establishing limitations with a father who is abusive

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Problem from the Reader

I’m not sure what to do with my uncle any longer. I was 15 when my parents split up, and I moved in with my father. He always treated me poorly, mistreated me in every way, coerced me into believing anyone, and yet turned me against my mother throughout my entire life. During the marriage, anything he told me turned out to be his doing, not hers. I therefore trusted him for six years before getting married and leaving at the age of 22. Everything he said turned out to be false. He has changed me so drastically that I can’t help but apologize to everyone and everything. I blame myself for all, I find it impossible to laugh at jokes, and I constantly put myself down and think I have to do everything in order to satisfy my dad. It is currently severing my bond with my father. I have to visit my dad once a week, call him every evening, and comply with all of his requests. I’ve made numerous attempts to put an end to it, but each time he responds, I can’t speak; instead, it’s yelling, fighting, and also threatening to slap me. And each day I cry, I come back to him. I will lose my father, brother, and everything I own if I don’t act quickly. I don’t want to let go of my life’s one and only source of joy. I’ve been destroyed by him. I need assistance because I don’t understand what to do.

The Psychologist’s Response

It sounds like you’ve had a hard time with your father, but you have also been able to see things clearly and pay attention to the stuff you don’t want to put up with any longer. It seems like leaving his home was the first step in comprehending both his strategies and your own reactions to them.

I get the impression from your outline that two items are taking place:

  1. It is unlikely that much of your father’s character may change.
  2. You might have more control over the marriage depending on how you choose to react to your parents.

People occasionally experience a sense of helplessness and entrapment in the design of how they react to people, particularly their parents. Consider the degree of emotional and physical radius from your parents that you might be able to tolerate in these situations. I saw a lot of” have tos” in your description, but I’m not sure what will happen if you don’t agree. If someone is emotionally and physically aggressive, there isn’t a good way to stay in contact with them until the mistreatment stops. It sounds like there are risks of mistreatment when and if you engage with him.

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I’m curious as to what keeps you in touch with your dad— is it out of duty, the fictitious expectation of his approval, or something else? I’m wondering if there is a way to established firmer restrictions with him without” ending it”; the fear of you cutting him off may be driving some of this behavior when well. If he is willing to acknowledge and stop the abuse.

The first thing I would advise anyone in this circumstance to do is sit down and create a plan that would work and feel secure for you when speaking with your parents. If it were up to you, how frequently would you want to test in with him on the phone, putting away his needs and needs? How frequently would you like to discover him? After the manner he’s treated you, would you want any touch with him at all?

It might be beneficial for the two of you to sit down with a neutral third party( such as an authorized counselor or licensed counselor) to find ways to communicate these limitations with him so that he can hear them once you are more aware of your needs in the partnership( and have made up your mind whether you want to date him with all ). Starting with” Dad, I love you and want you to be a part of our life, but I have my own home that I sometimes have to put first” can be helpful. May we arrange to meet somewhere in the center? Another strategy might be to start ignoring his names and offers and responding to or accepting them just when you have the time and energy to do so( as well as for him ). You are free to impose restrictions on your own time and energy because they are yours. You have the right to quietly leave or hang up the phone if he yells and screams. It’s crucial that you intentionally try to get in touch with him when using this strategy, particularly if you’re both in a relaxed, balanced mood. When you’re enraged or frustrated, trying to make adjustments will only make the issues you already have worse.

It can be very difficult to set boundaries with parents, or with others in our lives who pull for us to pay attention to them. Your anger toward your father is valid; it’s finding a way to effectively communicate that anger and set your own boundaries that is difficult. Talking to a licensed mental health provider may be most helpful for you given the pain you’ve experienced. I would also suggest reading Harriet Lerner’s Dance of Anger as another resource in figuring out how to express your feelings clearly while navigating this difficult relationship.

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One or more clinical psychology or other qualified mental health professionals have equal reviewed all of the medical content on this website. Dr. Elizabeth Chamberlain, PhD on, was the original author, and Managing Editor on next reviewed or updated the work.

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