How To Deal With An Abusive Father

I just got this question about dealing with an abusive father from my article about How To Recover From a Critical Parent:

I have a 50 year old father who has always been over-controlling, mean, critical, manipulative, judgmental and border-line abusive. These traits are becoming more pronounced as he ages (except the abusive part) and he has tried to use psychological tactics to separate me from my girlfriend and to make me feel guilty for not spending time with him. I just want to move out but Sydney housing is the most over-inflated in the world at the moment. I'm not sure how much longer I can take it. I think the reason behind his issues is he never knew his father but it's ridiculously unfair to burden your son with this cr@p. He has a girlfriend of 7 years who you can tell isn't compatible with him. They fight all the time and she's depressed. She's cheated before as a form of escapism but he manipulated her to stay with him (probably because he feels lonely). The whole situation is so pathetic. Because of his emotional and physical abuse as a kid, I live with anxiety and depression. Do you have any advice?

Sounds like your father is a real challenge to live with, and you're still carrying the emotional scars from how he treated you as a kid. The really important thing when you have a father who is emotionally and/or physically abusive  is good boundaries. That's hard to do while you're still dependent on him for your physical needs such as housing, so the first thing to do is to start working towards getting out of there and into a place where you're living with sane, reasonable people. I get that Sydney is a nightmare housing-wise, which is why I did share accommodation for a long time when I first moved out of home.

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How To Deal With Being Lonely

I recently joined a men's group which now meets at my house once a fortnight. The idea of joining such a group was suggested to me a few years ago by a mentor of mine and they're highly regarded in the men's work movement and in books like Steve Biddulph's excellent book Manhood. A few years back I started hearing about them all over the place and when I start hearing about an idea from multiple sources, I begin paying attention.

You don't need to be alone in your loneliness.

You don't need to be alone in your loneliness.

It's taken a few attempts to find a group that really works for me; this is my third men's group in fact. The first one didn't meet often enough to really get traction, and some of the participants seemed so stuck in their own ways that I found the meetings very frustrating. We spent tremendous amounts of time on situations that had seemingly trivial solutions, like one guy who was in a lengthy and expensive legal battle with his sister. Even on the basis of his telling of his side of the story, we all thought he owed her an apology rather than more litigation. He didn't see it, and instead wanted our moral support for continuing to attack her in the courts over a dodgy property deal that he had engineered. I didn't enjoy being around guys who were wasting their energy on crap like that.

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How To Turn Your Anger Into Assertiveness

I've noticed a consistent pattern among myself and my coaching clients: we all have a history of not standing up for ourselves when other people behave in ways that we don't feel good to us. Most of us had parents who weren't willing or able to teach us how to deal with our emotions, to self-soothe our nervous system when we were in distress, or to stand up for ourselves when our emotional or physical boundaries were being violated. Often the person we most needed to stand up to was one or both of our parents themselves, and that rarely goes well when you're a distressed child trying to stand up to an adult who is being unreasonable because their wounded inner child is running the show.

Turn Your Anger Into Assertiveness

Turn Your Anger Into Assertiveness

All of this is a recipe for ever-increasing anger, resentment and frustration. We end up overcompensating in a desperate attempt to get our needs met. Internalise that toxic cocktail and it's no wonder we end up anxious, depressed and lacking self-confidence.

Behavior patterns learned as a child tend to stick even if they never really worked well, and coping strategies learned as a child rarely work well in the adult world. If nobody shows us a better way, we tend to continue behaving in ways that increase our internal store of resentment and frustration long into adulthood with no way of releasing the emotional pressure cooker.

After a while we end up bitter and resentful towards a hostile world that just won't seem to give us what we need or want.

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How To Be The Master Of Your Own Destiny

American writer Henry David Thoreau is famous for once writing:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Many people live their entire lives as if they were at the mercy of their life circumstances. Now it's true that there are some things in life that we have no direct control over, like natural disasters and other people's behavior. But it's equally true that we often have more say in how our life goes than we think we do. For instance, we can choose to live on a fault line in an earthquake-prone city or we can choose to live away from hotspots of seismic activity; and some forms of communication are much better at getting a response that we would like from other people than others.

Master Your Own Destiny

Master Your Own Destiny

We have two choices in life: We can either submit to our life circumstances, give up our power and lead a life of resignation and often-not-so-quiet desperation; or we can choose to be the master of our own destiny.

If the idea of being the captain of your own ship sounds appealing, here's how we can do it: Continue reading

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How To Recover From Childhood Bullying

I was bullied mercilessly at my all boys high school. Turning up to Year 8 English class was a routine nightmare: Often one boy in the class would stake out the door waiting for the teacher while another group would hoist me up on top of a high cupboard against my will. As the teacher arrived, the scout at the door would give the signal for everyone to return to their desks so that at the precise moment that the teacher walked into the room everything looked normal in the class; except that Graham was up on top of the cupboard. The teacher was too stupid to work out what was going on, and I'd end up getting sent to the principal for more even punishment.

Childhood bullying is insidious because it can leave long-lasting scars on your mental psyche. This is a critical time of development of our brains, and if your experience of childhood or adolescence is one of powerlessness and victimization, it can program deep unconscious patterns into our minds that set us up for debilitating anxiety and depression later in life.

Childhood bullying can affect you long into your adult life.

Childhood bullying can leave mental scars that affect you long into your adult life.

Fortunately though we can recover. There's enough neural plasticity in our brains to undo the damage that bullying does, provided we're willing to face the emotions that we were forced to suppress when the bullying occurred. Here's how to recover from childhood bullying: Continue reading

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How To Overcome Your Fear Of Being Seen

If you're anything like me, you feel self-conscious in front of other people. Last time I caught an airplane, I went to the front of the plane to use the toilet right behind the cockpit, and had to wait at the front because it was already occupied. I felt that rush of shame on realizing that the other passengers could see me waiting. Somehow in my head, I imagined them thinking the worst; even though they probably weren't thinking about me at all.

