Question #169: My dad hit me.

I really, really need commenters who have experience with domestic violence/abuse counseling to weigh in here, thanks. This Letter Writer needs help from someone who doesn’t have to Google “domestic violence resources” to answer the question.

Captain Awkward,

Hi! I’m a 19 year old college student and I live with my parents. It’s not an ideal situation, but I figure my relationship with them is alright; I’m closer to my mom and I fight a lot with my dad, but they’re not horrible. I know they love me and I love them, yadda yadda. I’m one of the lucky ones, all things considered.

But today my dad hit me. Repeatedly. Not with a closed fist or anything, but he sort of held me by the neck while he smacked my face with his other hand. My mom and sister had to pull him off me. Background: me and my dad will get into huge, screaming fights, but he has never been physically violent. I do not enjoy these screaming matches, to say the least. Lately these arguments have actually been happening less frequently because I’m getting better at knowing when to walk away, but everything just happened so fast this time.

The argument that led up to this was trivial. He had been giving my younger sister shit for failing to do something and I defended her. (There’s nothing my dad likes more than angrily lecturing someone about what he thinks they’ve done wrong.) In this case my sister hadn’t really done anything wrong, though, it was just a small inconsequential thing. He didn’t have to be such a goddamn asshole. So I said something about how there was no use in harping on what my sister hadn’t done, next time she would take his advice. He got defensive and told me it wasn’t my business.

I responded that she was my sister and therefore sort of my business (in hindsight: not the best response). It escalated from there and he told me I should get the fuck out of his house. I said, “i would if i fucking could,” while walking away. That’s when he grabbed me and everything went down.

Honestly, in the moment it happened I was almost relieved. Well, you know, under the shock. Like, FINALLY. I just remember feeling like this is my chance to punch him in the face and them him holding me with one of his motherfucking hands while he hit me with the other one. I didn’t manage to punch him back, but I tried.

Anyway. I haven’t talked to him since (I left the house immediately after), but my mom tells me he’s sorry. Right after the fact he texted me several times asking me to pick up the phone so he could apologize, but I was too upset to even consider it.

I don’t know what to do. Moving out before I graduate isn’t really an option; I’ve looked into it before, but I just can’t afford it. My mom is talking about me renting a room just for a little while, just to get some space, and that might be possible. In any case I am still dependent on him for tuition and living expenses.

I feel both horribly guilty and so, so angry. I don’t want to be anywhere near him but I feel like this is something I should try to mend. He’s my dad. He’s done a lot for me, and I don’t want to be ungrateful. But he hit me. He hit me. I want to apologize and kick him in the crotch at the same time. Both of my sisters have acknowledged that my dad is hard to get along with, but neither of them have had this level of conflict with them. I feel like I’m the disruptive force in my family, tearing it apart. My mom doesn’t deserve this.

How should I approach this situation? Generally after an argument I avoid him and pretend nothing ever happened. (I know, I know.) He does the same, though sometimes he will faux-apologize if it was really bad (he’s sorry but it was my fault) and I apologize back (and agree that it was my fault). This time feels a little different, for obvious reasons. As angry and upset as I am about it, I kind of understand his reaction. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m very much my father’s kid and we are similar in a lot of ways (though I like to think of myself as someone who is aware of their faults and works to be a better person. Oh, and I’ve never hit someone because I couldn’t control my temper. That too). I’m hardly the blameless victim here. But I really don’t think I can deal with another vaguely accusatory fake apology. Maybe if I apologize first it will offset that.

What do you think?

Resentful and Conflicted

Dear Resentful and Conflicted:

Here’s what happened:  Your dad just escalated from verbal, emotional abuse to physical abuse.

I’m going to repeat your words back to you:

There’s nothing my dad likes more than angrily lecturing someone about what he thinks they’ve done wrong.” 

“Lately these arguments have actually been happening less frequently because I’m getting better at knowing when to walk away, but everything just happened so fast this time.”

In hindsight: It was not the best response.” 

“Honestly, in the moment it happened I was almost relieved. Well, you know, under the shock. Like, FINALLY.”

“Generally after an argument I avoid him and pretend nothing ever happened. (I know, I know.) He does the same, though sometimes he will faux-apologize if it was really bad (he’s sorry but it was my fault) and I apologize back (and agree that it was my fault).”

“I’m hardly the blameless victim here.” “I feel like the disruptive force in my family.”

This is all pretty much from the Abusive Situation Textbook. Your entire family walks on eggshells around your dad, hoping that he won’t be in one of his “moods” or that no one will say anything to set him off. Whether he’s yelling at one of your sisters or at you, the effect is the same: You all die a little bit inside, because that’s what happens when someone constantly lectures and yells at the other people in the house. Abusers don’t necessarily wake up in the morning and say “I want to destroy my family’s sense of safety and worth.” They see themselves as beleaguered heroes. “Things would be fine if you would just do everything I tell you to do and completely anticipate my moods. You know how I get when you’re like that.” Abusers are also experts in manipulating people and provoking people into yelling at them, which creates the situation that makes them feel justified in using force and creates a false sense of “Well, nobody’s blameless here, it’s both of our faults.”

You can love someone who is abusive, who engages in abusive behaviors. You can really and truly love them. You can search their behavior and yours for proof of how you handled it badly and how it is really a little bit your fault, and “take responsibility” and “apologize” but it doesn’t change what is happening. The part where you don’t want to apologize but feel like you have to in order to keep a roof over your head and stay in school? That’s part of the cycle, right on schedule.

Here’s what is going to happen if you and your dad apologize to each other right this second and you move back in (I am magic and I can predict the future):

Things will be good for a little while. There will be some kind of emotional catharsis and you’ll hug and cry and he’ll promise not to do it again. He’ll be a changed man! This was a wakeup call, you see!

Until one of you, any of you, makes a tiny “mistake.”  He doesn’t want to yell at you, you all just make him by being so (stupid/irresponsible/selfish/loud/mouthy/talking back).

Because…notice how important it is that he apologize to you?  Not questions about “Where are you, are you safe, are you ok?” It’s “Please let me apologize to you (so I can feel better about what I did and we can make it all go away.” Your dad is guilty of assault and battery. He should be asking…do you have any injuries? He should be saying, “Do whatever you need to do to feel safe. I do want to apologize to you, but don’t worry about me right now.”

Listen, I’m glad you reached out to someone, and I’m glad you trust me and this community enough to tell us this story, but I am not a trained domestic violence counselor or social worker and I am feeling very inadequate right now. What I know about is stories. I can read the story of your family and identify the pattern. But I can’t tell you what you should do or help you take the steps to make yourself safe. You’re going to need to call one or more domestic violence numbers, counselors, and/or social workers and talk to the pros. Since these kinds of situations are depressingly common, fortunately there are a lot of pros and they will have dealt with all of this before and know exactly what to tell you.

I don’t know where in the world you are located, but here are some of the big hotlines. I’m pulling from this site, which is talking more about intimate partner violence, but most of the behaviors and definitions are spot on for you, so don’t let that put you off. Call one of the numbers, tell the person what happened, and ask them to direct you to local resources.

Resources specifically for men:

I think you should also talk to your college or university counseling office ASAP. Even if the semester hasn’t officially started, make the phone call. You need a trained professional on Team You right now.

I think your mom is very, very smart to encourage you to rent a room “for a while.” She knows your dad better than you do, and if she’s saying this?  BELIEVE HER. I love her right now the most for not pressuring you to come back and make things right with your dad. This is a fucking heroic effort on her part, because she is getting the full performance from him. Believe her.

In the short term stay with friends or other family members. Down the road renting a room can be something you ask your dad directly for, as in, “Dad, you really scared me that night, and while I know you feel bad about it, I don’t feel safe or like I can live in the house right now. Can you help me cover the cost of a room this semester? And over time, we can both go to counseling and try to heal what happened that day?

But that’s like, step 27 or something. The first step is you, somewhere you immediately feel safe, with some local pros in your corner, and not worried about whether you have to apologize to someone who grabbed your face and held it while he slapped you.

This is unfair. And horrible. And scary. And so, so fucking lonely. There are a lot of changes coming your way, and not all of them will be good changes, especially at first.  I’m hoping you can ride it out and meet Future You in that small quiet room.

So much love for you,

Captain Awkward

152 thoughts on “Question #169: My dad hit me.

  1. Okay, so some commenters here will (hopefully!) be able to step in with great advice about getting out and staying out so you can be physically safe. That is the ideal situation, and it is priority number one, if it can be managed. I am going to offer my experience of how things worked for me when I couldn’t get out. That’s an uglier, non-ideal situation, but… it might happen. And, in my experience, it helps to have a plan for it, so it feels less like things are just happening to you, and more like you’ve got a strategy with an end goal of safety.

    I lived in an abusive situation that never *quite* escalated to hitting, but came frighteningly close often. Like, hand raised over my head close. For parts of this relationship, I actually couldn’t leave — no friends, no family, no money, no savings, or a very legitimate fear of what he would do if I left. For parts of this relationship, I *could* leave, but I was all scared and broken now and thought that I couldn’t.

