How to Deal with an Abusive Relationship with a Parent?

How to Deal with an Abusive Relationship with a Parent?

Abusive Relationship

I always had an abusive relationship with my father. Maybe it all started with my conception. While my father only wanted one child, my mother wanted two. To make her dream reality, she secretly stopped taking the pill and became pregnant again. She betrayed him. Her story was that my father went on holidays alone shortly after I was born. How does a man feel if he becomes a father of a child he never wanted? I cannot answer this, but the abusive relationship became an important theme in my life.

My parents separated when I was one and I saw my father two years later again. The following two decades, I was torn between my infantile need to be approved by my father and rejecting him because of his manipulative personality traits. When I was 12, I cut contact with my father for the first time. His badmouthing about my mother’s family had become too much.

I saw him again when he got married to his new wife a couple of years later. Deep in my heart, I hoped that this new relationship had transformed him and he would have stopped blaming my mother. I was wrong. Nothing had changed.

My mother died when I was 19, and I hoped that her death would put his mind at ease, sooner or later. The little girl within me wanted to get his approval. Eight years later, his torrent of hatred against my mother and her family persisted. It was unbearable to listen to him any longer. His stories never changed.

Does a daughter have the right to cut contact with her father?

At that stage, I wasn’t sure. My father’s favorite bible quote was “You have to honor your father.” He used it each time when he wanted to impose his opinion on me. Sometimes I asked myself silently, and a father – how is he supposed to treat his child?

One day, I finally woke up and accepted that I would never receive affection from him. He was unable to give it. I was sick and tired of his repetitive stories and his unforgiving attitude. I cut contact with him. It wasn’t easy or comfortable, but it felt right. It was not for his sake, but for mine. Even though, I didn’t know it at that time, it was one of the most caring acts I ever did for myself.

Do you have the right to cut contact with your parents?

I faced many opinions. Abusive relationships are still a secret nobody wants to talk about. Some people looked at me disapprovingly; a couple of counselors told me that I had to meet him and hug him to be able to forgive him. In a way, they gave me the responsibility for his unhealthy behaviour. Other therapists approved my decision and told me that I had to find the right distance to be at peace with him. I only felt at peace when I was far away from him. My last therapist told me that she felt glad that I stayed away from him. I felt the same.

Who knows what’s right or wrong?

Each opinion reflected the perspective the other person had, their story and their values. It is hard to accept that families, the place where children should be safe, sheltered and nurtured, can be violent and harmful. I guess that many people who grow up in a healthy environment have no idea how a family with abusive relationships look like. How much did they know about my experience and my inner process that led to my decision? Not much.

My father continued his abuse by stalking me

Years after I cut contact, I still had a secret address so that my father couldn’t find me. But one day, he did. I called a police officer from the victim’s department, and she phoned him. Later, she told me that he would insist on having the right to see me. She asked me whether I would be willing to do so. I said, no. I just wanted to have my freedom. She continued: I have many years of experience with victims of violence. I know that you have every reason to fear him. It was the first time that somebody outside my family confirmed my truth about him, and her comment helped me to believe in my intuition and release my doubts. Unfortunately, blaming the victim is still part of our society, and it was a relief to hear the words I needed most: I believe you. It is not your fault.

Dealing with an abusive relationship as an adult

We can’t choose our family and, as a child, we get used to accepting what is. However, as an adult, as an adult we choose how we want to relate to them. We are not obliged to stay in a situation that is toxic for us. Everybody has the right to find the distance we need to protect ourselves and we have the right to cut contact. I cannot tell you what the right answer is for your specific case. But I invite you that you trust your inner voice because the only person who knows the correct answer is you. You don’t owe anybody an explanation. You don’t need anybody’s approval. The only thing you need to do is to take care of yourself.

What to do if the abusive relationship had ended?

After ending the abusive relationship with my father, I started a different journey: Healing the effects his emotional abusive behaviour had on me. I gave myself the space to forgive and heal my heart. I grieved that I never had the father I truly wanted as a child. While I never want to have a connection with him in real life, I can accept that he is my father. As long as I rejected him, I also rejected parts of myself. In a spiritual way, he’s now closer to me than he has ever been in my life. Sometimes, the best option to love somebody is without having a relationship with them.

Whatever decision you are facing, I know that you will make the right choice for yourself and your life.

Do you need support making this decision? Check out how I can support you.

Do you want to find out more about the abusive relationship with my father? Find out more about my memoir A Brave, True Story on amazon.ca.

Do You Try to Fit In Or Do You Belong?

