The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Confronting an Abuser

Confronting an abuser can be very frightening.

Prior to our estrangement, I confronted my mother about the violence in our family numerous times. During my first attempts, I hadn’t healed enough to be clear about my needs. Nor was I sufficiently prepared to set and maintain appropriate boundaries. Each time I approached my mother, I stood before her still feeling like a damaged child, hoping she was willing to change our family dynamic. She was not.

Later, after preparing and rehearsing with my therapist, I learned to confront my mother without the false hopes that she would suddenly “see the light,” apologize and change. Instead, I prepared for her to deny, blame me, become angry, and tell me that I was crazy.

Yet, it was important for me to "stand in the truth" and a) Calmly tell her what she had done to harm me. b) Express feeling unloved, frightened and alone as a result of the abuse. c) Explain how her betrayal affected my ability to trust and the long-term effects I suffered as an adult, and d) What I expected from her with respect to my minor brother’s safety and that of my own children. I did all this in the most loving tone possible. I prepared at length to make sure I didn’t behave in a passive-aggressive or threatening way, nor would I defend or engage in any argument.

Although she did react with anger, name calling and blame, I felt empowered in that I took control of my own life and I moved from victim to survivor. It was a “cleansing” experience.

My mother was appalled that I calmly “gave voice to the truth.” Her attempts to maintain status quo and to keep me in the victim role gave me the courage to place my own well-being first and to end our relationship. From there my authentic healing process began.

When confronting an abuser, I think it is important to be prepared for the possibility that they may end the relationship, or that you may determine that it is time to end a relationship that does not allow for your emotional health.

It is important to prepare and rehearse all the possibilities to bolster your confidence and to make sure you are strong enough to handle being “challenged” by your abuser. Practice role playing with a therapist and/or a supportive friend. Make sure you have support every step of the way.

If your relationship has been particularly violent and you are afraid to meet in person, many people write letters. Sometimes the letters are to try to maintain a relationship, and sometimes they are to cleanse yourself of the past and move on.

After my mother and I became estranged I wrote her a letter to get everything “off my chest” and feel “heard” in absentia. It wasn’t a letter I ever intended to send. It was about me, not a desired response from my mom. Once written, I read it myself and ceremoniously burned it.

Confrontation isn’t for everyone. Don’t feel pressured to confront if you haven’t healed enough to take this step; if you don’t have adequate support, or if you don’t feel safe. Confrontation is a personal decision and isn’t a necessary step for everyone. Healing comes in many shapes and forms. Every individual should decide for themselves what it is that brings them the most peace.

2 comments:

Johnny B said...

Hi,

I know your post was made sometime ago now, but one of the benefits of blogs is they stick around for people to come across when they need to.

I've been going through dissociation without really understanding what it was for many years. Briefly it began with my father years ago and was taken through into adult life. About the time you wrote this post, I went into therapy and did all sorts, which eventually helped, however no-one I talked to ever mentioned this. I guess it was because I'd never talked about what I did. It had been that way since I could remember it is only now that I see it for what it is.

I too did the same with my father as you did with your mother. A therapist said to me, if anyone else in my life had done what he did, what would be my reaction now? I simply told her, they wouldn't be a part of my life. She then said to me "well, why should it be different just because it is your father?"

I thought about it for a long time and realised she was right. A few weeks later, after working out what it is I wanted and what I realistically thought would happen, I confronted him calmly. We talked for about 3 hours and the results was as expected. He lied, attacked me emotionally, tried to seem vulnerable and any of the numerous tricks he used in extreme circumstances. So I calmly let him know, he is still my father and that can never change, however for my own sense of self I need distance from him. I promised to keep a line of communication open via Facebook and an email address that would always be active just in case and I left. That was about 5 years ago now.

I didn't begin to question my decision until about 2 years after. Had I made a mistake etc. and I realised the one thing I forgot to take into account was my hope he'd contact me in time and try to make amends. Understand what he did. Alas, this didn't happen. If I had considered this at the time I would have known it would never happen and once I realised that, I was free. No longer regretting my decision, or wishing for a different course I was able to move one.

The downside however, is these can come back at a later time. Having started a new job 6 months ago, my boss was great but quickly changed and I have been feeling awful. Unable to leave without finding a new job, a lot of effort is going into that, however it takes time and until then I am stuck with him.

His personality and mine seem to mix in a way exactly the way my father and I did as a child. I'm lapsing back, into the characteristics of dissociation and have been worried for some time my depression (as it was diagnosed years ago) is building again.

Having spent time reviewing blogs and articles etc. I came across this post and have realised in the short time it took to read, it's not depression, it's not something serious it is simply a relationship that I am unhappy about and I will be able to do something about it.

So THANK YOU for taking the time to write your experiences, it has really helped me today!!! :-)

healandforgive said...

Hi Johnny,

THANK YOU for taking the time to let me know that my words were helpful!

Kudos to you for calmly confronting your father and having the strength to do what is best for you!

I'm glad you were able to identify that it's a current relationship that is troubling you now AND that you can do something about that.

It is unfortunate that it is often true that with growth comes loss; however, the eventual reward is a better life!

My best to you on your continued journey!

Nancy