Notes from a talk by Anna Carroll

8 December 2012



Forgiveness, or the possibility of that, relates essentially to an experience of breach of trust, of betrayal and loss of connection with another person or with the world in general.


 Effects associated with such an experience are

 (1) Hurt / Anger

These responses contain one another. The person who is charged with anger may be unable to go to their hurt. The person immersed in the pain of their hurt, may be afraid of their anger.

(2) Diminishment, Powerlessness

The feeling is, I am less than I thought I was.

Overall, the experience is one of suffering, confusion, blame.

It is good to distinguish: (A) the problem; from (B) responses to the problem.



The response will be influenced by my personality type, whether I am tend to be conformist or rebel (the fight or flight divide). Thus I may respond from my ‘victim’ self, or my ‘rebellious’ self. It is very hard to get the victim type out of their victimhood, and also very hard to get the ‘I’m always right’ type out of their position.

Three typical responses:

(A) Revenge

The aim here is to recover my sense of self. This approach may be counterproductive, but it represents a stage in the aftermath, (and it’s useful for a mediator/therapist to know at what stage a person is at).

(B) Denial

We bury the pain. (This happens with many people who are abused, who often go back into the same situation). We go to denial quicker if we feel we are partly responsible for what happened.

(C) Cynicism

We can get paranoid, and be unwilling to risk anything again, to risk that other person, that institution, or even to take risks in life generally.

These responses can cloak the sense of failure associated with broken trust. In this situation, the possibility of healing is hidden from the person concerned.


RESISTANCE to forgiveness

There are two kinds of resistance

(1)There is first a feeling resistance. This is a question of emotional attachment. I am attached to my suffering, my pain, my powerlessness.

(2)My belief system   provides resistance. ‘If I forgive I am surrendering. I am giving more power to the perpetrator’. (Paradoxically, the reverse may be true, but if the mediator/therapist were to say that, it can’t be felt as lone as the person is in that place).


WHAT CAN YOU DO as mediator/therapist?

First, it is to be recognised that there is a journey that people have to go through. ‘The core of who I am, the essence of my being, has been damaged’. The professional can help in the removal of (1) and (2) above by accompanying the Victim/Perpetrator on a journey of healing; towards forgiveness, and perhaps towards reconciliation (the latter may be a further step beyond forgiveness).


HOW is this done?

(A) By the quality of your PRESENCE

We are speaking here of a non-judgmental presence. This is difficult to achieve; we all have opinions. But a party can pick up very easily whether we are being judgmental towards them.  This quality of presence involves being a true listener (not thinking about what we are going to say next). By being present as mediator in this way, you may be able to build up a trusting relationship which helps to heal the woundedness and recover the potential to trust life again.


We are not speaking here of mere sympathy. ‘Can you stand in the shoes of that other person’.


We have to resist our desire to fix things, to move on.


We need to recognise that we can’t fix it! The journey belongs to the individual concerned; we need to get out of the way, not be over zealous.

We can only help to remove the resistance (see above). In doing so, we need to honour that resistance, recognising, for example, if a party is still sited in revenge. We can get the party to express their feelings, to articulate the hurt and thereby, to feel it.  Expression of feeling also helps to externalise it; to diminish the tendency to be locked up in that state.


(E)  FINALLY (Key point)

We can gently and skilfully get behind the urges, drives, instincts, that caused the offence/betrayal to happen: desire for power, sexual drive, greed, jealously, competition. In so doing we can begin to put the betrayal in a wider context, since all have the same drives (even if they may be more or less under control, or may be played out in a different way, depending on circumstances and upbringing).

The SHIFT, for the person who might contemplate forgiveness, would be to recognise oneself as, potentially, a betrayer.

If such a shift occurs, you are almost there. But it may never happen. You have no control over the timing. It may have been possible to help a party to know that they are more than the awful things that have happened to them. But then there is a point beyond which the professional cannot go. When the resistance to forgiveness is removed, a person can have the desire to forgive but may still have to wait for the thrust to action it to come. One cannot make oneself forgive. 



Depending on the actions under discussion, you may be dealing with (the possibility of) 

(a) A journey of forgiveness for the victim (recovering my trusting self), and

(b)for the perpetrator of the offence, a journey of atonement (I have to suffer what I did, my own failure, what I was capable of doing) .  

[In the victim’s journey, of course, it helps if you know that atonement is present on the opposite side].

It has to be recognised, that for these separate parties, and if it is desired that forgiveness/reconciliation are to be reached for, the pace may be different.

It may be necessary to listen to the stories separately.



The prize is reconnection: “Without forgiveness, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation” (Assaglioli)