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\\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Forgiveness Therapy: The Context and Conflict
This paper is a critique of forgiveness therapy that focuseson the cultural contexts in which forgiveness therapyarose, with a special focus on the movement to addressthe victimization of women. I describe forgiveness asdescribed by forgiveness therapy advocates and the moraland non-moral benefits claimed on its behalf. I thendescribe the cultural context that may explain the popu-larity of this form of therapy at this historical moment;the first context is a broad cultural context, looking at ide-ologies and practices that support forgiveness as a thera-peutic intervention; the second context is the morenarrow context of a movement within the field of psychol-ogy called “positive psychology” that also supports for-giveness interventions; and the third context, is theideologies and narratives around victimization and in par-ticular victimization against women that have led to anapplication of forgiveness therapy for victims of abuse(Freedman & Enright, 1996). After describing thesethree contexts in which forgiveness therapy arose, I pre-sent a critique from a feminist as well as a broaderhumanistic/psychodynamic perspective.
FORGIVENESS THERAPY: THE CONTEXT AND CONFLICT Forgiveness and reconciliation are wonderful ideas. Together they connect a repentant, regretful, and remorseful wrongdoer, now a suf-ferer too, with the injured person, who may be to some extent ready tooffer compassion and empathy in spite of her or his suffering. In thismoral balancing act, the wrongdoer’s suffering sends a message to theone he or she has wounded that the harm is acknowledged and theinjured’s rights must be taken seriously. The offender also makes aclaim on behalf of him or herself that he is human, moral, and “one ofus”. The one who is hurt, depending on the depth of the hurt, anddistance from it, her or his judgment of how sincere the wrongdoer is, \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy. Vol. 25, No. 1, 2005 and how much the wrongdoer has suffered too, is urged to extendsome graciousness to the perpetrator, some empathy, — if not forgive-ness, a kind word or a reprieve from total condemnation.
This idea of forgiveness is one in which both parties take seriously the nature and context of the crime, the depth of the hurt, and theneed for reparation. Unilateral forgiveness, however, is more prob-lematic. Forgiving an individual who is not repentant reconciles some-thing within the forgiver, but falls short of an act of reconciliation.
Still, it is exactly the inner reconciliation of unilateral forgiveness thatis behind the recent advocacy of forgiveness as an individual, psycho-logical project to be promoted in psychotherapy.
Forgiveness therapy has been around since the mid 1980’s first appearing within a cognitive-behavioral intervention model (Fitzgib-bons, 1986; Hope, 1987). At the beginning of psychology’s interest inthe topic, forgiveness was presented in articles and case studies in anexploratory way, sometimes promoting its usefulness but also advocat-ing forgiveness on moral grounds, particularly if the article appeared ina pastoral counseling context (Cunningham, 1985; Donnelly, 1980).
The 1990s saw a change in the attitude towards forgiveness. Ratherthan exploratory, researchers began to promote the benefits of forgive-ness therapy to therapists for clients who have suffered a myriad ofwounds in spite of little research evidence that there were benefitsover other forms of therapy (Al-Mabuk, Enright, & Cardis, 1995; Hebl& Enright, 1993; Freedman & Enright, 1996; Worthington & DiBlasio,1990.) In fact, the Templeton Foundation offered rewards for researchthat explicitly showed the benefits of forgiveness. Forgiveness therapyreceived an additional boost at the turn of this century when, APApresident, Martin Seligman, the author of Learned Optimism andAuthentic Happiness, among other works, announced the Positive Psy-chology project that he had been working on, a project that urged psy-chologists to investigate and pursue research that would give us abetter understanding of human strengths (Seligman & Csik-szentmihalyi, 2000). The capacity for forgiveness was one of thosequalities within the new field of positive psychology that Seligmanurged us to uncover and understand in order to bring greater healthand happiness to our clients.
Today the field of forgiveness therapy is booming and one would think, from the research, that forgiveness therapy is quite effective in anumber of ways. Comparison studies do show some small effects ofthe therapy when compared with wait-listed or control groups, but sig-nificant drops in anxiety and depression rarely amount to more than anaverage of 3 or 4 points gained on measures for which the range ofpossible points can go up to 80 and in which each item has a potentialscore of 0-4 points (Freedman & Enright, 1996). And most of thisresearch confounds therapy with therapist. But most importantly, each \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt and every research article on forgiveness therapy sets out to prove itseffectiveness; never does an author take up the topic from a neutral orexploratory perspective. Either the null hypothesis is rejected oraccepted, but never are the possible harmful effects of forgivenesstherapy explored. Almost always investigated as a purported virtue,rarely does the psychologist propose a deficiency, median, and excess(as Potter 2001, following Aristotle, suggests). Rather, an excess offorgiveness is framed only as an extravagance of riches.
