‘But forgiveness is so difficult that it probably needs some help from the other person. I mean by this that the wrong, if not remembered by both parties – and remembered as a wrong – falls all on the betrayed. The wider context within which the tragedy occurred would seem to call for parallel feelings from both parties. They are still both in a relationship, now as betrayer and betrayed. If only the betrayed senses a wrong, while the other passes it over with rationalizations, then the betrayal is still going on – even increased. This dodging of what has really happened is, of all the sores, the most galling to the betrayed. Forgiveness comes harder; resentments grow because the betrayer is not carrying his guilt and the act is not honestly conscious. Jung has said that the meaning of our sins is that we carry them, which means not that we unload them onto others to carry for us. To carry one’s sins, one has first to recognize them, and recognize their brutality.
Psychologically, carrying a sin means simply recognizing it, remembering it. All the emotions connected with the betrayal experience in both parties – remorse and repentance in the betrayer, resentment and revenge in the betrayed – press towards the same psychological point: remembering. Resentment especially is an emotional affliction of memory which forgetting can never fully repress. So is it not better to remember a wrong than to surge between forgetting and resenting? These emotions would seem to have as their aim keeping an experience from dissolving into the unconscious. They are the salt preserving the event from decomposing. Bitterly, they force us to keep faith with sin. In other words, a paradox of betrayal is the fidelity which both betrayed and betrayer keep, after the event, to its bitterness.
And this fidelity is kept as well by the betrayer. For if I am unable to admit that I have betrayed someone, or I try to forget it, I remain stuck in unconscious brutality. Then the wider context of love and the wider context of fatefulness of my action and of the whole event is missed. Not only do I go on wronging the other, but I wrong myself, for I have cut myself off from self-forgiveness. I can become no wiser, nor have I anything with which to become reconciled.
For these reasons I believe that forgiveness by the one probably requires atonement by the other. Atonement is in keeping with the silent behavior of the father as we have been describing him. He carries his guilt and his suffering. Though he realizes fully what he has done, he does not give account of it to the other, implying that he atones, that is, self-relates it. Atonement also implies a submission to betrayal as such, its transpersonal fateful reality. By bowing before the shame of my inability to keep my word, I am forced to admit humbly both my own personal weakness and the reality of impersonal powers.
However, let us take care that such atonement is not for one’s own peace of mind, not even for the situation. Must it not somehow recognize the other person? I believe that this point cannot be overstated, for we live in a human world even if victims of cosmic themes like tragedy, betrayal, and fate. Betrayal may belong within a wider context and be a cosmic theme, but it is always within individual relationships, through another close person, in immediate intimacy, that these things reach us. If others are instruments of the Gods in bringing us tragedy, so too are the way we atone to the Gods. Conditions are transformed within the same sort of close personal situation in which they occurred. Is it enough to atone just to the Gods alone? Is one then done with it? Does not tradition couple wisdom with humility? Atonement, as repentance, may not have to be expressis verbis, but it probably is more effective if it comes out in some form of contact with the other, in full recognition of the other. And, after all, isn’t just this full recognition of the other, love?
James Hillman, ‘Senex and Puer: Betrayal’ p210. Spring Publications, Conneticut