Patricia Redlich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Abusive Father

27th September, 2009


There's a man who seems to hate me more than anything else in the world. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but in this case that man happens to be my father. I have absolutely no idea how to deal with this situation.

I realized how serious this hatred was from an early age. He would constantly insult me, often for no logical reason, accused me of being unable to 'love', and told other people, right in front of me, that he loved my siblings more than me. I think you get the picture.

As a teenager, I responded with complete indifference. Conversations between us were utterly banal. In my eyes, our strained relationship had little chance of redemption. On the other hand, I realized that my siblings enjoyed a normal relationship with him. So maybe our relationship suffered because I'm a little introverted. Or maybe it was because I'm a homosexual. I don't know. In my mid-teens, my drunken father hit me on a few occasions - he's a chronic alcoholic and often threatened violence. I felt very forlorn on these occasions, even blaming my mother for marrying the man.

Looking back, perhaps I could have done more to make things work. But seeing the person my father is now, I don't think he is someone I would want to have anything to do with - for the sake of my own sanity if nothing else. Yet I get on great with my family which is why I feel such conflict. I respect that my siblings have a working relationship with my father and don't want to interfere with that. I used to be depressed but since I went away to college I've cheered up immensely. Now, however, I've been back for the summer and basically thought every day about moving out, just to get away from him. But I'm also annoyed that I may have to sacrifice my entire family just to please his majesty.

How should I approach him when he challenges me? Responding with my fists doesn't seem to be very effective.

No, fists aren't very effective. They are also decidedly beneath your dignity. Not an option.

There's a lot of pain in the situation you face. And you are handling it magnificently. Basically you have a father who rejected you, who still rejects you, using you as a scapegoat for his own serious shortcomings. Of course when you were young you were angry at your mother for marrying this man. You wanted her to defend you. More, you wanted her to take a principled stand - to make it clear that your father's behaviour was unacceptable. Undoubtedly, deep down, you wanted her to throw him out. Why not? He was an abusive alcoholic who picked on you, a defenceless child. Your wish to be rid of him was entirely justified.

On top of that, the various members of your family effectively accommodated your father's behaviour. Families do that. They keep the family glued together, even if it entails one member being picked on - sacrificed, if you like, to a greater or lesser degree. Perhaps they all did make a stand. Perhaps they restrained your father when he became really nasty. Perhaps your mother had endless rows with him about it. Undoubtedly they tried their very best. As you point out, however, a man who continues his nastiness to you is still in the bosom of the family. Yes, I hear you. I understand that you respect the fact that your siblings have a working relationship with him - your mother too. What I'm saying back to you is that it took real heroism on your part to reach that position. I suspect a lot of angry heartbreak may still lurk beneath your generosity and maturity.

Just make sure that anger is never turned against yourself. Because no, you could not have done it any better. Your father's viciousness towards you is a scar on his own soul. It is neither your fault nor your responsibility. Take care that you make choices which are in your own best interest. I'm talking in particular about how you continue your contact with your family. You've said it yourself. For the sake of your sanity, you should stay far away from this destructive man. So maybe at some stage in the future the family home will no longer be the sole focal point for family togetherness. And you will choose other settings for seeing your family.

Don't misunderstand. I applaud the fact that you're still battling. And of course the question is valid as to why it should be you who shifts. The point is, it may be the most intelligent, creative, brave and mature decision to make. Some situations in life are toxic. And sometimes we're powerless to change that. Continuing the battle under those circumstances can be self-destructive. A tactical withdrawal is a positive statement of self-love. It's not defeat. It's the road to winning.

You are still very young. And it's important you stay emotionally safe - which means only taking on what you feel you can handle. When I talk about you beginning to find new ways and alternative locations for family interaction, I'm not trying to set you a challenge. I'm just painting a future way forward for a good, kind, generous and loving young man, who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design