I’m very sorry about what you are experiencing. It’s unpleasant, to say the least. The experience you have described, when sitting in a room with your father, feeling uncomfortable, having increased breathing, heart rate and shakiness, could be anxiety or a panic attack. It’s not surprising that you would feel that way around him since he is quick to anger. He’s unpredictable and volatile. Being around that kind of danger would naturally make you feel nervous, especially when much of his anger is directed at you. It’s a very difficult way to live. Some would describe it as “walking on egg shells.” It’s very taxing both mentally and physically.
Your sister says you’re overreacting but that’s probably because she’s treated better than you are treated. As you mentioned, she’s his favorite. He treats her better and thus she doesn’t understand what it’s like to be treated harshly. The fact that the two of you are receiving different treatment likely explains why she does not understand what you’re going through. She may never fully understand because it hasn’t happened to her.
That your parents used to beat you with the belt and make you swallow soap is not only inappropriate but it’s abusive. The fact that your mother would physically fight you is also worrisome. That is not how parents should treat their children. It’s wrong, abusive and it should’ve never happened.
Your father refusing to take you to counseling is also not okay. Some people don’t understand the importance of counseling. Unfortunately, we live in a society where two prevailing beliefs are that you “should” be able to solve your own problems and only weak people seek help. It’s akin to the concept of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Essentially it means that you should be able to handle all life problems yourself and not need any outside help. When you think about it, it’s illogical and usually the people who hold those beliefs are close minded, stubborn and ill-informed.
Interestingly, the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-mentality only applies when it comes to mental health problems. Imagine if people held the same standard about medical problems. Following that logic, you should be able to mend your own broken leg, perform your own appendectomy, conduct your own coronary artery bypass surgery or C-section — all without training. That logic, followed to its extreme, is simply ridiculous.
When we have medical problems, we consult a physician. We do that because the physician has attended medical school and has learned how to treat medical problems. If they had not undergone training, they would not have the requisite knowledge to treat medical problems. They weren’t born with that knowledge. They had to learn it through training and a great deal of practice. That’s true with virtually everything in life and it is always why education and knowledge are so fundamentally important.
That same logic should apply to mental health problems. Mental health professionals undergo a minimum of five years of college, and many stay longer to complete even more advanced training. If that knowledge and those skills were innate, there’d be no need for school, extensive training, mentors, etc.
I recommend discussing this problem with a trusted teacher or the school guidance counselor. Let them know what’s happening in your life, with your parents, and ask for their help. What you’re experiencing is abusive and wrong. No one should be harming you mentally or physically. Your parents don’t have the right to hurt you. I understand that school may be out of session because of the pandemic, but you should be able to contact a teacher or guidance counselor. They can ensure that you can get the help that you need.
In the meantime, try to stay away from your father. Is there anywhere else you can live — with another relative? You should also try journaling, meditation and other relaxation strategies to reduce your anxiety. This kind of thing can help you to feel more relaxed and less hypervigilant and on edge. You might even try getting a job, if possible, or doing other activity that involves you spending less time in your home. Engaging in healthy and positive distractions can protect your mental health and buffer you against the stress of living in your home.
Hopefully, with the assistance of school officials, you can begin counseling again. Don’t hesitate to write again if you have additional questions. Please take care and stay safe.
Dr. Kristina Randle