Forgiving someone can be tough. Little slights like a friend who gave away your secrets. Or unimaginable tragedies like the gunman who took six lives at the political rally in Tucson.
But unforgiveness causes negative emotional health, and that can be devastating, says the Rev. Michael Barry, director of pastoral care at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.
Barry is the author of "The Forgiveness Project: The Startling Discovery of How to Overcome Cancer, Find Health and Achieve Peace."
"Stress and anger have violent effects on the immune system and on physical, mental and spiritual health," Barry says. "The Forgiveness Project, based on research observations of a group of cancer patients who experienced remarkable improvements during the program, helps those suffering from cancer to realize the positive healing powers of forgiveness and of releasing anger. Although forgiveness may not necessarily cure cancer, the release of hatred, stress and anger can vastly improve a patient's emotional, spiritual and in some cases, physical health."
Q. It doesn't seem possible, to me, to have general "forgiveness" after a major public event, like the shooting in Tucson or even the untimely death of a loved one. How do you achieve that?
A. There are a lot of problems in trying to have some sense of under what circumstances we agree to forgive. From a Christian perspective, you must always be willing to forgive, regardless of the circumstances. But not even all Christians can agree on the circumstances to be forgiven. I often work three to five hours with a patient.
Q. Can you give me an example?
A. Well, Cathy (not her real name) went through a horrific divorce. She hated her ex with a perfect hatred. She had custody of the children and naturally these kids heard about what a no-good the ex was. Then the children spent every other weekend with him and saw a different person. This created confusion in their minds.We were able to help Cathy find forgiveness. She had a true emptying of her heart full of hatred against her ex. She even reached the point where she could invite him and his new wife to family gatherings. This brought healing to her physically, as well as healing to the family.