    The part where you talked about the relief, oh my god, I get that. The first time my abuser got close to hitting me, was announcing that he would if I said one more word, had me backed into a wall and his hand raised over my head, I got this little twinge of excitement. I thought, if he hits me, I can leave him and nobody will blame me. If he hits me, everybody will see how out of control he is. If he hits me, everybody will know it’s not my fault. But then this little other part of me said, if he hits you, he will find a way to make it your fault, and now you’ll be scared of him and you’ll agree, and next time this fight won’t end with his hand above your head — it’ll always end with him beating you, because he’ll know he can.

    So, in a split-second, I decided how I wanted these fights to end from now on. I swallowed all my pride, all of it, and apologized, and made nice, and when we had the honeymoon period, I went all-in for it. I felt sick doing that — I knew I was lying, I wasn’t sorry, this wasn’t my fault, he was sick and dangerous — but for the time being, those were things I had to know internally. Letting him know that I knew these things was dangerous to me.

    I wanted very much to find some way things could be my fault. First of all, if things were my fault, I could apologize while looking like I meant it, which would de-escalate. Second of all, if things were my fault, I could talk to people about it. I was too ashamed to describe the fights me and my husband were having as they were — they didn’t make sense and they were crazy and scary. But if I could change the narrative to “he said some things, I said some things,” then it sounded more normal. And third of all, if things were my fault, I could go on living with him and the things he did. If this wasn’t my fault, and I didn’t deserve it, then I would have to leave, because I was living with a dangerous person — and I wasn’t able to do that. If he was dangerous, I had to leave. I couldn’t leave, so he had to not be dangerous.

    I also tried to disrupt what was an obvious observation — that this was calculated, strategic abuse. “We had a fight, we’re a volatile couple, we both have tempers” is more normal and less frightening than “he is deliberately attempting to terrify and injure me.” Only when I was prepared to leave could I put together all the pieces and allow myself to see that this was a pattern, an intentional pattern. I make some gain of independence, he threatens to hit me. I feel good about myself one day, he threatens to hit me. I am having a quiet moment relaxing, he threatens to hit me. I do anything that might lead to my leaving and not being afraid of him, he grabs me, physically keeps me from leaving, and makes me afraid of him.

    But those two things — finding some way I could make it my fault, not allowing myself to recognize a calculated pattern in his behavior — were how I survived when I couldn’t leave him. It would have been much more dangerous for me if he could see in my face that I disdained him, that I wasn’t sorry, that I was onto his game. If I performed the requisite “I’m sorry” dance in a half-hearted, sarcastic way, he would know I might leave him and stop being afraid of him. And he would hurt me more. So I had to do it like I believed it, to keep myself safe until I could leave.

    All that twisting around of the truth had a cost. I stopped trusting my own perception, I stopped believing I could ever be safe, I no longer felt I had a right to “small” things, like not being called a fat ugly bitch. Those were pretty terrible costs, and those were the things that kept me with him once I *could* leave, and things that made living a non-abusive life in a non-abusive world much harder for a long time. BUT those were also the things that kept me alive when I COULDN’T leave him. Part of my recovery afterwards was learning not to hate myself, or feel ashamed, for the compromises I’d had to make to survive. I wanted to believe that a smarter, stronger person would have been all, “No, you can’t hit me, I am leaving forever, NO FEAR HA HA!”, but I finally learned to believe that a smart, strong person would find a way to survive no matter what. I learned to survive by giving in to the view of the world he had — that I provoked him, that it was my fault, that if only I were better this would stop — and believing those things for a while kept me safer than I would have been if I didn’t believe them.

    So, if you CAN’T get out, what I want to tell you is that your brain is obviously good and strong and working. All the heartbreaking things the Captain picked out of your letter — those are the things your brain has smartly come up with to help you stay sane and survive in an insane place betting against your survival. They are not ideal — ideal is this never happening, ideal is you getting out — but if this is going to happen and if you can’t get out, then the next step is to figure out how to stay as safe as possible, physically and mentally. And you’re obviously savvy enough to have figured out some ways to do that. That’s a strength you have, not a confusion or a weakness or a badness. STRENGTH.

    Here is what I wish I had done, and the advice I’m going to give you: I wish I had took some time periodically to remind myself that these beliefs, that it was my fault and this is not a terrifying pattern of abuse, were only temporary beliefs. Things I was pretending to accept until I could leave. Because I forgot that’s what they were eventually. They became real and true instead of strategies with an end goal of something else. I stopped having a small, secret part of me that was going to leave him someday, that didn’t believe his shit, and started being exactly the person I pretended to be for him.

    I read that Elizabeth Smart tried to find a way to do this — her captors made her write in a journal about how wonderful they were, and in French underneath this, she would write that she hated them and hated what they’d done. Things like that are desperately important. If you can’t get out, and you have to stay safe, say whatever you need to say, do whatever you need to do, believe whatever you need to believe, but at the end of the day, allow yourself a moment to say, “This is his fault. I don’t deserve this. He is wrong. I will get out someday.” Near the end of leaving him, I did find some ways to do this. I saved and printed out chat logs we had, and when you put them all in a pile together, it was obvious how calculated his pattern was. Each individual “argument” felt like my fault, like I’d provoked him, but when I read them all at once, I could see how untrue that was, how he went into every conversation looking for some way to put me down. I held onto those whenever I started to slip into thinking, “If only I were nicer…”

    I’m also going to recommend two books (though I don’t recommend letting your father see them). Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft — this is about abusive partners instead of parents, but it’s still really helpful for just seeing *patterns* in what you wanted to think was totally somehow explainable, rational behavior. The second one is The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout. I actually found this one kind of boring and not necessarily the greatest book around, but there’s one story in there that really reminds me of you. Stout talks about seeing a client, a young woman whose father was in jail for brutally murdering an intruder. She was trying to reconcile how he could have been so violent, because he was and always had been a wonderful dad. The more Stout dug, though, the more the young girl would reveal small details. He’s always been such a wonderful dad — he pushed us to be our best by screaming and screaming at us until we cried if we ever made a mistake. He’s always been a wonderful husband — he brings my moms flowers and takes her out on the town, usually after he’s disappeared for a week or so. He’s always been so proud of us — he threatens to beat us if we ever act uncouth in public. She’d found a way to apply all the things you want to believe about your father to a frighteningly abusive man, because it was easier to live with a great but hard dad than a frightening abuser. Once that was stripped away, it was no longer nonsensical that her father had murdered a man. It clicked, it made sense, it was obvious that he would escalate to that someday. That was something I was hearing in your letter — he’s so wonderful and he loves me even though we fight but when he hit me I was relieved that I finally get to fight back. People don’t feel relieved when somebody who loves them hits them. Love only feels that way when it’s abusive — non-abusive love doesn’t include relief at being beaten.

    This isn’t your fault. You don’t deserve this. Stay safe, and do whatever you need to do to survive.

    1. 1000 thank yous for this story. I am so, so glad that you are out of that marriage, and so, so glad that you can write so clearly and beautifully about the things you did to keep yourself safe until you could.

      I especially love this, even though it is so, so sad:

      “That was something I was hearing in your letter — he’s so wonderful and he loves me even though we fight but when he hit me I was relieved that I finally get to fight back. People don’t feel relieved when somebody who loves them hits them. Love only feels that way when it’s abusive — non-abusive love doesn’t include relief at being beaten.”

      This kind of response is what I was hoping for. It’s easy for us to say “Definitely leave!” because that’s automatically what you’re supposed to do, right? But if you can’t leave yet (because you’re financially dependent, for instance), that can be a way of saying “If you don’t leave, everything that happens to you from now on is partly your fault. You’re being a bad victim if you don’t leave and signing up for what’s happening to you.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think the LW should get out of the house. (Listen to your mother, LW. Listen to her!) Student loans debt is terrifying, but taking on loans to finish a college education and protect your own safety is probably a good trade, if that’s the kind of tradeoff we’re talking here. The college Student Affairs and counseling center may be able to come to the rescue to a point, as maybe can other family members. But bureaucracies can be slow and that exit might be a gradual or delayed one, so being able to put your head down and say “This is a temporary choice I am making for my own survival, and not a sign that I’m buying into the f’d up way my family works” can help.

      1. I guess I skipped over the whole “advice for getting out” part because those logistics can be so personal and complicated, and to be honest, I almost don’t even know how I did it. I mean, I do know — I got a job and found a cheap apartment — but in some ways that feels like some miracle of luck instead of work. What really happened was, I made the decision to leave, finally, and then all the obstacles just sort of fell away. Not that there weren’t still obstacles, but they were suddenly inconsequential. I could have gotten a job and a cheap apartment at any time, but I wasn’t ready to leave, and so every obstacle was enormous and insurmountable. At one point, I was literally telling myself I couldn’t leave because who would get the blender? That seemed reasonable somehow. It was only reasonable because I’d started with a conclusion — I can’t leave — and worked backwards to gather up all the proof. Once I started with the conclusion that I can leave and I’m going to leave, the blender was this odious piece of junk tied to my ankle, dragging me down into an ocean of my horrible husband. Everything was, even the important things, like my bank account, mementos from my mother, my clothes, my birth certificate. All those things I can get back, or remake. I can’t get back the years I spent afraid of him.

