Many years ago (as in 20) I was in a “dream group” with one other person, who would stop by my house to discuss our dreams. For some external reason it was to be our last session. I felt on a friendly basis with her, but recently I ran into her at a public gathering and while she nodded at me she avoided eye contact, and the greeting wasn’t nearly as friendly as I would have expected. I belong to a brown bag luncheon group now and as I was leaving the hostess asked if I knew ___ and I said yes and she replied that the woman had asked if I was going to be in attendance that day. Interesting, but the fact is that, possibly in response, she chose not to attend that day.
I can only guess that my mild dissociative tendencies had kicked in after she related a dream and my failure to respond was noticeable and interpreted as specious. It was a sensitive dream and I didn’t know what to say and I think I withdrew and she felt exposed. I can’t use my mild tendency to dissociate as an excuse because it’s so amorphous. I’m recalling another possible example when I called a friend who then told me her father had just died, and I went silent, reflecting, I think. But she didn’t let me off the hook and lit into me for not responding. I apologized and told her that if she could have seen my face she should would know that I was responding, but…
Has anyone else experienced this kind of difficulty?
Because of the scripted nature of apologies, they can also serve to manipulate the wounded to turn the tables. The scriptedness of the apology/forgiveness interaction is not only about social expectations but about power relations. When the victim is wounded (and her wounds are documented, believed, acknowledged, and validated) she is in a powerful position vis a vis the offender. Her wounds not only mark her as a victim but also give her a certain power because of the associations with the position of victimhood–in particular the innocence but also the protection one affords and special considerations.
Victimhood affords one a sort of instant purity and sympathy, if not martyrdom. And all too often the public has trouble with victims when they do not live up to this idealized standard. The victim-offender dyad is set as a dichotomy–that one is evil, the other pure in exaggerated form. So when a perpetrator apologizes and does an excellent sincere j0b at such, our natural expectations are to expect and require forgiveness from a victim. Apologies can thus be power plays used to pull at victims’ notions of themselves as good. To maintain their role in the dichotomy as the “good one” the victim will need to apologize, or to prove in some way that their wounds are just too immense and they have suffered too long. Rarely is anger considered an appropriate response to a sincere apology….
The power relations between the offended and the offender are always important to keep in mind, for an apology offered by an offender who ultimately has power over the injured party brings with it even more pressure for forgiveness.
The demands on individual victims to forgive are bound up with traditional notions of what it means to be a “good girl” or “good woman” it is entirely possible to have compassion for an offender, even your own offender if you have been abused, and not be willing to forgive. Whatever happened to the older psychoanalytic notions of ambivalence? While it may be difficult to live with ambivalent feelings, this is the human condition.