Friday, May 22, 2015

To Hate Or To Forgive...That Is the Question

Reality Show: 19 Kids and Counting

This reality show was recently brought to my attention, more specifically, the news that is rapidly spreading throughout social media regarding Josh, the older child of this family. It was indicated that a few years ago he had admitted to molesting a few of his siblings, and in turn, received counseling services. Furthermore, it was also stated that the survivors of the incident also received treatment. These types of scenarios are not ones that any one person enjoys reading about, as it opens up a realm of ridicule, doubt, judgement, and fear. I was amazed at many of the social media responses and comments made about Josh, as well as the survivors in addition to their family and religious beliefs. Therefore, I, like many others are undoubtedly doing decided to write a few remarks on scenarios such as these. 

It is difficult to be an outsider looking in when we hear about children having been sexually abused. As a counselor, I have heard over the years that one in four or even as high as one in three girls are sexually abused. One in four boys are, as well. It seems to be more commonplace than we know, yet it continues to be the frightening elephant in the room. Rather than look at it from a judgmental place, I’d rather look at it from a place of understanding. 

First, not all people who act out sexually in an inappropriate manner have been victims themselves. There can be a small correlation to this idea, but it is not a cause-effect relationship. There are many factors that play into a person acting out. Therefore, jumping to a conclusion that someone does this because it was done to them is not accurate. Also, religions that call for sexual purity or sexual abstinence do not lead to someone acting out. There is no cause-effect relationship, though on social media I have seen this said. Research does not support statements like these. Third, saying that the victims must come out into the open and tell their story is not always helpful, nor is it therapeutic. In fact, it can do the opposite. It can foster hate…and we all know what happens when hate is encouraged. 

Now, on to the victims or survivors of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can be a developmental life changer. I want to reiterate what I just said—it CAN be a developmental life changer. That means and implies that other factors must be involved such as support, age of the individual, psychosocial stage of development, cognitive development, etc. Sexual abuse introduces a very mature idea into a small mind and body that is not cognitively or socially ready for it. It also introduces strong physiological responses in a small mind and body that may not be ready for it. This can lead to confusion about sex, relationships, identity, and much more. However, it doesn’t have to be a game changer. Again, it is not a cause-effect relationship. Much can be said about the victim/survivor who comes out and talks about it, though it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more or less healthy than those who keep it quiet. Much can be said about those who keep it quiet and work on it on their own without creating an environment of anger. The reason I say that, is because one social media responder indicated that the victims need to have a voice and be represented and speak out loud. This type of behavior can actually lead to ongoing symptomatic and behavioral problems, as well as fostering self-loathing, hatred, and mistrust. Anger and hate beget more anger and hate. Helping a person find meaning in their life after the abuse can foster inner peace, healing, understanding, and forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness for the one who did the abuse. 

In the many hours I have spent working with people who have suffered through many types of trauma, I have yet to meet a person who fully healed that did not forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that one is okay with what happened to them or what they did to someone else. Forgiveness means letting go of all hope of a better past (not my saying, but a good one), and allowing the pain, sorrow, and suffering to go. Holding on to the pain and suffering only brings more pain and suffering. Again, I return to my prior statement that we all know what happens when hate is encouraged.
Finally, true healing can happen for both the victim/survivor and the perpetrator. It requires empathy on both sides. Empathy is being willing to walk with the individual, side-by-side, and to support them, not to enable them. Empathy can empower a person to have hope for a better future. A better future does not mean that they will be free from the memory of what was done, but rather that they can grow and develop into something stronger. They can find meaning from the suffering (yes, that is a very existentialist statement—for more information read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning). The path to recovery from victimization or perpetration is not comfortable, but it is doable. Most of the time, you won’t find those stories in social media. Those people keep their stories to themselves, because they are sacred and personal. If a story fosters hate and confusion, there won’t be much healing there. 

If anyone has questions or comments, feel free to leave them…if they are negative and degrading, they will be deleted. My blog is not a place for that.