A lot of survivors of sexual and physical abuse feel they need to confront someone about it. Face down the perpetrator and tell him (usually him) – tell him what? That what he did was wrong. That it was hurtful and did substantial harm.

I imagine it could amazingly empowering to do that. Although the response may be further denial and anger, which could be traumatic. To hold one’s own against such responses would be a big deal. And confrontation could provide a chance for remorse and repair of the relationship — I guess that would be everyone’s dream, that the perpetrator would have an opportunity to open and soften, to repent. And the survivor might be able to let go in a new way, seeing and feeling the new responsiveness in the other.

I didn’t have that chance, since my father was dead before I remembered what he did. But my mother was still alive. When she received the diagnosis of colon cancer that we knew was a death-sentence, I had to decide whether to confront her tacit collusion or let it be. I chose to let it be. It felt like a combination of cowardice and wisdom. The cowardice... of course I imagined she’d deny it all over again or minimize it: “What are you talking about? How could you accuse him of such a thing? He loved you.” or “Oh, he was just being a man.” or “But it didn’t really do you any harm — see, you grew up fine.”

The wisdom part... my therapist asked me, “What would you hope to gain?” In my dream, I said then, my mother would acknowledge the fact of the abuse. She’d acknowledge the hurt of it. She’d comfort me and apologize. She’d act like a protective, warm mother.

How likely was that? Knowing her, she might have been able to acknowledge the fact, but what would have followed would not have been comfort for me — it would have been her overwhelming guilt and shame. She was too scared to be protective as I was growing up. She never had been warm — too scared for that, too. So it wasn’t in the cards that I’d receive what the wounded child inside me so keenly desired — the lost love and protection of a good mother.

... and as I say this, it’s not with bitterness. She did her best, the best of a woman who was timid by nature and brought up to hardship and limitation. She loved me the absolute best she could and manifested that love in gifts and praise.

So I did not confront my mother. I still can’t tell you if that was the right decision, but it did make something clear to me: Healing is not the same as confrontation. The movement that needed to happen was inside me, not out there in the world. I had to soften towards my self, acknowledge that the hurt would always be a part of me, find comfort and love inside my own psyche. In a strange, paradoxical movement, my inner confrontation released me to growth and joy.

Author's Bio: 

JANE ROWAN is a survivor of childhood trauma and betrayal, and is passionate about sharing her healing experiences, including Inner Child work. She is the author of the self-help booklet Caring for the Child Within--A Manual for Grownups, a concise, powerful guide to nurturing your Inner Child, available through her website. 
Jane is a Ph.D. and retired college professional who has published numerous articles and poems. Her memoir-in-progress about her healing from sexual abuse is tentatively titled The River of Forgettingwww.janerowan.com is her website.