Proponents of this goal-focused therapy for the wounded, the victim- ized, and the dejected, like to say that they suggest their 4 phase, 8 - 12step, or 20 week programs only for those who find themselves wantingto forgive but unable (Enright & The HD Group, 1991; McCullough &Worthington, 1994). Independent of perpetrator remorse, indepen-dent of the apologies not offered by their victimizers, clients seek outforgiveness therapy for the following reasons, some moral, some per-sonal all of them, like most patients who come into therapy want us totake their pain away. Some come because they feel immoral whenthey can not forgive; this has to do with the Christian belief that forgiv-ing is the right thing to do, — that opening one’s heart to someone whohas wronged one, is not only moral but a Christ-like act. Some comebecause they feel immoral from a human perspective – they find itdifficult to like themselves and feel good about themselves when theyare filled with vengeful feelings and overwhelming anger towardsanother human being. There are also non-moral reasons why a clientseeks to be able to forgive. Some come because they see not forgivingas an obstacle to their health or happiness; they are stuck and can’tmove on; they are consumed by their anger; they are unhealthybecause they can’t love or live again; the wound still festers, the hurtkeeps them always the victim. They want the hurt to stop, and in truth,many do want not only to forgive but to forget. As in the movie,“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” they would like their painand the memory of the wound erased. Psychotherapists, however, needto ask about the dangers of aiding that forgetting through forgiveness,of removing pain through unilateral forgiveness, and the problems wemay run into when we weigh in on one side of a dilemma with ourpatients rather than helping them to live with complexity, ambivalence,love and hate simultaneously.
I will first briefly describe forgiveness as described by forgiveness therapy advocates and the moral and non-moral benefits claimed on itsbehalf. I then will describe the cultural context that may explain thepopularity of this form of therapy at this historical moment; the firstcontext is a broad cultural context, looking at ideologies and practicesthat support forgiveness as a therapeutic intervention; the second con-text is the more narrow context of a movement within the field of psy-chology called “positive psychology” that also supports forgiveness \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy. Vol. 25, No. 1, 2005 interventions; and the third context, is the ideologies and narrativesaround victimization and in particular victimization against womenthat have led to an application of forgiveness therapy for victims ofabuse (Freedman & Enright, 1996). After describing these three con-texts in which forgiveness therapy arose, I’ll move on to present a cri-tique from a feminist therapy perspective as well as a broaderhumanistic/psychodynamic perspective.
To understand forgiveness therapy, one has to first understand what advocates of forgiveness therapy describe as forgiveness. Forgivenesshas been seen as a qualified virtue in the Judaeo-Christian tradition forcenturies, but current advocates base their modern definitions on aconcept outlined by Bishop Joseph Butler, in his famous 1796 sermon,who describes forgiveness as a change of heart and an overcoming ofanger within oneself on moral grounds (Murphy, 2003). McCullough,Pargament, and Thoresen (2000) define forgiveness as an“intraindividual, prosocial change toward a perceived transgressor thatis situated within a specific interpersonal context” (p. 9). Byintraindividual, they mean that it is a change within the forgiver, eventhough, as they say, that it is situated in a relationship. Worthingtonand associates (2000) define what they call “interpersonal forgiveness”as “a motivation to reduce avoidance of and retaliation (or revenge)against a person who has harmed or offended one, and to increase con-ciliation between the parties if conciliation is safe, prudent, or possi-ble” (Worthington, Sandage, & Berry, 2000, p. 229). Enright andassociates have settled on the following definition after decades oftinkering, “a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, nega-tive judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who has unjustlyhurt us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, gener-osity, and even love toward him or her” (Enright et al 1998, pp. 46-47).
All of these researchers extend this definition and their advocacy offorgiveness to situations in which the perpetrator has shown noremorse or admitted no guilt, a situation referred to as “unilateral for-giveness”. That is why, I believe, that Enright has described forgive-ness as a “gift”. Exline & Baumeister (2000) use the phrase “cancelingof a debt” and Pargament & Rye (1998), “a method of religious cop-ing” Forgiveness therapy involves the processing of an experience inwhich one has been wounded with the end of being able to forgive thewrongdoer. Process components involve expressing anger, examiningthe perpetrator from an empathic viewpoint, considering the choice offorgiveness, deepening the feeling of forgiveness and so on.
The benefits of forgiveness have been touted as many. Surprisingly few proponents include the possibility of promoting repentance in aperpetrator as a benefit of forgiveness (Axline & Baumeister, 2000), \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt but rather point to individual health and psychological benefits such asmore positive self-evaluations, more optimism, a sense of greaterbelonging and connectedness to others, a greater sense of transcendentconsciousness, reduced anger, reduced anxiety, and reduced depres-sion (see Thoresen et al 2000 for a review). Psychotherapy, for a longtime, has attempted to produce these very same effects through othermeans. That is to say, forgiveness is not alone in its claims to help thepsychological and physical well-being of people. So, the questionremains, why choose forgiveness as the form of therapy to help getover a grudge or move on past a wound? A look at the context inwhich forgiveness therapy arose will help explain why people may beincreasingly promoting and looking to forgiveness as a therapy ofchoice.
