Turning into Abusive Dad

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

When I was a child my father always insulted me. I remember he made me cry almost everyday when we were doing my homework because I couldn’t do things right. He made fun of me when I got things wrong or just kept screaming at me. He treated me as if I had no opinions or will, I remember he used to tell me “Don’t ask, you are only here to obey!”. I don’t remember much about my mother being there, she’s still living with us, I just don’t remember what she told me or did back then, she just tells me that she was scared of him.

Now that I’m 22, I realise that this has impacted me in a big way. I’m almost like him; I’m always arguing with people, I don’t have many friends, always pointing out negative things people have and the thing that made me come here is that I can’t have a girlfriend. Every time I like a girl (3 until now), instead of feeling good I start to feel bad, it hurts, not because she doesn’t like me back, it just hurts even at the beginning when I have a couple of days of meeting her. A friend told me it was fear of being rejected or not accepted as I am just like my father used to do back when I was a child.

What can I do to fix this? I don’t hate my father, I just know he was treated the same way he is treating me. Sometimes he tells me things to bother me or insult and even though I feel bad at the moment, I say to myself “I don’t care”.
Thanks.

A: Children tend to learn what they live. Just as your father learned to be a negative, judgmental man from his father, you’ve learned the same thing from him. But here’s the good thing: Anything we learn, we can unlearn. Being judgmental and critical isn’t genetic. It’s just the result of picking up a bad habit.

Give yourself lots of credit for recognizing the problem. And listen to your friend. I think he’s onto something. You can change this. Really. You can. You are only 22. You still have a lot of growing and developing yet to do.

Start disciplining yourself to say 3 positive things for every negative thing you say. Practice random acts of kindness. Make a promise to yourself to do several small favors for others every day – and do it. Ask your friend to catch you whenever you are doing something generous, kind or positive. You need positive feedback. And – do the same thing for your dad. He needs to start hearing about what he is doing right too. Whenever he does or says the least little thing that is positive, let him know how much you appreciate it. The most important thing is to be genuine about it. If it sounds sarcastic, this will backfire. If you can be more generous with compliments, it will be contagious.

A turnaround won’t happen instantly but it will happen. Keep a private journal or what you are doing and how it is going. I suspect that in about 3 months, if you do these things, you will begin to see a shift in your family and in your own attitude.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Jun 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Turning into Abusive Dad. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 12, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/06/16/turning-into-abusive-dad/

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