Saturday, October 2, 2010


I recently attended a training with several of my coworkers. I thought the speaker (Robert Grant, Ph.D.) was unique and really enjoyed hearing what he had to say.  I was surprised to learn that not all of my colleagues felt this way.  In fact, some of them were deeply disturbed by the speaker's message.  I heard that one woman in particular was so upset that she didn't want to return for the second day of training.  I honestly don't know what upset them so much -- I heard all this "through the grapevine" and didn't feel comfortable asking them.  I do, however, have a guess...

One of the topics the speaker addressed was how to forgive someone who has done something very bad to you.  He stressed that this is not always desirable or appropriate but indicated that some patients will want to forgive their perpetrators and we should be prepared to help them (when our clinical judgment says this is a good idea, of course).

The speaker explained that when we are de-humanized by a person we in turn tend to de-humanize that person in our minds.  The person who violated us is a monster, something other than human.  When embarking upon the path to forgiveness (forgiveness is a process, not a single event) the goal is for the "victim" to learn to see the perpetrator as human.  In order to do that a person has to acknowledge that he (and, in fact, all humans) is capable of the same type of behavior in which his perpetrator engaged.  Perhaps if his lot in life had been different - if he'd had different genetic vulnerabilities or the "right" combination of traumatic experiences - perhaps he could have turned out like the perpetrator.  A person might surmise that in order for his offender to have done such horrible things he must have experienced a lot of pain, suffering, and maltreatment in his own life.  This does not in any way condone the perpetrator's actions - it just enables one to see him as human.

This might not seem to be all that controversial of a concept.  What happened, however, is that the speaker gave some examples.  He attempted to empathize with (and to thereby humanize) a hypothetical sex offender.  The murmurs of protest from the crowd were immediate.  The speaker reiterated that he was not condoning the behavior of sex offenders and was not saying that a sex offender should not be punished.  Still, the crowd was displeased.

Personally, I thought this was a demonstration of how difficult it is to forgive someone who has done terrible things.  If a room full of chaplains, psychiatrists, and psychiatric social workers are resistant to empathizing with a hypothetical sex offender then forgiveness must be a difficult thing indeed.  This experience made me realize that we should never take forgiveness for granted for, when offered, it is truly a blessing.


  1. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself.

    As for the sex offender? I'm a big fan of Vigilante Justice. I recognize this behavior as the perp is often a past victim and has continued the cycle. AWFUL!!!

    I have met those who have confronted their foes in the past. Those who can forgive seem to fare better in the long term.

    This is why you are a professional when it comes to helping people.

    The world will give you all the punishment you can stand. Don't punish yourself.


  2. I'd never thought of forgiveness in quite this way, but now that you've offered the thought, it makes sense to me. It is easier to separate "Us" from "Them" and imagine them to be a monster, because it feels safer; but it also keeps us stuck.

    In order for us to become whole again, we need to remember that even those who have hurt us are human. As in Metta meditation, where we remember that those who seem 'not like me' have the same needs and desires, to be happy, healthy, free from danger, and so on. Forgiveness is a seed that cannot be planted in a hardened heart -- we need to open our minds and soften our hearts. Thank you for this mind-expanding post!


My Favorites