        But I guess I do have advice for getting out, and that’s to do it. Hell or high water, do it. There are a lot of things that might suck about it. Student loans, super not great. Shitty apartment? Sucks. Working a job and going to school? Tiring, exhausting. Eating ramen out of the one tupperware you have? Depressing. But you know what all those things aren’t? They aren’t feeling relief that somebody you love is finally beating you.

      2. Bureaucracies can indeed be slow, but some universities offer “emergency loans” to students who are in crisis–it’s worth calling to see if you can get even a couple hundred bucks toward a place to stay. Also, if you have local friends, ask them if you can stay for a while, even if you don’t want to explain the exact circumstances–college students who don’t live at home are, as a rule, used to couchsurfing, so don’t be afraid to ask. Those are my tiny tiny suggestions from living in academia way too long.

        I’m incredibly moved by the commenters sharing their stories of survival. Bless you all.

        1. I know someone who put herself through college with basically no resources, and she was able to avail herself of some little-known university services. For example, when she let her adviser know that she had no place to go during Christmas break, they arranged to let her stay in a campus guest house. So I hope the LW will ask around at school.

          My first marriage was a situation very similar to Marie’s. You work very hard to create a reality that says “this is the form love takes,” and it’s so exhausting, that work. It doesn’t leave you room for much else other than the creeping, uncertain-tummy feeling of Not Safe. For me that sense of relief when things got too bad to hide anymore was mostly a letting go of the “reality” I had built.

          Oh, he would apologize. He would go on and on about what a terrible person he was, all the wrong he had done, how untrustworthy he was, how broken he was … and never ONCE did he say “I’m sorry I hurt YOU.” To me, that’s a big danger sign. If your dad is not concerned about your safety, in my opinion you’re NOT SAFE. So I hope you will trust your brave mama and find a new space.

          I wish you a safe place to land, LW.

        2. Seconding the staying with friends. Some people don’t like asking for this because they feel like they’re imposing, but seriously, I’m sure those close to you would be grateful for the chance to help you out how they can.

          (And if you don’t want to go into the details with them, as stated above, you don’t have to. College students are about the #1 demographic likely to take the, “Yeah, my dad’s an asshole, I need to get away from him for a while,” line at face value.)

    2. Oh man. Can I just say I’ve so been there on the “Well if this gets physical then it’s obviously abusive.” thing? Luckily I was able to realize the effed-upness before it got to that level, but not until after years of eggshell walking.

  2. This is hard for me to write about, but about a year ago, I helped a friend escape from an abusive relationship. And LW, she sounded a lot like you — she said things like:

    “I’m hardly the blameless victim here.” “I feel like the disruptive force in my family.” “In hindsight, it wasn’t the best response.”

    This was one of the smartest, savviest people I knew, but she seemed to be occupying a different reality than me. And that’s what I learned about abusers — they have the ability to create a false reality and drag their victims into it. My friend’s abuser created this reality of her as a “bad wife” who “made trouble” with his family, just like your father has created this reality where you are a “difficult person.”

    But here’s the thing — by being emotionally and physically abusive to you, your father has broken the social contract of normal human conflict. Remember that when you feel tempted to apologize for “starting a fight.” People in non-abusive family situations have door-slamming scream-fests, too, but like the Captain said, you’re walking on eggshells all the time. You’re taking blame to avoid conflict. And despite making efforts to not trigger your father’s temper, he still escalated what should have been a normal argument into physical harm.

    So do all the excellent things the Captain told you, and anytime you feel like apologizing just to “smooth things over,” remember that your father is the one who crossed the lines of normal human conflict, and that broke your relationship with him. It’s his place to do the work and not just apologize to you, but learn how to handle conflict in a non-abusive way, if that is even a possibility for him.

    Be safe. We’re rooting for you.

    1. “I’m hardly the blameless victim here.” “I feel like the disruptive force in my family.” “In hindsight, it wasn’t the best response.”

      Seriously oh lord yes, I have this acquaintance too. She’s keeping her chin up and all but oh man. She’s not out of the apartment yet.

      LW I want to send you all the strength I have left over.

  3. CA gave almost exactly the advice I would give.

    I had a mom who hit me, and I tried fighting back, I tried giving in, I tried reasoning with her, I tried going to counseling, I tried going to our rabbi with her, I tried getting backup from my dad and my friends, and more than anything (and in some ways permanently wounding) I tried being so accommodating and inoffensive she would never need to be angry.

    The only thing that worked was getting away. Physically away and behind a door she had no key to. Other things sometimes helped for a little while, but that was the only permanent solution. Everything else involved some level of trust in her choices, and she’d already proven that she wasn’t so good at making choices. When I moved out, she did not have the option to abuse me.

    But the funny thing, and the one I really want to share with the LW, is that this actually improved our relationship emotionally. (This doesn’t always work. Sometimes you do just need to cut someone the hell off.) Once I’d moved out–and demonstrated to her that I had corresponding skills in hanging up phones and deleting emails–she had some kind of revelation that she wanted a continuing relationship with me badly enough that she was willing to sacrifice the fun of abusing me. She had the choice “treat your daughter like a person or have no daughter,” and she chose the former.

    Well, mostly. Shit did not turn magically perfect. There’s still the occasional phone call I have to hang up on abruptly. But as long as I maintain a low bullshit threshold and the power to enforce it, the worst that happens is a few mean words and then a conversation ends. She can’t yell or rant at me, she can’t tell me what to do, she can’t keep me from my friends, and she sure as hell can never, ever hit me again. And you know what? In some ways, I think that’s almost a relief to her. We actually talk to each other civilly a lot more now than we did when we lived together.

    My point is that it’s not always a binary between cutting someone out of your life and accepting their abuse. You have to be willing to cut them off–some people do choose “if I can’t abuse you, I don’t want you,” –but you may not have to. Sometimes saying “we can talk, as long as you’re on your best behavior and understand I really will close this door if you’re not” is what saves a family relationship.

    But all this only works if you have a door to close. In the meantime, I wish you good luck and safety, LW.

    1. Thanks for this, the letter came in sometime late last night and I was really worried about getting it wrong or missing things but really wanted to answer it RIGHT NOW.

    2. Holly, this was my experience as well. From what I can glean, LW is laboring under the belief that it’s better to get through college without debt than it is to get away from the abusive home. Either way he does this, it’s going to be a shitty personal compromise. But one way he comes out in debt but with his emotional safety, and the other way… who knows what the outcome is? I could be wrong, but this is what I’m reading.

      This is a compromise I had to make. I could have lived with my parents through college and had most of my living expenses paid for, but the personal cost of remaining under my parents’ thumb was too high. I had to make the choice between massive debt and my emotional well-being, so I took out huge unsubsidized loans so I could pay my own tuition, housing, and car insurance.

      I won’t lie, it sucks to be this deep in debt today especially for an in-state undergrad degree, but this choice gave me the emotional space necessary in order to remove myself, heal myself, and eventually figure out a way to have a relationship with my family. It still took a lot of therapy and several years of fighting and blow-ups and figuring shit out. But today we have a relationship that includes spending time together on holidays, sending nice and funny emails sometimes, and occasionally even hanging out just for fun, but this relationship includes BOUNDARIES, including the “if you fuck with me the way you did when I was a kid I will turn on my heel and leave because me and my time are worth respect in XYZ ways” boundary. Like Holly says, you’ve got to have a door to close behind you. Without being able to draw that line in the sand, this system remains a game of disrespect and toothless apologies and implicating yourself as a perpetrator of your own abuse.

  4. Oh, and one more thing. If you’re anything like me, you’re looking at those links the Captain provided you with and being like, “But aren’t those for people who are really abused? I mean, really really abused? It’s not that bad.”

    I am your ghost of non-abusive Christmas future, and I’m telling you that you will regret not calling. Right now, you have a family that has grown very used to your dad, like a tree that grows around a bench or a building. Their standard of normal, acceptable, safe, okay, happy, love, etc., is lowered by having an abnormal, unacceptable, unsafe, fucked-up, unhappy, hateful person in the house. You need an outside perspective from people whose standard of safety is higher than you’ve ever been allowed to put it. And it’s even better if that perspective can come from somebody who understands the dynamics of abuse. This shit can get so brain-twisting and crazymaking, and people who have never experienced it may not be able to get past, “But why don’t you just leave? Or call the cops?”