Cultural Context in Which Forgiveness Arose Therapeutic practice exists within a culture and represents ideologies of its time. Certain social trends over the past two decades support thepromotion of forgiveness therapy although they may not be directlyrelated.
For example, the era of era of managed care, in which we all now live in the United States, demands short term therapy that has beenvalidated empirically. No clinician can escape the fact that the struc-ture of as well as beliefs about psychotherapy are enormously influ-enced by the institutions that support and surround the practice andmost recently, the institution influencing our clinical practice most isthat of managed care (Sanchez & Turner, 2003; Wylie, 1992; Zimet,1989). Managed care has supported short-term, problem-focused,empirically validated forms of therapy for obvious reasons, the primaryreason being they seem to be more cost-effective (Sanchez & Turner,2003; Suarez, 2004) in spite of research that show 80% of cliniciansreport managed care has had a negative impact on their work (Phelps,Eisman, & Kohour, 1998). Forgiveness therapy has been responsive tothe constraints of managed care, for it focuses on one problem or,offense, rather than the individual’s more general personality structurewhich would, in most cases, play a part in a response to a wrongdoing;it promises relief from pain and misery in relation to that one problem;can measure relief in reference to that problem; and it promises reliefin a set number of sessions. The therapy itself can be manualized (e.g.
Freedman & Enright, 1996), allowing clinicians with less training thanPh.D. professionals to deliver the service (see Phillipson, 1993 on thedeskilling of the profession). Forgiveness therapy can be done as short-term therapy, addressing anger and resentment or obsessive thoughtsas the problem.
We also live in an era of increasing preoccupation with the body.
This is seen in the primacy of treating psychological ills with medica- \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy. Vol. 25, No. 1, 2005 tion, the understanding of psychological problems through narrativesof brain dysfunction, and the overemphasis in the culture on creatingthe perfectly healthy and beautiful body. Recall that before the pro-motion of Positive Psychology, we were in the Decade of the Brain(Presidential Proclamation 6158, 1990), a decade that advanced drugslike Prozac to help sufferers deal with strong negative feelings. Thisemphasis on medications instead of psychotherapy, the former whichcould be delivered by physicians or psychiatrists whose sole practicewas the monitoring of patients’ medication, tied into the constraintslaid out by managed care (Philipson, 1993). Like forgiveness therapy,it is not a labor-intensive therapy. In the decade of the brain, as well asthe new decade of positive psychology, the assumption seems to havebeen that our attitude towards strong, negative feelings is to get rid ofthem, and as quickly as possible. Forgiveness therapy, like a new drug,can be administered quickly and promises relief from symptoms.
The decade of the brain also was a decade with unprecedented focus on the body that still continues today. This focus ranges from the pro-motion of the healthy body in terms of nutrition, anti-smoking, andnow anti-obesity efforts (e.g. the President’s Challenge, of July, 1993),to the perfecting of the body in terms of dieting, healthful eating, gymsand work outs, and now “extreme makeovers”. Forgiveness researchhas focused on bodily effects, and though not exactly promising a sexynew you for the beach, plays into our excessive concern with our bod-ies through claims that forgiveness is health-promoting (McCullough &Worthington, 1995; Pettit, 1985). One research study tentativelyshowed that being a forgiving person in general (not forgiving a spe-cific wrongdoing) was related to individuals’ ratings of their physicalhealth (Toussaint, et al, 2001). Another study of 71 college studentsshowed that thinking about one’s hurts and grudges raises your bloodpressure while imagining forgiving lowers it (Witvliet, Ludwig, & Van-der Laan, 2001). And a third, Lawler et al (2003) showed that thosewho tend to forgive transgressions report fewer physician visits. If onepaid attention to the media hype around these studies, “Forgiveness:It’s Good For Your Health” ) and “Forgiveness Reduces Stress” (ABCNews) as well as Psychology Today’s overly exuberant, “Forgive toLive” you would think that these three studies were rather conclusive.
Instead, they are beginning studies that do not rule out the possibilitythat other aspects related to being able to forgive such as empathy orstrong social support might have contributed even more to physicalwell-being than forgiving per se.
When we can tie therapy into longevity and physical health, researchers and clinicians can get more money to do our work becausethey can tap into medical sources of funding. Also, physical healthtends to be measured in more standardized ways than happiness andmeaning in one’s life (for example, through blood pressure, or visits to \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt the doctor) and can quickly become a substitute for other psychologi-cal goals that longer term therapy has focused on. Wanting to live along and healthy life is not in and of itself a problem; however, whenwe invest into therapies that make us live longer and healthier individ-ually, we lose an opportunity to look at more social goals that therapycan achieve.
