas Eve. So it she lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, she did not drive. And so she didn't have a car in the driveway. And apparently a young man or perhaps more than one, were out in the cold. They're looking at this darkened house thinking, Oh, this is going to be a perfect crime this is we're just going to waltz in and we'll be long gone before these people get back from their New Year's party. Turns out my mom was 78, I guess at that time, and she had gone to bed early. And and so when the young man broke in, she awakened and went out behind him apparently, and it must have confronted him. And he had a crowbar that he had used to break the window to allow himself to get in. And, and he's reached out and struck her numerous times until she, she died. 

Sucheta Kamath: So so sorry. 

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Yeah, that was, that was hard. And I was very, very angry. At first, I was so angry that my brother and sister and I had gotten together in my brother's back room, my brother had discovered my mom's body called us from Knoxville to drive down. We're both both Cathy and I live in, in Richmond, Virginia. But we drove down into the middle of this murder investigation. And it looked like it was a young man that were a burglary had gone wrong. But I remember as we processed what we had learned over the course of that day, pointing to a baseball bat against the wall and saying, I wish whoever did that we're here. And we take that bat, and I would, I would kill him. I was I said he would not last 30 minutes, my brother said he wouldn't last 10 minutes. If I got ahold of him. My sisters that will I would make him last an hour. So that was that was a lot of anger associated with it. And then later that night, I was able to process what went on and forgive the young man for that murder.

Sucheta Kamath: Wow, first of all, I'm so sorry. And sending lots of warm wishes towards you and your family even though it's been a long time ago. And what so strikes me You know, I think forgiveness, which is kind of a an emotional or pro social change, right? Where when one perceives transgression, or ill treatment or hurtful behaviors, and you apply this, this approach, so that the negative feelings are reduced. And one thing that you talk about in the story as well as in your research that sounds like it takes a while or it can it needs to be intentional, and I quote you hear that forgiveness is a choice. So tell us a little bit about this. Is there much in the way of scientific understanding of forgiveness?

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: There is quite a lot. I in 1998 I did. I was Managing a kind of a worldwide request for proposals. So we're, we wanted to fund research on forgiveness, and I commissioned a annotated bibliography of the science that was available at that time, there were only 58 good studies. By 2005, when I did a handbook of forgiveness, there were 1100 studies. By 2020, there were well over 2500 studies on forgiveness. So basically, the amount of scientific study of forgiveness just accelerated from a standing start. So we know a lot about forgiveness at this point and about not just what makes it up and what makes it hard and what makes it easy, but also how to intervene to help people who want to forgive to be able to forgive more fast or faster and more thoroughly than they might do normally.

Sucheta Kamath: So with that, let's talk about these two sets of people involved in the act of forgiveness or unforgiveness. Right. So if a person offends me, or hurts me, and the person apologizes, it seems relatively easy to forgive. Right? But what if the person won't even take the responsibility for hurting me? Right? It's really seems to be hard to forgive somebody who doesn't have any ownership of his hurt causing behaviors. 

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Yeah, we have this, we develop this idea that we call an injustice gap. So this injustice gap is like the difference between the way I would like things resolved and the way that I see them right now. So if, if there's a large sense of injustice, then that's very hard to deal with. But if that gap can be reduced in some way, then it's much easier to deal with. So there are many ways to reduce that, that injustice gap. Forgiveness is only one of those, but if a person makes an apology, well, we know that's hard for them that so that's a certain amount of justice that we feel is brought into the situation. Or if the person offers to make amends if the person takes responsibility for what they did. So we see that all these ways of reducing that gap make it easier to deal with in some way. Now, a lot of people think, you know, some, if somebody hurt me or offended me, will forgiveness is the only way. It turns out, there are many ways to deal with those, that sense of injustice. So I could see justice done, or I could work for justice. Or I could see a person get the natural consequences of their behavior. I, at one point, I'll tell you that story in just a moment, but they could turn it over to God, they could forebay or they could tolerate, they could accept and move on with life, they can also forgive. So there are many, many ways to lower that sense of injustice. And we can mix and match those to make it as easy as possible to deal with the injustices that we experience. So let me just tell you, you know what happened I'm, I was riding my bicycle to work. And I was on a street that the speed limit was about 40 miles per hour. And, and so I'm riding along just pedaling and the cars are whizzing past me and some of them are meeting me. And so there's zinging right past me, all of a sudden, there's somebody behind me, but they're not, never not passing me. So I looked over my shoulder, it was this big pickup truck. One of these jacked up pickup trucks, you know, and this dude is sitting out there and he's pounding on the steering wheel. And I'm thinking, whew, this looks like a little road rage brewing. So I'm over on the, the edge of the road and there's just a ditch down beside it, and all of a sudden, there's a break in the traffic and then here comes this guy. You know, he accelerates and when he gets right beside me, he just lays on his horn be you know, so I, of course, ran into the ditch and I'm like, fighting it and I finally get Get up onto the highway again. And then I made an error of judgment. Oh, no. Yes, I made a little gesture to him. Like probably shouldn't have done that it was just a frustrated gesture like this. And he did. You know, his brake lights come on and he starts queuing up people behind them are waiting on me to catch up with him and oh my goodness. Yeah, so I, I'm like, don't look at it, you know, the pedal, just accelerate the situation. So I zip on by him, of course, then he starts up and he's matching my speed. And then he, he can't get my attention because I just don't want to look at him and, and I see him out of the corner of my eye, scooting across the cab of the, of the pickup truck, rolling down the window, and it kinda, you know, has his hand out, that window with his fingers pointed up and begins to move his fingers down one by one. You know, until he had one showing, and I thought that probably he was doing some kind of religious witnessing to me at that point, you know, having made his point, so to speak, he punctuated it by accelerating and throwing dust up, you know, and