Behind the house, there were some hills covered with green grass and huge trees that gave shade when the sun was hot. The air was clean and fresh. I took a deep breath; it felt like a blessing after having spent all summer in Barcelona’s sticky and humid heat. I was in the south of France. My first holidays since three years. There were about ninety people, most of them were French; some Spanish or German. I would spend the next ten days with them to meditate. I had never seen them before and felt nervous and insecure. How would it be to stay together for such a long time? How will I manage to cope with this situation?

The bell was ringing. 6 am – it was time to get up and go for the first meditation. I awkwardly crawled out of my dormitory bunk, brushed my teeth and went downstairs to the temple where we meditated. I smiled at the people at the entrance. They returned a grim look. I sat down on my zafu – the meditation cushion – and meditated. Some bird’s song broke the silence every once in a while. Then, the sun rose as an amazing red ball shining directly into my face. It was a beautiful morning.

After the meditation, we went for a silent walk. I just felt happy and light. I could feel the smile on my face. The people around me walked with severe faces. For a moment, I thought whether it was inappropriate to smile. Nobody else seemed to do it. The following days, I always had a smile on my face while the others were distant and grim. I started to feel guilty and questioned myself. Was my smiling appropriate? Was there something wrong with me? Did I need to be serious because everyone else was it? One part of me feared to be criticized and rejected. What should I do? I went for a walk alone. From a distance, the people were small little dots. Why should I give up on smiling? I couldn’t find a reason. I was enjoying the meditation as I always did. What was the worst thing to happen? Maybe I’d stay alone for the retreat. I could cope with this. I decided to stay true to myself and to resist my urge to adapt.

Two days later, I sat down at a different table for breakfast. I looked at the people who surrounded me. The energy at the table was joyful. We couldn’t talk, yet we communicated with eye contact and smiled at each other. From that day, we spent each meal together. On the last day, a lovely elder lady from this table came to me. We hadn’t talked a lot because I couldn’t speak French, and she only spoke a little bit of Spanish. She gave me a flower and said, “Thank you for your smile.” Suddenly, I was very happy that I hadn’t listened to my fears. I didn’t connect with many people but with the right ones. And I had released my survival strategy to fit in that has accompanied me since my childhood.

What are your survival strategies to fit in?
Sometimes, we learn difficult lessons in life, and we try hard to fit in. We also live in a society that tells us that there is only one standardized way to be or live. I was used to adapting and fitting in. Many years, I believed that it was the only way to be accepted and appreciated. I feared to show up as I was. I gave in to the pressure of my family or partner and fulfilled their expectations. However, with this strategy, I didn’t allow myself to experience true belonging. I also didn’t allow me to be happy. Belonging requires showing your true self, even if your knees may be shaking at first. You can never control what the other person will do. They may like you or hate you. That’s up to them. But the people who like you as you are, are the ones you belong to.

This retreat also taught me another precious lesson. Maybe you can’t see the right people at first but if you stay true to yourselves and show up the right people will find you. The nice French lady stayed in contact with me and sent me a picture she had painted that showed my smile. I felt very grateful for this present. And we are all looking for lasting bonds that nurture and support us, aren’t we?

How about you?

  • Do you want to belong?
  • Where do you still work hard to fit in?
  • How could you change this?

Do you fit in or do you belong? I’d love to read your comments below.

Do you want to read more? Check the article Do you enjoy the beauty of the moment.

Love & Freedom

Relationships can be messy and we need to find the right balance so that we can love but do not lose ourselves. There may be two voices in our mind, one that urges us to give everything, the other one that encourages us to take self-care. Sometimes, we may be conflicted because we love people who have abusive behaviour. I hope that this poem will guide you to make choices that are for your best.

Love connects us,
Freedom allows us to choose to walk together.

Love wants us to spend our life together.
Freedom tells us that we won’t know before the end of our days.

Love sometimes urges us to give everything,
Freedom reminds us to stay on our path.

Love wants us to be loved,
Freedom softly guides us to love ourselves and have boundaries.

Love wants appreciation and approval,
Freedom advises us to let go of fear and show up as we are.

Love may urge us to promise that we’ll never leave each other,
Freedom gently reminds us to never take each other for granted and to continue our growth.

Love makes us wake up each morning together,
Freedom prompts us to look into our eyes and saying silently “yes” and “thank you” to each other with a smile.

Love, if ever it comes the day that we can’t continue walking together,
Freedom embraces us so that we are able to let go no matter how much we love.

Love never dies,
Freedom is everything.

I’d love to hear from you. Just leave your comment below.

Do you want to read more? Check the post What if you always attract the wrong man?