The Myth of the Healing Confrontation

This blog series has resonated among people that read my blog. In the process, it’s brought up a recurring theme among the abuse survivors I know: the desire to confront those that abused them.


It’s a common fantasy, perpetuated all the more by television and movie writers who share this fantasy.


The usual hoped for scenario:

The wronged person confronts the abuser.

The abuser listens.

The abuser apologies.

Healing is had, may hugs or distributed (or the abuser turns him/herself into jail, commits suicide, etc.)

and the wronged person marches out healed, whole, unburdened by the past and thus unable to make mistakes fueled by it.


The more typical scenario, especially if the abuser is a narcissist:

The wronged one confronts the abuser.

The abuser wrests the conversation away from the wronged one, making it all about themselves and their feelings. This is usually accompanied by gaslighting – convincing their victims and any witnesses that the confronting victim is the real bully and maybe even engaging "witnesses" to see how wronged they are (by manipulating the situation and perception) , or resorting in verbal and physical violence. All too often it turns into a whole new way to exploit the victim. In an attempt to end the cycle, the victim ends up renewing it.


Yet there are stories every year about someone who did confront their abuser and came out feeling as though they’d reclaimed a piece of themselves. What gets missed in these stories is that that person did this after doing a lot of work on themselves before going in for that confrontation – and that there will still be years of work to do after,  even if they encounter that increasingly rare animal the sincere apology.


In two of the three conversations about confronting abuse brought to me recently, someone had attempted to confront someone abusing them either on a low level – social manipulation – or on a high level, sexual exploitation. Neither of the two conversations went well. One person was indeed painted to be the abuser and in the other case the abuser flat-out denied wrongdoing despite multiple witnesses and a text message track record to her behavior. In the third case, I managed to explain why confrontation is not the best course of action.


Granted, not everyone’s experience will be exactly the same. A decent licensed therapist will not encourage you to confront an abuser but will help you plan carefully if you choose to do it. If for some reason you want to keep a relationship with someone that abuses you (though generally ending all relationships is the only truly workable way to go if you want to keep your mental health) you will at some point need to lay down boundaries, which abusers view as a form of confrontation. 


If you want to get a broader view of what confronting abusers is like, consider reading at these sites:

The Experience Project

Women’s Aid UK

Forums at Psych Central

What this woman describes of a confrontation – is typical in a best case scenario sort of way