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Why Can’t I Stand Up to My Dad?

Asked by on with 1 answer:

From a young man in the U.S.: Ever since I was little, I’ve had a fear of upsetting my dad. Whenever he did get upset because I did something stupid, he would yell at me and belittle me and yell curse words at me. As a result, I am afraid of even being near him even to this day when I am an adult. I know that this is not normal at all, but I just can’t seem to stand up for myself and always try to not be near him. Someone help please.

Why Can’t I Stand Up to My Dad?

Answered by on -

A.

Actually, your feelings are normal. Repeated abuse by a parent is a kind of “programming”. As a kid, you had the natural response to fear: Fight, flight or freeze. The fight, flight, freeze response is the body’s natural reaction to danger. It is nature’s way of protecting us from harm.

As a child, you couldn’t fight. You were too little and you saw your dad as all powerful. If your dad compelled you to stay during his tirades, you couldn’t “flee” during scoldings, although maybe your could “flee” by staying away from him as much as possible. Most of the time, the most self-protective thing to do was (and is) to “freeze” — not argue, defend yourself, or debate him.

That useful childhood solution got reinforced and reinforced and reinforced with every negative encounter. It has become so habitual that even as an adult, your response to him is the same.

Changing the relationship is possible but difficult. Your dad is no longer bigger or more powerful than you are. You are an adult and you have learned other ways to manage difficult people, at least most of the time. But your younger self is still inside of you, quaking and ready to do what you’ve always done to protect yourself when your father is upset.

If your father is amenable, I encourage you to seek out a family therapist to help the two of you negotiate an adult to adult relationship. In the safety and context of therapy, you may both come to understand why he didn’t handle situations better. A therapist may help you confront your dad about how his behavior affected you and help him understand the harm it did to you. If your dad is able to sincerely apologize, you may be able to forgive him and move on to a better relationship in the present and future.

If your father isn’t able or interested in therapy, then I do think you would benefit from having a therapist of your own. A therapist can guide you on ways to manage your anxiety around your father and can provide you with support as you work to change your reaction to him.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Why Can’t I Stand Up to My Dad?

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Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2020). Why Can’t I Stand Up to My Dad?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2020/03/22/why-cant-i-stand-up-to-my-dad/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Mar 2020 (Originally: 22 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Mar 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.