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Overcoming Anger: Healing from Within
Robin Casarjian

Robin Casarjian, MA, is a therapist who has led workshops on forgiveness and stress management for many groups, including HMO's, major corporations, the United States Army, and the Massachusetts prison system. Author of the book, Forgiveness: A Bold Choice for a Peaceful Heart, Casarjian spoke with Body & Soul series creator Gail Harris about the importance of forgiving, rather than glossing over pain and anger. These are some excerpts from their conversation.

GAIL HARRIS: Robin, why is forgiveness important?
ROBIN CASARJIAN: Forgiveness is a way that we can release the past. It allows us to be free emotionally -- to be joyous and happy. You'll never find a person that's angry and happy at the same time.

GH: It's not possible to have those two emotions simultaneously?
RC: That's correct. It's not possible to feel fearful and joyous, or angry and at peace at the same time. Forgiveness allows us to release the past and be in the present.

GH: You call it a bold choice. Why is it bold?
RC: For some people it's bold because they have to be willing to see the world in a different way -- and sometimes it's very difficult. We have to let go of our projections towards other people, and that takes a certain amount of courage, initially, for a lot of people.

GH: Where do you start?
RC: Well, I think you start with willingness. That's the first place. Without some willingness to heal oneself, to heal the relationship, there is really no second step.

GH: What about our reaction of not being ready to forgive? I mean, how do you inspire someone if they're not quite ready?
RC: First of all, when I teach a workshop, I say, "This is not about who should forgive. This is about -- there's an option to open up to a way of seeing the situation where forgiveness becomes a possibility." And my golden rule of all the work I do with forgiveness is -- be gentle with yourself. If you're not ready to forgive, perhaps you really need to let that be okay for now. And sometimes, if people have very deep wounds -- say a person is trying to deal with anger from childhood -- they may really need to work with processing their anger for a long time before they are ready to do the forgiveness work.

Whereas in other situations, those that arise on a daily basis with your co-worker or your neighbor… if you understand forgiveness and integrate it immediately into that situation, you don't have to hold onto the anger and resentment.

GH: Is there a correlation between being angry with other people, or the world in general, and perhaps not being in the best physical health? RC: More and more research is coming out indicating that there is a correlation between the two. And if you look at the word "resent," it comes from "to feel again." So when you resent, you feel again and again and again the pain of the past. Now the nervous system cannot distinguish between events that are actually occurring in our lives and the ones that we relive in our mind. So as we go through those negative, fear-based experiences again and again and again, our body is triggered into a 'fight or flight' response. We want to fight, we want to flee, and we're not at peace.

It's wearing us down on a constant basis when we hold onto these emotions, even though intellectually or consciously we may not even be aware of it. For some people it may manifest in headaches, or in a depressed immune system. For others it may be stomach problems, or colitis.

GH: So maybe the greater message is, forgive somebody else if you need to because you need to feel better?
RC: One of the most important things for people to understand is that forgiveness is first and foremost an act of self-interest. People get their lives back…they feel like, "I'm free. I can have a level of peace in my life, and an experience of personal freedom that was not a possibility for me before." It's a huge breakthrough for a lot of people.

Program Description
Managing Anger
Robin Casarjian
Houses of Healing
Tell Me More
Help YourSelf

Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

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