On Revenge, Pardon, and Forgiveness

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Political violence has long been a focus of psychoanalytic writing. Jessica Benjamin’s concepts of the complementarity, or twoness, and that of thirdness can serve as a point of departure allowing us to challenge the dichotomy between positions of revenge and forgiveness (on the victim’s part) and positions of evil and remorse (on the perpetrator’s), and to suggest a spectrum of encounters between victims and perpetrators that includes four types of interaction: (1) between the position of extreme evil on the perpetrator’s part, and the position of revenge on the victim’s; (2) between the perpetrator’s position of banal evil, and the victim’s position of false pardon; (3) between the perpetrator’s position of guilt and atonement, and the victim’s position of full pardon; (4) between the position of remorse on the perpetrator’s part, and the position of forgiveness on the victim’s. A thorough analysis of various testimonies illustrates how these four positions manifest, with varying degrees of dominance, in every encounter (whether concrete or imagined) between victim and perpetrator.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1111-1135
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of the American Psychoanalytic Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the American Psychoanalytic Association.


  • banal evil
  • doer / done to dynamics
  • forgiveness
  • political violence
  • revenge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology


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