Victimhood, Vengefulness, and the Culture of Forgiveness


Ivan Urlic ( Split Croatia)
Miriam Berger (Israel Tel Aviv)
Avi Berman (Israel Tel- Aviv)

This book was born out of the personal experiences of three authors, two Israeli psychologists and a Croatian psychiatrist, with the traumatic realities of man-made violence they face daily as they struggle with the suffering caused by the endless cycles of hostilities and counter- hostilities in their countries. It evolved into a study of the relational injuries that unleashed aggression causes and of the psychodynamic processes that characterizes them. Their respective contributions are clustered into three topics: Victimhood, Vengefulness, and a culture of forgiveness. The book offers new understandings about the processes involved in them and focuses on their implication for treatment of trauma victims and beyond.

Victimhood is defined as a self-state within which a person prefers compensation over recovery and growth. It entails a form of identification with a past aggressor that is manifested by a displaced intimidation and over-powering aimed at loved ones. When governed by this self-state a person may perceive himself as entitled to be exempted from concern for other people feelings and rights. It deprives all involved parties of relational and social resources and diminishes capacity for dialogue.

Vengefulness may be perceived as a quest for restoration of hope, justice and dignity when one is being made irrelevant, dismissed, ostracized. If the original insult has never been properly exposed, recognized and authenticated, the denigration causes an unbearable emotional pain that demands vindication. It may turn into viscous cycles of vengeful attacks and counter-attacks.

From this perspective, victimhood and vengefulness are intertwined processes that can set off destructive reactions and lock the individual (and/or the group) in dead end traps. These modes of relating constitute an intersubjective challenge in the clinical setting and in understanding socio-political processes as well.

Victims of traumatic histories may suspect that forgiveness is an impossible illusion and resign themselves to an existence in a harsh, hostile world in which one is destined to live chronically by one’s sword; such a stance undermines constructive vision, hinders learning from experience, and obstructs healing and renewal. It is therefore crucial to enable the unfolding of a culture of forgiveness as an essential element woven into the process of reconciliation with oneself and others.

Although the issues discussed in these “clusters” have a strong presence in the everyday lives of people and affect them deeply, they have not been sufficiently explored. This study presents them as relational processes which evolve all the way from unbearable destructive emotional states towards prospects of reconciliation. Clinical material that reflects the desolation caused by violence, lack of mutual concern and human need for connectedness is presented. The authors are joined in the belief that being more aware of the subjective meanings of the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors these “clusters” generate will enable therapists to be more empathic in their clinical work and beyond. The book constitutes a much needed additional path towards a humanizing dialogue and contributes to the struggle against senseless violence.

Avi Berman

Avi Berman

Miriam Berger

Miriam Berger

Ivan Urlic

Ivan Urlic



Foreword IX
Introduction: Personal motivations: how this book came into being. XIII

Part one (Avi Berman)

  • Chapter 1. Post-traumatic Victimhood: Between Recovery and Fixation 1
  • Chapter 2. Post-traumatic Victimhood: Psychoanalytic perspective 21
  • Chapter 3. Social and national Victimhood: The sociopolitical Aspect 43

Part two (Miriam Berger)

  • Chapter 4. Vengefulness as a discredited emotion 63
  • Chapter 5. Vengeful wishes: What are they about? The communicative function of vengefulness 87
  • Chapter 6. “Am I My Brother’s Keeper”: Vengefulness as a link of reconnecting 109

Part three (Ivan Urlic)

  • Chapter 7. To live with enemies and the “impossible” task to think on forgiveness 135
  • Chapter 8. Mourning and forgiveness as parts of a healing process 157
  • Chapter 9. On the culture of forgiveness as essential for reconciliation 187

Index 207

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