How to heal your relationship with an abusive father

abusive father
Always walk away from abuse. As an adult, you can do this even if you couldn’t as a child.

An abusive father has a huge impact on a child. The child feels afraid and develops strategies to stay safe. Usually these strategies involve giving in to the father and generally staying out of his way.

When you grow up, you start to see how abusive your father was. You are disappointed if you find he is still abusive. You would like to have a more functional relationship with him. You no longer want to put up with his abuse.

Overcoming your early programming and standing up to your abusive father is challenging.

In the past, you were a small, powerless child. When he is abusive now, you probably turn back into the small, powerless child. Most likely, you give in to him, placate him or get defensive. None of these old strategies will work to change your relationship with him. So you have to give up reacting like this and behave differently.

The first step is reminding yourself that you are no longer a child. Use your imagination to help you here. Imagine he is angry and abusive. You probably feel your muscles tighten. You probably feel small and afraid.  Now allow your anger and indignation to arise.  “How dare he be so abusive toward you?” Feel yourself expand. Make up your mind you are not going to put up with his abuse anymore. Feel yourself standing tall.

Practice this transition over and over in your imagination. He is abusive. You feel small but then you feel your indignation come in. You don’t have to put up with this behaviour. Feel yourself grow big and strong and say to him firmly, “I will not put up with abuse from you or anyone.” Now, in your mind, walk away.

Practising this mental process changes the pathways in your brain. You are reprogramming your reactions. You are replacing your previous fearful reactions with strong powerful ones.

When you are ready, you are going to take this imagined scenario and turn it in to real action.

Walking away from abuse is extremely powerful. If it is dreadfully inconvenient to do this (e.g. he has the car and you have no easy way of getting home), then your action is even more potent. Mind you, it would be wise to be prepared to walk away by making sure you have enough money to catch a cab.

You are sending out an authoritive message. And not just to him but also to yourself. You are “walking your talk” as they say. You are willing to act to protect yourself.

You will feel really good standing up for yourself, no matter how inconvenient it is.

By walking away, you are also sending out a powerful message to him. He might not get it at first. But if you walk away every time he is abusive, he will soon realize that he needs to behave if he wants a relationship with you.

There is the possibility that he will not want to change. Some people are lazy. They just want to indulge themselves. If they feel angry, they want to let off steam. They are too lazy to make the effort to control themselves.

If your father is like this, he is putting his needs ahead of yours. He is not willing to make the effort to be civil enough to have a relationship with you.

If this happens, you would be naturally disappointed. You will have to come to terms with the fact that you have an extremely selfish father. You need to remember that he is this way and that has nothing to do with you. He would be like this with anyone.

If he is that selfish and lazy, you have no choice but to let the relationship go. You only want relationships in your life that are civil and respectful. If he cannot fulfil these reasonable criteria, then terminate contact with him.

You will grieve the loss of the relationship with your father. Just remember what you are actually grieving. You are grieving the loss of the father you wished you had. You are not grieving the loss of the abusive father you have had. You never wanted that.

Having a high level of self-respect and self-esteem is important for every area of your life. You don’t get high self-respect and high self-esteem by putting up with abuse. You get it by going through the steps I have outlined above.

If you need support during this process, seek help from a empathetic friend or a therapist.

Need help dealing with a difficult childhood? The team at North Brisbane Psychologists are here to help. Book an appointment today.