Updated 11 September 2013

Crime: forgive and forget?

The violence of crime seems to be on the increase. Been a victim? CyberShrink comments on the nature of forgiveness and whether you should go down this road.

The level of violence accompanying crime seems to be on the increase. If you've been a victim of violent crime, whether you knew the perpetrator or not, you will know the rage that often follows such an incident. What should you do with these feelings?

CyberShrink comments on the nature of forgiveness and whether you should go down this road.

CyberShrink on forgiveness
I believe the whole concept of forgiveness has been cheapened and over-simplified by those who seem to care only for the perpetrators of suffering, and who show no genuine concern for the victims.

In a modern version of the story of the Good Samaritan, on seeing a battered and bleeding victim at the side of the road, these Bad Samaritans would pass by, exclaiming how much more in need of their attention must be the poor twisted individual who did this awful thing.

Is it necessary to forgive somebody who has no remorse, who has never said they were sorry for what they did, and who may continue to hurt us? My answer to this is both 'yes' and 'no'. The element of forgiveness that involves telling the person who caused the hurt that they needn't worry, that they're off the hook, that we expect nothing from them, is not necessary, nor healthy, nor helpful for society.

Genuine remorse necessary
Courts often convict perpetrators, citing lack of remorse as an aggravating circumstance. But what if the perpetrator is closer to home? Where does remorse fit into the picture when it comes to perpetrators known and unknown to the victim?

Unless the person causing hurt to others is genuinely remorseful, not only by saying so (seldom is speech so cheap as when the serial persecutor is promising it'll never happen again, while planning the next time), but also by actions that include a true change in their behaviour. (This is difficult to determine when you're dealing with a stranger who hijacked you - the state, in essence, becomes your protector here.)

On a more personal level, remorse should also contain an element of reparation, of making it up to the person who has been hurt - if these things are not present, I don't believe that they deserve or should receive any message of forgiveness. If the victim feels able to forgive, in this sense, and can do so without making themselves vulnerable to further hurt, that's fine.

Don't feel pressurised
But it is never the duty of any victim to do anything to make the person who hurt them feel better, let alone emboldened to continue behaving as they had done. This has to be an entirely voluntary and considered act, and not coerced as it has so often been by the sanctimonious preachers who themselves have rarely had any experiences deserving forgiving.

Do not feel guilty about not having been able to forgive the person who hurt you - why should you enable them to feel better about what they did?

The clutches of rage
But there is another far more important element of forgiveness, about which I feel fairly strongly. Unforgiveness, if we might so call a state in which we allow ourselves to continue to seethe and burn with anger against the person who hurt us, is unhealthy, and can prevent us from healing. We become tied to the perpetrator by such bonds of bitterness that we ourselves become far more entrapped by it than the object of our righteous fury.

To let go of that aspect of the past - not to forget about it, but to release ourselves from the claws of the bad feelings attached to it, is wholesome and helpful. It should be done for us, the victims, and not to enable the perpetrators to feel better or relieved. We can act towards the author of our pain with dignity and so as to set them an example of how they ought to have behaved, without making ourselves vulnerable again or enabling them to cause us more hurt. This could include getting rid of an abusive partner, or moving to a safer neighbourhood if you can afford it.

It does not include any right to retaliation, though this is a common impulse among those who have been badly hurt. Apart from the simple moral fact that retaliation is wrong, one must also note that it rarely if ever brings the substantial satisfaction we imagine it might. It, and that it includes the victim abandoning the moral and psychological superiority of their status, and sinking to the level of the perpetrator.

(Professor M.A. Simpson, aka Cybershrink, updated September 2009)




Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.