Sucheta Kamath: Pointing with a middle finger. Yeah.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: So, you know, he takes off up the hill. So I'm riding up the hill. And I'm thinking these deep existential thoughts, the like, and the, how the fragile life is, and one stupid little gesture, really read it. And I reached the top of a hill, and there he is parked at the side of the road. And I'm like, oh, man, give me a break. And then I realized, though, that there is one of Henrico County's finest police officers that's writing him a little love note.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, yes.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: So as I went by him, because I'm a very friendly guy, I cannot help but give him the Queen's wave, you know, but then because I'm not stupid, I did, you know, run off into the, into the neighborhood and but he got his just desserts, you know, he, he got the natural consequences of his behavior. That basically lowered my injustice gap to virtually nothing, even though he had run me off the road and tell it.

Sucheta Kamath: Such a great story.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Like that makes the point.

Sucheta Kamath: So few things stand out about this story, that one, I think we are so viscerally wired to receive fairness, and offer fairness. And so that that fairness, radar is, you know, dialed all the way up. And secondly, I think people who are self-indulgent or self-focused tend to are pursuing their goals while compromising other people's ability to do the same. And they are the reasons why I feel like in my work, executive dysfunction is seeing the gap in that everybody's ability to seek fairness and justice is compromised by selfish and self-indulgent people. Right? I mean, his self-indulgent was my pickup truck, my road. My goal is to get places sooner faster. And this dude on a bike is blocking my goal directed pursuit.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Exactly. Yeah. Let me know about it. He was very happy that he let me know about it.

Sucheta Kamath: So, you know, what's so couple of questions. You know, I feel like anyway, this is my silly little observation. But you know, on a drive, I feel very generous. And then I let people go ahead of me. And then I am looking through their back window at their to see if they wave and thank me thinking is away. And then I'm getting a little offended if somebody doesn't wave.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: You're not the only person who does that Sucheta. You know.

Sucheta Kamath: It's not injustice, but there's also expectation of fairness. Which so I've been recently, you know, I've discovered that I used to be called very sensitive as a child. And that was almost like, accusation that you take things too seriously. But as I've grown and matured, I've come to understand that I'm very perceptive. And so I like the distinction between sensitive versus perceptive And then I'm kind of toning down these observations. So I don't like you said, I don't want to get into it with you, whoever you are. So, so let's talk about this. When people are hurt or offended, do they have to forgive? Can they hold a grudge? Because it feels so good to hold a grudge? And why does it feel so good? 

