Below are some thoughts from Adrian Sutton after his introduction to the topic of FORGIVENESS at the Café Psychologique on 23 February 2014.

ForgiveGoogling ‘Forgiveness definition’ half way through the Café Psychologique might suggest a lack of preparation on my part as presenter. But, no, I’d been there many times before including in the preceding hours. As the discussion continued, what started as ‘common sense’ gave us a common sense of its complexity and awareness that something essential remained just out of reach.

Does reflection on religion as lived or taught help us towards a better understanding of forgiveness as a psychodynamic proposition? Well, things only get more complicated – how do we marry together a concept of injunctions towards a virtuous state of ‘forgiveness’ whilst accepting that people don’t choose how they feel even though they are held accountable for how they act? We even have to consider whether there is a state of ‘pathological forgiveness’ which perpetuates victimhood.

Can psychodynamic consideration of the internal world inform concepts of forgiveness and justice? How does ‘forgiveness’ relate to ‘peace and reconciliation’ when we consider conflicts ranging geographically from the UK to Sub-Saharan Africa? Is there justice in exhortations to forgive – I think not. This simply puts the victim in a position of responsibility for ‘getting over it’ when it may be something that lives in her despite her best intentions. But, I’m reminded, as ever, of Winnicott’s emphasis on ‘The Maturational Processes AND the Facilitating Environment’. May greater justice be achieved by entreaties which seek to prevent a personal search for, or a culture of, retribution? I think so.

Ultimately ‘resolution’ as a concept probably needs to be jettisoned: all we can hope for is ‘re-solution’ in the face of emotions and actions which emerge and re-emerge and may need to be acted upon or not acted upon: healthy being is a process of re-solving in the hope of a better solution. Those who achieve that state of equanimity which that word ‘forgiveness’ seems to be trying to capture are gifted – and where that gift may have come from is worthy of psychodynamic exploration.

Adrian Sutton
Retired Child Psychiatrist
Director, The Squiggle Foundation

2 responses to “Forgiveness

  1. I have just turned on the radio and heard the historian Roy Foster say that during a performance of the last song of Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’, someone laughed. ‘And I never forgave him for that’.

    Forgiveness is sacrificed here in the name, it seems, of some higher aim, in this case the appreciation of fine music. It puts me in mind of two things I would say about forgiveness.

    That I do not forgive because in so doing I would betray other values, such as the memory of a lost love.

    And that it is hard to forgive if you don’t forgive yourself; if I berate myself I do not know the relief and value of forgiveness.

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