||Issues surrounding adult survivors of childhood abuse, family estrangement, forgiveness, and reconciliation
by Nancy Richards
September 16, 2008
Nancy Richards is an adult survivor of childhood abuse. She is the author of "Heal and Forgive: Forgiveness in the Face of Abuse," "Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation" and co-author of "101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life, Volume 2."
|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
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.
Confronting Your Abuser
by Kelli Deister
Recently, I have received several emails regarding the topic of confronting an abuser. I think this topic divides into two main categories. The first category would be that a victim of child abuse may want to express their anger to their abuser and ask them why they did it. The second category might be that the victim wants to bring closure.
An adult survivor of childhood abuse might want to confront their abuser and ask them why they did what they did. They may long to express their emotions to their abuser. Perhaps they are angry at what happened. I believe that being angry is a normal reaction to any kind of abuse. The adult survivor carries their emotions for many years, unsure of how to release it all. Confronting one's abuser means that the survivor must allow old emotions to come to the surface, in order to express them to their abuser. The survivor simply wants the right to express their frustrations, anger, confusion etc. to their abuser. They want their abuser to know that what they did was wrong. Perhaps they simply want to hear their abuser say they are sorry for abusing them. It may also help to validate what they have felt over the years.
The survivor may also want to bring closure to their past. They may feel that if they can just confront their abuser and lay it all on the table, they might be able to bring closure. Bringing closure is important to the survivor because it means they are closing that chapter of their life and will no longer have to carry it with them. They simply want it to be over. Confronting their abuser gives them a chance to express exactly how they feel about what was done to them. It helps them to free themselves within.
While confrontation with an abuser may seem like the right thing to do, it varies from person to person. For some survivors it might be the perfect thing to do. They may be able to confront their abuser, get that apology, and move on. However, for other survivors, confrontation may only make it worse.
Before deciding on whether or not to confront an abuser, the survivor must take into consideration that confrontation may not be a healthy option. It could open them up for further abuse. After all, the abuser may still believe that they had every right to do what they chose to do. They may have no remorse over what they did. They may become more angry and lash out at the survivor. In this scenario I do not believe it is best to confront the abuser.
Another option for confronting one's abuser is to take a trusted friend and supporter to the meeting. This will help the survivor to know that they are not alone while confronting the person. It is always best for the survivor that wants to confront the person to do it with someone they trust. It's best not to do it alone.
Confronting an abuser is not easy. It means digging up old emotions and feeling the pain all over again. However, for those that choose to confront the person, may they have strength and courage as their companions. Everyone's view of confronting the abuser will most likely be different. Each person must make the decision based on what they think is best for themselves.
Confronting Your Abuser
(in your life and in your mind)
Deciding To Confront
Directly confronting your abuser and/or those who knew of the abuse but did not try to help you is not for every survivor, but it can be a dramatic, cleansing tool.
If you feel you need to confront your abuser, do it, before the person dies and you never have the chance again; don't let that desire haunt you forever.
Reasons to confront:
1) Validation of memories
2) Make those you confront feel the impact of what was done to you
3) See your abuser suffer
4) Revenge seeking
5) To seek payment for therapy
6) To try to establish a real relationship
Questions to ask yourself before you decide:
1) Whom do I want to talk to and why?
2) What do I hope to gain? Is this realistic?
3) Am I willing to lose contact with those who also know the person?
4) Am I stable enough to stand being challenged?
Keep in mind:
1) Abusers don't like to feel out of control and don't like to be confronted.
2) Your abuser will probably not admit to the abuse or even think what s/he did was abuse.
3) It's a good idea to bring a friend for support or have someone to meet up with afterwards.
4) It's okay to change your mind about the confrontation; don't feel obligated to follow through if you change your mind or have doubts about the outcome.
How to confront:
Focus on doing the encounter for yourself, not for the response you want to receive. Set the boundaries, choose the timing, and choose the location to be comfortable and convenient for you. Practice role playing with a therapist or someone you trust. Write out the main points you want to make and memorize them. Imagine the worst reaction you could get and if you would be able to handle it. Remember that the purpose is to speak up for yourself, say what you want to say and ask for what you want, whether you will receive it or not, and know that you took charge of the situation. This will completely flip the situation around from what it was during the abuse; confronting is very powerful.
If you fear retaliation:
If you are unsure if the reaction will be a violent one, keep it to a public place, bring friends as witnesses, and don't give out your current address or phone number.
