To Be (Forgiven), or Not To Be (Forgiven)?
That is the question, no? The age old debate for survivors: Do I truly need to forgive to heal? Am I unable to “move on” without forgiving? If I do forgive, is that weakness?
The answer to all of those questions is, no. Forgiveness is not mandatory for healing. You can still live your life without forgiveness. And you are never weak for finding it within yourself to forgive someone; Someone who has not likely acknowledged the pain they inflicted upon you, let alone apologized. Today, we want to look at two stories of survival. Both survivors are, without a doubt “well-adjusted” in adulthood, yet bare the scars from their childhoods each and every day. One has found solace in his forgiveness, the other finding strength in feeling the anger.
Victor Pacini, founder of the Be Seen and Heard© program and survivor of sexual abuse, has found his purpose empowering children to use their voice. He has also found comfort in the forgiveness of his abuser, a once-friend of his family. When asked about his ability to forgive someone who has never showed remorse, Victor shared:
“I have found that forgiveness doesn’t mean I am okay with being abused. It doesn’t mean I would want to be friends with my abuser or have him in my life. No, to me I forgive so I can focus on turning my pain into power. I didn’t have a choice when I was a child. I was overcome with fear, guilt, and shame for the sexual abuse that was done to me.
Yes, he abused my body but I refuse to let him abuse my life. I wish no harm upon him, nor do I hold revenge in my heart. I believe that sending love to those who have hurt others says much more about myself than it says about them. A quote that I heard years ago perfectly sums up what forgiveness means to me. Mark Twain said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” I find forgiveness to be much lighter than the anger I held for so long. And although that is not the path for all survivors, it is certainly the path for me.”
Deanna Hynes, survivor of incest and fierce advocate for victims of sexual abuse, has a different view on forgiveness. She finds power in the anger she feels, anger in which she was taught to believe was shameful.
“As a child, I was taught many wrong things. I was to keep my feelings, especially anger, to myself. That my anger was overdramatic, disrespectful, and ultimately a slap in the face to my parents. And although my parents were the source of torment, my mother being an emotional abuser and my father a sexual abuser, I still had an ingrained belief that I must always listen to and obey them. I hid my anger to protect myself from their wrath.
When I ran away from home at 18, I left behind what I consider to be my, “old life”. This life was wrought with abuse, compartmentalization of my true feelings, and the learned belief that I was bad. As I worked through my “new life” I started to see my anger was valid. I felt refreshed and reborn. They could no longer force me to push down the anger I was entitled to feel. Through therapy I have learned to embrace all of my feelings, even those of anger. I do not feel a need to forgive my abusers, but I do not wrap myself up in resentment. Rather, I give myself now what I needed as a child: congruent emotion and the right to feel what I feel.”
So, what is the right answer? Do we encourage survivors to forgive and let live or ride the wave of anger when it bubbles up? The answer is: you don’t tell a survivor what to do. You see, when a child is sexually abused, their power, control, and ability to make decisions is robbed from them. The decision to forgive or not, allows them some semblance of control in their lives after abuse. For Victor, he feels empowered in his forgiveness, and the peace it brings him. For Deanna, acknowledging her anger and validating it feels like freedom in its purest form, allowing her to live authentically.
Let survivors take that power back. Let them choose their path to healing, especially when it comes to forgiveness. Do not topple them with what YOU think is right, or what YOU would do in their situation, or what YOU think is the path to their ultimate “I’m healed” moment. Walk alongside them. Let them know you are there and support their decision, even if it wouldn’t be the path you choose. Show that, forgiveness or not, you respect and support their journey and their ability to reclaim what was stolen so long ago: their power!
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor. I want to welcome you to another Be Seen and Heard Journey. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen and to watch this video. Today’s topic is really important to me and to a lot of people. It’s the term, forgiveness, specifically, when it comes to being abused or being victimized in any situation. And I’ve learned so much in the last few days…I have learned that forgiveness is not for everybody and that people that don’t necessarily forgive can still live very meaningful lives. I know someone who’s doing that right now. When I go to schools and I talk to kids, I do Q&A starting in fifth grade and I get kids sometimes that say, “Hey Victor, if the person who abused you walk in the room today, what would you do?”
And the answer is, honestly, I don’t know what I would do. I would probably revert back to that eight year old little boy for a little bit and then I would probably want to surround myself with people that I trust. I have no desire to ever meet the person again, but I will tell you this, I have forgiven this person. Now I don’t want to be friends with him. I don’t want to have a conversation with him, but I want him to go live his life and I’ll live mine. For me to stand here today, to create this video or to share in front of hundreds and thousands of kids, I had to forgive at a certain level. I have a friend, Deanna, who is a survivor of incest and abuse. She has a different perspective.
Her perspective is this…I am not going to forgive the person who’s done this to me. In fact, I’m going to take the anger that I still have towards this person and I’m going to turn it into power. I’m going to take my anger and turn it into something that I can do to help other kids. This way of thinking kind of opened my eyes. So forgiveness is not for everybody. It’s it’s learning to respect where people are on their journey. I think that’s the double message today. I mean forgiveness is for some people and it’s not for others. I think it’s important to teach kids to feel what they want to feel. Meaning, I always tell kids, you have the right to feel what you’re feeling. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Now if that feeling or that emotion is knocking you down and it’s keeping you from growing as an individual, then yes, you need to go talk to somebody, but you have the right to feel what you’re feeling.
Because I believe negative feelings and emotions are cues and our lessons for us to grow out of. I think that’s really important. But for Deanna, she was able to take something very tragic and horrible in her life and turn it around and use it as fuel to get her to the next level. Forgiveness was not even part of her solution and I respect that. That’s the message today.
I want to leave you with this really awesome quote that I heard many years ago by Mark Twain. I love it and it’s something I’ve utilized in my life. And if you’re someone who has forgiven people or someone who is in the process of forgiving people through through some pain or trauma in your life, here is the quote. “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
I want to thank you for taking the time to watch this or listen to this. Have a wonderful day and remember, no matter where you are in your life, you have the right to be seen and heard. I’ll see you next time. Thank you.