    I felt all alone when I was trying to leave my abuser. Nobody I knew understood how much danger I was in, how scary he was, how broken and beaten I’d become. I felt like I was jumping from one miserable place to another — my abuser, or a world full of people scrunching up their faces and saying things like, “Why did you let him?” I had lost all concept of happiness. I didn’t know what it felt like, so I couldn’t imagine a better world. And I didn’t even *know* that was how I was feeling — this is all in retrospect. At the time, I just felt like I did every day, and I had long since forgotten that the way I felt every day was exhausted, miserable, on edge, unable to see past the next moment. Nothing seemed abnormal or out of place, so nothing seemed “extreme” enough to warrant calling a domestic violence hotline. Only now that I have a standard of safety that is higher than “I’m at work so he can’t get to me here” can I see how I was in a decade-long crisis, instead of a decade-long relationship, like I thought it was.

    I wish so much I had called a domestic violence hotline, so I could have talked to somebody who wouldn’t have judged me, would have been kind to me, would have been able to tell me that things would get better. Just that kindness would have been so rejuvenating — I had gotten so used to having none, my bucket was so empty, and I didn’t even realize it. I’d forgotten I had a bucket that ever needed to be filled. And then, I think, I wouldn’t have been afraid to call them when I really *did* need a shelter — I stayed a week with my abuser when he knew I was leaving him, and that was a really life-threatening situation, but I was too… afraid? ashamed? something… to call a DV shelter. If I had spoken to one before, I would’ve known I could call them, that it would be okay, that they would help me. But I hadn’t, and I was afraid they would laugh at me, tell me I wasn’t really abused, that I was a whiner or a liar and I had to stay with him and apologize.

    Don’t let your strength delude you. You may tell yourself that you’re okay, you’re not being hurt, but you may have been hurt so much that you don’t recognize it as pain anymore. I never called because I was fine, it wasn’t that bad, I can take this. I now look back on those days in absolute terror for myself — I was in so much pain, and so much danger, but at that time in my life, shit, that was just another day. Nothing out of the ordinary. So no reason to call — DV hotlines are for people in trouble, not people coping as wonderfully as I am. If I can get up and walk without collapsing, and go to work, and eat food, and sleep mostly, I am doing wonderfully! Protip: if you find yourself in a bathroom stall having a panic attack because it’s time to go home, and are telling yourself that this is good, you’re doing good, you’re coping, you’re doing great, keeping it together, you need to call one of those numbers.

    1. If nothing else, take a lesson from horror movies:

      When creepy shit starts happening, the people who die are the ones who pretend it is not happening and who try to explain the creepy shit away and also the ones who try to convince others that they are crazy for believing in the creepy shit. The people who survive are usually the first ones to say “Hey, creepy shit, I’m not sure I entirely believe in you, but for right now I am going to take you seriously and act like you are real

      This was the house saying “Get ouuuuuuuuut” in a creepy voice and leaving all your cabinet doors open when you know you shut them.

      1. Oh man, it really does feel that ridiculous when you look back on it. You watch one of those horror movies, and the sinister voice says, “LEAVE NOW” and the characters are like “What was that? I’m sure it was the cat. Everything’s cool,” and you’re like HOW CAN YOU BE SO STUPID the house actually told you IN WORDS that it didn’t like you and you’re all me and this house, BFF.

        And then you remember your ex-husband who was like, “You’re fat and ugly and I hate you” and you were like “Even though he hates me and told me so, that is just how he shows love. I should live here forever, we are so happy,” and now you can’t make fun of bad movies without thinking about serious social issues.

        Of course in this particular horror movie, the cabinets open and shut and the sinister voice says “LEAVE NOW MORTAL” and you’re like, sure, okay, I’m out of here, and then blood comes out of the windows and the house says “WAIT I WAS HAVING A BAD DAY” and you walk back in the house and it says “BECAUSE YOU’RE UGLY” and bees come out of the ceiling, and you leave again and the house is like “NOOOOOO WAS IT THE BEES? I FILLED THE BATHTUB WITH FLOWERS” and you get in the bathtub and the house is like “FLOWERS MADE OF DESPAIR HA HA HA.” Abusive relationships: they are this dumb (in retrospect).

        I don’t think there is a language that expresses “I don’t like you” more clearly than the one abusers all seem to share, and yet, when it hits our ears, that “I don’t like you” somehow turns into “I can’t leave or they would be sad.” Even though they can’t seem to stand you, and have told you so, repeatedly. Because maybe we did something to make them not like us? And that somehow means we’re obligated to hang out with somebody who doesn’t like us? Until they like us again? Even though they seem to hate every fundamental part of our personality? And yet they don’t want us to leave, even though they hate us fundamentally? Because that makes sense, right, all the time I am hanging out with people that I hate, and feeling sad if they are not around to annoy me. No. The house wants you to leave. It is full of bees. If it didn’t want you to leave, it wouldn’t be full of bees. It would be full of you.

        1. House of bees made me snarf coffee out my nose.


        2. This is the best comment… ever. EVER.

          Not only is it sincere and entirely true, but it is *hilarious*.

        3. Holy crap, Marie. You are amazing. If you don’t blog somewhere about this you should start, because you are making me laugh and making me cry, and just being awesome all over the place. Seriously– You have a fantastic voice and something important to say! Wow!

        4. Ba ha ha! I wouldn’t have thought it was possible for an insightful comment about abuse to be that funny…

        5. You have been awesome all over this thread and you should be proud of how awesome you are.

        6. this is possibly the funniest, most insightful comment on interpersonal relationships in the history of the internet.

        7. Yes, I agree, that’s true, 100%.

          But abusers don’t pick people who hear “GET OUT MORTAL!” and then say “You know what? When a flippin’ house develops the powers of speech and movement, it’s time to remember whose in which weight class, and let discretion be the better part of valor.”

          Abusers pick the people who say “GET OUT MORTAL!” and think “yes, everyone tells me to get out. Everyone. I’m sure that quiet guy who looks at me in a concerned manner, he’d tell me to get out. I’m sure that nice gal who always asks how I’m doing and sounds almost like she cares about the answer – she’d tell me to get out too. But while the house is telling me to get out, it’s not actually throwing me out, and that means maybe I have a home, and I’m so used to being told to get out that I guess I can handle it. Because it’s not like I’ve been attacked by a large swarm of bees (which later earns the addendum “when I didn’t deserve it at least”). ”

          And it’s a sign of how messed up the world is that there are so many people so used to talking residences and bleeding windows and who can excuse the occasional drop into an endless pit that sure wasn’t there yesterday that they can just walk into that house and think “but maybe… because I need a home so badly, I’m so *tired* of being homeless, and won’t any home find me a distasteful resident?”

    2. YES. I regret not calling. I regret the things I said to the friends who correctly assessed the situation and tried to offer help.

  5. Not an expert here, but I have been involved in a similar situation. In fact, it sounds like something I would have written about 6 months ago.

    It took me quite some time to realise this with my own situation, however, here it is – nothing you can say or do will change his behaviours while you are living under his roof. He has all the bargaining chips and will use that to manipulate you. It’s all very well and good saying ‘sorry’, however if there are no actions behind those words things are not going to improve at all.

    Don’t go back. It gets better, I promise. You may have to take a semester off or study part time, but it is better than having to answer to a unpredictable and demanding person who cannot understand that they are abusive.

    I can’t guarantee your situation will have a happy ending if you leave, but failing divine intervention and years of therapy you will continue living there loathing yourself and your family.

    Couchsurf with friends for a little while, while you figure out your next move. Talk to the domestic violence helpline and try to follow whatever advice they can give you. Not sure if it was just me finding this hard or if it’s a universal thing, but learn to accept help from others. Whatever you do, don’t stay there – staying there indicates to him everything is okay and that his behaviour is acceptable.

    For those desperately curious as to what inspired me to write this, I left my parents house about six months ago after an argument with my sister escalated into my parents and my sister taking turns hitting me. While I can’t say I’m completely blameless, I realised that I was the only person in the household working on my issues and nobody else was taking responsibility for their actions. I can’t control how they behave, but I can control my own response.
    So I left.
    There isn’t really any happy ending to this one, I’m afraid. My parents are still convinced that I’m the one in the wrong and that I’ll come back one day begging to be forgiven. While we do speak, it’s pretty obvious to me that I will never have anything more than a superficial relationship with them and that I must maintain ironclad boundaries to protect myself. There really isn’t much more you can do when they don’t acknowledge their behaviour is a part of the problem.

    1. “I can’t guarantee your situation will have a happy ending if you leave…”

      In my mind, I ended up autocompleting this as “but I can guarantee you won’t have a happy ending if you stay.”

      Which I think is what most of us are saying here. In any case, I am for sure saying it. You know how this ends when you try to work with your dad — it has always ended the same way. It will always end the same way, because this is really working for him. Things are just how he likes them — he gets to blow up whenever he wants, and then somebody makes him feel good about it, so he can do it again. He doesn’t care if this works for you. He doesn’t care at all how this feels for you. If he cared, he wouldn’t do it.

      If you want a conclusion that isn’t your dad getting to beat you and feel okay about it after a week or so of listening to you apologize for being beaten, you have to do something different, because he won’t as long as this works. That conclusion may not be the super happiest fun time (student loans, couch surfing, etc.), but it at least it won’t be you apologizing for being beaten.

