How I confronted my verbally abusive father

victoryRecently 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.

The Confrontation

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 Results

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.



17 thoughts on “How I confronted my verbally abusive father

  1. Thank you for writing this. I am in the same boat – it isn’t that my parents can’t be nice but the absolute torrent of foul words and put downs that comes out when my dad is struggling with himself is really difficult to keep dealing with. I like you do a lot of yoga and meditation and I have a higher stand point and awareness as to why this is happening and that it is their pain they are putting onto me – however I feel like I have done all I can to try and help them see whats happening and I always get the rant of denial and further abuse – which comes from a total lack of understanding about me and who I am.
    I am grateful for you writing so honestly because I am too scared to put it on my blog right now – because its too raw.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for sharing, for reaching out and for being open. It feels really supportive to know that someone else is dealing with this kind of stuff. I know what you mean about the denial… he can’t see this pattern because it’s become such a part of how he deals with the world that it’s in his “blind spot.” What’s helping you cope?

      • I live on the otherside of the world – that helps some. But still doesn’t stop it. I called the other day to finally speak as I am meant to be attending my sisters wedding – however I was met with a torrent of abuse being told I was crazy and the last person he wants to see if he is dying. I know this is his stuff – but unlike you my mum doesn’t really see it as she proceeded to call the following day telling me I had no friends and was I in a cult (yoga!!) and that I told my dad to rot in hell…. It didn’t happen. So I am in the dilemma of do I attend the wedding or stay away cos quite honestly I can’t take that kind of abuse from anyone anymore.

  2. Hi Laura, you know when someone asks me a question about what they should do, I often look at how they phrased that question. Your response “So I am in the dilemma of do I attend the wedding or stay away cos quite honestly I can’t take that kind of abuse from anyone anymore.” seems quite telling to me. Perhaps it can be a guidance for you on how you want to proceed?

  3. hey, im considering doing this as well. but i’m afraid he might get more angry and take it out on my mom. every time we try to stick up for my mom when he verbally abuses her he gets more mad because he feels my mom is brainwashing us. idk what to do. my mom is in a very bad position because she’s never worked (because of my dad) and she doesn’t speak english so well.

    • I have the same issue. Mom n i have thought of leaving dad, but thats not so easy in an Asian country. For just no reason he would verbally abuse mom with swearing and curse words. Mom is so depressed abt it. N me too coz I can’t protect my mom from father’s bad language.

  4. Thanks for the input. I think the verbal abusers look for whom ever they can intimadate, which is a manipulative from of control, self serving in every way. My family consist of three brothers, and two sisters. Most large families have a scaoe goat; some become strong, or withdrawn, guarded, untrusting, bitter, suicidal, depressed, weak, or very loving, and empathetic. No one has to tolerate verbal abuse. My heart goes out to minors that are sometimes trapped by monster of verbal abuse. I say take something bad, and make something good out of it. I truly believe if my father wasn’t so damaged by his father I never would’ve become the father I was. He taught me everything not to do. Children need love, and guidance like we need oxygen. If we can get pass the word abuse what we’re really talking about is selfishness; someone that simply has to have they’re way, and will do anything to maintain control. Once they loose control you’re free. Trust urself,love urself. Just because your married to, or biologically linked to someone doesn’t give them the right to use you. Not all the time, but sometimes confronting is not only a waste of time ,but in some cases can become dangerous. So don’t get mad, get smart. Do ur homework. I haven’t spoken to my father in six years. I love him, but sometimes you have to cut off a finger to save a hand. I remember telling myself years ago if my father treated my son’s the way he treated me ohh!! it’s!! OVER!, and then I realized I should alsi take of myself too. Whenever my father in town my sister always tells me to come by( serving the lamb to the slaughter). So ur rhe family scapegoat know rhat ur family is not foung ro readily release you from that role. Find things that you love to do. Forgive the abuser, thats key in moving on, other wise this dysfunction can continue in ur children. Narcissist is another word for choice. I choose to be selfish. So pick a mate,or friends that whole, caring, giving. The best way to attract good people in ur life is to become one by simply caring. Peace and health to you all. Dr. Love

  5. Thank you for sharing this story. I’m 30 and have been dealing with a physically and emotionally abusive dad. I’m a male. Because of this I never found myself and I have low self esteem. I drink and use drugs and bottle it all up, but I’m seeing a therapist and I’m on a good track in life. But still holding on to a lifetime of abuse I cant run or hide from and can’t shake it. I will check out those books you recommended. Thank you again.