Another cultural context that influences the prominence of forgive- ness therapy today is the lack of concern and greater invisibility of thepoor, the mentally ill, and children in this culture. Poor children, forexample, live in environments that are more dangerous and debili-tated, have less adequate day-care and schools, and face an array ofpsychosocial risks (Evans, 2004) that would be tempting for them, asadults, to blame on a parent who provided less than adequate care orprotection. The invisible working poor (Shipler, 2004) may be inclinedto hold a grudge against their employer specifically, or even their man-ager, for their exploitation. Forgiveness therapy does not address thesocial causes of wrongdoing. Instead it addresses the individual who iswronged by another individual. But sometimes people have injuriesperpetrated by individuals but that represent a group or social prob-lem. Forgiveness doesn’t speak to people as representatives of groupsthat may hold historical injuries of which the individual injury is repre-sentative (Lamb, 2002). Forgiveness therapy locates the problem inthe issue that the client wants to forgive but can’t, and in this way,redirects the focus from the wrong that was committed.
If a client is among the poor, the mentally ill, a child, a woman, according to James Averill (1979) and Carol Tavris (1982), anger is lessacceptable. In general, they write, anger is less acceptable in thosewith lower status, because anger and the concomitant frustration canlead to acting out in ways that challenge the system or those withhigher status. . Forgiveness therapies acknowledge the anger is oftenjustified, but argue, for the benefit of the individual, it is better to letthat anger go. What about for the benefit of the group? Forgiveness therapy also fits with recent trends in education that have shifted from a more developmental stance to a more goal-ori-ented, testing stance. The 60s and 70s saw greater flexibility in schoolswith regard to optimal circumstances for learning. Moral education inthe schools until the 90s was based on the Kohlbergian idea of moraldevelopment, that by presenting dilemmas for students to consider, bypresenting levels of thinking about a moral dilemma beyond which thechild was thinking, a teacher could help the students think at a higherlevel; programs developed where student democratically ran theschools because this empowering of students as caretakers of justicewas shown to raise their levels of thinking, to help them enter intocontracts and have caring and fair relationships with each other fortheir own sake rather than abide by the law or rules handed down by \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy. Vol. 25, No. 1, 2005 authority figures (Power, Higgins, & Kohlberg, 1989); this kind ofmoral education was replaced by character education that held out tostudents certain virtues to emulate. Anti-developmental, and thus,perhaps, anti-process, these virtues include forgiveness and Seligman(2002) has included character education along with forgiveness in hisPositive psychology.
The final context in which forgiveness therapy developed is one within the field of psychology, the new Positive Psychology movement.
Forgiveness therapy fits into this program, called by Seligman and co-author Cziksentmihaly (2000), the wave of our future. Positive psy-chology focuses on human strengths and asks how can people havemore valued experiences such as a feeling of well-being, of content-ment, of satisfaction about their past and hope and optimism for thefuture? We know that if they feel all these feelings then they are lesslikely to have medical and psychological troubles. They find great ful-fillment in their relationships and great fulfillment in their work.
With individual happiness as a goal, the therapy seems to take a con- fusing moral stance with regard to whether that happiness is gainedthrough the donning of rose-tinted glasses (using positive illusions) orhonest appraisal of events in their lives (Held, 2004). Yet pursuit ofhappiness and internal freedom seem rights guaranteed by the consti-tution. Positive psychology begins with the assumption that a clienthas a right to be happy. And rarely, in my opinion, asks at what cost toothers has this person made himself happy? Rarely do we even chal-lenge whether the purpose of therapy is to make people happier. Bar-bara Held (2002) writes of the long history in the U.S. of efforts todirect people towards self-enhancement and claims that this tyranny ofthe positive outlook itself causes psychological problems, — clientsfeeling guilty because they are not as happy, optimistic, hopeful, andresilient as they think they should be.
“Forgiveness” therapy arose at the end of 2-3 decades of attempts to provide support and therapy to victims. And because it is a victim-oriented therapy and because the last two decades’ emphasis on thetreatment of victims has focused on female victims of violence (abuse,battering, rape), the forgiveness movement is intertwined in unac-knowledged ways with the women’s movement that spawned the atten-tion to victims of violence.
Before discussing victims of abuse as forgivers, I want to acknowl- edge that there is another heavily gendered area that forgiveness ther-apy has focused on and that is marriage and family therapy, dealing \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt with issues like infidelity and abandonment (Boszormenyi-Nagi, 1987;Waldrond-Skibber, 1998; Worthinggton & DiBlasio, 1990). Forgive-ness in marriage is an area that is rife with cultural messages aboutgender and power that need to be examined given the changes inwomen’s role in marriage and marriage in general in the past fewdecades (see, for example, Whipple, 1988), but is beyond the scope ofthis paper.
