There have been some interesting discussions here in the comments this week on EFB about whether or not to confront abusers. There are a lot of factors to consider. Confronting an abuser isn’t an easy decision. Many people think that this should be easy but there are dynamics that most people don’t consider. When a family member is the abuser, it may be even harder.
People wonder why survivors of abuse are concerned with “hurting” the abuser. I think that the history of the relationship has to be considered in order to understand that fear. As children we were taught to submit to adults, and to always consider their feelings and never consider our own. We carry this training/grooming with us as we grow up.
My motive for any type of confrontation is for self healing. MINE. But there was a lot of fear. I had to really look at why I was afraid to hurt their feelings and I had to figure out why I was afraid to say anything. Did I feel the need to protect “them”? Why was I so concerned with the reactions of everyone else?
~I realized that I was raised to consider everyone but me.
~I was so afraid of my mother that I never considered confronting her all those years before I finally did. (I was in my early forties). And it is important to mention that I was not aware that I was afraid of her. In fact, I was shocked to realize that I was deathly afraid of her.
~I was also convinced that the things I was upset about were not valid things for me to be upset about and that I didn’t have any “right” to be upset. This was especially true when it came to emotional abuse. As a child I believed that my life was not my own. As an adult it had not yet become my own.
~ I didn’t have all of my memories yet either (still don’t have them all) so I questioned myself AND I felt like I was “accusing” with the memories that I did have. All my life I had been told that I made up stories and exaggerated. I wasn’t sure if that was a truth about me, or not. I had a LOT of self doubt to work through before I was ready to stand up for myself. I had to believe my own memories. My mind wanted to deny the memories. They hurt.
~My mother also controlled me with her fragile state of mental health for years. She constantly warned me not to “upset” her. She told me all the time that she “couldn’t take it”. I thought I might send her to the hospital if I said certain things. So as you can see by these points, it gets complicated.
The first thing that I did to draw any kind of a boundary was that I cancelled a family reunion that I had agreed to host here at our farm/ranch. I cancelled it because I found out that the whole family was discussing my right to talk about my childhood with everyone in the world except ME. And for about 8 months straight, they had all been talking behind my back because of something I said to my sister in law. My brother had phoned everyone to see if I had said anything about him. If he was innocent, what was he afraid I might have said? My mother had already threatened to sue me if I wrote a book. I wonder what she was so afraid of too.
I felt SO bad about cancelling the reunion. I pride myself on never breaking my agreements and on being a very “nice person”. What would they think? What price would I pay for doing that? I was afraid in the same way that I was always afraid as a child. Afraid of rejection, anger and retaliation, but really, I suffered those consequences all my life when I complied! What would change if I made them angry? And I had been treating myself like crap forever but I never considered that cancelling meant that I was taking care of myself for once.
I was afraid that the abuser would be protected and I would be discounted. We all know where THAT fear came from. That was my reality for years.
A long time went by without contact and then mom phoned me by accident. She told me that she pressed the wrong speed dial button and then she asked if I was willing to talk. She wanted to work things out by putting them behind us. I said no; that if we were going to have any relationship that we had to talk about a few things first. (I wanted some new ground rules)
I told my mother just three things she had continued to do and say to me that were abusive, disrespectful, degrading and devaluing. I was well along in my emotional healing process when I finally had the courage to say those things. I am really glad that I got to say them. I said them for me. I said them to HER out loud and with conviction. All three things were present tense things she was doing. The biggest and scariest thing I said to her was that she was no longer allowed to say “well Darlene, you did have a crush on him” in relation to her boyfriend coming into my room when I was a young teen and inferring that I had asked for it. I was shaking like a leaf, but it needed to be said. FOR ME. Today I wonder WHY on earth I was afraid to say that? WHY on earth was she still throwing that in my face?? And if she really believes that I enticed her boyfriend into my bedroom why would I want to be in a relationship with her when that is how she defines me, and regards me??
I had to consider that my mother never thought about anything that she did or how that impacted me. She put herself first at my expense. I am no longer afraid of the consequences of taking care of myself and I am willing to do whatever I need to do to maintain my emotional health. If that includes setting new ground rules or if that includes telling someone why they are no longer welcome in my life, then so be it. And if that includes walking away without giving an explanation, then that is fine too. This is MY life now.
I did not confront anyone in an abusive way. I might be angry but I know that anger and abuse are not one and the same. This is a very important point for survivors to hear; Confrontation does not make me abusive! I was so afraid that I would be “just like her” if I expressed my hurt and anger. Because she constantly expressed her hurt and anger towards me.
My mother’s reaction to whatever I say is not my problem. All my life I worried about her fragile mental health while she destroyed mine. Now I take care of me and doing so has been a huge part of my recovery. I don’t feel that I should have to worry about the effect of anything I do will have on her. I would not abuse her in anyway. But today I don’t think that saying those things is wrong. I don’t think that it is love towards her to pretend it didn’t happen and let her stay in her denial. I think that if my mother actually faced her part in my life that she might also be able to face her own childhood history and emerge from broken. I honestly wish that she would find the same freedom that I have found by facing her own truth.
As time went on I felt better and better that I had finally stuck up for myself. I spoke the truth. What could possibly be wrong with that? All my life my mother had this whole song and dance routine about how I am this “ungrateful daughter”. That she did her best; that she “never wanted to be a single parent” as though that was the whole problem and that as though that statement explained and excused her from all accountability. What about BEFORE she became a single parent? I finally said “whatever” I am not buying it anymore. I finally stopped drinking the poison kool-aid!
And one last note; Abusers are not the ones with the blocked out memories about what they did. Although most of the time they deny it, they KNOW what they did. All I am doing in confronting them is telling them that I know what they did too. I am making a statement; “what you did was wrong. I didn’t deserve it.” I felt so alone with my secrets. I had been wronged and when I said those few things to my mother that day, I finally felt like she had to live with it too now. She could not stay in the same denial anymore, believing that she had a “right” to do whatever she wanted or treat me however she chose to.
Please share your thoughts;
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