    2. I’m pretty sure there is nothing you could have done justifying that they beat you! Glad you are out of there. Sorry that you didn’t have a family one would like to stay with.

    3. ‘….While I can’t say I’m completely blameless….’
      I just wanted to comment that even here it looks like there is some difficulty being unapologetic about not accepting abuse. Your parents and your sibling TOOK TURNS HITTING YOU! You do not have to be blameless!!!

      1. Seriously. We expect PRESCHOOLERS to be able to master the critical skill known as “we don’t hit people even if they make us mad.” If grown-ass adults can’t manage it, that’s all on them.

        1. What they said. Losing control is a poor excuse for hitting somebody. But ganging up on somebody and taking turns beating them can’t even pretend to be “losing control.” It’s very good that you got out.

  6. call the police. Your father is an abuser and he belongs in prison. You may love him, but that doesn’t make the years of emotional abuse coupled with this incident any less illegal and wrong. He needs help. Help none of you can give him. You, your mother, and your sister need to go to therapy to recover from the years of abuse. You never did anything wrong. He has done everything in his power to convince you that you have, but you haven’t. Do the right thing. Call the cops.

    1. I am going to take some issue with this:

      “Do the right thing.”

      This is not the right thing for everybody. I’m bringing it up because this is something abuse survivors hear a lot — not just that calling the police is a thing they could do, but a thing they should do and must do and they are wrong and bad if they don’t do. It’s also something that’s sometimes used to negate the abuse — I have been told that it couldn’t have been abused, because I didn’t call the police. That may not be how you meant it, but I did want to let you know that this is something that happens a lot to abuse survivors, and it is not helpful for them. Telling an abuse survivor some things they can do is great — telling them what they should do makes the non-abuse world look a lot like the abusive one they’re already in (i.e. a world where other people define what you should and shouldn’t be doing, and the reasons why you should and shouldn’t be doing it), and provides little reason to leave your abuser.

      There are a lot of reasons why somebody might not want to call the police. I can go into them if you don’t know of any. But I’ll provide my own experience.

      I didn’t call the police because (TRIGGER WARNING) my husband never beat me, and while he did rape me, I could just imagine how fun it would be to try to convince the cops in my district, who are notoriously bad with rape, that marital rape is a real thing, even if it happened without leaving bruises, or without me fighting tooth and nail. I might need to go to the police for him again, and I didn’t want to be known to the police as the woman who lied about rape, and is now lying about her husband stalking her. I was also afraid he would try to charge me with something in retaliation, and they would believe him, because he was so calm and collected and I looked like I was losing my mind.

      So, calling the police may be an option for the LW, one of many options. But it’s not necessarily the “right thing.” The LW is the only person who has the authority to decide what the right thing is. I know it’s really tempting to try to drag an abusive person out of a bad situation however you can, using whatever rhetoric you can, but having somebody tell you what the “right thing” is when that’s not something you can do just makes you feel more hopeless.

      Abusers also tell their victims what is the right thing they should be doing to end the abuse, and victims have to overcome a lot of internal knowledge (“I know this isn’t right, I know this will hurt me more”) to believe them. It’s easy for somebody well-meaning to look exactly like the abuser in this regard, which causes victims to recede further away, or continue to believe that the whole world is abusive, so why leave the familiar abuser?

      1. ALL OF THIS. And Marie, I want to thank you so much for sharing your story. You are amazing and strong and compassionate.

          1. LW, if you do nothing else, read everything, I mean EVERYTHING that Marie has written on here, and then read this one little statement. Anyone that can go through abuse and come out the other side making a statement like this has to know their shit and is living proof that there is an ‘other side’ to get to.

          2. @Ace, @LW

            For real, you can end up awesome. In fact, you probably already are, it’s just, who would know? You are buried under a metric ton of your dad’s bullshit. If you allow yourself the littlest bit of self-esteem for just a sec, though, I bet you can come up with a million billion really clever, intelligent, tough, incredible ways you’ve dodged danger, manipulated a situation to be less dangerous, intuitively taken stock of a situation, helped out behind the scenes, etc.

            IMAGINE — someday you could use all those incredible skills for things that push your life forward, instead of fending off a screaming asshole. Like, I used to be terrified of confrontation. Even the tiniest littlest bit of it. Of course I was! For me, confrontation meant abuse, so I had this image of myself as a person who was timid and weak and non-confrontational. I carried that image of myself out to non-abuse world, too.

            Then one day I realized “do you know what, I lived with an abuser for a decade and told him I wanted a divorce when I was halfway sure he would kill me, I THINK I CAN TELL MY BOSS I DON’T WANT THIS DATA ENTRY PROJECT.” It was like a revelation. And now I’m like, BRING IT, all the confrontation, I am ON IT, none of it is scary or bad, I KNOW scary or bad, and grumpy boss ain’t it. And everybody is always, “Jeez, Marie, you’re never scared to speak your mind, I wish I was like that” And it’s hilarious to me, because I know I used to be terrified of that, but that wasn’t who I was, at heart. That’s who I was when I lived with an abuser. Who I am when I live with nice people? I am somebody who speaks my mind well and has interesting stuff to say. Who knew? I sure as fuck didn’t.

            The me who survives abuse is a pretty incredible me, but the parts of me that I got to know when I was away from abuse were also pretty incredible, and always surprising. I had this whole idea of who I was that was just who I was when I was in survival mode — there’s a whole lot more to me than that, turns out. There are some pretty awesome parts of you that I bet you’re thinking are deficiencies right now — like your willingness to stand up to an abuser even though he scares you, which you perceive as a “temper” and I perceive as a stubborn refusal to accept oppression — and once you can apply those parts of your personality to something that isn’t abuse, you’ll probably be pretty impressed to see how cool they are.

          3. Goddamnit, Marie, why do you have to be so awesome?

            LW, let me echo some things Marie just said right now.

            People who read this blog think that I must be naturally good at standing up for myself and enforcing boundaries and knowing when shit is abusive and calling it out and good with the comebacks (well, I am good at that last thing sometimes).

            No. Many times in my life I have stood there or sat there in stunned silence because someone is saying terrible things to me, and then as a next step for good measure I’ve done a searching inventory of myself to figure out exactly how and where I fucked up because no one would just say things like that if I didn’t deserve it? I turned it all on myself and became the one-woman Town Crier of The Village of Jennifer Is Not Good Enough.

            Like, I knew I was smart and had a way with words sometimes, but usually when I was told I was smart it came with a lot of negative comments, like:

            You are way too smart to make such a stupid decision.”

            Or, “You are so smart and such a good writer, why aren’t you (DOING X GREAT ACHIEVEMENT THING?) So and so is doing X, you should be like her.”

            Sometimes my intelligence was something I had to apologize for, like, “You’re smart, yes, but it doesn’t count if you can do it because you’re smart. You just like everything to be easy, and it makes you lazy. Only things that you really have to WORK AT count.” That did a pretty good job of erasing everything I was naturally good at never letting myself be proud of it.

            Once: “I will never understand how such a smart girl could let herself get raped. Are you sure you aren’t making this up?

            I sometimes got yelled at for not standing up for myself better (by the people who taught me not to stand up for myself…around them), like “How can you just put up with behavior like that? You’re not stupid.” There is a special way of saying “You’re not stupid; that means “I think you are stupid.”

            I was really out of touch with feelings. What were they? I didn't have them, I had thoughts where my feelings should be. I decided I would be the "cool, relaxed" person who would always turn the other cheek and never get upset or offended by anything. I would always assume that other people had a point and were right and that I was probably overreacting or misinterpreting what was going on. I think my personal slogan was something like: "Why is everyone making such a big deal?

            I did some stuff, like get older, get a lot of therapy, move really far away, burn a lot of bridges, quit my job, be really poor for a while (like, selling plasma poor), surround myself with only people who are nice to me, got more therapy, did a lot of reading, became a teacher and an artist, got yet more therapy. Somewhere in there, I learned how to stand up for myself. I give a lot of credit to my students for that, actually – I found myself advocating for them to stand up for themselves better and to have creative conflict within collaborative projects and it turned out I was teaching what I most needed to learn. I also give a lot of credit to Brigid Murphy’s Autobiography & Memoir class, where I learned the habit of writing down the truth in its messy, vulnerable whole. 12 prompts. 12 stories. My entire life laid open and bare. Having friends, a teacher, classmates and a therapist listen to stories and all say “That is NOT NORMAL. You know that, right?” and going through the whole dance where “it’s not ABUSE-abuse, that’s just how they are sometimes, we don’t have to use That Word about it, they’ve done a lot for me and love me really” and then coming up out of the dance and seeing the looks on people’s faces – that look of compassion, like, “Oh honey, no” that I give to all of these letters? Yeah. That one. I mean, there is a reason I can write stuff like this like I’ve been there.

            The therapy helped, and practicing setting boundaries in small ways (No, I do not want to collate those binders. No, I don’t want to go on a second date) helped, but what really started me down the road to being ok…more okay…was shutting a door. Leaving in the middle of someone saying terrible things to me, saying “You can’t say those things to me anymore,” shutting a door, and walking away, and knowing that I didn’t have to open that door ever again if I didn’t want to, and if I chose to open it again some things were going to be goddamn different around here. And in time they were. But only, as other posters have said, because I had that door and I shut it.

