As part of breaking the silence, you may wish to speak to your family members about your abuse. They may enjoy close ties with your abuser and/or they may not have protected you when you were a child. However, confronting your abuser or talking to your family members who may not respond positively to you is not critical to your healing. While talking with such family members may be good for reclaiming your voice, if you are not ready and have not created a strong support group for yourself, it may even derail your healing journey. Speaking to them before you have done the ground work may result in you focussing on your abuser or your family members, rather than work on your healing. You will need to be patient and build a solid foundation before taking this difficult course of action.
"If they neither listen well nor respond with respect, that is their shortcoming. You are not to be blamed."
First, you should work on addressing your feelings and emotional needs. Second, accept that the past is the past, and that the present is where you need to focus your energies. Learn to live in the present as it will decide your future. While it is important to work through your past to heal, obsessing about over "what-ifs" will not enable you to move forward. Third, whatever you did to protect yourself as a child, know it was the right thing. You must now let go of that inner child, and think about the adult you now -- with your own unique needs and identity.
Once you think you are ready, before deciding to talk to your family, here is a checklist of six points to help you put yourself in the best frame of mind.
- What are my priorities in my healing journey right now?
- Will talking to my family members help in this process? If so, why? If not, why not?
- What do I hope to accomplish by talking to my family members? Are these goals realistic?
- What are the best and worst case scenarios? Can I deal with either outcome?
- Am I prepared for the meeting? Have I built up a strong support network amongst other family members and friends?
- Would it be better if I were to wait and be further along my healing process?
How should you speak to your abuser or to family members who may create a backlash against you? You should try to explain clearly what happened to you as a child, how it impacted you and your life and how you feel about it now. You can ask for specific things from your listeners. For example, you could ask your abuser to admit what he/she has done. You may want an apology. You could also insist that your abuser no longer hug you or make lewd comments. However, be prepared for a negative response, including from your family members. You cannot control their reactions and you cannot take responsibility for how they will react. If they neither listen well nor respond with respect, that is their shortcoming. You are not to be blamed. You may find it easier and more satisfying not to ask for any acknowledgement from your listeners. By not needing them to validate your experience, you may feel empowered.
Try to rehearse with a loved one or a trusted friend. Try to remain grounded and set boundaries for continuing the relationship. If it helps, bring along a therapist whom you have worked with on your healing. This can facilitate authentic conversation, as well as help you feel safe. During the meeting, try to focus on yourself, rather than on what you expect out of the conversation. Your family members may feel threatened by your disclosure and rather than deal with what you are saying, they may reject your disclosures. Do not expect this meeting to put everything right all that went awry in your childhood. When you confront your abuser and/or your family members, you may be finally giving up that happy illusion that you had of your childhood home. Disclosure can be difficult this way.
After this initial meeting, it may help to set another series of meetings. Even if the initial encounter was not positive, this will give everyone time to mull over what you said, and come prepared for the next meeting. Give it time. Or you may decide that you do not wish to have further contact. It is up to you.
However, do remember that whatever feels right for you now may change further down your healing journey.