Confrontation: How I Hate that Word
I remember back when I first entered therapy. I adamantly told my therapist and my group leader, “Do not ask me to confront my abusers because I can't and I won't.” Hearing a fellow survivor say she was going to confront her abuser that week filled me with indescribable terror. “I could never do it,” I stated. I came to hate the word “confrontation.”
That was almost four years ago. Little did I know that in just five months time, I would be confronting--not because I wanted to--because I had to. I wish I could say it all went well. My intentions were to remind them of what they did to me, let them know I'm suffering because of it, and then tell them I'm willing to work on establishing a better relationship in the future. I had fantasies of apologies, although inside I feared the more likely response. I hoped they would hear me out and tell me they loved me and would walk beside me, helping me any way they could, and I hoped they would acknowledge and do something about the abuse that was continuing to take place in the family. But, like I said, I also dreaded the typical, more likely response.
I never dreamed that just by stating what were facts, and mostly known facts at that, would begin a rippling effect, costing me my relationship with almost every family member I have. I still grieve that loss today, but there has been some good positive things that have helped ease the pain. A family I've known and loved for many years has adopted me into their family, so I have a sense of belonging. I'm also working on other relationships. And of course, I can honestly say that I'm healthier. I can see more clearly. I'm not thrown off balance and set back like I was when they were still in my life giving me negative feedback and throwing obstacles in my path.
If you are considering confrontation, here are a few things I've learned that may be of help to you.
You Alone Can Decide.
In my case, I needed my therapist to help me see the importance of confronting because I was too close to the situation and too afraid to think objectively. It took a lot of time to come to the decision and trust that confronting was in their best interest and my own. Until I saw that, I couldn't do it. I felt it was necessary to confront my primary abusers face to face because they were still in my life and still had a great deal of control and power over me. However, some of my abusers will never be confronted face to face.
Timing is Very Important.
One of my abusers called me one day and said he was coming to my session scheduled that afternoon. I was not ready for this. I felt trapped and I was terrified. My therapist and he did most of the talking. If I had it to do over again, I would have tried to tell him it wasn't a good time. If I couldn't muster up the courage to tell him myself, I would have let my therapist know what was going on and asked him to call my abuser and tell him he would have to wait. My abusers violated my requests for no contact other than through my therapist and I felt powerless to do anything about it at the time.
How You Confront is Important
Only you can decide what is right for you when you confront someone. For me, the only way to confront my primary abusers was with my therapist present. The power my abusers had over me was overwhelming. I would have been like a defenseless child in their presence. Having my therapist there gave me the courage and strength to do it, and he was able to protect me and keep them from taking control of the confrontation. You may choose to write, call, make a tape recording, or you may find some other creative way to safely confront. Keep in mind, you can write letters or talk into a tape recorder and then send it or even throw it away without having to face your abuser.
Understand What You're Confronting and Why
I had to have a valid reason to confront that made it worth the pain and suffering we would all go through. I could no longer maintain the relationship while there was unacknowledged abuse between us. I could no longer be quiet about the abuse I knew was still going on in the family. If there could be no honesty and cooperation, there could be no relationship.
Don't Be Fooled by Appearance
During the session in which I confronted one of my abusers, there seemed to be cooperation and acceptance at the time. However, when this person left the office, that was quickly replaced with anger directed toward me. What followed was a series of letters full of blame, accusations, denial, and attempts to get me to put this all behind me, get on with my life, and be like I was before.
Prepare for Denial
Our healing isn't dependent upon our abuser(s) admitting the abuse and/or apologizing. You may be one of the lucky ones who get an apology and admittance of guilt, however, be prepared for denial, blame, etc. Let's face it, our abusers have spent years justifying, minimizing, denying the wrongness of their actions, and blaming us, the victims. The wall of denial doesn't come down easily. I've heard the saying that if you hear a lie enough times you believe it to be true. Perhaps the same is true with the messages we tell ourselves. It is difficult for most of us to break through our denial. How much more difficult it must be for the offender who has to face his or her own pain of an abusive childhood as well as the abuse he or she perpetrated on others. We can, and we must heal regardless of our abuser(s) reactions.
Confrontation May Lead to Separation
The constant negative feedback hindered my personal growth and kept me in a state of crisis. I had to finally get firm and say, “No more!” I had to give an ultimatum: either stop verbally and emotionally abusing me further, or all contact would cease. They refused to stop and I had the unpleasant task of ending the relationships. I realized, too, that in reality this was also in their best interest. If I continue to let them abuse me, if I let them “off the hook” so to speak and go on as if everything is all right, then they will probably never face their issues. In allowing them to suffer consequences for their actions, I hoped they would eventually decide it would be better to face the pain of the truth than the pain of separation.
Pay Attention to Your Self-Talk
Even three years later, I found myself wondering what I did wrong in confronting, thinking I should have found a way to do it that would have brought positive results. I had to come to terms with the fact that it wouldn't matter how I did it. I held on to the hope that they weren't like the typical abusers we hear about. They would come around if I just said or did the right thing. The truth is, they are typical. It was their choice. They refused to look at the truth and make changes. I did not make them choose separation. I did not even want it that way. They chose.
Nothing is Final
You may find that as you heal you can be more flexible. I want to share some positive results with you. When one of my significant abusers lay dying in the hospital, I stayed by his side day and night for some time. I hadn't been with him for over three years because of the confrontation. I finally realized I was waiting for him to say, “I'm sorry.” When they took him off the respirator, I finally mustered up the courage to ask him for what I needed. What followed was a very moving experience. He was holding all that guilt and shame inside and I could see this heavy burden lift off of him when I was able to say I forgave him. I knew he was dying and would never be able to give me everything I wanted and needed. I knew he'd be gone and I would still have pieces to pick up, tears to cry, and memories to sort through. I made a decision to accept what he could give me then. To me, his apology and seeing the guilt he carried was a gift. We are not all that blessed. I couldn't attend his funeral and hear everyone say how wonderful he was and leave out the other part of him, so I went to the funeral home alone and said the things to him I couldn't say while he was still alive. I could say good-bye to the good and the bad. I believe God let him hear my words.
Some Hope After the Storm
I really did believe the separation in my family would be permanent. But this last year I have had some family members restored to me. It's been a little difficult. It's been like living in two worlds because I have my world now where I have relationships based on total openness and honesty, and now this one where I still am not sure how much honesty and openness will be accepted. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that I just have to be me or I'll end up where I was before.
It's difficult going back into a family where you used to have a role (mine often was trying to be the peacemaker, rescuer, problem solver, and the "life of the party" as some said, and with my mother I used to always get angry and argue with her. Not that all of that was bad...but I would have tried to obtain peace by holding back the truth, or rescue when it was better to let someone learn to cope or walk through their own pain and grow as a result, and the anger didn't get me anywhere except to leave me frustrated because I couldn't get through to her, (and of course now I know why the anger was there) etc. I hated to see people suffer, and I hated conflict. Now my family has to learn to accept me as a healthier person. I have to learn to be myself and not fall back on familiar territory with them. I have to learn to keep being honest even if it hurts. I'm hoping that our relationships can grow and mature. I'm hoping that we can all learn from each other and truly be there for one other. I know my life will be richer having them involved in it and I hope theirs will, too.
In February of 1999, I'd just learned that some in my family had found this site and were upset by it. My only fear was that I had lost the ground I'd gained with some of my family members that prior year. It had felt good to hear from a couple of them and get support from them, even though I'm sure they are somewhat uncomfortable with some of the things I've put on this site. This was an unexpected blessing.
- reprinted from "Survivors & Friends" newsletter: 1993 Volume II; No.3
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