“Become My Son”: A South African Mother’s Response to the Man Who Murdered Both Her Son and Her Husband

What we can still learn from the South African experience

A guest blog by R. H. (Rusty) Foerger
Originally posted on his website
 More Enigma Than Dogma on June 20, 2018

Truth and Reconciliation is a profound process that takes longer, costs more, and is messier than one can imagine.  Here is one story from the South African experience:

After Apartheid ended in South Africa, a white police officer named Mr. Van der Boek was put on trial. The court found that he had come to a woman’s home, shot her son at point-blank range, and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby. The woman’s husband was killed by the same men, and his body also was burned.

Unfathomable Cruelty and Indignity

I can’t fathom the source or the energy needed to fuel such cruelty. But more unfathomable is the surviving woman’s response (the mother of the son and wife to the husband murdered and burned). What must she have thought and felt as she sat in the court room being burdened and re-traumatized by evidence?

A member of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission turned to her and asked, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done for this man?”

How is Justice to be done?

That’s the right question, isn’t it? What is justice; how can it be achieved; how does it look different from mere retribution and punishment? But the judge asked “how should justice be done for this man?” – not – “for this surviving woman.”

What would this wife & mother say in the face of such murderous cruelty that further caused indignity to her husband’s and son’s remains?

“I want three things,” the woman said confidently:

“I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial. My husband and son were my only family.”

Become My Son!?

 “I want, secondly, for Mr. Van der Boek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.”

This is truly a breathtaking request. We can finish her sentence starting with “I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I . . .” – fill in the blank!

  • So I can get him to feel the crushing poverty I live with.
  • So I can have him feel the full void of my loss with no husband or son.
  • So I can have him feel every distrusting eye scrutinize him as the minority in our community.

But no; she finishes her request with “so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.” How much love does she still have?

And I could not find if Mr. Van der Boek could possibly receive such love. Did he come out, as she asked, twice a month to spend the day with her for the sole purpose of receiving what ever love she may still possess?

Finally, Forgiveness

“And finally, I would like Mr. Van der Boek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van der Boek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”

From Michael Wakely, Can It Be True? A Personal Pilgrimage through Faith and Doubt.

Forgiveness cannot be demanded

I am not naive enough to think that it’s all good in South Africa, or that forgiveness should be given because it is expected, or that forgiveness should be given because it does as much to release the forgiver as it does the forgiven (for a contrasting view, readYou may free apartheid killers but you can’t force victims to forgive). But as the woman in the above noted story alluded, forgiveness is possible when we recognize our own status as forgiven people.


This blog is reposted with permission from R.H. (Rusty) Foerger.
Visit his website: More Enigma Than Dogma

Related blogs by Rusty Foerger:


 

Five Reasons Why Your Romantic Relationships Do Not Last

“Past hurts can lead to a lack of trust which can block intimacy.”

Sometimes there is a pattern that one begins to see in oneself: A relationship starts and is filled with hope, only to end all too soon. If this happens to you, may I suggest 5 reasons why this might be the case and make some suggestions for breaking the pattern?

The first reason why relationships may fail is that we all bring in what we might call “excess baggage” from our family of origin.  This includes both your partner and you. It may be a good idea, when the time is right, to gain insight into any hurtful patterns that either your partner or you have brought into the current relationship. For example, was it a norm to show a hot temper in the family? If so, this could be spilling over into your current relationship in that your partner (or you) never had such a norm which is offensive to the other. Solution: Try to see the norms that have formed early in your life, discuss those that are stressful to your partner or you, and make the necessary adjustments. Second, try practicing forgiveness toward family-of-origin members who have created some less-than-healthy norms for you (see Enright, 2012 for an approach to forgiving).

A second reason is that we can bring in this “excess baggage” from past relationships that have failed. The particularly hazardous issue is damaged trust. If you have had a harsh breakup, or even a divorce, there is a tendency not to trust a new partner even if this person is good to you. On a 1-to-10 scale, what is your trust level in general toward any potential partner? If the scores are below 5, you may need to work on trust. Here is what you can do:

  • First, try to forgive the past partner(s) for damaging your trust. 
  • Second, let trust now build up inch-by-inch in you as you forgive others from your past. Try to see the goodness in the new partner.
  • Third, bring out into the open your challenge with trust so that the new person can help you work this through. You may have to do all of this for your partner if there is a trust issue from the past.

