In the unfolding of psychological story, there is an intersection I have been to many times with patients … do I, now as an adult, confront the one that hurt me as a child? Do I dare break the code of silence and say aloud what happened?
This dilemma is complex and never a one-size-fits-all. Rather, there are many factors to consider when deciding when and if to tell your remembered truth as a powerless youngster to your adult abuser:
First, be clear about your goal. What are you hoping to accomplish? Is this realistic? Will the person likely hear you and be remorseful? Can the person take ownership of his/her actions and desire growth and healing? (If so, they probably would have approached you about the events long ago.) Remember, you are doing this primarily as an act of love and healing for you and maybe for the relationship, but not for them as a gift or towards them as a punishment. Take off your social worker hat and your priestly robes. This one is for you.
Second, do you want a relationship with him or her? And if so, what kind of relationship? Is this even possible? The depth and type of relational possibilities run the gamut. Because you thankfully no longer a helpless child, you have options as to whom and how you relate to others. Whether you tell your abuser the truth or not, you now have the choice to have a relationship with them or not and to decide how much and how often (i.e., trust and boundaries). Sometimes, telling the truth is spoken through solid boundaries and limitation of access. Sometimes, telling the truth with words destroys a relationship (are you prepared for that?). And sometimes, telling the truth allows a relationship to grow closer. Know what you want and carefully assess likelihood.
Third, be certain that you can accomplish this goal without depending on him or her to have a certain reaction. In other words, let go of outcome. Speak your truth. Put it on the table. Whatever/however he or she reacts, your peace of mind is now in the open, words spilled into the Universe. That might be all you get. And, that will have to be enough. At least, from them. At least, for now.
Third, if confronting your abuser is likely to draw more abuse (i.e., he or she has not grown an ounce emotionally or relationally in the past three decades), think twice before initiating a truth-telling conversation. Do yourself a favor and don’t poke the bear. He or she is not worth your heartfelt truth. They can’t handle it and you are better off taking it elsewhere where you will be heard and received.
Fourth, stay empowered. Such life-altering conversations are not a one-shot deal. They can unfold and shift with time. Minds change. Feelings regulate. People can evolve. Keep yourself protected with solid boundaries yet leave a crack in the door if holding space for future engagement interests you.
Lastly, in determining the best course of action for yourself, know that true healing lies within you, not between you and your abuser. It’s what you do with your pain and the leftover marks of the trauma inside you that is critical to your securing satisfying life and love. Healing does require words, but you don’t have to talk to the source of your pain. For some, this direct contact feels essential. If that is you, go for it. But do so with eyes wide, full preparation and a back-up plan in place. For others, the real gift of adult empowerment is that a return to the scene of the crime is optional. For once, we can stand up and shout, “No, thank you.”
For the rise of your life …