Thursday, August 17, 2006

Judith Herman: quotes 7 a and b, 8, 9, 10, and the final (11)

True forgiveness cannot be granted until the perpetrator has sought and earned it through confession, repentance, and restitution.

Genuine contrition in a perpetrator is a rare miracle. ...

The fantasy of compensation, like the fantasies of revenge and forgiveness, often becomes a formidable impediment to mourning. Part of the problem is the very legitimacy of the desire for compensation. Because an injustice has been done to her, the survivor naturally feels entitled to some form of compensation. The quest for fair compensation is often an important part of recovery. However, it also presents a potential trap. Prolonged, fruitless struggles to wrest compensation from the perpetrator or from others may represent a defense against facing the full reality of what was lost. Mourning is the only way to give due honor to loss; there is no adequate compensation.

The fantasy of compensation is often fueled by the desire for a victory over the perpetrator that erases the humiliation of the
trauma. When the compensation fantasy is explored in detail, it usually includes psychological components that mean more to the patient than any material gain. The compensation may represent an acknowledgment of harm, an apology, or a public humiliation of the perpetrator. Though the fantasy is about empowerment, in reality the struggle for compensation ties the patient’s fate to that of the perpetrator and holds her recovery hostage to his whims.


Debriefings, however, must observe the fundamental rule of safety. Just as it is never safe to assume that a traumatized individual’s family will be supportive, it is never safe to assume that a group of people will be able to rally and cohere simply b/c all of its members have suffered from the same terrible event. Underlying conflicts of interest may actually be exacerbated rather than overridden by the event.


...restoring a sense of social community requires a public forum where victims can speak their truth and their suffering can be formally acknowledged. In addition, establishing any lasting peace requires an organized effort to hold individual perpetrators accountable for their crimes. … If there is no hope of justice, the helpless rage of the of victimized groups can fester, impervious to the passage of time. Demagogic political leaders well understand the power of this rage, and are only too willing to exploit it by offering to an aggrieved people the promise of collective revenge. Like traumatized individuals, traumatized countries need to remember, grieve, and atone for their wrongs in order to avoid reliving them.


Our own society faces a similar dilemma with respect to the legacy of slavery. The unhealed racial divisions of our country create an ongoing potential for violence. The worst civil disturbance of the past few years, the Los Angeles riots, were provoked by the failure of the justice system to hold armed white police officers accountable for the severe beating of an unarmed black man. Within the African-American community, it was widely understood that such abuses were political crimes, carried out as part of a systematic pattern of racial oppression. The issue at trial was whether the larger society would condone the most flagrant of these human rights abuses. The responsibility to bear witness fell to the jury in the criminal trial. In their refusal to see the crime that was documented before their eyes, we can recognize the familiar defenses of denial, distancing, and dissociation. As is so often the case, the bystanders chose to identify with the perpetrators rather than with the victim, and it was this betrayal, not simply the violence of the police, that unleashed a communal outbreak of murderous rage.


And public discourse is something that perpetrators are determined to prevent. As in the case of more overtly political crimes, perpetrators will fight tenaciously to ensure that their abuses remain unseen, unacknowledged, and consigned to oblivion.

Herman, Judith, M.D. Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic, 1992, 1997: 190, 219, 242, 243-244, 246.


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