          4. Marie, you are my Designated Hero of the Day. Rock on, lady!

            Right about the time I left my abuser was when the song “Meet Virginia” by Train was on every radio, everywhere, all the time. Every time I heard it, I was like, “I also can’t wait to meet Virginia! Who the heck will I be?”

            I rebuilt myself – better, stronger, faster (for much less than 6 million dollars).

            That part of it – after I got away – was MAGIC.

          5. Aaaah, I just keep thinking about this and it keeps making me sad so I want to talk about it some more.

            What you did for your sister was, you stood up for somebody who was being bullied. That is not destructive, nor a temper, nor troublemaking, nor the source of all that is bad in the world. That’s a really, really wonderful thing to do. In most of the world.

            Now, IN YOUR HOUSE, it’s a destructive trait, because your house has a bully in it. But in other houses, parents who witness their kids defending others against bullying would be like, “Child! I raised you well, so proud, time for ice cream.” They would not beat their child for it. THAT IS NOT A NORMAL REACTION. That doesn’t happen in other homes (hint: it’s because your dad isn’t in those homes). Think of it this way. What happens if you stand up to a bully in other places in your life? Would you consider it reasonable for the person you told to back off to beat you? Would that shit be your fault? Because you’re so destructive? I’m saying, it’s logical that somebody who is willing to push around others is also willing to escalate to beating others. It’s not logical that somebody who is willing to stand up for people and then gets beaten for it is also the source — via magic? osmosis? the wrong tone of voice? — of violence. There is the logical scenario here where you did a good thing and it pissed your dad off because something’s wrong with him, and the illogical scenario where you did a good thing that was actually somehow evil and it pissed your dad off enough to beat his child because he is a reasonable person who only hits you if you deserve it.

            In your house, good, positive, healthy boundaries and values and beliefs are poison, because they strip your dad of his power to make you all afraid. The fact that everything that is good about you threatens your dad does not mean you are not good. If your dad hated donuts, LW, and went berserk every time there was a donut, donuts would still be delicious. And your dad would still be an asshole.

            (Note on going berserk: one thing I want to point out is the way your dad hit you. He may play this up like some “I lost control” thing. Setting aside the fact that somehow the rest of us manage to get through life without losing control and beating children, the open-hand thing tells me he was in perfect control. He was minimizing the risk of leaving a mark on you, thus minimizing the risk of being caught and prosecuted, since you’re now an adult and beating you is actually assault, instead of a juvenile court matter. He “held you by the neck” instead of choking you — that’s a conscious choice, one that’s about fear and control and not leaving bruises. And he waited for your mom and sister to pull him off — that was to scare *them*. Every time one of you is alone with him now, he wants you to think about how it takes two or three people to pull him off if he decides to hit you. But, you know what? He could’ve stopped whenever he wanted. He just wanted everybody to see what happens if they piss him off. This is a super common thing for abusers. They “lose control” in somehow really convenient ways that minimize their exposure to consequences and maximize the psychological terror of their victims.)

            You are approaching this like a normal, functional person. You want normal, functional things. You want your family to be happy and peaceful. You want there to be justice in the world. You want to be a good person who treats others well. Your dad is setting up a household where those things come into conflict. That’s not normal; other dads aren’t like that. He’s choosing to be like that, because it’s really working out for him. If you want the home to be happy and peaceful, you must let go of justice, let go of other people being treated well. If you want justice, if you want others to be treated well, you must let go of peace and happiness in your home. These things aren’t inherently at odds — they’re only at odds in your house, and they’re only at odds because your dad wants them to be, because it makes everybody cross their internal boundaries and values and feel guilty instead of feeling angry.

            Sticking up for others isn’t destructive. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing about you. It’s not good in your house, because your dad doesn’t want people to stand up to him. It’s destructive in your house, because your dad will try to destroy people who do stand up to him. In most of the rest of the world, sticking up for others would be a positive thing. Your home is so toxic that everything good about you becomes a flaw. The longer you’re there, the more you’re going to think there’s nothing good about you, that your best qualities are somehow the very reasons why you deserve to be beaten.

            I also just want to point out that your dad is the one who beat one of his children, and you are calling yourself the destructive one. Do not carry your dad’s bad qualities for him — that’s his burden. The man who beats his children is destructive.

            Oh, and here’s a thought. If your dad wants to really prove he’s sorry, instead of you having to find a room, your dad should move the fuck out, and pay for the locks to be changed on the house, and he doesn’t get a fucking key. It is not unreasonable whatsoever to ask the person who beats their children — and is an adult with a job — to be the one to leave home, instead of the beaten child who is financially dependent to somehow find a home elsewhere. Now, I’m not seriously suggesting this as an option, because I bet it will never happen, and be a big boundary-crossing “oh I just came back to get my batteries” shenanigan. I’m just offering it as a suggestion to offer to prove to yourself that your father is not interested in peace, in happiness, in fixing things. Because I bet you are already shuddering at the idea of how your dad is going to react to that suggestion.

            The person you’re afraid of is the person who’s destructive. If your mother and your sisters aren’t afraid that you might start screaming at them, or hitting them, then guess what: you’re not the destructive one.

          6. I love this point about your urge to stand up for your sister being a GOOD THING. Seriously LW, this is so true. I’d never call my dad abusive, but we really don’t get along at all (I have many opinions and he takes opposing opinions as personal insults and sometimes shouts at me). After a few months at home after I graduated, I was getting really depressed – “why can’t I just keep my mouth shut? Nobody cares what I think, why can’t I shut up? Why am I so disruptive? Did everyone think this way about me at university too and I just never noticed? Why does being quiet when I disagree make me so sad if it’s making everyone else’s lives easier?” etc etc.

            Eventually I burst into tears in front of my little sister, and she told me exactly what Marie said – being intelligent and observant and thoughtful are GOOD qualities, being willing to stand up for myself is GOOD, challenging my dad when he said something prejudiced was a GOOD thing to do and caring about things enough to bother defending them is an admirable quality. These were bad AT HOME because my dad can’t handle being disagreed with, but home is not the whole world and I wasn’t crazy for believing I shouldn’t be getting shouted at for disagreeing on the artistic merit of ‘Avatar’.

            Sorry, bit of a ramble, but I’m trying to say that I can corroborate Marie’s point that your behaviour was only wrong because your dad is a bully, because I’ve experienced a much milder version myself. If the only place where you seem to be ‘the troublemaker’ or have ‘a temper’ is in the company of this ONE PERSON, odds are it’s not you that’s the troublemaker, it’s them. Was it more likely that every one of my friends and teachers was lying to me about my admirable qualities and my dad is right to shout at me when I defend my point of view, or that the REST OF THE WORLD is right about me and the one person that is my dad is wrong? How about you? Abusive behaviour tricks you into thinking only your abuser sees you for who you truly are, but it IS a trick. If one person at school or work insisted you were terrible and everyone else thought you were fine, you’d never believe the one dissenting person, you’d just think they were an arsehole.

            So… yeah. Don’t believe the arsehole, believe everyone else.

    2. call the police. Your father is an abuser and he belongs in prison.

      Yes, to the first, yes to the second, WHOA NELLY on the third.

      To take these out of order, the father is an abuser. I think we all see that, and it is something that needs to be short circuited, and the LW needs to get the heck out of dodge.

      I agree that LW should go to the police if sie feels comfortable doing so at the very least to document the abuse officially. If there is escalation, there’s a record.

      Does the father belong in prison? That’s a stickier question. I don’t in any way want to minimize the awful things the father has done, but is prison the answer? It’s easy to get black-and-white in the abstract: The father committed assault and battery against a family member, that is a misdemeanor, the father should go to jail. But what happens to the family in the meantime when the breadwinner is in jail? When he gets out and can’t get another job? When he gets out, can’t get another job, and may be even MORE angry?

      I want to be clear that I *DO* think it’s a good idea to go to the police, but prison is a long leap from there. The domestic violence hotline people will have a better handle on what would be helpful. Court-mandated counseling? DCFS? There’s a lot of help the father and the family can get that doesn’t involve prison.

      Call the hotlines, and follow their advice.

