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.

An abusive father can leave you anxious and depressed as an adult.

An abusive father can leave you anxious and depressed as an adult.

The next thing is to start being assertive with him when his behavior leaves you feeling unpleasant feelings. I'm guessing that you probably feel angry with him about the way he acts, but perhaps it doesn't feel safe to show that anger to him, so you've internalized it as anxiety and depression. Being angry with an abusive father can be very frightening since it may unconsciously remind you of times that you were too small to defend yourself in the face of his rage, and being angry with him just made his rage even worse.

It's important to learn to be assertive, rather than aggressive, in the face of his manipulative behavior. While it might initially feel good to say hurtful things to him since he's said and done hurtful things to you, it's important to respond with positive assertiveness instead of the toxic aggression he taught you, so that you can feel good about your own behavior later. This is what will break the guilt and shame cycle for you. How he responds to your assertiveness is less important than you learning to stand up for yourself in the face of whatever he throws at you.

My clients often find that they feel guilty when they start to be assertive with their parents, and I certainly went through this too. Being assertive with an abusive parent can be extremely challenging because of all the conditioning we get about submitting to their will no matter what, so it's really important to have some support. It's great that you've got a girlfriend who I assume is supportive, but I'd consider getting some kind of professional help behind you as you take back your power from him.

You're probably right that your abusive father's problems stem from him not knowing his father. Having that insight is helpful because you don't want to repeat his mistakes; after all, your own father wasn't really there for you emotionally either. Unfortunately parents who refuse to deal with their own issues tend to pass them on to their children. I wonder where your mother is in all of this too.

It's important to focus on what you want in your life rather than trying to "fix" your abusive father. If his behavior continues to affect you, setting strong boundaries with assertiveness will eventually block his attempts to manipulate you with guilt, and this may even mean breaking contact with him for a time if he fails to respect your boundaries. You're not a child any more and it's not appropriate for him to continue treating you like one. Based on his past behavior he's unlikely to take the lead in helping you cut the emotional umbilical cord, so it's up to you to step up and do it yourself. Having the support of a coach or therapist can be really valuable here.

Once you're feeling safe, you may also have some emotional and physical trauma that a therapist or coach like myself could help you to heal and resolve. For more on this, check out my article on How To Recover From A Violent or Abusive Childhood. This will alleviate the depression and anxiety, and prevent you from unconsciously projecting your unhealed trauma onto your future adult life.

If you'd like to talk about whether I could help you further in dealing with your father and the anxiety and depression he's engendered in you, please drop me a line.

About Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.

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