If confronting is not for you:
Not confronting is a perfectly fine option as well. Don't feel pressured to confront because of encouragement from others or from hearing positive stories of confrontation. You're not more of a survivor or any better healed by confronting if it's not for you. Don't do it if you're not ready, your support group isn't strong enough, or there's real danger involved.
Confronting mentally or symbolically:
If you cannot confront because you do not know who your abuser was, or your abuser is dead, you can still work out a confrontation in your mind. Many survivors who cannot physically confront their abuser fantasize of killing or otherwise hurting their abuser; this is perfectly normal in thought and is a healthy way to own your anger and feel powerful and in control.
Confronting the deceased:
An obvious way to confront your abuser if s/he is dead is to do so at their grave. This may yield a more fulfilling result than simply voicing your feelings elsewhere.
Symbolic ways to confront:
|1) Write a letter and don't send it.
2) Gather the things that remind you of the abuse and bury them or burn them. If burning, consider keeping the ashes to spread or let fly on the wind.
3) Contribute to a survivor newsletter or other publication.
4) Organize or participate in Take Back The Night or The Clothesline Project.
5) Contribute time and/or money to an organization that helps survivors.
6) Act out the confrontation with others.
Resources:Refusing To Be Silent: Recovering from abuse in a family of Indian origin
- The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, pp. 133-148.
- VOICES In Action, Inc., "How To Confront Your Perpetrator: Living or Deceased"
Confronting your abusers: Is it worth it?
January 14, 2011
Providing support, education and inspiration to sufferers binded by South Asian cultural norms
When confronting my abuser, I was hoping to get validation and support for what I've been through. I was hoping that my parents would act like how a loving and supportive parent should. While this reaction is ideal, this situation isn't reality for some of us. Some of us may experience that confronting is re-traumatizing and doesn't produce the results that we're hoping for.
When I confronted my parents about the things they've done, I was met with their denial, minimizing and pointing the blame towards me. My sexually abusive parent said “I saved your life. You could have gotten pregnant from one of those white boys. It was better to get sex education from me than someone else. You liked it anyway, didn't you?” When I told him about how his behavior did the exact opposite of “saving me”, he didn't understand. He didn't understand that a child can't consent to sex, and that it's the adult's responsibility to protect the child. He felt that there were no long-term effects of what he has done. He told me to just forget about it. While he said sorry for what he has done, it was as if he was dismissing it as a little mistake.
When I confronted my mom, about her toxic behavior, she would say,
”Something is wrong with you, not me!”
“You're just too sensitive! Can't you take it? What are you going to do when your husband says something to you?”
“I gave birth to you-I have the right to say these things.”
“I'm not THAT bad. I was just mad. Whatever”
“You're just making up stuff. I never did that.”
“Look at all of the things I've done for you! This is how you treat me? I gave you a home!”
Such reactions from our parents (or any abuser for that matter) may cause us to doubt our judgment. We may believe that we're going crazy, that we're imagining things, or that we're wrong for feeling how we feel.
If a confrontation with an abuser hasn't gone as well as you had hoped, take solace in the fact that you had the courage to stand up for yourself and let someone know that it wasn't okay to treat you poorly. When you were being abused, you were conditioned to believe that you deserved to be treated poorly and that there was no way out. Standing up for yourself and taking care of the abused child within you deserves recognition and praise.
If you're contemplating on confronting, ask yourself what you hope to gain from confronting. Are you looking for validation? Do you want to make your abuser pay? Do you think confronting would help you in reclaiming your power? Do you want to eliminate any awkwardness in your relationship with an abusive parent? If you choose to confront, be aware of the fact that an abuser will not react in the way that you hope. They may deny, minimize, or retaliate. Ask yourself if you're ready to handle these reactions. Despite such reactions, some survivors still feel cleansed knowing that they voiced their opinion to the abuser.
It's possible to symbolically confront someone, without directly talking to them. Some ideas would be to write a letter to the abuser, and burn it. If the abuser is dead, you can confront them at their grave. You can re-enact your confrontation with someone else, or pretend that an object is your abuser. You can direct your energy towards a positive cause, such as volunteering at a rape crisis center or attending support groups.
If confronting isn't for you, don't feel pressured that it's something you must do. What works for one survivor may not work for someone else.
Confronting an abuser 40 years after event
by Stephen T. Watson
September 26, 2010,
Ron Tebo says he was just 6 or 7 when a teenage neighbor befriended and then sexually abused him as well as his younger sister.
That was 40 years ago.
For the past three years, Tebo searched for his abuser, a quest he chronicled on a Web site, on his Facebook page and on videos he posted to YouTube.
He believed he could find closure by confronting his childhood tormenter and getting him to acknowledge his crime.
