Recently I had a breakthrough moment in my relationship with my dad. He had another one of his yelling outbursts which finally pushed me to see the truth about verbal abuse. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of research about this topic and how to deal. I found a great series of books by Patricia Evans on the topic, and have opened up about this to close friends, my therapist and called 2 hotlines to gain as much perspective as possible. I found a lot of information about what verbal abuse is, but surprisingly very little on how to actually deal with the close person in your life who is doing it. I want to share my story in the hopes that it might be helpful for someone to read. And if you have dealt with this issue in your life, please share your experience here too. I know someone out there is looking for guidance, just as I am.
First Thing’s First:Prepare
Since I’ve been exposed to abuse throughout my life, I’ve had a very hard time developing a healthy sense of self, and the self-confidence to speak my truth, and trust that it is worth being heard. I’ve been convinced all my life that the things I have said were not true, did not matter and were invalid. So as you can imagine, it is very hard to go from this state to one where you can say “STOP” when someone is hurting you again. Any such protests are simply met with more invalidation and even intensified abuse. So I have to say that the foundation of the confrontation that finally took place with my dad was a preparation process that took many years. I have been working on healing my sense of self, trusting my inner voice, and finally allowing that voice to be expressed for at least 3 years since I began working with my amazing art therapist. I have also been journaling, creating art work, practicing yoga and meditating on a daily basis. Each of these things has helped me discover who I am and realize that my voice is valid. I would also add that a particularly helpful therapy for me was hypnosis, as it allowed my therapist and I to work on the subconscious level of my mind where many of the negative things my father has told me over the years have been stored, influencing my daily decisions without me even knowing it.
Get the Facts
Having built a solid foundation of self-confidence, I would say the next most important step that I took with this process is to actually learn about verbal abuse itself. As I mentioned before, I downloaded two of Patricia Evans’ audio books “The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond” and “Victory Over Verbal Abuse: A Healing Guide to Renewing Your Spirit and Reclaiming Your Life” to quickly get the info I needed after the incident. It took me about 2-3 days to fully absorb the information and get a sense of what was happening. Basically the books taught me that the things that my father says to me (which are painful) have nothing to do with me, but instead are a way for him to feel better about himself. Imagine someone trying to float in the water if they can’t swim – they will use a blown up flotation device to lift themselves above the water. To do so, they have to push that flotation device down. That person can’t swim, and they are just trying to survive – as we all are. But the fact is, that I am not someone’s flotation device. I am not an object. I am a separate human being that also just needs to survive and swim in that water. That’s hard to do when I am constantly pushed down. It feels like I might drown. So understanding the dynamics of abuse is crucial in seeing past the hurtful words so you can actually see the truth.
After I figured out what was happening, I asked my mom if she would be interested in reading/listening to the books. I was happy to see that she did want to read them as she has been suffering this same unnamed pain all of her marriage and in her family of origin before then. She and I spoke about everything and concluded that the best bet for us is to just sit down as a family and talk about what’s happening, and what this is called. The process of naming the abuse was crucial for both of us. We also invited my brother to participate. He left home long ago and has his own family, so he doesn’t see this stuff. He also never got as much of it because he is a male, and my father seems to target his abuse at us women. So admittedly he had to take my word for some of this stuff, which makes me feel extra levels of gratitude for his willingness to participate.
At that point it was a week after my dad’s initial outburst, and we have not spoken for that entire time. My brother asked him to come join him for breakfast and we all sat around the dining room table. My brother started the conversation and said that he wanted to talk to him about what’s been happening. I could see that my dad got really uncomfortable. My mother jumped in and said what he’s doing is called verbal abuse and she asked me to tell him all the things I told her about what he has said and done to hurt me. At that point I took out the copy of the Verbally Abusive Relationship book and showed it to him. I explained how we’ve read this book and what’s been happening in our household for my entire life matches with what is described there exactly, and it is no longer acceptable. I didn’t go down a list of examples of what he’s done and when because admittedly I don’t walk around with a pad and paper to write every bit of abuse down. He of course began to deny everything. He was blatantly lying. He was absolutely irrational and simply sexist in his remarks. My mom and I just looked at each other and winked. My brother burst out laughing at a certain point. It was comical.
The bottom line for me in this session was not to convince him he is abusive. I know he has a thick defense system that prevents him from understating anything like this. But I feel I was successful in accomplishing the following:
- We named the abuse. Whether he is willing to accept that or not is irrelevant. What mattered to me was that I was able to speak my truth and my mom and I were finally able to say we see what this is and we will no longer tolerate it.
- I was able to state clearly, in front of the whole family, that it is no longer acceptable for him to yell at me or my mom. I had to say this many, many times during the conversation, followed by “do you understand?” Each time was answered by a rant of denial, but I just kept on at it.
- I think sitting down to a family meeting like this really sent the message home, in a very physical way, that something has changed here. Something is different from now on, and we are all on the same page about that.
- I was able to outline a plan of action for future incidents. I explained that if he starts doing it again I will politely remind him to stop once, then, if he doesn’t listen, I will remove myself from the conversation. That will be it.
Although both my therapist and the hotlines I called told me that “confrontations don’t work,” they both encouraged me to do what my intuition tells me is right. This experience felt in alignment with what I needed, and what I felt guided to do by my higher power. It wasn’t about me convincing him of anything. It was about speaking my truth, releasing the past, and stating new and clear boundaries for what I will and will not accept in the future. It feels like success.
Do you have any experiences with confronting verbal abuse? PLEASE SHARE! Your experience may help save someone’s family or even life.