Forgiveness & The Brain: The 5 Simple Steps You Need To Know

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

The act of forgiving can have a massive effect on how we feel, but how can we begin to forgive those who have done terrible things to us? In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen illustrate how the five simple steps of the REACH model of forgiveness can allow us to let go of the things that continue to hurt us the most.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're talking about attachments and relationships. And we've gone through relating, responsibility, empathy, listening, assertiveness, time, inquiring to your negative thoughts. Notice what you like more than what you don't like and the G is grace and forgiveness. Nobody's been perfect in relationships and how can you show grace and forgiveness to really elevate the quality of your relationships?
Tana Amen: Yep.
Dr Daniel Amen: There is actually a model developed by Everett Worthington, Virginia Commonwealth University. It's call the REACH model of forgiveness that he developed and he taught. And then one day he realized he had to use it for himself, because his mother was murdered. And it involves five simple steps. It spells reach. Recall the event, what happened. Empathize with the other person who did the bad thing to you. The A is altruistically, so you choose to give the gift of forgiveness. C is you commit to it. You tell somebody about it. And H is you hold on to it. So can you think of someone who hurt you that we can do this with?
Tana Amen: Oh, yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: You have an example?
Tana Amen: Oh, yeah. So, okay. This one's gonna sound kind of heavy for a podcast, but my stepdad who climbed in bed with me when I was 12.
Dr Daniel Amen: Okay. That is heavy.
Tana Amen: Yeah, no. I, for many years, wished he was dead.
Dr Daniel Amen: Can you recall the event?
Tana Amen: Oh, yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: Can you empathize with him?
Tana Amen: No. You want me to be honest? No.
Dr Daniel Amen: So take some time and think about what may have been going on with him. It's not all right. Empathizing with someone is not saying it's okay, because it's not okay.
Tana Amen: Okay. I'm just gonna be really honest here. The only reason I can forgive and let that go is for my benefit, not his.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. But do the process with us. Can you in any way understand and have empathy for him?
Tana Amen: I don't know enough about his past to do that.
Dr Daniel Amen: Okay. So but that's a start is there may have been stuff in his past that was traumatic. And in almost all of the perpetrators I've met, not all of them-
Tana Amen: The reason I'm being so honest here, and I'm not willing to just go, "Oh, sure. I can do that" and sugarcoat this, because that's crap, is because we've got who are listening who have been through far worse what I went through. I mean, I had a mom who tried to kill him. Okay? So she protected me. I'm not gonna do that, because this is real for them. So I have a hard time empathizing with someone who's done that to a child. You know this. This is an ongoing battle between us.
Dr Daniel Amen: I only want the truth.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: But I want also the truth for you to not suffer.
Tana Amen: So the truth is I'm willing to do it because I'm commanded to. I'm willing to do it because I know it's not good for me, but I don't really empathize ... I don't really relate to him.
Dr Daniel Amen: Do you remember The Shack?
Tana Amen: I do.
Dr Daniel Amen: And do you remember-
Tana Amen: But it wasn't his story that made me let it go. It's my daughter that made me let it go.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. But you let go.
Tana Amen: Only because of her, out of years of people trying to get me to let go of thought that all people who hurt children should die. My daughter in 30 seconds got me to let that thought go.
Dr Daniel Amen: You recall the event. Empathy's really hard. Can you altruistically give him the gift of forgiveness?
Tana Amen: Yes. But because I know it's good for me-
Dr Daniel Amen: Of the benefit to you.
Tana Amen: ... and my family.
Dr Daniel Amen: And you've just committed to it on the podcast. And H is now that you've done that, you can hold it rather than automatically going back to, "He hurt me. He hurt me, he hurt me, he hurt me."
Tana Amen: Oh, yeah. No, I can let it go. But I can't understand, and I can't empathize with him. Now, if I knew his story maybe I could.
Dr Daniel Amen: The imaging work that I do has been so helpful for me, because I realize behavior is complicated.
Tana Amen: It is. And I want to just say something. One thing that helped me with some of the things that have happened in my past is there's a reason that forgiveness is studied at many major universities, including Stanford. They're actually researching forgiveness because of its effect on people's health, because of the effect of people who don't forgive, the effect it has on your health, on healing. There's one doctor, I believe it's Vanderbilt. He actually works with burn patients. And they've studied ... I actually wrote about this in Brain Warrior's Way. They studied forgiveness, and he started implementing it into his practice, because patients who wouldn't forgive certain situations that happened in their lives wouldn't heal or they had complications versus the patients who do forgive, and he does a practice with them on forgiveness.