Victims of abuse is a gendered area of focus because of the predomi- nance of women in the victim category, the predominance of men inthe perpetrator category, and the social construction of women andmen that pervade our understanding of abuse, victimization, and theroles played by victim and perpetrator in cultural narratives. To under-stand how forgiveness therapy fits into our current ways of understand-ing victims we have to go back to the turbulent 60’s and early 70’swhere the attention to the victimization of women and children beganthrough the sharing of personal accounts of rape, battering, and sexualabuse in consciousness-raising groups and rallies. These events alsocorresponded to the first incidence and prevalence studies. Supportgroups and story-telling occasions were equally as important as scien-tific studies documenting prevalence in bringing public awareness tothe problem. This was an uncovering phase of a social problem move-ment and with greater awareness of the way in which women wereconnected through common experiences of abuse and victimization,victims began to get, so to speak, their day in court. Not only was thewomen’s movement able to bring to focus for American society, thenumber of rapes and the amount of domestic violence that women hadto endure, but also the indignities from helping sources – priests,police, and therapists even, that would often come after a revelation oftheir abuse. This period of growing social activism against rape, sexualabuse, and domestic violence led to the founding of shelters for domes-tic violence victims, rape crisis centers, and more vigilant seeking outof sex offenders as well as more vigilant uncovering of sexual abusevictims among children. This was a movement in which the centralmetaphor for women working together was that of sisterhood, where,and this is important, activists and victims were often interchangeable,and where internal (or, intrapsychic) work was done in the context ofsocial change work.
The 80’s and 90’s saw a growth in a number of areas related to vic- tims. It was sort of the incorporation of the victims’ rights movementinto several institutions and practices which shaped and changed theway we saw victims and the way victims saw themselves. Some havereferred to the field and therapeutic practice that developed as pro-moting the “psychology of victimology”. It is a disparaging phrase, butthey are not altogether wrong.
\\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy. Vol. 25, No. 1, 2005 There were three cultural changes that created a victim who was, to use a Foucauldian term, a docile body for therapeutic work. First whathappened was that the professionalization of activists into helpers(Baxandall & Gordon, 2000) within the field of mental health left vic-tims stranded as individual patients/clients rather than keeping themsituated as co-actors (wounded and healers together) in a community.
This professionalization created a type of hierarchy that fit with medi-cal institutions, affording the helpers greater benefits but leaving thevictims in an even more stigmatized category. Second, rampant Amer-ican individualism returned to the therapeutic encounter with a ven-geance, as seen in the return and preference for individual treatmentover group treatment and the growth of SELF-help literature which inits very name argues against solidarity (Simonds, 1992). Self-help has along-tradition in our culture of self-made men and women, and ther-apy began to focus on building the self, retrieving the lost self,unsilencing the self. Therapy was framed as providing personalempowerment, when, as Dana Becker points out in The Myth ofEmpowerment (Becker, in press), it really advocated power throughself-enhancement rather than through changing the circumstances inthe lives of all women. The third cultural change within our field wasthe medicalization of trauma (Baxandall & Gordon, 2000; Lamb, 1996;1999) which required trauma specialists and which produced researchaimed at identifying and treating a long list of symptoms documentingthe harm of abuse but also representing the victim as overwhelminglydamaged (O’Dell, 1997). This was also the era in which the develop-ment of the diagnosis of PTSD helped therapists to get medical insur-ance to pay for the therapy of victims of abuse (Becker, 2000; Lamb,1999). Perhaps because of its usefulness within a payment systembeholden to insurers, the diagnosis was elevated as the meta-descriptorof reactions to abuse and victimization, even though the majority ofvictims do not develop PTSD. The emotional reactions of humiliation,shame, and anger, all of which are supported best in public places,where others like one can confirm the rightfulness of such feelings –took a back seat to the symptoms of numbness, fear, and helplessness.
The victim was no longer the angry woman but the helpless girl.
Thus in the 80s and 90s we see constant media depictions of victims as objects, not subjects, lacking in agency, and a concomitant under-representation of the angry victim. Sympathy was aroused in magazinephotos, made-for-TV movies, and talk show arenas for the helpless vic-tim, and vengeance-seeking was appropriately placed in the hands ofparents or detectives with a chip on their shoulder. Girls and womenwere dramatically seen as robbed of their souls, their lives, rarely angryand rarely adapting and coping in spite of their abuse.
What’s important to see in this meta-narrative is that the good victim became the “good girl” and public sympathy played on the need to \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt have her fit this image. She was good, and yet still deviant, or dam-aged goods (Haaken 1998), because of her mess of symptomatology.