In situations like this I like to pretend that other people are always thinking great things like “Wow, he's awesome!” when they look at me, and while that's helpful, it hasn't entirely made the anxiety go away. One of my favorite hobbies is playing music, and it recently gave me the opportunity to confront this fear head-on.

I've been playing guitar for around 6 years now, and I can strum up a decent tune on my own or playing with friends. But I get nervous playing in public; I feel anxious and my mind wanders through a series of stressful thoughts like “I'm crap!”, “I'll mess it up”, “They (whoever is listening) won't like it”, “They won't like the song I've chosen”, “My singing sounds bad” etc etc.

It's exhausting!

The first time I played guitar for an audience was in my guitar class, and although I was nervous it went really well. The teacher wanted us to have a good experience playing in front of people, and the best way to conquer the fear was to play in front of a friendly crowd who were all in the same boat as beginner guitarists.

The next time I played in front of an audience was in a comedy club, doing a variation of American Pie with humorous lyrics. I was so nervous that my left hand couldn't make the chord shapes, and the anxiety got worse the longer I played. One of the guys in the audience yelled out “You've killed a great song!”

Damn hecklers! Damn anxiety! Damn damn damn damn damn!

It was a few years before I wanted to play in front of an audience again.

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How To Overcome The Fear Of Conflict

I developed an intense fear of conflict when I was young, and it has hung around with me for a long time. The fear evolved as a series of things led to each other: I used to find the fights between my parents very frightening as a kid, and never experienced any of their conflicts actually being resolved. Conflict was scary, and never seemed to have a positive outcome. My parent's anger during conflict always felt out of control and destructive to me, so I decided that anger was a bad emotion to be suppressed at all costs. Plus my religion taught me to “turn the other cheek” rather than to stand up for myself when I was being treated in ways that I didn't like. As an awkward, sensitive boy I was bullied mercilessly at my sport-oriented all-boys high school.

When we are afraid of conflict, other people can treat us like this.

When we are afraid of conflict, other people can treat us like this.

So the message I internalised was that conflict was scary and often led to me getting hurt. I developed an intense fear of conflict: Any time I was under threat or being criticised, I would collapse into sadness or be overwhelmed with fear. I didn't know how to utilise my anger to stand up for myself in times of conflict, nor had I been taught the communication skills to resolve conflict in a win/win manner that left me feeling empowered.

Once we've internalised negative experiences of conflict in our nervous systems, our default programming around conflict can be to run away from it, and it can be a challenge to reprogram our brain and nervous system to step up in the face of conflict, instead of fleeing from it.

Standing up for ourselves in the face of conflict is how we overcome the fear of it.

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Are You An Angry Young Man?

Anger is one of the emotions that I have found most difficult to deal with in the past. I grew up in a house where anger was handled in ways that I found very frightening, leading me to become very afraid of conflict. This meant that I made a decision fairly early on in life that anger was a "bad" emotion that I should suppress at all costs. I became very ashamed of anybody knowing when I was angry.

I ended up internalising a lot of rage and unhappiness. I just didn't know how to let anger go and how to get it out of my system. It wasn't until the last few years that I even realised just how angry I was deep down.

I now know that anger is not "bad" emotion; it's just a signal that our needs aren't getting met. Anger provides energy for us to act assertively in situations where people are treating us in ways we don't like. If we've learned to be passive in the face of our anger, that energy gets trapped in our nervous system.

Because I have many years of internalising my anger, the situations where I would have liked to act assertively have long passed. Yet I'm still carrying that anger in my nervous system.

So the question becomes: How to let it go?

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Learning To Swim

Eight weeks ago I finally got around to taking swimming lessons. It's something that I had been planning to do ever since moving to live near the beach 18 months ago. There are a number of reasons for this: firstly, I don't feel safe in the ocean when I'm out of my depth. Deep down I know that I'm not a confident swimmer and whenever I'm in deep water my body responds with a lot of anxiety. I figured that if I knew I could swim confidently I wouldn't get so anxious about not being able to touch the bottom.I go body boarding a lot and I feel relatively safe with the board strapped to my arm. But I get caught in rips all the time and I know that if the strap was to break or I lost the board somehow, I'd be in real trouble.

Plus I think swimming is a great exercise for overcoming deep-seated anxiety. The full immersion in the water gives gentle stimulation to our nervous system, and it's also a relatively low impact exercise. So long as you don't drown, that is.

Swimming: How hard can it be?

Swimming: How hard can it be?

The arm movement involved in swimming could also be particularly beneficial. We generally use our arms to move things in our environment: to take action; and I believe that taking action is the antidote to the anxiety that we feel when we think was are powerless.

I also suspect that the migraine headaches I sometimes get are related to muscle tension in the back of my neck and shoulders. Getting some motion on my shoulders and neck should help release that tension and give me the feeling that I'm moving forward under my own power.

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How To Deal With Angry Women

I get my fair share of hate mail on the Internet, which I find unpleasant but not entirely surprising. Many people aren't good at expressing their anger cleanly, and some of them choose to channel it into hate mail directed at me.

Being on the receiving end of somebody else's hostility can be stressful, so it's important to be assertive with these people to stop their stress from entering our emotional boundary.

Use assertiveness to stop other people's anger entering your emotional boundary.

Use assertiveness to stop other people's anger entering your emotional boundary.

He's an example from a few weeks ago: I got an email from a female ex-friend who I initially met through a blog I run, which began:

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