In our culture the belief that "To err is human, to forgive divine," is so prevalent that few of us question its wisdom. But do we ever completely forgive those who have betrayed us? Aren't some actions unforgivable? Can we achieve closure and healing without forgiving? Drawing on more than two decades of work as a practicing psychotherapist, more than fifty indepth interviews, and sterling research into the concept of forgiveness in our society, Dr. Jeanne Safer challenges popular opinion with her own searching answers to these and other questions. The result is a penetrating look at what is often a lonely, and perhaps unnecessary, struggle to forgive those who have hurt us the most and an illuminating examination of how to determine whether forgiveness is, indeed, the best path to take--and why, often, it is not.
In a stimulating book that seeks to challenge the common wisdom, psychotherapist Safer (Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children) examines our Judeo-Christian concept of forgiveness. Though positioned for general readers, the tone and style of this book are more thoughtful than prescriptive; it will most likely find its market among mental health professionals and others with the background to absorb Safer's sophisticated arguments. The "intimate betrayals" involve hurtful behavior by family, lovers and friends, and exclude actions by strangers. Though marital infidelity is included, the majority of examples are of breaches between parents and children, some of which are quite disturbing. Forgiveness, Safer says, is not a "natural" reaction to damaging behaviors, though it's a cornerstone of our society. Drawing on her 25-year practice, she describes traumatic acts of family brutality, incest, alcoholism and compulsive gambling. She analyzes how the individuals involved have resolved their betrayals, evaluating each approach in relation to religious thought, as explained by a Jewish Reform rabbi and a Catholic priest. In essence, Safer is suggesting that a reasoned process for coming to terms with wrongdoing is more appropriate than the kind of blanket forgiveness that's prevalent today. The end result may not be forgiveness, but the value, she says, is in thorough examination and increased self-knowledge. The required steps in the process are "re-engaging" (with the betrayer, the act, the ensuing emotions and reactions) and "recognizing" the significance of the ordeal, which allow "reinterpretation" of the motives of both parties.