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: We, of course, we nobody has to forgive in a I can deal with, I can deal with an injustice in many, many ways. You know, I named all those turn it over to God in those get justice all those ways, but, but I can just live with my sense of, you know, holding this grudge. Anger is our emotion that is a, you know, biologically allows us to remove blocks to our pleasure. But I cannot get the lid off of that jar of pickles, I get angrier and angrier until finally, I remove the block to my pleasure. And so if, if I'm feeling offended and hurt one way to make myself feel stronger, especially if I've been belittled, and I and I feel vulnerable. Because I've been hurt, I can hold on to that grudge and or I can even seek to get revenge. I didn't mention that. That's a that is a perfect way to get rid of that. injustice. It just has one small problem. And that is if I get revenge against somebody it you know, if they're capable at all, they will want revenge against me. Although I feel better for the time being, this is going to set off a social cycle that continues. And it's basic, you know, science and that. I feel my pain. More than I feel the other person's pain. Yeah. So if if I feel that I just have barely hurt this person with a degree of heard of one on a scale of zero to 10. And they feel their pain more than I do. They think I've hurt them three. Pay me back. Give me what they think is three. But I you know, that hurts me more than it then they think. So now I'm like, wait a minute, I hurt them. One, they gave me back five. I've I owe them for to get even. Huh. So that's why this not only is a social cycle, but often is an accelerating social cycle where each side one ups the other by doing something more horrid than the other side yet.

Sucheta Kamath: I don't know if you recently saw this news story, this man, when his daughter turned 18, brought a truck, his pickup truck, filled it which was filled with pennies, and dumped all the child support that he owed in his ex-wife’s yard. 

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: That's a little passive aggressive.

Sucheta Kamath: So mean, and obnoxious and, and again, as you as you said, you know, he felt compelled to pay back for asking him to do his job, but feeling that she doesn't deserve whatever, you know. So, so true. And so again, I think that goes back to this idea that we have this invisible tally maker in the brain that we are keeping tabs of are you fair? Is it just is it fair? Is it just and so can you help us connect this with self-control and self-regulation? That is the job of the prefrontal cortex, right to kind of bring balance and when to let go and not keep the tally, versus when to actually do something very strategic, intentional, and to benefit, our own personal journey, so to speak. Right?

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Yeah. And the unfortunate part is, you know, that our prefrontal cortex isn't always good at making that decision in the spur of the moment. No, it's the beauty of it is that I can do a lot of things reasonably and rationally to set up the situation to make it more likely to be able to respond well, so I can choose heroes of forgiveness or heroes of justice or you know, whoever and kind of emulate them that's, that's a one off choice. that is going to have this payback down the road if to the degree that I rehearse that mentally change my environment to make it, you know, less likely to bump into problems I can, I can, you know, deal flexibly and resiliently with situations that come up, you know, as they come up, and then I can build coping mechanisms that allow me to deal with whatever is going to come up. So even though I, I know how bad New Year's resolutions turn out, you know, they only about 5% of New Year's resolution succeed, and that usually is, is willpower. But if I use my prefrontal cortex strategically, then I can, you know, often achieve the self-control that I need, you know, and not have to make decision after decision after decision. So, so it's a matter of, you know, can I kind of see the big picture and see a strategic way through it, rather than trust to, I have the willpower to deal with everything that comes up?

Sucheta Kamath: Well, and I think, aren't there you describe in your work or in your one particular book, but that they're, you know, their personality virtues that can really aid the process of forgiving or not allow people to forgive. So you say caring, second is self-control. And third is inquisitiveness. Can you talk a little bit about these traits that we have, which may have given us some leg up and some people are more capable than others? And I see this all the time, you know, temperamentally, some people are just itching for a fight, you know, they, they just want straight for revenge, and kind of like punishing other persons transgressions.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: There, though, and you just mentioned three of many pearls that are just, you know, I mean, those, those personal qualities that, you know, depend on our maturing, and they depend on that prefrontal cortex, maturing by like age 25, or 30, for most, most men, you know, works a lot better for women. But, you know, as you know, as we develop this sense of self control, and we apply it to try to, to build virtues within ourselves are built character strengths, things like humility, where I, you know, we have a four part, necessary and sufficient conditions for humility. So, you know, a person needs to kind of have an accurate view of their strengths and weaknesses, they need to be teachable to try to correct their weaknesses, they need to have a modest self-presentation, then they, it helps to be other oriented to lift others up instead of putting them down. And that, that humility, you know, where I'm other oriented, I'm trying to see the, from the framework of the other person, I mean, that that is a key part to many, you know, virtue efforts, so patience with somebody, you know, humility, just self-control and self-regulation in general. But as you pointed out, there's this, you know, personality characteristic that is we call neuroticism but it's not like being a neurotic, that means emotional reactivity activity. And so, you know, so people can lower their emotional reactivity. Yes, it's part of their personality, but we can change. It's hard and it takes conscious effort and overtime, but we can change our personal emotional reactivity. We can be more agreeable, we don't have to be cranky all the time. You know, put our minds to it. We can kind of build agreeableness in and then I don't get offended as often. I'm not. I'm not that radar looking for an offense and waiting for it to happen so I can find it. So there, you know, our, you know, ability to regulate ourselves emotionally and mentally, is I think, a great gift. And, you know, of course, it would be nice if we could develop this at age, at age, just post womb. That's not in the cards, but it's gonna take a while. And hopefully, you know, we put our effort into doing that, and it's maturely for other adult life.

