Forgiveness and the Problem of “Betrayal Bonding”


When I began writing about the virtue of forgiveness I recognized the need to identify prevalent yet mistaken attitudes about forgiveness. For example, many think that forgiving someone who is no longer living is a meaningful act. But I maintain that this misunderstands forgiveness.

Sometimes a virtuous form of behavior is confused with forgiveness. What I’ve called “therapeutic forgiveness,” for example, may be rooted in healthy beliefs and practices, without counting as forgiveness in the proper sense. A person may feel negative emotional ties to someone who was abusive but is no longer living. These emotional links can be especially crippling and efforts should be taken to break them. Fortunately, there are effective tactics for doing this. But these tactics do not consist in forgiving the abusive person.

Another confusion arises in cases where a person defends an attachment with a person who has betrayed him and may be known to betray others. This kind of attachment has been called “betrayal bonding.” The idea of forgiveness comes into play for the person who “looks past” the behavior of such a person and “accepts them as they are.”

I’ve seen this in several instances where a charismatic figure, very likeable from a public vantage point, is personally nefarious in his dealings with people who work closely with him or are members of his family. In another post, I wrote about “Snakes in Suits,” where I recommended a book with this title. Snakes in suits are among those who cultivate psychically dangerous and damaging relationships. But the type can be found in many different contexts.

What does betrayal bonding look like?

You may be friends with an individual who has a record of wrecked relationships that many would have thought were healthy, even exemplary. You may harbor vague puzzlement about this pattern. You may accept the individual’s explanation for relationship collapse, where blame-shifting often is featured prominently. You may wish to defend this individual out of a sense of loyalty—loyalty that may have intensified if you think the individual has been “abandoned” by “so-called friends.” You may wish, contrary to the evidence, that the individual is blameless in his dealings with others. You may suppose that your relationship with the individual will survive and that you will never be relegated to the sidelines or cast upon the pile of carnage. You may judge that the individual’s “quirks” and “foibles” are tolerable, and perhaps should be “forgiven,” given his importance in whatever cause you identify with.

All of this is evidence of betrayal bonding. (Betrayal bonding is not to be confused with co-dependence, though subtle co-dependencies may be at work.) The effect is unhealthy for the least suspecting person—YOU.

How do you know whether you’re bound to someone in this way?

Here’s a clue: If while reading this you have found yourself thinking of a particular person whose friendship you value, but whose relational skills by certain important measures are a little sketchy, then there’s a chance you suspect the presence of betrayal bonding. If so, this merits further exploration.

The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) has developed a “Betrayal Bond Index Test.” It’s a series of straightforward questions that you answer with a simple “yes” or “no.” Unlike much psychological testing, there isn’t much scope for uncertainty as you answer each of the 30 questions. And it goes quickly.

Today, I would answer all questions in the negative. But I would also be thinking of a destructive relationship of the past. Sometime after the early stages of that relationship, an honest answer to many of the question would have been a “yes.” That relationship, which I mistook for a friendship, pooped out a long time ago. I still have occasional encounters with the person, but I have not the slightest inclination to restart a relationship, to imagine that he has changed for the better, to give him a second chance, to make excuses for his conduct, to give him a pass or defend his reputation because of his popularity or perceived importance. (Forgiveness, a precondition for restoration, must await repentance.)

If he’s reading this, he probably knows who he is. At the moment, I’m happy to say, I can think of no one else who qualifies for the ignominious status rightly accorded to this person of the past. In fact, I can’t remember any other person prior to that relationship where I was at risk of “betrayal bondage,” (except, possibly, a girl I once dated). I guess that makes me a lucky guy.

How about you? Have you been so relationally blessed that none of this speaks to the inner you? Then by all means, celebrate. (It shouldn’t matter much who you celebrate with.)

But maybe you’re not so sure that you’re in the clear. Then the IITAP Index Test may be a good place to start toward better understanding!

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Review of “Snakes in Suits”


A few days ago I unexpectedly came across a book that I believe may be one of the most important books I’ve read—Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hale (2006).

This is not your standard self-help book that panders to readers needing yet another pop-psychology fix. It is a serious but readable treatise on how the psycho-dynamics of predatory behavior manifests in the workplace, the damage that results when this happens, and how co-workers and superiors can and must respond with greater wisdom. Read more of this post

TR on Reading Fiction for Personal Improvement


Book Cover.TR's Letters to His SonsThe American President that most fascinates and inspires me is Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve read several biographies, the best of which is by Texas A & M historian H. W. Brands. I also enjoy collections of TR’s essays and letters.

In a letter to his son Kermit, written from the White House February 3, 1906, the President reveals something of the way he viewed fiction:

Dear Kermit:

I agree pretty well with your views of David Copperfield. Dora was very cunning and attractive, but I am not sure that the husband would retain enough respect for her to make life quite what it ought to be with her. This is a harsh criticism and I have known plenty of women of the Dora type whom I have felt were a good deal better than the men they married, and I have seen them sometimes make very happy homes. I also feel as you do that if a man had to struggle on and make his way it would be a great deal better to have someone like Sophie. Do you recollect the dinner at which David Copperfield and Traddles were, where they are described as seated at the dinner, one “in the glare of the red velvet lady’ and the other “gloom of Hamlet’s aunt”? I am so glad you like Thackeray. “Pendennis” and “The Newcomes” and “Vanity Fair” I can read over and over again.