A third aspect of “excess baggage” is low self-esteem or believing the lie that you are not worthy of a lasting relationship. This kind of low self-esteem can creep up on you until you are not even aware that your self-worth is low. On the 1-to-10 scale, how worthy do you think you are to have a happy, lasting relationship? Solution: Cognitively resist the big lie that you are not worthy. Second, forgive yourself if you have played a part in hurting past relationships because of either a lack of trust or low self-esteem.

A fourth point is this: Do not let yourself fall into the trap of defining yourself exclusively by the past. Solution: Be aware of who you really are as a person.  As you bear the pains of the past through forgiving, then ask yourself: Who am I as I forgive? Am I stronger than I thought I was prior to forgiving? Am I more compassionate than I had realized? As you do these kinds of reflections, it is my hope that you realize this: I have a lot to offer a good partner who can benefit from my presence and support.

A fifth and final point is this: Try not to let your new partner fall into the trap of defining the self exclusively by the past. This person, too, may need the strength of forgiveness with the renewed view that “I, too, am a person of worth who has good things to offer you.”

Perhaps it is time for a new start in relationships. Some of the 5 points above may help move you in the right direction.

Posted in Psychology Today January 17, 2018


References:

Enright, R.D. (2012). The Forgiving Life. Washington, DC: APA Books.


 

How Do I Forgive a Cheating Boyfriend? Six Suggestions

.Betrayal can be very painful and difficult to overcome.  When the resentment builds, it is important not to let it have its way.  Otherwise, it could live within you for a very long time,  chipping away at your happiness, making you mistrustful of those who may be worth of trust, and spilling over to your loved ones.  This is why betrayal is such a challenge, particularly the effects of such betrayal that can take the form of excessive anger, anxiety, and depression.

Here are six suggestions that may be helpful to you as you consider forgiving:

First, you need not have forgiveness wrapped up in a day or a week.  Forgiveness is a process that takes time.  Be gentle with yourself as you begin to consider forgiving.

Second, to experience some emotional relief in forgiving, you do not have to be a perfect forgiver.  Even if you have some anger left over, as long as the anger is not dominating your life, you can experience considerable emotional relief.  For example, in a study of incest survivors, all of the participants started the forgiveness therapy with very low scores on forgiving.  After about 14 months of working on  forgiveness, as the study ended, most of the participants were only at the mid-point of the forgiveness scale.  In other words, they began to forgive, accomplished it to some degree, but certainly had not completely forgiven.  Yet, their depression left and their self-esteem rose.  Forgiving to a degree, but not perfectly, made all the difference in their emotional health (see Freedman and Enright, 1996).

Third, as you forgive, try to see the humanity in your boyfriend.  Is he more than the cheating behavior?  If so, in what ways?  Does he possess what we call “inherent worth,” or unconditional value as a person, not because of what he did, but in spite of this?  Do you share a common humanity with him in that both of you are special, unique, and irreplaceable because you are human?  This is not done to excuse his behavior.  Instead, it is a thought-exercise to see both his humanity and yours.

Fourth, are you willing to bear the pain of the cheating so that you do not pass it on to your brother or sister, to your classmates or co-workers, or even to your boyfriend himself?  Bearing the pain shows you that you are strong, in fact, stronger than the cheating and its effects on you.

Fifth, as you forgive, bring justice alongside the forgiving.  In other words, ask something of him.  What is his view of fidelity?  Does he need some counseling help to deal with a weakness of commitment?  Does he show remorse and a willingness to change?  If so, what is your evidence for this?  You need not unconditionally trust him right away.  Trust can be earned a little at a time, but be sure not to use this issue of “earned trust” as a weapon or punishment against him. Allow him to redeem himself as he shows you he can be trusted.

Sixth, and finally, know that there is a difference between forgiving and reconciling.  If he does not deeply value you as a person, if his actions show self-centeredness, and if this seems like a pattern that he is not willing to change, then you can forgive and not reconcile.  Forgiving in this case may not give you this relationship that you had desired, but it will free you of deep resentment and allow you to be ready for a more genuine relationship in which you are open to the true affection and care of another.

Forgiveness is hard work.  It takes time because it occurs in the face of great pain.  If you choose to try it, then forgiving is worth the effort to do the important rehabilitation of your heart.

Posted in Psychology Today March 18, 2018

References:
Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996).  Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.


8 Reasons to Forgive

Forgiveness within psychology is relatively new, having emerged as a research focus in the later 1980’s (Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989). Over the next three decades, a host of studies have emerged within the mental health professions showing that Forgiveness  Therapy is beneficial for the client, for the one who forgives (Baskin & Enright, 2004; Wade et al., 2014). We have to be careful with these findings primarily because a false conclusion could emerge: Forgiveness is only for, or primarily for, the one who forgives; it has little to do with the one forgiven. This, actually, does not seem to be the case. A reflection on what forgiveness accomplishes, its purpose or goal, suggests at least 8 purposes to forgiving.

