Saturday, October 2, 2010
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.