  6. My experience: my father was/is an alcoholic and a drug addict. My mom is a pharmacist and made a good deal of money, but my father worked as a bartender (ironic) and would take the lamest amount of hours he could get since my mother was the bread winner. The downside, my father was the one in charge of caring for my brother and I on his days off. The first physical abuse I remember is when I was 7 or so. My father told me to clean the dinner table. I said I did. He immediately picked me up by my neck and shoved my face towards the dinner table which I had apparently did not clean well enough. I immediately reached for my throat, clawing at his adult hands grasping my little neck as he swung me around the kitchen showing me what I didn’t clean. He shoved my face towards the messy spots. He treated me like a dog. As you would expect emotional abuse was constant til I was 16 or so. Finally, one day, I had let it all out. He blamed me for not waking up in the morning to let the maids in and pay them. On HIS day off. Before he could tell me I’m trash or blame me, without even a thought, it all came out at once. “That’s not my responsibility, it’s yours. You’re the adult. ” What?? I spoke negatively towards him? What am I doing??
    My dad exclaimed, “what did you just say to me?” During which he raised his hand as to hit me and blew out his belly to intimidate me, like he usually does. I didn’t even acknowledge him. I went on. “You know you have been emotionally abusing me my whole life?” I stormed out of the room. My dad comes back to me, my courage undying, my anger brimming.
    Dad: walks back into the living room And responds by saying, “I don’t know about that…*rolls eyes*”
    Me: “Just yesterday when you were driving me to my first job interview and I realized I forgot my resume halfway there, you shouted at me, “Can’t you do anything right!” .

    “I don’t remember that” he said immediately. Straight up denial. It didn’t make much headway in getting through to him, but on a personal level, it was immensely empowering. I believed in myself, I spoke up. I won’t deny I wanted that hand to come down on me once more, because he had no idea the pent up anger I had towards him, but ultimately it was the calling him out on things both he and I had repressed that felt good. I shined a bright light on the dark parts of his life, this time I, I was the one shoving his face in his own failure. Speaking up about it may have saved my life.

  7. My step father emotional abuses me and my mother and it happens every couple years or so. He barely talks to anyone and then it’s all builds up and takes it out on us and it’s beyond scary. Me and my mom get to the point where we might have to call the police because he gets aggressive and could at any point hit us. This happened recently and his outburst was towards me. My mom and grandma had to keep him far away from me during the fight in case of physical abuse. As of now my mom is ready for divorce and is getting the paper work ready. I’m just scared of the day when we tell him he needs to leave. I’m very scared of what he might do. Hopefully he leaves with no fight. I will no longer live in fear and I want to live a happy, healthy life. I need to stay strong and not show fear because that’s what he wants. Me my mom and my grandma will stick together and overcome this just like we’ve overcome so much before. Anyone out there reading this- stay strong even when you feel it’s not possible. It is possible. Do not put up with fear and abuse.

  8. He yells at my mom, my brother, and myself. Sometimes he even hits my brother and I Calling my mom a crazy bitch, a piece of shit, idiot, moron, stupid, and says shut up, he also says those things to us except a crazy bitch. He even calls me and my brother 4 year old’s. One time he even made fun of me because I cut myself due to him and social pressure. He usually yells 2-4 times a week at all of us. The day after he yells he can be very nice and take me out and talk about our memories with each other. I have tried to stand up and look him in the eye or yell back at him but that upsets him even more. My mother tries to act on it but nothing seems to work even family therapy doesn’t work. After my Dad sometimes apologizes and but with “But you did this…” and always demands respect when he doesn’t respect me. I am just really depressed and sad.

    • Thank you for sharing Gabe. I know this is so painful. Especially when the person doing it has no clue about the effects their actions have on those around them. I send you prayer… and for your family too. Are you finding any resources to help you?

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