Sucheta Kamath: That's great. So the scientific studies, you know, you have conducted over the years show that there are two separate kinds of forgiveness, right, tell us about what they are. And they're the differences there exist?

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Sure. So we believe that people think often, you know, that there's one type of forgiveness, and it requires a lot of changes in their life. But I think we've found pretty definitively that there are two separate types of forgiveness. One we call decisional forgiveness, this is to make a decision about how I intend to act toward a person. So I'm going to, I'm going to not get revenge or try to pay him back, I am going to treat them as a valued and valuable person. So that that's not a behavior now, because I couldn't make that decision. But this person gets hit by a car tonight, and I never get to carry it out. And yet I have still forgiven. So it's what a psychologist calls a behavioral intention statement. But I can make that decision. And I can carry it out for the rest of my life, and still feel angry and resentful, and hostile and full of hate toward this person. Every time I think about what was done, and that suggests that there must be a second type of forgiveness that is emotional and motivational. And we call that emotional forgiveness. So, decisions, you know, are like, light switches. Now, I may have to struggle for a long time before I decided to turn the light switch. But once I make the decision, you know, it's like going to be different. But emotions aren't like that, you know, emotions rarely just are on or off, they usually are going to take a time that I have to consciously and, and, and even unconsciously trying to deal with those. And so emotional forgiveness is the emotional replacement of negative unforgiving emotions, like resentment and bitterness and hostility, hatred, anger, fear, emotional replacement of those emotions with positive other oriented emotions, such as empathy for the person, sympathy, maybe I can't feel empathic toward them, I can't understand how they could ever do such a terrible thing to me, but I can feel sympathy, I feel sorry for them, I can feel compassion and want to help them I can feel love for that person. So. So I replaced the negative with the positive. And that the kind of metaphor that I would, that I often use is it's like a chemical titration like chemical neutralization, where I've got this acid of unforgiveness within me. And I start dripping in this positive base of, of empathy, sympathy, compassion, love. And gradually, it's not that I feel positive toward them. What's happening is it's getting less negative, less negative. And then, at some point, it might reach neutrality. And I just, I don't feel really anything toward them as a result of this. And mostly, if this is a person that is a stranger, somebody bumped me in on the street and spill my Starbucks coffee all over me. Or if this is a person that I don't intend to continue to interact with, often this turns out to be somebody like ex-spouses who've moved away. Usually we're good. We're just saying, Okay, I'm at neutral. I feel nothing. Complete emotional forgiveness. But this is a valued person that I'm going to continue to interact with, then I'm usually not happy just stopping at I feel nothing toward you. Want to keep pouring love and, you know, empathy and sympathy and compassion into that relationship until it reaches a positive level. So there's the two types of forgiveness turns out, and in studies, they're related, they're correlated at point four, which is not a high correlation, it accounts for, you know what a statistician would say, 16% of the variation. So that's not a lot. They are related, but they're not joined at the hip, we can have one without the other. And it doesn't matter which one you have first, you don't have to make a decision and then experience emotional change. Many people can make an emotional change, and then go Oh, yeah, I'm deciding to forgive afterwards. 

Sucheta Kamath: I call it I mean, as I was reading about it, and learning about it, I think it is like, reaching personal sainthood. I read. Because, I mean, I think, and I wonder what you think about this, but you know, sometimes people forgive because they want to appeal to their angel, you know, betters, the better side, appeal to the angel within, and then there's some little righteousness that my people keep, you know, pop up, its ugly head, I'm feeling really good. Now, I'm what a great person I am. But if you think about, you know, real enlightened folks or Mr. Rogers, you know, who is one of my favorite, you, by the way, remind me of him deeply. That it's that, you know, trade, it's not a state, it's not temporarily achieved, and then vanishes, the minute another infraction comes your way or another hurtful event happens, particularly by the same person. So can you maybe talk a little bit about this idea of a state versus trait? And how do these two types of forgiveness is connected to that?

