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Smith, H.F. (2008). Leaps of Faith: Is Forgiveness a Useful Concept?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 89(5):919-936.

(2008). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 89(5):919-936

Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique

Leaps of Faith: Is Forgiveness a Useful Concept? Language Translation

Henry F. Smith

(Final version accepted 28 May 2008)

Using detailed clinical vignettes, the author argues that, despite the current idealization of the concept of forgiveness, the term has no place in psychoanalytic work, and there are some hazards to giving it one. Clinically, the concept of forgiveness is seductive, implying that there should be a common outcome to a variety of injuries, stemming from different situations and calling for different solutions. Every instance of what we call forgiveness can be seen to serve a different defensive function. While the conscious experience of what is called forgiveness is sometimes confused with the unconscious process of reparation, the two can only be described at different levels of psychic life. Despite the fact that in ‘the unconscious’ there is no such thing as forgiveness, the term has an adhesive quality in our thinking that also blunts the analyst's appreciation of the aggressive components in the work. In a final vignette, the author illustrates an analytic outcome that has the appearance of forgiveness, but is best understood as the complex result of the everyday work of analysis.

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