We CAN handle the truth.
February 5, 2019 3:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering having a truth and reconciliation/accountability conversation with someone. If you've participated in such a conversation, I'd like to hear from you.

I'd like to hear from anyone here who's participated in a truth and reconciliation or accountability / inventory process, especially with regard to emotional abuse.

I don't want to get into details about my situation because I carry a lot of shame about it, as is common with survivors. I will say that it is not a small thing for me to walk away completely in this case; I have some reason to want to "stay with the trouble" instead of cutting contact.
  • Can you describe the process?
  • What was the context of the relationship between the parties? Intimate partnership? Coworkers? Friends?
  • Who participated? Was there a mediator/facilitator?
  • What was the long-term outcome?
posted by Sheydem-tants to Human Relations (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure of your situation but I reached a point with my mom where I cut her off for a few months. She had been overbearing and assertive for all of my life and I got to a point where I couldn't hear anything in my head but her voice telling me what to do.

After three months of no communication whatsoever we met up in person and I was able to be more honest with her than I'd ever been in my life. I told her that her voice in my head influenced everything I did and that I refused to listen to it anymore.

Setting that boundary of not communicating with her for months gave me the strength to discover myself without hearing her voice. She had definitely emotionally abused me for a period of time and by then I was able to tell her that and ask her what was going on with her.

Her explanation of what she was going through at the time and how it affected her changed my whole perspective.

In the past few years, I've finally been able to set boundaries with her and she's apologized for the behaviors I've brought to her attention.

She still slips back into that bossy overbearing voice telling me what I should do sometimes but now I can tune it out and recognize that that's just what she does. As I've been ignoring that behavior of hers she's definitely responded and "shoulds all over me" a lot less.

There are definitely things I won't bring up with her - but there are also a lot of topics I wouldn't have brought up with her before that I will now. In general, she's more receptive to having an open conversation and I'm more comfortable with setting boundaries with her and sharing more about my life than I would have before.

It's been a great experience for me and setting boundaries with other people in my life has been easier. I'm forty-eight now and it's only in the last few years, since we had that conversation, that we've had anything resembling an adult relationship.

I hope that helps... all my best. ❤️
posted by bendy at 4:28 AM on February 5, 2019 [15 favorites]

I'm not sure this relates exactly to your situation, but I had a conversation like that gone bust - my abuser/relative was confronted in front of me by other family members in a dramatic fashion when I was 20. He admitted to some molestation - easily, because I guess in his mind that's what I was for. I will say that having the truth out like that has had some power in my life.

However, the family fallout was hard to deal with. It gave me a role in my family I did not appreciate. But also, there is a huge difference between people knowing the facts of something that happened, and the impact of something that happened. My family, including my mother, have continued to engage in behaviour that is very unsympathetic and at times cruel. In a way this more nuanced denial has been more negating for me. It's one thing for people not to know that you were abused. It's another for people to know it and still insist that all those holidays were great, to use heirlooms with triggering memories attached, and to basically assert that any lasting effect on me is a character flaw. And this is stuff that is one hundred percent clearly bad, child sexual abuse stuff.

So I would recommend that you take a good amount of time to think about what it is that you want out of this process, so that you're prepared if you don't get it. Sometimes you can come to an agreement on some facts but not a narrative or a personal experience. If you can, I think that's powerful, and even just taking that step may be powerful. But I was ill-prepared at the time and the satisfaction of agreeing on the facts was not really as all-healing as it might appear.

I recently read Tara Westover's Educated and I found she had some interesting thoughts, if a bit sideways to some of her book, about how she reconciled some and some didn't with her family. It might be a good read.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:43 AM on February 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

So I would recommend that you take a good amount of time to think about what it is that you want out of this process, so that you're prepared if you don't get it.

Seconded. I have had such a conversation, actually more than one attempt at it, with a failure every time. In retrospect I can see that I naively expected the other person's behavior to change based on some magical combo of words if I could only just figure out what that word recipe might be.

I expected too much. The other person was, and remains, incapable of hearing her own behavior reflected back at her and incapable of changing her behavior.

Process: These were conversations where I laid out the behavior, its effect on me, and asked how we could work together to change that pattern in the future.

Context: The other person involved with me was an emotionally abusive parent.

Who: Just her and me multiple times, and one time it was her, me, and a therapist. That therapist later assessed her as having intractable narcissism and/or borderline personality disorder and incapable of hearing what I was saying or indeed believing I even have feelings in the way she would understand them.

Long-term outcome: I haven't spoken to her in five and a half years. This period has been the happiest, most stable of my life thus far. I turn 50 this year. This is my second period of no contact with her. The first one (20+ years ago) lasted just over a year, and only ended when a family member died and we started speaking again about death arrangements. I do have anxiety about long-term prognoses for my ability to maintain my happy no contact status when her advancing age might mean I'm requested to help make end of life care decisions.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:54 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

The book "Toxic Parents" has a very good section about confrontations of this type and how to think ahead about what you want to say and what you expect them to do about it. Even if this person isn't your parent, I think it could be a really good roadmap for you.

And yes, thirding that you need to know for yourself not just what you want to say but, what do I want the other person to DO going forward? What will I do if we agree on all the pertinent facts, maybe they even apologize, but their behavior still doesn't change?
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Make sure you keep this in mind: depending on the situation, and the other person, it may not even be possible to truly have a conversation with a positive outcome, or even something you're ok with. If the person you are dealing with is narcissistic, or has certain other personality issues, it will be likely that it simply isn't possible for them. Dealing with a person that is "that sort" of toxic is incredibly difficult for the rest of us, because no matter what we do, they simply cannot interact in a proper manner.

Given what you said, even though you didn't go into any details, I suspect you may be dealing with this sort of person. If so, be kind to yourself, and if it turns out that it simply isn't possible to solve it, move on and let go. If not literally, at least emotionally.
posted by stormyteal at 11:21 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ive done work with incarcerated persons and we looked at setting up a similar program. It's tough. I do have a few recommendations for you.
- It's a process, not a one time event. It depends on both persons being able to do the work. And it depends on the violation having stopped.
- I'd reccomend you read a bit about restorative justice principles and think about how they apply to your situation.
-Then think about what reconciliation would look like for you and for them. Are they supposed to apologize and you forgive them? Are you both supposed to fall into each others arms weeping? Does it mean you mutually agree to stay away from each other and not talk to other family about each other?
-Finally, before you begin, are you open to hearing about their lived experience, their struggles, their shame? Would that be just excuses for you or can you see how outside influences and personal choice are both involved? Are you trying too hard to be the bigger person?

For me, when moving towards reconciliation with my own abuser, the most important question was what did I want. Suprisingly, I just wanted to be able to say the truth to his face, calmly and rationally. We are polite distant people now and that is great for both of us.
posted by SyraCarol at 2:59 PM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve done some work with restorative justice (which has a long indigenous-based history in Canada). It basically only works if the starting point is the person who caused the trauma willingness to accept responsibility for their actions. Then, the traumatized person chooses whether they want to participate in the process, and if so, the supports they need. It does NOT work for the traumatized person to be the original mover and often reinforces their trauma and feeling of powerlessness in the face of the traumatizer refusing to fully participate and be authentic and vulnerable.
posted by saucysault at 6:42 PM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

These are all best answers in their own ways. Thank you all.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:21 AM on February 7, 2019

« Older Tips on finding a chiropractor (during pregnancy)   |   all about that bass Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.