      1. Let me explain my situation since upon reading others responses and rereading my own words I realize that I should have worded my advice better. MASSIVE TW for domestic violence, emotional abuse, physical abuse eating disorders, illness and rape. I was abused for the first 19 years of my life by my mother, and her constant stream of boyfriends and husbands. When my parents were married they were continually violent toward one another. My mother would hit my father and my father would try to keep her from hitting him by throwing small pieces of furniture at her and slamming her into walls. While he would take the anger out on the house, she would take it out on me. She was emotionally abusive. She was physically abusive. She fed me poison in an attempt to kill me. After they got divorced it just got worse.
        She continued the constant abuse, and her boyfriends would do the same. This went on until I was 12 when her at the time husband raped me, and then threatened at gunpoint to kill me if I said a word about it. That incident broke me and I ended up in the mental hospital for a month because I tried to kill myself. When I hit puberty her emotional abuse took the form of yelling at me about my weight (I was extremely thin, but I had hips and breasts much younger than most girls start to get them and this became an easy target for her) and it caused me to develop an eating disorder.
        At the age of 14 I had an appendicitis attack which she refused to take me to the hospital for. Had I not collapsed at school from the constant vomiting, the 104 degree fever, and the poison leaking into my body I would have died. When the hospital found out that I had begged to be taken to the ER two days earlier because of how sick I was and nothing was done they called the cops on my mom. She was sentenced to forced therapy, but they left me in her care. During her therapy she continued to abuse me because she was so angry about having to go to a therapist. The abuse escalated. It wasn’t just punching anymore. She was beating me with objects, she was slamming me into doors (I have permanent nerve damage in my neck and right side because of that), she even tried poisoning me again. The court knew and did nothing about it. I lived through that hell for another 4 years before leaving for college.
        She continued the same behavior anytime I had to go home (breaks etc). I finally got out about a year ago and I haven’t looked back. My visceral reaction to DV and abuse is to have them locked up. I don’t think that abusers can be rehabilitated. In my mind the way to get out is to call the police, have them locked up and while they are in prison, even if it’s just overnight, RUN. Get away, stay at a friends house for the night, and then figure out what to do from there. It’s not easy and it’s a horrible way to have to live but in my mind it’s the only way to actually deal with he situation. Sure the police aren’t going to actually do anything, but it at least puts the abuser in a jail cell long enough for the victim to get away. My personal experiences have made me not trust anyone who is supposed to be there to help the victims and I often forget that it is actually possible to find help that way. I’m sorry if my knee jerk response harmed anyone in any way.

        1. I’m sorry you went through that and glad you circled back to clear it up.

          Calling the cops is a complicated decision.

        2. The context you’ve provided is helpful and 100% understandable. In return, let me provide you some context about why I disagreed with you, and why (I think) other people generally did, too.

          On the DV side, the ideal outcome is that the victim gets away, the abuser gets punished/changed/not-abusive-anymore, and everybody is safe and ready to heal. But those things aren’t always possible, and having that ideal outcome be your *only* goal ignores the many, many people who can’t attain that ideal but still need help. So, DV workers tend to work from a perspective of harm-reduction, i.e. none of your solutions are “no more harm,” so you choose the solution that’s “least harm possible.” So, for some examples, say you have a victim who cannot call the police because she has an open warrant on her, or is an undocumented immigrant. Or she is afraid her children will be taken away. Or she doesn’t have anywhere to escape *to* yet, so having the abuser locked up for a night doesn’t help. Or her abuser *is* a cop. Or she lives in a community where the police are frequently brutal, and while she wants her abuser to stop, she doesn’t want him to be beaten to death by the police. If you want to help that victim, you’ll have to find a way to do it that doesn’t involve the police. If you take a victim in any of those positions, and you tell her “you must call the police,” she is never calling your DV hotline again, because you are providing her with no help at all. Hence, people who work with victims/survivors have learned that telling individuals what they must do, or what the right thing is, leads to only being able to help a small percentage of victims.

          On the feminist side, the “you must” or “this is what is right” mentality often comes out in victim-blaming. I.e. Such-and-such can’t be abuse if the police weren’t called, or that if you did not behave as a perfect victim, that means you’re lying or deserved it. It’s a bit of a Venn diagram — not everybody who says “you must” or “here’s the right thing” is a victim-blamer, but everybody who blames victims says “you must” or “here’s what you should have done.” So feminist circles tend to also have a strong reaction to those kinds of statements. Even if the person saying them has no intention to blame victims (I don’t think you were), victim-blamers will hear those things and think they’re in like-minded company.

          I’ve known people who were abused as children, and that abuse primarily continued because adults who should have reported it didn’t. I also work with a lot of abused kids. Every kid that comes into the system came because eventually, somebody called the cops, but there were years and years before that where nobody did. Those kids for sure think that the cops should always be called, immediately and forever. This work has made me more likely to call the police when kids are involved for that reason — adults can choose if they want the police involved, but kids can’t always.

          Anyway, all that is to say that I understand that impulse (call the police NOW) and perspective (it is the RIGHT THING). It sounds like, in your case, that it would have been the right solution. And there are many other cases where it is the right solution.

          I don’t think you harmed anyone. I think the majority of people who say things like you did don’t intend to cause harm, and even if they accidentally do, most survivors understand they don’t intend to cause harm. Your perspective isn’t very hard to understand at all — *of course* you would want the bad guys to get punished and *of course* that’s the only right thing that can happen. That’s a very normal feeling, and I think it’s a feeling survivors share. It’s just that the nitty-gritty of each person’s individual situation means that can’t always be a reality, and when that very normal feeling intersects with a culture that’s already primed to blame victims for their abuse, it becomes something that can serve abusers instead of help survivors.

    3. I would actually suggest that the LW not involve the police right now, not because I don’t think this asshole father doesn’t belong in prison, but because it does’t work that way in the real world. In an ideal world, it would go: Man beats one of his children or his wife – man goes to prison for a long time. In the real world, it goes more like this: Man beats his wife or child – someone calls police – police come and arrest man – police hold man in jail overnight – judge sentences man to probation and mostly useless anger management classes – man goes home seriously pissed off and probably beats up the person who called the police on him. Cycle repeats itself forever.

      Before anyone involves the police, the LW needs to get herself and her family out of that house and into a safe place, be it a shelter or a place of their own. Then, the mother needs to contact a divorce lawyer and/or a shelter and discuss with them whether they should involve the police. Often times, involving the police can do two things: 1. Escalate the abuse to where the abuser is violent more often and 2. backfire against the mother in court if the judges in an area all believe that woman just make up abuse claims to keep the children from their loving fathers.

      In my mother’s case, abuse claims were ignored by the judge. My father got sole custody of my brother and my mother couldn’t see him without supervision for four years. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s often how the courts work. Especially if there is no history of prior abuse.

      1. This is excellent advice. And I’d also add that the police are often really crappy at dealing with reports of abuse, particularly if you aren’t bruised and bloodied (either because the abuse is emotional or because the abuser is smart about hitting in a way that doesn’t leave marks).

        (trigger warning for description of abuse) With my own experience of reporting my abuser, I was first belittled by the cop who took down my report (“he threatened to kill you? well why didn’t you come in sooner? oh, but he didn’t actually hit you? well why are you even here then?”) and then denied me a restraining order because I waited “too long” to report anything, so “it obviously wasn’t serious.” (I had to wait a couple of days to make the report because it was the weekend, so I didn’t have to work, and he wouldn’t let me leave the house or use the phone if I didn’t have to do so for work.) But then when he found out that I’d made the report, then he beat the shit out of me.

    4. I want to second everything Marie said. Telling an abuse survivor that they “have to” do anything or that there is one right way to react is not the way you want to go.

      Sometimes calling the police is absolutely the right thing to do. I used to do it a lot when my downstairs neighbors (who have now thankfully moved out, him hopefully to jail or a hole in the ground) would fight. He’d scream at her for a good hour or so and then escalate to slapping/shoving/hitting/raping. The cops would take him out of the home, but there he’d be the next week doing the same thing again. If I called during the screaming part (because I knew what was coming), it would be “a noise complaint” and sometimes the cops would leave after he promised to quiet down and then I’d have to call them again 20 minutes later when it escalated to hitting…funny, the hitting was a “relief” to me, too, like “now it’s really abuse, now they have to do something.” Oh, it was extra awesome, because I kept waiting for the day the dude would figure out I was the one calling the cops all the time and climb the stairs to my door. Fortunately they moved out before that day came, or maybe I can give thanks that he was really that stupid or drunk and he never put it together.

      I guess what I’m saying is sometimes the police can’t do or won’t do anything, or they have only very blunt instruments at their disposal and can only do so much.

  7. I need to leave in a minute, but I just wanted to say really fast that it takes people who are being abused a looooooooong time to leave. Why? Because the abuser is in power and sets up the situation to make damn sure they can’t leave in some way or other. So don’t judge yourself for not immediately slamming out the door and leaving FOREVER folks, because most people can’t or don’t pull that off, even with a fist to the face.

  8. LW, I feel for you. I ended my relationship with my father about 7 years ago and haven’t ever looked back. He would hit me while growing up, scream at me over the stupidest little things, throw things at me and other people. My mother was oblivious to it all. I never told anyone for years and years. I thought that maybe I could take all his anger and then he wouldn’t do this to my mom or my siblings. Now, years later, it comes out that he also hit my little brother when no one else was around. I also found out that he had hit my mom when they first got married. If he has started hitting you, he’s going to start hitting other people soon if he hasn’t already.
    The first step is to get out of the house, even if it means going to a shelter. The next step is helping your mother and siblings get out. The shelter should be able to help you with that.
    Find a job, take out loans, max out a credit card or two. Right now is not the time to be worrying about your credit history; it’s time to worry about staying safe. It won’t be easy, but your safety is at stake here.
    After everyone is out, then it’s years of therapy to unpack all the baggage. I hope you are able to find a safe place soon.

