Why Does My Father Abuse Me?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: My father has physically abused me since I can remember. He has also verbally abused me. I am in college now, and the abuse has slowed down because I’m better at avoiding it. It all started before I was 6. More recently, say from age 11 onwards, when he abuses me, it is usually because I am rude to him. I don’t listen to what he says and I don’t obey him. He would punch me, backhand me, kick me, push me into things, and slap me. It was very painful and very traumatizing. It lasted all the way through high school and even now it is possible that he could start beating me. My mother would always protest but she thinks that child abuse is okay. She thinks what my father did to me was okay because I deserved for being rude.
But honestly, how rude could I have been when I was little? Enough to warrant physical abuse? I think that before I was a preteen, I just disobeyed or did whatever children do that is annoying. And I remember so many occasions where simple misunderstandings or small events cause me to be beaten.
My parents actually care for me and love me. He never beat me for no reason and never out of drunkenness. It was always because of disciplinary issues.
The most recent event involved me not taking my hands out of my pockets when he asked me to. We were at one of my fathers properties cleaning up and he was telling me work to do. He told me to take my hands out of my pockets and then turned around. I didn’t take my hands out of my pockets because there was no reason to. He told me again and stepped towards me as if he was going to hit me. I took them out and stepped towards him. He pushed me and was about to hit me and I grabbed his wrist and pointed his fist toward his face. I told him that he wasn’t going to beat me again. He screamed and threw chairs randomly and shouted and screamed some more. I went and sat in the car. When we got home he criticized me and convinced my mom that I was rude and disrespectful and I should do exactly what he says because it’s his house. I am only here during the summer because my first year at college ended. Just tonight, two days after the event, he lectured me again. He bangs doors and breaks things whenever he is angry. It’s easy to make him blow up when he is in a bad mood, which is often. He gets stressed out and he takes it out on me. Still I continue to be rude and cause problems. I don’t know what is wrong with me and I don’t know what’s wrong with my parents.

A: This is certainly a complicated situation. I believe you when you say your parents love you. In your letter, you work hard to be fair and acknowledge that you can be rude so it seems you love them too. That being said, it is never, ever acceptable for someone who is bigger, stronger, and carries parental authority to physically and verbally hurt a child. Your parents apparently felt that fear was a good method for making you behave. All it did was make you resentful and as angry as they are. So here you all are now — in a house where love is overwhelmed by anger and where power (who has it and who doesn’t) has become more important than enjoying each other. What a shame.
I can’t tell you why your folks act the way they do. It probably comes from how they were treated while they were growing up. And I can’t tell you for sure why you continue to be rude – although a good guess is that you are getting even.
You are big enough now to stop the physical abuse. That’s certainly a relief for you. But are you mature enough to work on putting a stop to the cycle of emotional abuse as well? Ideally, your parents would take this role and make things different. But since they’re either not able to or don’t understand why it would make a better relationship, it is up to you.
You are old enough and educated enough to stop using rudeness to make a point. Instead, you could just calmly tell them both that you love them, that you know they love you, and that people who love each other don’t hurt each other so you’re not going to participate in it anymore. You can offer that you will work on not being rude any more but that you want them to stop yelling at you and threatening you. Leaving to sit in the car was a great way to demonstrate this. You didn’t add your noise and anger to your father’s noise and anger. You didn’t insult him. You just took yourself out of it. That was an adult and effective way to handle his irrational outburst.
My guess is that your parents don’t want to lose you, especially since you are an only child. If you keep affirming that you care but refuse to get sucked into the cycle of abuse, you will eventually start seeing results.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Aug 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). Why Does My Father Abuse Me?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/08/13/why-does-my-father-abuse-me/