If TR felt he could read such titles by Thackery over and over again, it is because he did. Thackery is mentioned in many of his letters. Here the father takes pleasure in a shared enthusiasm with his son. And why is he so pleased with the boy’s reading predilections? Apparently because of the power fiction has to form character, to provoke thought about values and truth, and to encourage wise decisions in life.

Evidence for this dominates the quotation. Notice that TR is, in effect, counseling his son about choices in marriage. He is very subtle in this.

It’s pleasing to see that this accomplished public figure had such a relationship with his children that he would write about such things in his letters from the White House.

From the quoted portion of Roosevelt’s letter to Kermit, there is much of positive value to glean:

  • He takes time for his children in the midst of major official responsibilities.
  • He writes in a slow, reflective pace.
  • He guides by example.
  • He engages his son in discussion of ideas and values on the basis of a shared interest.
  • He shows genuine enthusiasm for great literature outside his range of responsibilities.
  • He exemplifies a manner of reading fiction that is directed by the desire to grow in wisdom.
  • He advises the young without preaching at them in any condescending fashion.
  • He regards his son as a peer in the realm of ideas.
  • He looks for points of contact between the fictional characters he meets with in reading and living individuals he knows personally.

It’s enough to make you want to go back and read David Copperfield, and check out the works he cites by William Thackeray.

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

Works mentioned in this post:

Kindle users should know that there is a Kindle collection of over 100 of Thackery’s publications (including the three mentioned in this post) that you can get with a single purchase (cost: $4.79 at the time of this post). Click here. I like the Kindle!

Book Cover.TR's Letters to His Sons.2The quotation is from page 80 in The Letters and Lessons of Theodore Roosevelt for His Sons, edited and compiled by Doug Phillips.

“Batman and Friends”: A Discussion Guide


morrissuperheroes-and-philosophyTom Morris and Matt Morris are the editors of a a book called Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way (Open Court 2005). Matt’s own chapter (pages 102-117) is titled “Batman and Friends: Aristotle and the Dark Knight’s Inner Circle.” I created this discussion guide, based on Matt’s chapter, for my course on Faith, Film and Philosophy.

Read pages 102-105 and answer questions (1) through (4):

  1. What explains the main title of this essay, “Batman and Friends”?
  2. Morris writes that “Batman is often thought of as the most solitary superhero.” Do you agree with this assessment? How does this set things up for the main theme of Morris’s chapter?
  3. The chapter sketches Aristotle’s three-fold analysis of friendship as developed in the Nichomachean Ethics. What three types of friendship does Aristotle describe? What is your assessment of Aristotle’s analysis? Is it plausible? Is it comprehensive? Do you have friendships of each kind?
  4. Morris uses the Aristotelian analysis of friendship as a template for studying Batman’s closest relationships. Before reading Morris’s discussion of Batman’s relationships, write down your own thoughts about Batman’s relationships. What are his primary relationships? How would you describe each relationship in terms of Aristotle’s three-fold analysis of friendship?

aristotleRead pages 105-115 and answer these questions:

  1. Which of Batman’s relationships does Morris consider in terms of the Aristotelian account of friendship? How does Morris classify each relationship? Do you agree with his classification? If you disagree, explain.
  2. Is there anyone else who is closely related to Batman who is not considered by Morris in this essay? If so, identify the person or people you’re thinking of. What does Aristotle’s analysis of friendship imply about the relationship(s) you have in mind?
  3. What is Morris’s primary thesis in this essay? What is your evaluation of Morris’s thesis?

Now read pages 115-117 and answer the following questions:

  1. In this section of his essay, Morris writes about the “elusiveness” of a certain kind of friendship. How does he explain this elusiveness in Batman’s case? Do you agree that Batman is incapable of this kind of friendship? Explain your answer.
  2. If you’ve seen one or both of the most recent Batman movies, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), what features of these films support or conflict with Morris’s analysis of Batman’s friendships?posterbatman-beginsthe_dark_knight_poster
  3. Who has more or less authentic relationships with others, Batman or Bruce Wayne? Explain your answer.
  4. Would it ever be possible for Batman to have the kind of friendship that Aristotle admires most? Explain your answer.
  5. Morris identifies three things that can happen when we “philosophically address art, whether it’s a novel, a comic, a painting, or a film” (see pp. 116-17). What are these three things? What does Morris say is the most important contribution philosophical analysis of art can make? Do you believe that philosophy can play this role? In his use of philosophy to analyze Batman’s character and relationships, does Morris succeed in showing that philosophy can make this kind of contribution?
  6. Morris concludes with an admonition. Think about your own ambitions and sense of calling. If you were to follow Morris’s admonition, what would it mean for you? Be as specific as possible. Does Morris’s counsel seem like good advice to you? Explain your answer.