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Oh, well. So, you know, states of forgiveness pop up all the time. And, or at least the opportunity to deal with in justices and one of the ways I might deal with that is to forgive and that would be a state of forgiveness. And that is going to be something that comes and, you know, then gets forgotten, usually, because, okay, this was a little thing, and I've put it behind me. And it's not worth bringing up again. But a trade or disposition of forgiveness is something you know that most people can benefit by cultivating. And, and that's going to be more of a propensity to practice forgiveness. A lot of times in one relationship, if you are in a relationship for a long period of time, or a lot of, you know, a lot of different relationships. And so forgiveness, which is the trait is something that is a generalization across a lot of different relationships, and across time, something that lasts for a time, that doesn't mean that I don't have my moment where I want to get even with somebody who cuts me off in traffic, you know, but hopefully, I'm disposed to quickly forgive that person instead of, you know, road rage against them and crash into the back of them.

Sucheta Kamath: So I mean, now that you have talked a lot about this, you know, this idea of, kind of, we can cultivate the change is possible, and there's a huge value in it. Can we talk a little bit about unforgiveness as a process or as a choice? And how people are there a lot of disadvantages associated with it. So not just bitterness, but also physically it can have an impact on you. And that's why pursuing forgiveness. And particularly, you know, in my work of executive dysfunction, people with executive dysfunction, who often take are impulsive, are not organized, they're not able to see the big picture they, you know, lose sight of the big picture or hyperfocus under focus. And what happens is their decisions lead to regret. And they're twofold. One is they may be perceived as selfish and self-interested. And then they also don't appear generous or kind and extending or more of themselves are compromising personal goal in achievement. And when you point out or other, they want help, but they don't want to change. And you know, this is a typical problem with clinical psychology and speech language pathology. And so I find that, you know, sometimes just educating them about this attitude of unforgiveness or attitude of resistance can be really of great value to them, can you share some of the tricks or strategies to get people to see why and forgiveness is really costly affair.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Um, so one of the things that has happened is just there's been an enormous amount of research on the benefits of forgiving to the person who practices forgiveness. So the benefits are, you know, relational, to start off with, it's a five make a decision to forgive, I'm making a decision about my intention to act differently with this person, so that that immediately is going to have a good effect on the relationship. Yeah, even if I'm emotionally forgiving. They see that I'm not, you know, just grumpy, and, you know, hostile toward them. And so that is going to help the relationship too. So both a decision to forgive and emotional forgiveness help the relationship, probably that decision, you know, is, you know, more immediate, but there's, there are also benefits by to the mental health of the person. And, and that mental health benefit of forgiving is, is usually, because a reduction of stress happens when I forgive. And I stop ruminating. So rumination, of course, is playing something over and over in your mind, like a bad movie, and when I am able to forgive a lot of that rumination just closes down automatically. And so I stopped continually rehearsing this, the stress reaction that I have, well, chronic stress that goes along with chronic unforgiveness is going to produce a massive amount of problems, and eventually, a lot of physical problems. So it's going to increase my risk of cardiovascular problems of stroke of high blood pressure of hypertension, it's going to increase, it's going to decrease my immune system functioning, I'm just going to fight off threats to my body unless well, it. In fact, what happens with that chronic stress of unforgiveness is that my, my adrenal glands produce cortisol, and keep producing cortisol and I get this cortisol overload. And there's a there's a researcher who studied cortisol for his entire career named Robert Sapolsky. And of course, he just takes every system in the body and says, You keep elevated cortisol, it will shrink the size of your brain, in especially the hippocampus, which is what memory is consolidated, it will increase cardiovascular risk, it will increase immune decrease immune system function, it will give you gastrointestinal problems, it will, it can impair the sexual reproductive system. Pretty much every system in your body is affected by that chronic stress fulness of, of holding on to grudges, especially multiple grudges. And then there are spiritual benefits to forgiving also. So some people feel spiritually out of sort with humanity or with nature or with God. And you know, by forgiving that helps them feel restored again and spiritually. So there are a lot of reasons to forgive or deal with unforgiveness in one of those other ways. And there are a lot of costs to holding on to grudges.