Last month, Tebo finally got his chance.
On a dusty road in the Southtowns, under a blue sky, Tebo stepped out of his car and slowly, nervously, walked up to the man he knows as Butch.
"I just came to talk to you, that's all," Tebo said.
"I have nothing to say," Butch responded, avoiding eye contact. "Like I said, I moved on. I got a different life now. It was a long time ago."
Tebo then asked for an apology.
"If I harmed you in any way, I truly am sorry, 'cause I certainly didn't mean to," Butch said.
Video spread via Web
This encounter last month was the conclusion to Tebo's three-year crusade to find his abuser, and Tebo recorded it on a video camera and then posted sections of the video online. The remarkable footage has drawn national media notice to the West Seneca resident and inspired other victims of abuse to come forward.
"My story has given others a voice," Tebo, who is 47 and the father of twin boys, told The Buffalo News.
The News is not naming Butch, his employer or the community where he lives because he was never charged with a crime. Butch did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Tebo never reported the abuse when it occurred, and it was years before he could bring himself to talk about it because of the pain and guilt he felt.
He didn't want to address his abuse while his mother, who died in 1999, and his grandmother, who died in 2006, were still alive.
But three years ago, he attracted national attention when he set up a Web site to warn people about a Seattle-area pedophile who had started an online guide to the best local places to meet young children.
Tebo revealed at that time that he had a personal motivation for going after the Seattle pedophile. He said that he and a family member had been abused by a neighbor when they were kids.
Soon after that, Tebo began his search and set up the site to find his own abuser, findingbutch.com.
The abuse occurred not long after Tebo and his three younger sisters had moved in 1969 to a home in the Southtowns.
Tebo said he remembers standing outside a car as this neighbor abused Tebo's sister, who was 4 or 5 at the time, in the front seat of the car.
And he said the teenage neighbor boy molested him at least three times.
"I didn't tell my mom," Tebo said in an interview last week at his "office," the lounge area of a Hampton Inn in West Seneca. "I felt like I was doing something wrong."
In an interview, his sister confirmed that this neighbor, the man Tebo later confronted on video, abused her as a young girl on at least two occasions.
"I don't ever think about Butch. Sometimes, when I reflect on my life, I think about the little girl that that happened to, but I don't think about [the abuse]. I don't obsess about it," she said.
When Tebo started his search to find his abuser, he remembered Butch's given name, but he wasn't sure how to spell the last name. He found it on the mailbox when he went back to his old street.
The house was in foreclosure, and he couldn't get a forwarding address when he went to the town hall.
Nothing panned out until a neighbor said in May 2009 that he thought Butch's relative worked at a local business.
He found out where Butch lived and where he worked, and went to see him at his workplace but did not confront him because he wasn't sure he was ready.
"For 39 years I had to carry these memories, for 39, 40 years I had to carry them around with me. And I am liberated to see the man, to see the monster, who molested me and my sister," Tebo said to his camera moments after seeing Butch for the first time.
Two days later, he went back to talk to Butch.
He began by reminding Butch that they used to live near each other, and Tebo told him that he volunteers with children who have been sexually abused.
Tebo hasn't posted the full video of the 30-minute encounter, but in one section posted online Tebo asked if Butch remembered molesting more than one of his sisters.
"One of them -- I don't know which one," Butch said in the closest he comes to an admission of guilt.
But when Tebo asked if Butch remembered molesting him, Butch said he didn't because he had tried to erase his past.
As he walked away, Tebo told the camera he had had to resist the urge to beat Butch.
Later, at home, he said he was exhausted after his three-year, off-and-on hunt.
"This is emotionally draining for me, financially sometimes, too," Tebo told The News, "because I put my other work on the back burner to search for the man who stole my sister's innocence."
Tebo also contacted the state police about the decades-old abuse, speaking to Investigator Thomas Spulecki one year ago.
"He told me what he [was] going to plan on doing. I just let him know the legality of it," Spulecki said. "I don't think he was going to stop until he did that. He was very persistent."
Spulecki said he discussed the matter with prosecutors, but said charges could not be brought now because there is no physical evidence and Tebo's alleged abuser was a juvenile -- 15 years old -- at the time.
Even though Butch won't be charged for his alleged crimes, Tebo said he thinks he is holding Butch accountable.
Tebo's story has drawn the attention of AOL News, which published an article last week, and MSNBC, which conducted a live interview with him. ABC's "Nightline" also sent a crew here to report Tebo's story.