They heal better. They get healthy. They move on. And so that's why he actually asked this question of all of his patients, because many patients say, "I can't. I won't." And he said, "Okay, so I'm going to ask you just for right now, not forever, for right now, if you can't forgive that person for what they did, can you forgive them for yourself?" And that was just very powerful. When you see what it does to your own body, it's like, and I love the expression, it's like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It's that detrimental to your body. I mean, I've had cancer. I've been sick most of my life when I was a little kid. And there's a reason those things happen to people. Now, can you connect it all to that? I don't know, but it's possible.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's what we think of as stacked stresses.
Tana Amen: And you just got done saying-
Dr Daniel Amen: Very much like we talked about, the Bright Mind's approach under brain, it's the chronic stress from what happened, but then the repetitive thoughts about what happened.
Tana Amen: And you just got done saying that thoughts have mass, and they do. We know that now.
Dr Daniel Amen: They have mass. They have weight. They have power.
Tana Amen: So if you carry them, and if you carry that all your life, and those just keep stacking, those negative thoughts, that's a a lot of baggage to carry around.
Dr Daniel Amen: So the ant infestation then partly can lead to an impaired immune system.
Tana Amen: Right. And I'm done carrying that baggage.
Dr Daniel Amen: So there are tiny habits to feel better fast and improve your relationships. Let me give you a couple from the book. After I have a fight with my loved one I will take responsibility for my part and apologize.
Tana Amen: Yeah, powerful.
Dr Daniel Amen: When my partner or spouse is in pain, I will hold her hand and focus on feeling empathy for their discomfort. As we talked about in the show, that when you actually hold the hand of a partner in pain, it actually begins to decrease their pain. I talk about that research in the book. When I am in a conversation with someone before responding with my input, I will reflect back to them what I heard them saying, active listening. When I'm challenged or bullied I will state the case for what I believe calmly and clearly, firm and kind. When I set aside time to be with my child I'll spend 20 minutes doing whatever he or she wants to do with no agenda. When a friend does something annoying, I'll turn attention to things I like about her rather than dwelling on the annoyance. And when someone does something mean or hurtful to me, I will try to create grace in my heart to forgive them.
Tana Amen: Go back up to number one really fast, because I want to just comment on number one. So after you've had a fight with a loved one, take responsibility. There's something very freeing about that. So it sounds like, "Oh, I have to swallow my words." No. That's just like the forgiveness thing, you actually feel free once you take responsibility for your part. It gives you power and you start to feel free.
Dr Daniel Amen: Now [inaudible 00:10:21] better if you both read it together so that you both develop these skills. But if you get it, you alone are powerful, and you can make a positive difference in your relationships, and that will help you feel better faster.
Tana Amen: One thing I want to ... Just before we end this podcast, it's so powerful because it made such an impact on me. You just asked me about empathy for someone that I have a hard time doing that with because I don't know his story. And I've carried some of those things from my childhood into my adulthood thinking, "Anyone who hurts a child should die." So we had someone on our podcast who has a prison ministry, and there was a story that he said that he told us on this podcast that just hit me in the gut, right? And it was about a woman ... He was there actually witnessing to a prisoner on death row and a woman, he kept seeing the same woman every week that was visiting.
It was a very petite Caucasian woman. She was there every week visiting this very large African American male. He was curious. He saw her there every week, and so one day their paths crossed, and he talked to her. He's like, "Oh, are you ministering to ... I'm with a prison ministry. Are you ministering to this man?" And she said, "Well, my story is complicated." She said, "That man is on death row for murdering my daughter. He violently raped and murdered my daughter." And I just was like, "What?" I could not believe this story. She was there witnessing to him and listening to him. And she developed this full-blown relationship with him.
And I was mind-blown, quite frankly, just mind-blown that this woman could go there and do that. But by knowing his story she was able to develop empathy. So that was powerful to me. I don't know this guy's story. Quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to know it ... My stepdad, I mean. But by doing that, that's how she was able to forgive and help him. So she's more evolved than I am, but I can admit that. And that's probably a goal for me.
Dr Daniel Amen: You know that's why I love you so much. You're so thoughtful. [crosstalk 00:12:44].
Tana Amen: Yeah, no. That hit me right in the gut.
Dr Daniel Amen: That was beautiful. Stay with us. Thank you for listening to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warrior's Way and The Brain Warrior's Way cookbook we give away every month.