Am I Being Abused?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: From a 15 year old: My relationship with my father has always been rocky, but lately everything has been getting out of control. I care about him and believe that he cares about me but I feel that there are serious problems with the way he treats me.
One of the earliest examples I can recall is when I was in 7th grade I was taking an advanced math course and I used to get Bs and Cs. When my dad found this out he started this nightly event where I would have to do my homework sitting down on the kitchen table with him. If I didn’t understand something he would explain it once more and if I still didn’t get it he’d scream and call me a various set of names all implying that I was incapable of anything. At the time I had been dealing with being called fat, ugly, and a gothic freak at school and at that point in my life I had no self-esteem. My mother used to get angry at my father if things got really bad but she never did anything useful. I used to cry a lot when sitting at the kitchen table and my dad would criticize me for that as well.

However, the main problem is Softball, which is the only sport I currently play. Ever since I could play sports I have been playing day in day out. When I was younger it was okay, but as I matured I started hating playing sports because my father embarrassed me and screamed at me constantly. Other members on the team started ignoring me or treating me badly because of the way he acted. I can’t really recall anyone, besides one girl who had a similar problem, reaching out to me. I was still being forced to play all the same. It’s been limited to just Softball nowadays, but my dad takes me on “one on one” practices more then three times a week. When I do well I’m told I have to do better, that I’m never going to amount to anything performing like that, but when I miss a catch or can’t hit the ball things get very ugly. On a good day he’ll scream and call me an idiot, or just yells the same things at me like “Why can’t you do anything right” and other things that put me down pretty badly.
Over all he acts violently and when there is no one around (or just people he does not know and care about) he throws softballs at me and occasionally a bat. If people are there they stare at me and start whispering. I think that’s the most painful thing for me. He screams constantly when we’re on the field, and at home at well (but it’s much worse without anyone else there).

I’ve always sort of had to be the “big brother” of the family because my brother has High-Function Autism. . . I know that my father’s father beat him a lot, which leads me to the conclusion that his father’s behavior is the reason he acts the way he does. Which does not make it right, I’m aware of this.

. . . to make things worse just last year he lost his job so he is home all the time now and screams at my brother and myself when my mother isn’t home. I try to stick up for us but there’s very little I can do.

I’ve talked to my mom and few a of my friends about this problem but no one has any idea as to what I can do. I want to move out when I turn 18 and live with my best friend’s family. I’ve known them since I was three and they treat me more like family then my own. All my life I’ve been lacking praise and encouragement from my father and my mother is usually working really late or helping my brother. I’ve always felt like I’ve needed some kind of professional advice but was never offered any. Thanks again I’m really glad I stumbled on your site.

A: I am ashamed and embarrassed for all the adults who have witnessed what is going on and have done nothing to help. In the name of respecting privacy, they have left two kids in a dangerous and intolerable situation. No kid should live in fear of her own dad. An autistic boy shouldn’t be screamed at and hit – ever. My guess is that your mom can’t help because she is overwhelmed by the care of your brother and her worry about you, exhausted from working so hard, and perhaps afraid that she will make things worse if she intervenes. You all need help.

Yes, you are being abused. I have a guess that you father feels so bad about himself and his life that he is taking it out on you. He lost his job. The family is probably financially strapped. His son has a serious disability. He didn’t have a good role model himself for how to handle disappointment and frustration. He may be trying to make you be the success he doesn’t feel he can be. It could even be that he is trying to make you into the kind of son he imagines your brother would be if he were not autistic. I don’t think he means to hurt you but that doesn’t make what he is doing okay.

You’re old enough now. It’s time to call in help. Please seek out a school guidance counselor, your coach, your pastor or rabbi, your doctor, or some other trusted adult. Share with that person what is going on. (If that’s too hard, show him or her your letter to me and this response.) You could say that you aren’t trying to get your dad in trouble. You just want the violence to stop and your family to get some help. Make sure they understand that they can’t just give your dad a talking to and then leave. That would put you and your brother at even more risk. Your mother, you, and your brother need protection while you work out with your dad how to be a better family. Your dad needs lots of support if he is going to face his own failures and learn new ways to be a man. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE (7233)) can offer further advice.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Aug 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). Am I Being Abused?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/08/30/am-i-being-abused/