Some people who were molested as a child or teenager find themselves wanting to address the abuse years later, but it's not common for them to confront the abuser, said a clinical social worker who treats young abuse victims.
Tebo said it was difficult for him to talk about his own abuse because he felt shame, guilt and a sense of responsibility because he couldn't protect his younger sister from their abuser.
Those feelings are common for victims of sexual abuse, said Stefan Perkowski, program director for Child & Adolescent Treatment Services, who has worked for 35 years with victims of child and teen sexual abuse and the abusers.
About 70,000 children were sexually abused in 2008, according to the most recent federal statistics. In the vast majority of those cases, the abuser is someone the victim knew and trusted, Perkowski said.
This was the case with Tebo and his sister, according to their version of events.
Some abuse victims return to his office years after they were treated as children because they want to revisit what they said, they want to add new information or they want to share how they are doing today, Perkowski said.
It's important to get a young victim the best treatment as soon as possible and to emphasize to them that the abuse isn't something shameful that must be kept secret.
Perkowski said confronting an abuser can be risky.
"You're never made whole, but you can get a level of satisfaction. My big concern is please do anything safely," he said.
Did Tebo get the closure and the answers he was seeking?
He said he's not sure. But he said he's glad that he got to look Butch in the eyes, and to share that moment with the world, because he believes it has motivated other abuse victims to come forward.
"There are other Butches out there ... and maybe this is going to give others inspiration," Tebo said.
Should you confront your abuser?
NO. Never confront an abuser especially one who has demonstrated a violent history.
Never argue with her or disagree. Agree with him until he calms down. The only safe way out is to calm her down. Eventually no matter how enraged she is, she will run out of steam. Once he is either asleep or out of the house LEAVE. GET OUT. Do not try to reason with her because......
Abusers are predators, attuned to the subtlest emotional cues of their prey. Never show your abuser that you are afraid or that you are less than resolute. The willingness to negotiate is perceived as a weakness by bullies. Violent offenders are insatiable. Do not succumb to blackmail or emotional extortion - once you start compromising, you won't see the end of it.
The abuser creates a "shared psychosis" (follies-a-deux) with his victim, an overwhelming feeling of "the two of us against the whole world". Don't buy into it. Feel free to threaten her (with legal measures), to disengage if things get rough- or to involve law enforcement officers, friends, neighbours, and colleagues.
Here are a few counterintuitive guidelines:
The abused feel ashamed, somehow responsible, guilty, and blameworthy for their maltreatment. The abuser is adept at instilling these erroneous notions in his victims ("look what you made me do!"). So, above all, do not keep your abuse a secret. Secrecy is the abuser's weapon. Share your story with friends, colleagues, neighbors, social workers, the police, the media, your minister, and anyone else who will listen.
Don't make excuses for him or her. Don't try to understand her. Do not empathize with him - he, surely, does not empathize with you. She has no mercy on you - you, in return, do not harbor misplaced pity for him. Never give her a second chance. React with your full arsenal to the first transgression. Teach him a lesson he is unlikely to forget. Make her go elsewhere for his sadistic pursuits or to offload his frustrations.
Often the abuser's proxies are unaware of their role. Expose him. Inform them. Demonstrate to them how they are being abused, misused, and plain used by the abuser. Trap your abuser. Treat her as she treats you. Involve others. Bring it into the open. Nothing like sunshine to disinfest abuse.
There are a few techniques which work wonders with abusers. Some psychologists recommend to treat repeat offenders as one would toddlers. The abuser is, indeed, an immature brat - though a dangerous one, endowed as he is with the privileges and capabilities of an adult. Sometimes ignoring his temper tantrums until it is over is a wise policy. But not very often - and, definitely not as a rule.
Read these articles for tips and advice:
It depends on the situation, the degree of your relationship (wife, daughter, sister, etc.), and whether confronting him or her would jeopardize your safety.
I did confronted my abusive father. I didn't have the nerve to do it in person, but I wrote him a letter that was 4 pages long and told him everything I ever wanted to tell him. And you know what? It feels great! I am freed from the responsibility of having to pretend, of feeling responsible for his happiness and/or unhappiness, and the burden that I carried is gone.
I say YES. My father crossed the line when I was 15 and again when I was 19. My 2 sisters knew of the 1st incident but we never really talked about it and never told anyone else. I never told my mother;I was afraid she wouldn't believe me or that I (it wasn't me but my father)would cause my parents to divorce. I'm now 48 and have never told a single soul..I was ashamed and didn't want anyone to know what a creep my father was. I've been going to counselling to learn to let go of the anger and move on with some sort of relationship since my parents are now 71. Unfortunately, one of my sisters, without my knowledge or consent, last week told my 71 year old mother. She accused me of being on drugs (I'm not) and has disowned me. So now instead of dealing with the abuse issue with a professional and in private, I'm dealing with absolute rage at my sister as well as suddenly being without my mother and father. My mother's reaction is exactly why I didn't tell her 33 years ago.