Copyright © 2009 by R. Douglas Geivett

“You’ve Got Friends”—Looking Back on Facebook, 2008


First there was MySpace, appealing to the junior high and high school crowd, and eventually appalling to many parents. Then came Facebook. More mature, and yet somehow safer, Facebook instantly became the venue of preference for college and university students. Until we reach a certain age, we are all fated to assimilate to some degree the technologies of the present. I haven’t reached that age yet, and I candidly acknowledge that my penchant for accommodation is pretty healthy. Still, I have to be convinced of the value of the latest “technological advance” before adding it to my repertoire, which, ironically, becomes more cumbersome with each “improvement.”

In 2008, I succumbed once again to the blandishments of technoverture (i.e., overtures perpetrated by novel technologies). Among them, Facebook. How did this happen?

First, I attended a Web 2.0 faculty workshop at my university. Facebook aficionados extolled its virtues. The single greatest revelation of the occasion was that our students are off email and on Facebook. Why? Because Facebook is better. It turns out that email served the primary value of social networking, until Facebook came along. Then it was bye, bye email. Facebook is a much more powerful tool for social networking. Students knew, of course, that few of their profs were in the loop. It didn’t concern them that by migrating to Facebook, they were effectively unreachable for academic purposes.

This may cause teaching faculty mild consternation. But it shouldn’t. I discovered that my students, and especially my most recent former students, welcomed my presence on Facebook—as opposed to thinking I had invaded their space. My policy on this is evolving, along with the general acceptation and utility of Facebook, but for the time being I don’t initiate Facebook invites to students. I don’t want them ever feeling obligated to regard me, even in the increasingly benign Facebook sense, as a “Friend.” As it happens, the largest constituency of my Friends List is students and former students who have sent me invites.

Second, my older daughter, who is a university student, made a convincing appeal to go on Facebook. She was, I’m proud to say, the first to send me a Facebook Friend Invite.

Once signing on to Facebook, a large question remained: What do I do with it (or on it)? My first impulse was to search for family members, especially my younger sisters (24 years younger) who were most likely to have accounts, and see if they would have me as friends. This initial act was rewarded in a most unexpected way. I found another “Geivett” with a familiar first name, the name of a cousin I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. With moderate trepidation (how could I be sure?), I posted her a note to confirm my suspicion that this was in fact my cousin. She replied instantly and enthusiastically (this is Facebook, after all). Yes, one and the same. We arranged to have lunch on my next visit to Seattle, only a few weeks hence. Since then we’ve seen each other twice. Within a few weeks she’ll be visiting us in southern California.

Facebook is a powerful tool for reconnecting people who otherwise would not be able to find each other. For me, this alone is worth the cost of Facebook. And Facebook does exact a cost. Here are three areas where the cost is especially dramatic:

  1. Time. Facebook, for its true enthusiasts, is a time-sucker. The distinctive sucking sound can be heard at its most voluminous on college and university campuses, where Facebook addiction is more rampant than alcohol addiction—which, come to think of it, is good news.
  2. Fantasy. Facebook fuels fantasies of certain kinds. Possibly greatest is the fantasy of intimacy with one’s Friends. I’m a firm believer that “being there” is till better than “the next best thing to being there.” And while Facebook beats out the telephone as “the next best thing,” it ain’t the same thing. Whatever it’s supposed to mean for Facebook to be “bookish,” one thing is certain, the interpersonal contact Facebook mediates isn’t “face-to-face.” Following hard on the heals of this fantasy is another—the fantasy of finding and fanning old flames. This form of intimacy-chasing is encouraged by Facebook. How many users have punched the search engine with names of former lovers and crushes hoping, with vanity, to reconnect? Our emotional lives are suggestible, susceptible, and, yes, sordid enough without the support of new social networking tools. On the other hand, the positive potential of Facebook, even in the arena of quiet desperation, isn’t completely negligible.
  3. Information Management. Maybe “life management” is more apt here. Facebook has a growing inventory of applications. Some of these promise to put vital, or at least interesting, information in your hands, and with greater convenience. This is one of the advertised  advantages of “Groups,” for example. “Information overload,” a phrase of relatively recent vintage, has already long been clichéd. Clichéd or not, the burden it names is very real and is here to stay. Do we really need more information and information sources? Maybe what we need is less information. But that’s because of the burden information management imposes on general life management. Facebook doesn’t perform all the tricks a techno-society requires to remain organized, and, more to the point, hip. So it actually adds to the burden of keeping up. I already had three email accounts before Facebook. In effect, Facebook brings the tally to four. (OK, honesty requires that I mention my LinkedIn account, as well. But this adds proof to my point.) Maybe someday we’ll learn that the proper telos of technology is human flourishing, and discover that no technology is the best technology.

Yes, there’s a price to be paid for the Facebook frenzy. Used in moderation, however, it serves us well who cling to fantasies of intimacy in the midst of an information hurricane . . . as long as there’s enough time for other things that matter.

Copyright © 2008 by Doug Geivett

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Related Post: Geivett’s Glossary

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