((Jennifer Dunn writes of the domestic violence victim who had to beconstructed by the very women trying to help her as deviant in order to“fit” the mold of a victim identity. Why? This identity overhaul wasneeded to counteract older notions of deviance that saw her as maso-chistic or provocative. Instead she became to the public a woman whowas too demoralized to assert herself, who could not cope with theoutside world without assistance and intervention (Dunn, in press).) When the word “survivor” supplanted “victim” it was in response to a cultural change also. Journalists were asking, “Is Everyone a Vic-tim?” Once again victims became targets of suspicion. The word vic-tim became a stigmatized category, usable only by those suffering themost severe of tortures. And victims themselves didn’t want to be seenas “victims” any longer, the category had become so stigmatized. Sur-vivor discourse, doesn’t necessarily address the feeling that victims arestigmatized, as Jennifer Dunn writes, survivor discourse simultaneouslynormalizes the deviance and gives agency to victims even as it excusesthem from responsibility for their deviance. Still, they are deviant.
They are life-long survivors who now cope, but, by definition of being asurvivor, cope well with their trauma. Every survivor “did what shecould”, “adapted to her situation”, all coped well, none coped poorly.
For to cope poorly would mean that she would ever be lost in the nowdamaged role of “victim.” (Dunn, p.3) It is at this point in the development of the movement to help vic- tims, that the movement to help victims forgive was begun; and couldalmost be said to be taking advantage of the stigmatization that victimsfeel in a society that shifts from sympathetic to suspicious so quickly.
Forgiveness is a method of undoing. While every forgiveness therapistwill argue it’s not about denying that a person’s anger is justified, northat the victim has a right to the resentment they feel, that they’re onlyoffering a different attitude towards their perpetrator, one grounded incompassion, it appears that forgiveness therapy can undo victimizationstatus in an era where nothing else will, erasing a wound to form a“spotless mind.” We know that victims of abuse tend to overrepresent their responsi- bility for their trauma (summarized in Lamb, 1996). Positive psychol-ogy places pressure on them to also be responsible for the way theycope with this trauma (Held, 2002). No more helpless victims. Manyvictims feel that they should be able to forgive. A victim wallows ingrief and anger, but a survivor copes, transforms, and emerges aheadof the game. Held also writes, in her article “The Tyranny of the Posi-tive Attitude in America,” about the pressure to be happy in our indi- \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy. Vol. 25, No. 1, 2005 vidualist society actually creating more unhappiness; depression aboutdepression; feeling bad about feeling bad; heightened self-blame thatforgiveness people can relieve them of. . . “culture wide intolerance forunhappiness” I see her critique extending to our present-day attitudetowards victims: Get over it. Move beyond it. But most importantly,be a survivor and arise triumphant.
Critique of Forgiveness Therapy for Victims Jeffrie Murphy (2003) asks, at the beginning of his recent book Get- ting Even, suppose you were a victim of some evil – what kind of victimwould you want to be?Forgiveness therapy suggests what kind of victim ought you to be.
Enright and Ftizgibbons (2000) have argued that forgiveness is a super-erogatory virtue, — that means you are morally ok if you forgive ordon’t – but that you have gone beyond the call of duty, and done some-thing extra wonderful from the moral point of view, if you can chooseto bestow this gift of compassion on your perpetrator. Again, torephrase Murphy’s question, What kind of victim would you like to be,one who is “just moral” or one who is “super-moral”? Thoresen and colleagues (2000) argue that there may be personal benefits beyond morality to forgiving. I want to examine these per-sonal benefits in relation to the victim and victimizer beforeconcluding.
1. Inner release refers to the release from negative feelings and com- pulsive thoughts about the act that wounded one. As George, inEnright & Fitzgibbons (2000, p. 88) says, before he forgave he “wasexhausted by what happened” (p. 72). After he relates, “This has defi-nitely quieted me inside.” It also refers to releasing someone from aninterpersonal system between wrongdoer and wronged. That is, whensomeone has wronged you, you then become the person to whom anapology must be made. Forgiveness releases the victim from her roleas the person who holds the wrongdoer accountable. Whether or notthe perpetrator feels guilt and shame and recognizes his character isflawed, that’s a matter between him and his therapist or him and hisGod. Although a forgiver may see the injustice more clearly (Enright& Fitzgibbons, 2000), the wounded can wash her hands of that psycho-logical holding him accountable. Victims who forgive are promisedthis “internal release” independent of any dialogue with theirwrongdoer.