Sucheta Kamath: That's truly incredible ways we can manage and we at no point we need to feel helpless. All right. So as we can't really finish this podcast without talking about your particular program. And so I understand that you have developed a program called REACH, which stands for our for Recall the hurt, E for empathize with your offender, A for altruistic gift, C to commit and H to hold on to forgiveness. Can you talk to us in depth about this, or particularly the step of altruistic gift is so fascinating to me if you can walk us through or maybe illustrate how valuable this process can be.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: So there's, there's a lot of science behind us in that there are 30+ randomized control trials that have been published, that support the effectiveness of the REACH forgiveness model, there are, there are five on right now a worldwide trial is going on where 600 people are randomly assigned to either immediate completion of a two hour workbook on REACH forgiveness, or delayed where they then complete the workbook later, and 600 people in each site in. In Indonesia, these are places that had a lot of conflict. The Ukraine, there are two sites in Ukraine one right at the war line and the other backing key of the people behind the lines, Columbia, which has, you know, 60 years of civil war and South Africa. So we've got, you know, five different countries, six sites on that just 3000 plus people going through this right now, so that those results are not published yet. They finished the trials, but we have not analyzed that data. So there's a lot of science supporting that this is good. And, and basically, there is a linear relationship between the amount of time that people spend trying to seriously forgive, and the amount of forgiveness that they will experience. So it's a it's a straight line, more time, more forgiveness. Here's the good news. without even mentioning depression or anxiety, the more time forgiving, the lower the depression goes straight relationship, the more time for giving, the lower the anxiety goes. So, and the more hope goes up, you know, when people just hope in their life and hope in their relationships. So that's the kind of the science behind this. But let me just illustrate how that might work by going back to the murder of my mom, because there I was having planted at that baseball bat and said, I wish I could kill that guy who killed my mom. That night, I went up to my aunt's house to spend the night and I spent four hours walking back and forth around that they had totally just raging by three o'clock in the morning, I was like, I need to do something more positive than this. And I I set down the bed to write a eulogy, thinking about what my mom's life must have meant to raise three kids that she never went over 100 miles from home. And yet, as I thought about that, suddenly it dawned on me that he I have spent 24 hours and I have not allowed myself to think about forgiveness. I mean, at that point, I was a clinical psychologist seeing couples talking to him about forgiveness. I just written my first book on forgiveness. I've done numerous studies on forgiveness, but I can't personally let myself even think the word forgiveness and I thought well, obviously I need to think through this and so so I started applying that reach forgiveness model and so when need to recall the hurt are but not recall it by just rehearsing the same what a jerk this person is, but rather to think more empathically and so I can imagine what it must be like to be New Year's Eve night. It's cold in Knoxville, Tennessee. He's out there in the cold looking at this darkened house thinking about how he's gonna have a perfect crime. He breaks in, this woman confronts him his perfect crime has exploded. But also, she's looking at his face. Right, he's going to go to jail. He has poor impulse control anyway, he needs to work with you on this executive function, but it's so he, you know, hits her with a crowbar.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: So as I, as I thought through our and he, you know, I saw myself back in that room earlier in the night, pointing to that baseball bat, and saying, if he were here, I, at that point, 48 years old, a Christian, a person who's taught about forgiveness and done research on for years, but I would take that and intentionally hit him in the head until he died, and I had better emotional control than he did probably. And I thought, but I know that if I, you know, am able to confess that, that that I can be forgiven. And I thought, well, if I can be forgiven, for my darkness of heart, who am I to hold this against this young man, and I was able to forgive. And once I was able to forgive, to be able to tell others that I had forgiven. I gave him a an altruistic give, it's altruistic, because he did not deserve forgiveness. You know, so it is a free gift that we give when we give forgiveness. So I was able to commit to the forgiveness I'd experienced, and that has helped me to hold on to that forgiveness. So recall the hurt, empathize, altruistic gift, commit to forgiveness that you experience and hold on. When you doubt.

Sucheta Kamath: So as part of commitment, did you also practice writing a letter or note saying that today I forgive him.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: That would be something that we get people to do in workshops, or, you know, working through, you know, working through a dry workbook, that's like, on my website, I didn't do that, in. In fact, I didn't deal with the public commitment at all for about three months. I, I had forgiven him right away. And I might say that that's really weird. Even for me, I had a professor who gave me a B once. Can you imagine that? He held a grudge against that guy for like, 10 years before I had a religious experience to you to be able to forgive. So I'm not like your uber-forgiver, necessarily so. So this was just something that happened to be a real mercy that I was able to forgive him quickly. But that's not the norm. That's, that's, you know, something even unusual for me.

