The Therapist's Encounters with Revenge and Forgiveness

The Therapist's Encounters with Revenge and Forgiveness

The Therapist's Encounters with Revenge and Forgiveness

The Therapist's Encounters with Revenge and Forgiveness


The author draws on her extensive clinical experience to illustrate her arguments, and relates them to society in general. She looks particularly at revenge and foregiveness as they are expressed by children and adolescents, and offenders.


The Exploited-Repressive individual is perhaps best known in psychiatric literature in Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child (1994) He has been a parent to his parents, accommodating their wishes without regard for his own – in fact, he may not be cognizant of his own needs.

Miller decries this role reversal, or ‘parentification,’ in stating:

This child had an amazing ability to perceive and respond – unconsciously, to
the need of the mother, or of both parents for him to take on the role that had
unconsciously been assigned to him – this role secured ‘love’ for the child
that is, his parents’ exploitation. (p. 33)

A ‘convenient child,’ he has developed symptoms, little aware that his anxiety, depression or disorders of eating or sleep may be indicative of repressed resentments and rage. In the course of therapy, as he becomes aware of the role he has played and the price he has paid for playing this role, he will most likely feel outrage, shame and resentment, and a longing for revenge, even if only in the realm of fantasy. This is the individual who, to use Weiss’ term, has held pathogenic beliefs, acquired in childhood

from traumatic experiences with parents. The patient’s pathogenic beliefs
warn the patient that if he or she attempts to gratify certain impulses or to seek
certain developmental goals the patient will risk the disruption of his or her
all-important parental ties. It is as a consequence of these beliefs that the
patient develops fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, or remorse; institutes repressions;
and develops symptoms, inhibitions, and faulty object relations. (1990, p. 105)

As a result of this process the individual sees himself as the caretaker of his parents. In fiction we see this occur in a concrete sense in Dickens’ Little Dorrit, whose ‘feckless family dependents are her elders,’ whose mother died when she was eight years of age, and who ‘from that time onward surrenders her childhood to her father’s pathetic need for protection’ (Andrews 1994, p.86).

This child’s sense of well-being, then, depends upon his willingness and ability to meet his parents’ narcissistic demands.

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