If you think confrontation will "fix" the abuser, get a clue and give it up. Confrontation, however, can be a declaration of independence for the abused. Abuse continues as long as the object of that abuse is convenient and reasonably risk-free for exposure of the abuser. A child is at risk if he decides to confront his adult abuser alone. That child should find the courage to tell an adult who is willing to get involved by believing the abuse is real and factual. An abuser will gauge the ability and strength of the confronter. How that abuser responds to confrontation depends on the opportunity available to him by strength and ability. The same is true of a woman confronting a physically abusive man...or one capable of physical abuse where it has not been present before confrontation. Confronters are always at risk and should never doubt the reaction of a predator who has been backed into a corner. He will try to escape by any method he perceives is available...even by accelerating the abuse to remove the accuser. When the abused one is no longer at risk by virtue of numbers or strength, it is healthy for the abused to confront the abuser... healthy for the abused one... to give back a sense of personal power which will have been damaged by his powerlessness to avoid the abuse...or his guilt for feeling as if, perhaps, he deserved to be abused for some unknown reason. Confrontation throws the light of day on whatever deterrent there was for the abused one to have defended himself against the attack in whatever form it assumed.
I am 22 years old yet I can definetly relate with Debbie. I was also abused by my father but at a very young age. My abuse carried on for several years, until I was old enough to realise what was really going on and put a stop it. I never told a single soul, but this resulted in me developing an eating disorder (bulemia) and therefore being a "wild" teenager and even adult. I justify my crazy actions, like drugs, casual sex, drinking and driving with the whole factor of being abused. When my parents would try to discipline me I would laugh in their face. My mother never understood where my lack of respect and resentment came from, until one nite (when I was 19) coming home at 4 am completely entoxicated the truth all came out. This caused my whole family to disintegrate. My mother kicked my father out, my two brothers moved away. My father became very depressed, he even attempted suicide. My mother was lonely since it was only the 3 of us left in the country (My brothers went to different country). I continued to live with my mother and felt sorry for her and even for my father, so, I found it in my heart to forgive my father and let him come back to live with us. It has now been 3 years since this happened and things are pretty much back to normal. My mom forgave my Dad, they are presently happily married. To them it is as if it never happened. The sad part is Im screwed up for life, or until I get some intense counselling. Because of my abuse as a child, I have already been in an abusive relationship with a man that was verbal and physical. I got out of that one last December 2003. Now I am currently in a relationship, which by me reading your information on this website, have realised is a narsassistic abuse relationship. Constant put downs and humiliation followed my passion and love followed by demeaning comments. So, for me this is a vicious cycle. I hope one day, I can get past all this and are able to live my life with someone that loves me and appreciates me as much as I do them.
I told my abuser why I left him via a text message while he was begging me back. I told him it was his need to control me. The feeling of worthlessness, the never being able to do or say anything right, the constant verbal abuse, arguments over nothing, the physical abuse basically the way he treated me that made me leave. He said he was sorry that it was all his fault. Then met a girl on the Onternet and got engaged in 3 weeks to her. She called me to see what he was like with me. She's left him. So I guess confronting them is all well and good and yet does it really make a difference to them I would say not!
"Should you confront your abuser?"
Look, I have a friend who wasn't doing very well lately so i asked him if everythging was ok and he told me everything was, but i could see something in his eyes that wasn't right. It took me 2 weeks to get to the root of the problem. Apparently, his step-father was abusing him and i was the first person he told me about it. The mere fact that he could confide in me was very touching, so I had to find a way to help him out. I am in the proccess of working things out right now. Just a message to victim's of abuse: Do not under any circumstances let your abuser break you down whether its emotional, mental, or physical pain. People will respect the fact that you have the will to tell someone or do something about it yourself, and if anyone thinks otherwise, then they are not really your friends.
I personally wouldn't. I learned from that mistake. I guess it really depends how bad the abuse is though. I was in a horrible relationship with this guy who was very abusive. When I confronted him it was the worst thing I could have done. He was furious & had hurt me worse then ever before. It was so bad that when I tried to leave he locked me in the bath room for a few days. Point is, just be careful, sometimes the best thing is to just plot the best way to leave & get away from the abuser & never turn back.