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Of Apololgies, Forgiveness and Forgetting

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Thomas Szasz, The Second Sin (1973) “Personal Conduct”

There are many articles in the field of mental health that discuss the psychological benefits of forgiveness of others who have committed some slight against you in the past or present. We are also advised of the spiritual benefits of forgiveness.  However, is it that simple, is forgiveness always such a good thing?

Case:

“A male patient described a family history of being forced by his parents to apologize for any misbavior or they would give him the “silent treatment.” In the end, he would apologize,” but always felt a sense of humiliation and injustice for this.”

The point is that under the wrong set of circumstances, apologizing and forgiving can have effects that are detrimental to one’s dignity. Is it possible to forget when that happens?

We all know that a “doormat” is someone who allows himself to be used and abused by everyone. There are wives who are hit, punched, kicked and cursed by husbands who do not seem to experience love or compassion. There are fathers or mothers who verbally and physically abuse their children. I have know of children who, even in the adolescence when they are mush bigger and stronger, continue to be submitted to experience abuse at the hands of parents.

In the case of the male patient cited above, apologies and forgiveness were power leverages used against the child.

Can any of these things really be forgiven? Wouldn’t forgiveness in these circumstances be a practice in masochistism, an example of being a doormat?

None of this is meant to imply that forgiveness is always harmful. Husbands and wives have their disagreements and arguments but are able to apolize and forgive. Often, this results in bringing the couple closer together.

Here, too, the effectiveness of forgiving depends on the circumstances that caused the argument. In marriage there are certainly a great many areas of potential disagreement and conflict. However, someone who has an extra marital affair enters into that area where forgiveness would be difficult or impossible.

Surveys have shown that wives can forgive her husbands sexual escapade as long as it did not involve a love affair. Here, too, there are limits. Tiger Woods had so many affairs that it was impossible for his wife to forgive. Men seem to find it much more difficult to forgive his wife for an affair, perhaps reflecting a double standard in the way people think about sexual relationships.

Especially at a time when we hear about so many murders, attempted murders and thefts, among many other injustices, this becomes a tremendously important issue. For example, will Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona assembly woman who was shot in the head, ever forgive the shooter? Should she?

Thomas Szasz was one of the great psychiatrists of the twentieth century. What is your opinion about his quote that, “the wise man can forgive but never forget?” Is a person always “stupid to neither forgive nor forget?” Is a person naive to “forgive and forget?” What are your life experiences with this dynamic of apologizing and forgetting?

Should Gabrielle Giffords forgive her assailant? Would you? Will she ever forget?

What do your think? Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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