Monday, March 05, 2012

Dismaying Story #134: Confronting An Abusive Parent

Dear Andrew,

I have recently confronted my abusive father with some of the things he did to me as a child. After much therapy I decided it was the right time to do this. It was the most liberating thing for me personally, although he denied it, said I was probably mentally ill for making up such lies, and convinced my mother of this as well. I feel numb, right now, not angry or bitter. The hardest thing was saying goodbye to my mother, who did not want to even talk to me about anything, just said she would stick up for Dad and support him, no matter what. What am I supposed to feel?

Signed, Hurting

Dear Hurting,

Your letter is brief, but my goodness what a huge amount of pain is wrapped up in your words. I am so sorry to hear what you have gone through. I can’t begin to imagine how hard this has all been for you.

First of all, I am glad you mentioned therapy. I assume that means you are working with a professional, which I think is highly appropriate in a situation like yours. The thoughts expressed on any online forum such as TLH&D can never be as targeted nor as in-depth as those you receive in person from a therapist. The best someone in my position can do is offer encouragement and a few general ideas to get you thinking, more akin to a sympathetic ear from a friend. Happily, stories such as yours often elicit supportive comments from other readers who may have undergone similar experiences, and I’m betting someone in your position can use all the encouragement and support you can get.

Your question is: What am I supposed to feel? I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel completely emotionally battered and beaten up inside. Let’s take a quick inventory of some of the major blows you’ve had to endure.
  • You are a victim of childhood abuse at the hands of a parent.
  • You’ve had to live through years of silence, interacting with your parents and other family members as if nothing happened.
  • Your father abused you yet again when he refused to own up to his responsibility for the abuse, instead attempting to turn the blame for any conflict back onto you.
  • Your mother chose your father over you, rejecting you when you were at your most vulnerable and in need of support.
It’s no wonder you are reeling. This is tough, tough stuff. It is completely understandable that you would have a hard time coming to terms with it. So the first thing I hope you feel is that it is okay to take time to work through all of this. Please don’t beat yourself up that you should be handling it better. That’s simply not true. There is no correct amount of time after which you should be all adjusted and doing fine. It doesn’t work that way. Feeling badly and taking some time does not make you weak or inadequate, just human. Give yourself permission to be human.

In fact, I’ll go further than that. You are not only putting effort into working through your challenges, you are making progress and taking proactive steps to help yourself. The best example of this is the fact that you were able to confront your parents. This is certainly not an easy thing to do, as I’m sure you can attest to better than anyone ... but you did it! So the second thing I hope you feel is pride in yourself. You are working to rise above the circumstances that have been thrust upon you. Good for you!

Thirdly, none of this is your fault. I can’t stress that enough. Victims of abuse often wonder What if I said no? or Why didn’t I tell someone sooner? You are the victim here, and you have enough to deal with without taking on even the smallest amount of blame for causing the pain. And just to be clear, nothing about your letter indicates that you are blaming yourself, so hopefully you have already avoided or worked through these feelings, but if not – please don’t go there.

Finally, I am sorry to hear that you have had to endure a separation from your mother as a result of this. That must feel like a double punishment after everything else. It is indeed sad that your parents would not take the opportunity to help their daughter heal. I’m sure your father could help you tremendously by taking ownership for what happened and making sure you understand that the responsibility lies with him, not you. I’m sure your mother could help you understand how valuable you are by at least questioning your father’s word in light of what you revealed. By withholding that support, they have made the emotional hill you have to climb that much steeper.

But here’s the thing – you can still reach the top of that hill. It may be more difficult without your parents, but it is by no means impossible. So the final type of emotion I hope you feel is determination and hope. You can do this! You have already taken the positive steps of working with a therapist and confronting your parents. I’m betting you have the fortitude to keep going, to do whatever it takes to find the inner peace everyone deserves.

I wish you the best of luck on that journey. You’re so worth it.

All the best,

The backlog of questions is tiny indeed these days. Please help me keep the stories flowing. If you have a question or observation you think would be of interest to readers of this site, please consider sending it in. I appreciate all the support!


  1. Andrew - Just discovered your blog via Cupcakes & Cucumbers. I love this letter / answer format. It is retro, but still so relevant. I am a new follower and will be back to read more.

  2. Thanks for coming by an visiting my blog.

    I really relate to this letter. I hope that the writer finds the peace that she deserves. It's a hard thing to have to suffer from one's own parents. No one should ever have to. Those who are loved unconditionally are the lucky ones and are so blessed. The rest of us just have to make our own family and find (and give) the love that we were missing.

  3. I received an update from the letter writer, who is continuing to recover from the abuse and betrayals with the support of her husband and therapist. Best wishes go out for her continued courage and progress!

  4. Anonymous3:08 PM

    I have a question.... but first some background. Both my husband and I come from emotionally and physically abusive families. It took me 17 years of marriage to realize that neither my in laws or my parents are able to acknowledge that their behavior was (and is) abusive. Only when we realized that the cycles of abuse were starting to impact our children (we were married a number of years before we chose to start a family) did we cut off contact with both sets of parents completely, we used my husband's job as an excuse to move to a different country. The truth is both my parents and my in laws would pass a polygraph test (lie detector test) if asked did they think they were good parents? All four would reply 'yes, despite adverse circumstances, we did a good job with all our kids' and they would pass the lie detector test. So the question: Abusers do not understand the damage they have done/are doing, so why do so many therapists encourage their clients to confront the abuser? All that happens is the victim is made to feel worse because they are rejected by someone who does not have the emotional ability to understand the hurt they are responsible for.

  5. Anonymous1:36 AM

    Although it pains me to know so many others have experienced abuse, neglect and pain from their parents/families... I am grateful that people are talking about it and sharing. At 38, I'm just now recognizing how deep my wounds run and how much it's affected me as an adult. I knew that my parents were unhealthy and treated me cruelly, but I intellectualized it. I trivialized my experience (just as they did). I found that as an adult, I didn't even need them around to be cruel, because after all the programming, I was subconsciously doing it to myself. I can see now, that to truly heal and move on, you must first acknowledge and face the pain in a real and deep way, not just intellectually. I walked around much of my life pretending that it wasn't a big deal, that I was over it. That I was wise enough to see it for what it was and that forgiveness would heal me. That doesn't really work. To truly heal, I must honestly face what happened, how I feel and mourn for the safety, love and support that I didn't get so that I can free up all the energy that's still feeding those old wounds. Energy that is needed to learn and develop new ways of living that are healthy and happy. I spent my life helping others to heal their lives but I don't remember a time when I felt safe, loved or happy myself. And it's time to change that.