What does it mean to forgive? Although there may be different behaviors across the  wide variety of cultures to express forgiveness, in its universal essence, forgiveness can be defined as a moral virtue, centered on goodness, that occurs in the context of being treated unfairly by others. The one who then chooses to forgive deliberately tries to eliminate resentment and to offer goodness of some kind toward the offending person, whether this is kindness, respect, generosity, or even love.

The one who forgives does not automatically go back into a dangerous relationship. The forgiver can forgive and then not reconcile. The forgiver does not excuse the unfair behavior but offers goodness in the face of the unfairness. The forgiver should not think in “either/or” terms, either forgiving and abandoning a quest for justice, or seeking justice alone without forgiving. The two moral virtues of forgiveness and justice can and should be applied together.

With this understanding in place, here are at least 8 reasons to forgive. Which of these are in your conscious awareness when you offer this virtue to those who have wronged you?
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When I forgive, I do so:

1. to become emotionally healthier. Forgiving can reduce unhealthy anger.

2. to repair relationships as it helps me to see the other’s worth.

3. to grow in character because it can help me to become a better person.

4. to be of assistance, within reason, toward the one who acted unjustly. Forgiveness extends the hand of friendship even though the other may reject this.
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5. to help me to assist other family members to see that forgiveness is a path to peace.  Forgiveness for peace, in other words, can be passed through the generations.


6. to motivate me to contribute to a better world as anger does not dominate.

7. to help me to more consistently live out my own philosophy of life or faith tradition if that worldview honors forgiveness.

8. to exercise goodness as an end in and of itself regardless of how others react to my offer of forgiving. 

To forgive is to exercise goodness even toward those who are not good to you. Forgiveness is perhaps the most heroic of all of the moral virtues (such as justice, patience, and kindness, for example). I say it is heroic because which other moral virtue concerns the offer of goodness, through one’s own pain, toward the one who caused that pain? Do you see this—the heroic nature of forgiving—as you extend it to others?

Robert


References:

  • Baskin, T.W., & Enright, R. D. (2004).  Intervention studies on forgiveness: A meta-analysis.  Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 79-90.
  • Enright, R. D., Santos, M., & Al-Mabuk, R. (1989).  The adolescent as forgiver. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 95-110.
  • Wade, N.G., Hoyt, W.T., Kidwell, J.E.M., & Worthington, Jr., E.L. (2014).  Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 154-170.

Posted in Psychology Today Apr 16, 2018

On Persistence for Well-Being

To grow in any virtue is similar to building muscle in the gym through persistent hard work. We surely do not want to overdo anything, including the pursuit of fitness.

Yet, we must avoid underdoing it, too, if we are to continue to grow. It is the same with forgiveness. We need to be persistently developing our forgiveness muscles as we become forgivingly fit. This opportunity is now laid out before you. What will you choose? Will you choose a life of diversion, comfort, and pleasure, or the more exciting life of risking love, challenging yourself to forgive, and helping others in their forgiveness fitness?

Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5359-5360). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

Helpful Forgiveness Hint

We sometimes think that those who hurt us have far more control over us than they actually do. We often measure our happiness or unhappiness by what has past-futurehappened in the past.

My challenges to you today are these: Your response of forgiveness now to the one who hurt you can set you free from a past influence that has been toxic. Try to measure your happiness by what you will do next (not by what is past). Your next move can be this–to love regardless of what others do to you.

Robert

Love Never Dies

Think about the love that one person has given to you some time in your life. That love is eternal. Love never dies. If your mother gave you love 20 years ago, that love is still here and you can appropriate it, love3experience it, feel it. If you think about it, the love that your deceased family members gave to you years ago is still right here with you. Even though they passed on in a physical sense, they have left something of the eternal with you, to draw upon whenever you wish.

Now think about the love you have given to others. That love is eternal. Your love never dies. Your actions have consequences for love that will be on this earth long after you are gone. If you hug a child today, that love, expressed in that hug, can be with that child 50 years from now. Something of you remains here on earth, something good.love33

Children should be prepared for this kind of thinking through forgiveness education, where they learn that all people have built-in or inherent worth. One expression of forgiveness, one of its highest expressions, is to love those who have not loved us. If we educate children in this way, then they may take the idea more seriously that the love given and received can continue……and continue. It may help them to take more seriously such giving and receiving of love.

We need forgiveness education……**now.**

Robert