I recently had the opportunity to confront someone who had harmed me in the past, and I did not go.
I grappled with the decision. It would undoubtedly be awkward to see this person after so long and the confrontation had the potential to be dramatic, dangerous and triggering. But part of me felt bold. I thought, “I am a different person now. I am strong. I am confident. I should do my psyche a favor and confront this person.”
I thought of it as immersion therapy. I’d built them up to be such a boogeyman in my mind that it gave them power over me. Power I didn’t want them to have anymore. I thought maybe going and finally seeing them would erase the hold they still have over me. I would be able to go wherever I wanted now with no fear, shame or worry about running into them. I will have already seen them, my worst fear, and I would come out unscathed.
But I chickened out.
For days, I felt awful. I was mad at myself for not doing it. I wanted to rip the Band-aid off. I wanted not to let them win. I wanted to show them they didn’t bother me anymore and that I’d moved on from what they did. I pictured them laughing, “See. I knew she couldn’t do it. I still win. I win.” I wanted this to be a victory for women, in a sense. I wanted to show I was strong and unruffled. I wanted to beat this shadow monster from my past. I was pretty upset at myself, and I am still scared of unexpectedly seeing them on the street or some future situation where I will have no choice but to see them.
That is, until a friend of mine said, “You know you don’t have to go anywhere you don’t feel safe.”
Huh. But wasn’t I a coward? Hadn’t I failed our sisterhood? I didn’t do the thing you applaud for bravery. I did the avoidance thing that made my life easier.
“You don’t owe anyone,” he said. “You especially don’t owe them at your own risk.”
Oh. So anyone else going through a similar thing, here’s what I’ve figured out throughout the past few weeks: You are not a coward because you’re not ready to confront someone you are scared of. Your emotions and mental place are your own and they belong to you. You do not owe it to some invisible Greek chorus to put yourself in a position where you don’t feel safe. It doesn’t mean you haven’t changed. It doesn’t mean you’re not a strong person. It doesn’t mean you’re still under their thumb in any way. It just means you are protecting yourself as best you can and are doing what is right for you to stay in a good place.
I had fantasies of finally, on my own terms, seeing this person and showing them how “over it” I am. I would punish them by surviving and by continuing to live a normal life. I would waltz in smiling and I would show that what they’d done had had little to no impact, even though on the inside I would be shaking, my stomach crunching in on itself, my palms sweating, my head spinning. But I would do it.
I’ll never know if I’d come out of such an encounter feeling stronger and free. At least, for now. I have to accept that I wasn’t ready. And that it’s no one’s business but mine.
Don’t beat yourself up for not living up to some imagined “super hero” version of you. You are just you, and you need to do the best you can to keep feeling safe. That’s all. You’re not a coward. You’re a person, trying to move on with your life.