This seems problematic for women who have been excluded from positions of judgment in society. Until recently politicians, lawyers,judges, and police, the ones who upheld justice in society, were over-whelmingly male. And Regehr and Gutheil (2002 suggest that havingjustice served may be every bit as “releasing” as finding forgiveness inoneself. It is possible that when one isn’t given the means to seek jus- \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt tice, and when one is part of a group that has less access to legitimatedforms of retribution and revenge, then a person may be more likely toseek change within herself. In other words, historically, women havealready been “released” from playing a public role of holding peopleresponsible for their wrongdoing, because such a role is inconsistentwith what it means to be a woman. Is thus the “inner release” sosought consistent with their discomfort in holding perpetrators to astandard of repentance and remorse that would ensure his not hurtingher or another person again. I can imagine her saying now, let thecourts and judge do that, for me, I’ve forgiven him in my heart!Enright & Fitzgibbons (2000) concur – forgiveness occurs in the con-text of a personal hurt, independent of what a judge or jury maydecide.
This is also difficult because it follows a pattern in the field of psy- chology whereby women are “encouraged to believe that by takingcare of their psychological “selves” they are becoming ever more pow-erful” (Becker, 2004, p. iii). Becker (2004) writes of the psychotherapymovement’s disruption of more political goals of feminism through the“repackaging of the psychological as power” What she calls “the colo-nization of the interior world of the psyche” has served to refocuswomen away from more activist projects and into “more manageable[feminist] protests” (Segal, 1999).
2. Forgiveness therapists also boast their therapy offers relief from vindictive feelings. Enright & Fitzgibbons report “improved stabilityof mood” and “improved ability to control angry feelings with lessoverreaction or misdirection of anger” (p. 16). The research does showthis to be true. Forgiveness interventions sometimes show drops inanger when compared with wait-listed control groups. Many of theseoutcome studies measure outcome through Forgiveness Scales thusshowing that teaching forgiveness as opposed to not teaching it encour-ages a client to forgive more (McCullough & Worthington, 1995; Rye,1997). If a researcher is lucky, there are modest drops in anger,depression, and anxiety in comparison to control groups that also offerthe opportunity to express and understand one’s anger. What forgive-ness therapy promises though is that anger will be exchanged forbenevolence, once again, independent of any dialogue with the wrong-doer. Marx and Nietzsche pointed out forgiveness is a recourse forthose who don’t have the authority to be angry. And Murphy (2002)first remarked that perhaps women have been taught to forgive andforget instead of to resent and resist.
Women have characteristically had more problems with expressing anger and feeling ok about it. Potter (2001) writes that we need tounderstand how structural power relations have socialized us to viewvirtues and vices differently for different groups. Researchers and the-orists such as Carol Tavris (1984) and Dana Jack (1998) argue that an \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy. Vol. 25, No. 1, 2005 angry woman is punished for her anger more frequently than an angryman if she expresses it, and that women see being angry as inconsistentwith being a woman. The question remains as to whether it is helpful towomen to let go of this anger, or whether psychological indicators ofhappiness and relief when anger is no longer present have more to dowith the rewards of fulfilling a conventional role within power relationsthat advantage the other. Expressing the more traditional role ofwoman as nurturer may result in feelings of acceptance by a societythat rewards nurturing and compassion in women. But psychoanalystSalman Akhtar writes that “some revenge is actually good for the vic-tim. . .It imparts a sense of mastery and enhances self-esteem.
Revenge, in reality or fantasy, allowing the victim to taste the pleasureof sadism, also changes the libido-aggression balance” (p. 179).
3. Forgiveness researchers also boast that forgiveness may be healthy for you. We’ve long known the harmful role of stress and hostility onhealth. There is also no question that learning to live with a woundand putting one’s hostility on the backburner will improve one’shealth. But there is also research that shows that expression of angerto an audience that acknowledges and accepts it is also good for one’shealth. And that during certain phases of life and in reaction to certaincircumstances, the ability to express anger can be related to longevity.
Learning to live with one’s anger and not allow it to consume youseems a psychologically healthy goal and able to contribute to long life.
It seems hard to believe, and certainly hard to measure throughresearch, the effects of occasionally getting angry, even furious, whenreminded of one’s injury. Compulsive worry and continuous anger isof course difficult on a person psychologically and physically, but whywould that have to be the alternative to forgiveness? 4. Transformation is subtly promised in the narratives that accom- pany forgiveness advocates’ research and theoretical writings (Enrightand Fitzgibbons, 2000). These stories frequently sound like religioustransformations, showing how forgiving a perpetrator has changed aclient in immeasurable ways, and how relationships can resume at an“even higher” level of functioning (Waldrond-Skinner, 1992). Thetransformation may be due to the feeling of power the decision makerhas in relation to the transgressor (Haaken, 2002). As Waldrond-Skin-ner (1998) writes, “forgiveness acts as a temporary agent of empower-ment because it dramatically changes the balance of power within therelationship in some mysterious way.” So, to return to Jeffrie Murphy’s question, this is the kind of victim we would probably choose to be if we could choose. Rather than thehelpless victim or the angry victim, we would rather be at peace, physi-cally healthy and morally elevated. If there are three archetypal posi-tions for women – the hysterical and helpless woman; the angry, bitch; \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt and the domesticated angel of the house (Haaken, 1999), which woulda woman choose to be? Forgiveness domesticates the angry female.
