Hello all and thank you for having this option “ask the therapist”. To be brief, I am 26 years old, I am the oldest child with a younger brother. My parents have recently divorced but their relationship was always awful, filled with physical, verbal and emotional abuse. My father never physically abused us, but I think there was emotional and verbal abuse both direct and indirect. I am not certain how it has affected me, I have accepted that I had a troubled childhood a few years ago. My issues revolve mainly in my other relationships, I have difficulty making friends, and my romantic relationships are hard. I am trying to figure out what to do with my life and I am afraid that these issues are holding me back. I try not to think about what happened most of the time because I just can’t deal with it, I tend to cry and then get mad. My problem is, my father never acknowledged his behaviour, and for some reason I feel a need for him to apologize. Could you possibly tell me some steps I can take to deal with my troubles, that is if i really have any. Please don’t tell me to confront my father, I cannot do that. I need to do this on my own. Thank you for your work.

A: Thank you for writing in. You pose an important question that affects many people. As I see it, you are basically asking if the relationships you had (and witnessed) as a child could affect your relationships as an adult. The answer is a resounding YES. Our early attachments and role models have a great deal to do with our ability to connect to others later. If we perceive that our environment is not safe and those who are there to love and protect us, instead impose fear and uncertainty, it can dramatically affect not only our relationships, but also our view of ourselves and the world around us.

There is a lot you can do to turn this pattern around though, regardless of whether or not you confront your father. There are lots of self-help books available on these topics, but two that come to mind are Outgrowing the Pain and Toxic Parents. There are many support groups, both online and in local communities that provide help to adults abused as children, and of course, you could enter therapy to work through the effects of your past with a trained expert.

In the meantime, journaling about your feelings or expressing yourself through art are also helpful. It’s ok to cry, to scream or to do whatever you need to do to release the feelings you have held inside. You will feel much better once you let them out in a safe way. Once you have tried some of these techniques, I think you’ll be in a better position to evaluate if you want to speak to your parents about the things that happened back then.

Welcome to your healing journey!

All the best,

Dr. Holly Counts