Sucheta Kamath: So as we end, I wanted to share it's not even, as you said, uber-forgiver. That's such a great term. I, huh. Yeah, I look like I'm rolling with punches. But you know, I can see things. Take a you know, little housing, you know, the monopoly, you have the landing strip, you know, keep building, I feel like I have like a whole range of houses. They're all the people who need forgiveness. But one particular when I was younger, and I was new to this country didn't, I was still a student not making any money, and I had saved up and a very dear friend's birthday was there. And so I went and got a very special thing for her, which I wouldn't even buy for myself. And I shipped it to her and she was a really close connection. And a couple of months go by, she thanked me all that stuff. And then a couple of months go by and I went in to visit her. And I find out that she has taken the gift and she tells me in a very lackadaisical way that her professors wife birthday, happened to be a month after hers was and she was invited. And she said, Oh my god, I was in such a frenzy. I had not, you know, cooked anything. It's been a tat had been the busiest week and I looked around and I'm like, What should I give her? And just, you know, I said, Oh, that was you know, that thing was lying there. So I just picked it up and I just repackaged it and gave as a gift. And I was devastated to hear this tiny story and I spent 10 years ruminating about it. I, every time I saw her or my phone calls went down, you know, how I just didn't have unsavory feeling towards her. And she had no idea how much effort and time and I'd specially got it for her. And so I was just curious, of course, time healed it. So I didn't do any active healing there, I never addressed it never brought it up. I also at one level felt I was being so catty and shallow. So I hated that about myself, like, who cares, it's a gift, once it's given, it's a gift, they can own it, and they can own the gift to be their own. Oh, boy, that that was just so hard. So I wish you came into my life earlier. And I had some tools. And if I had written a note to myself, like I forgive you, dear friend. But yeah, I just, I have learned so much about myself through that experience that, you know, there's a grand abstract concept, con self-concept. And then when rubber meets the road, and your personal concept is challenged, it really hurts to grow into it.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Exactly. And, you know, you use some of those alternative ways to deal with the injustice that she did. And the hurt that you've you experienced. So, you know, you didn't address it with forgiveness right away. And so, but some of the others, other ways of dealing with it helps you get that injustice gap down to where you can continue with it.

Sucheta Kamath: And one way I have determined to not cause that injustice is, if a friend gives me a gift, I wear it when I meet. So I went to Austin and I carried a gift that my friend gave when I go to India, I carry the gift that my friend has given, even though it requires a lot of planning, but I do it just because I'm committed to not cause the same injustice, right? minor, minor, but in the scheme of life.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: Things hurt, you know, and they can last a long time. It's like the B, who cares about me getting a B? Doesn't matter. But it hurts. And I carried it for a long time.

Sucheta Kamath: And your professor misjudged you. So if the professor was alive, you would probably go in, reach out and show you 400 publications, 500 Publications.

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: No, I have forgiven him. 

Sucheta Kamath: You're so sweet. Well, thank you, Dr. Worthington, you are the most amazing human and, and thank you for what you have done for us. As I we bring this to an end. Do you have any suggestions for our listeners, I have a few books, maybe one or two that you feel are quite other than your books, which I'm going to list in our show notes. But are there any books that you felt influenced your or shaped your thought process or your heart? 

Everett Worthington, Ph.D.: There are a couple of books, maybe three that really influenced me and one of those is Desmond Tutu's wonderful book, No Future Without Forgiveness. So that was that was wonderful. Right. And Miroslav Volf, who was a theologian at Yale, did a book called Exclusion and Embrace and that is a terrific book. It's not super religious, even though he said theologian, but you tell us about his experiences in the Serbian and that area of the woods, and there's a third one and, you know, I can't quite remember the coauthor. I should, but it's L. Gregory Jones. And it's, it's a book about forgiveness in Africa and Societal forgiveness. But we can look that up and then definitely that book.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, great suggestions. Thank you. So alright, that's all the time we have today. Thank you again, Dr. Worthington, for being my guest. As you can see, these are important conversations we are having with highly knowledgeable, knowledgeable and incredibly qualified and passionate experts. With their unique perspective we can grow together. So please keep in touch. If you love what you're listening, share with your friends and family like us on our social media. And definitely leave us a review. That way people can find us. And once again, thank you for tuning in to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function, and I'm your host Sucheta Kamath. Bye bye.