To sum up, what is most appealing in the end about forgiveness ther- apy for people in oppressed groups, like women, who feel the need toforgive, and who do not want to be victims for life is that they canreach this peace independent of social interaction; that they can escapethe threatening work of confronting offenders and a less-than-sympa-thetic society in person and can do so in their heads; never having thedisappointment that their wish for some revenge or justice may neverbe met in this unjust world.
And while there is much good to be gained through examining wrongdoers, even sex offenders, as people who are forgivable (Lamb,1996; Madanes, 1990), — to forgive them in individualized and privateabsolution instead of taking on the messy and uncomfortable task ofworking out our ambivalent relationship to people who do horriblethings, can’t be good for society. Forgiveness therapy is a victim ther-apy that makes no claims to helping stop victimization. It may lead toindividual transformation, even happiness, but it is not necessarilygood for a culture that needs to address these social problems. .
And what about the individualized good done to a victim who receives an apology, to the victim to whom reparation is made. Her-man (1992) and Madanes (1990) both claim that acknowledgement ofthe harm the perpetrator did by the perpetrator is an important part ofhealing. Tavuchis (1991) writes that although apology can’t undo whathas been done, in some mysterious way that is exactly what it managesto do (p. 5). There is a strong need for research on the effects of apol-ogy on a victim, leading to the question why are psychologists andresearchers so much more interested in the effects of forgiving than onthe effects of apologizing? So, what instead of forgiveness? The first alternative is nothing new.
It’s what therapy has done for decades and that is helping clients workthrough their anger in a place where anger is not only permitted butallowed to flourish. In the humanistic tradition as well as in the ther-apy of Kohut (1977) who wrote on treating clients with narcissisticrage, the blessing a therapist can put on anger, can restore for an indi-vidual a sense of rightness and esteem as well as mastery over theanger; even exploring revenge fantasies in this vault of privacy and per-mission, may over time endow a client with ego strength to get somedistance. Why? Because the rush to “let go” of the anger, to “moveon,” and “cheer up” are all messages that anger or too much anger isinappropriate and that the wounded is not entitled to all the anger shefeels. Within this kind of therapy, therapist and client may find con- \\server05\productn\T\THE\25-1\THE103.txt Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psy. Vol. 25, No. 1, 2005 structive ways to exact symbolic revenge and express anger throughsocial activism; A second alternative, is to help clients additionally learn to live with the grief and mourning without having these overwhelm them. Manywounds involve some loss; We can also advocate for a letting go without forgiving. Letting go may take time and it may never be as clean and spotless as we wouldlike. But clients can achieve a healthy distance from old wounds. The“letting go” that some have experienced, has come through acts offriends working as hand-holders, much as in supportive counseling, butalso through the building up of a self apart from that wound. We canhelp clients work on building a self with investments in other areasproviding the self-esteem needed to let go. But therapists rarely prom-ise that “letting go” is ever the final story. In fact, the words “forgiveand forget” appear reversed in Shakespeare, when King Lear asksCordelia to “forget and forgive” – she must indeed forget a little, inorder to forgive. Analyst Henry Smith asks “Could it be that in orderto forgive, we must first allow a touch of forgetting to weaken the tie tothe immediacy of the pain?” (p. 329).
Finally, psychodynamic therapies can advocate the embracing of ambivalence. While some have argued that forgiveness gives relieffrom a “crippling state of ambivalence” (Waldrond-Skinner, 1998, p.
16), in my own clinical work and readings of clinical cases, the strong-est individuals are those who can embrace ambivalence of their emo-tions and attitudes. A therapist who aims for clarification of allemotions that may work simultaneously in a client prepares a client forthe variety of emotions that we humans experience. Haaken writes,“The job of the therapist is to enlarge the scope of awareness and toassist the patient in ‘holding’ countervailing parts of the self, with theirassociated voices and affective valences” (2002, p. 189). “Letting go”then does not make the mind “spotless” – old feelings of anger, hurt,and revenge will return in times of trouble or will reverberate whensimilar hurts are visited upon oneself. And yet the healthier individualis not the one who says at these times, “Hmmmm, I thought I was overthat old wound” or “I need to do more work on that to get over thatwound” but the one who says, “Yes, that hurt is still a part of me” andgreets that reopened wound with a stronger sense of self and self-knowledge.
These are alternatives to forgiveness. There are therapies that work well for these kinds of goals; but they don’t promise peace in 12 weeks.
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