Psychological Repair: The Intersubjective Dialogue of Remorse and Forgiveness in the Aftermath of Gross Human Rights Violations

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The possibility of psychological repair after mass trauma is considered here in the context of the global trend of dialogue between survivors and perpetrators in the aftermath of mass atrocities. Stories of remorse and forgiveness illustrate and allow reflection on the last two decades’ experience in dealing with the past, as exemplified by truth commissions in countries like South Africa and Rwanda. Three aspects of this experience are stressed. First, it is argued that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa was a unique dialogic space that enabled the emergence of new subjectivities in the encounter between survivors and perpetrators. Second, concepts of intersubjectivity are used to explore how a psychoanalytic perspective might contribute to understanding the process of trauma testimony, and to examine the different ways in which empathy plays out in survivors’ and perpetrators’ responses as witnesses to trauma testimony. A key element here is the aspect of concern and care for the other that is linked to the empathy-remorse-forgiveness cycle in the dialogue between victim and perpetrator. Finally, remorse and its relation to forgiveness are explored. Contextually rich case study material from research on forgiveness illustrates this discussion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1085-1123
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of the American Psychoanalytic Association
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • empathic repair
  • forgiveness
  • inimba
  • mourning
  • post-conflict dialogue
  • recognition
  • remorse
  • ubuntu

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology


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