    P.S. You might also want to consider restraining orders, PO Boxes so he can mail you stuff without getting your home address, asking your college to not share your information with him, ect. He may escalate things and start stalking you when you leave. I’m not sharing this to scare you, but to prepare you for what may happen. Don’t be afraid to get these now if you think you’ll need them.

  9. I agree with what others here have said (including the thoughtful reply to your letter). You need the boundaries around you and the safe personal space. It’s not about your dad right now and what he needs to hear. It’s about you finding a place where you’re safe. Don’t worry about your long-term relationship with him right now. Even if he has done a lot for you, it doesn’t mean that he can get away with hurting you or expecting that in return for tuition you have to put up with emotional and now physical abuse. Keeping a distance now doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll never see him or your family again; what it means for you is getting a healthier perspective, healing yourself, and setting up boundaries, lines that can’t be crossed, so that you don’t suffer through this anymore.

    If you apologize to him and admit that it’s your fault, there won’t be any boundaries. You’ll be back to where you were before, and he’ll see that there are no consequences to hitting you, and it will repeat itself. There’s always the fear that if you don’t apologize or return to your previous pattern of behavior that he’ll escalate and do something worse, and that’s a fear to discuss with a professional – starting with one of the hotlines. A professional will also help you when you’re in the ‘walking on eggshells’ mind set, or the ‘if only’ mindset (if only I hadn’t said something, if only I’d done XYZ, if only I hadn’t breathed too loudly or entered the room at that exact moment or even existed to begin with…) There’s nothing, nothing you can do to personally prevent another outburst. No perfect set of behaviors that will keep him from flying off the handle, because there will always be some reason, however flimsy. You’re not responsible for his volatile behavior and disproportionate reactions. He ought to see a professional too, but first off care for yourself. You’re not a disruptor or a horrible daughter. One of the things that hurts about situations like these is the child starts to think I’ll never be ‘good enough’ while not realizing that for the abusive parent, ‘good enough’ is an impossible arbitrary standard, one whose definition keeps changing. You are ‘good enough.’ If you’re imperfect it’s because there’s no such thing as a perfect human being, and whatever imperfections you have don’t warrant such a violent reaction. Children are also raised from an early age to obey parents, so it becomes harder for a child to do things that are contrary to what the parents want. Obedience (or anything else – respect, obligations, dutifulness) doesn’t include putting up with abuse or hurting yourself, no matter what age you are or how dependent you are.

    It’s tough when you’re dependent. It’s also a good situation for your dad, because it increases your guilt when you try to do what’s right for yourself. “He’s done so much for me…” He might have done a lot, but expecting to be treated well is not a form of ungratefulness. You can acknowledge that he’s done good things as a father while also acknowledging the abusiveness. The good things don’t cancel out the bad; the good and the bad often do exist side by side, and the abusive person will try to hold up the good things as proof that he’s beyond reproach or has more than made up for his violence (whether physical or verbal violence). It hasn’t. It’s still abuse. It’s hard to call it abuse because that means staring at the ugliness of the behavior without white-washing it and without pretending that “really everything’s ok most of the time…” But by not calling it abuse you’re attempting to deceive yourself (even though you know deep down by the pain, hurt, resentment and anger you feel that this situation is wrong). Abusers don’t have to be thoroughly evil people. They can be capable of good. Sometimes they have a personality disorder. But regardless of what’s going on with them you aren’t obligated to put up with it. You are under no obligations as a child.

    I wish you strength and luck, LW. Give yourself a shot at a healthy peaceful life, one where you can love and respect yourself without being made to feel guilty for it. Reaching out to others as you’ve done with this letter and will hopefully do with the hotlines is the first step.

    1. “He’s done so much for me…”

      Every time this pops up in your head, you might also want to remind yourself:

      “He’s done so much to me…”

    1. YES, this. My brother has begun a steady campaign of saying inflammatory, hurtful, discriminatory things to me, and my mother always clucks her tongue at me and asks why I have to be so argumentative about it. She says he “doesn’t mean it” and “only says it to provoke” me, in which case, why isn’t he the one who should reform his behavior?

      Everyone has choices they make – for a long time it sounds like you’ve made the choice to deescalate where you can. But being abused or not being abused is not your choice – it’s his.

  10. I want to start my response my acknowledging the strength of all those people, including LW who shared their experience of abuse. That is tough & takes a LOT of courage to say, let alone type out, knowing that others will read it. All of your stories resonate with courage & the ability to persevere under very difficult circumstances.

    One thing which I think Marie & Captain really put out there and I’d like to reinforce is that you are to be believed, supported & cared for. Having worked with a number of women who have experienced emotional, verbal &/or physcial abuse, one of the things that often comes up is, “if this person, who I love, can do these horrible things to me, what kind of person does that make me?” A very clear answer to this questions is: it ONLY says that you were unfortunate enough to have someone like that in your life. It DOES NOT say that you deserve this or are responsible for this, it DOES NOT say that you are unworthy of safety, love, affection and respect. It speaks volumes about his behaviour, not about your worth.

    In your letter, you seem to use the fact that your Dad has only hit you as a indication that this is your fault – that you are the disruptive element in your family. ERROR It might be that you stand up for yourself more, that you can see his behaviour a bit more clearly or it could even be that your Dad has hit other family members and you don’t know about it. Don’t let your jerkbrain fool you in to thinking that this is your fault. Think back to ALL the times someone has made you mad, like REALLY mad. Have you ever hit anyone because *they* made you feel that way? Me neither. Have a think about it, what is the worst response you could expect from someone else, to that fight when you said “i would if i fucking could”. The worst I can think of is a bit of yelling or a terse email. Now compare your answer to that question to your Dad’s response of hitting you. A VAST overreaction, even if what you said was VERY hurtful.

    Captain is also right about cycle of domestic violence. It essentially doesn’t really matter what your family says or does, your Dad will find fault if he wants to & then the abuse will start & it’ll be twisted so that it is tied somehow to someone else’s actions. Also, to paraphrase Captain’s responses to other letters – think about the behaviour, don’t get caught up in excusing it because of the reason. There’s a great paper somewhere (I don’t have it to hand, so sorry I can’t provide the reference) that provides stats on victims of abuse who grow up to be abusers. These stats state that about 25% of people who experience abuse at the hands of parents/carers will become abusive in later life. So 75% don’t. This (to me at least) provides some pretty powerful evidence that people get to make decisions about whether or not to engage in behaviour that is abusive.

    A lot of people, when hearing about domestic violence say, “why don’t you just leave?” The reality is, by the time the abuse is recognised, the victims often have little other support, few financial resources (because keeping you dependent financially is a great way of making you stay) and not a lot of self-confidence. Therefore a lot of people who *could* leave (in that they don’t have to worry about money/children/a place to stay/support ect) still stay because they are so worn down (or as Marie says, have forgotten that what they have to tell themselves to get by is not the truth) that they really *can’t* leave. So don’t put up with any of this bullshit from anyone who is that narrow-minded that they can’t see how difficult the whole situation is for you. Good on you for surviving relatively in tact so far.

    Some practical stuff:
    Leaving the house may not be a viable option for lots of reasons, however Captain is right in that it sounds like your mum might be willing to support you to do so. Take her up on it and see if they’ll pay (but this DOES NOT give them the right to invade your privacy if they pay the rent). If you are going to leave & you suspect that your Dad won’t like it, start stock piling important things, like ID, cash, important personal possessions & have an “escape” bag ready so that you can leave quickly & still have everything you need with you. Hide it in your car or close to the door so you can grab it and run. Also print out those numbers for hotlines or save them in your mobile phone so you can get to them quickly if you need to. Give the hotline a quick call to check them out. You don’t have to provide any personal info if you don’t want to & they get those kinds of calls all the time. That way when you feel ready to speak to someone, it won’t seem so scary or weird. Also, don’t be afraid to call the police if you need to. Your safety is paramount & yes, this IS a situation worthy of police attention.

    I hope everything works out ok for you.

    1. A couple of those important things: your Social Security card and your birth certificate. Both of those pieces of paper tend to be extremely important for all kinds of things you would need to do as an independent person, and if your parents have them, it can get complicated. You *can* get copies of both, but it can take a while.

      1. And some places will only let you show the original SSN card for say, getting employment. (Got burned on that once– a photocopy would NOT do.)

    2. In regards to storing emergency numbers in a phone, it occurred to me that LW might be using a phone on a family plan. I know my mother had my brother on her plan until he’d moved out after college. If that’s the case, I’d recommend a prepaid phone with a set number of minutes. Something no one else has access to and no control over.

  11. Hi Captain, Commenters, and LW. I’m currently working on my MSW with a specialization in domestic violence, plus I’m a self defense instructor. I’ll try to lend any ‘wisdom’ I have, for what it’s worth.

    LW, lots of commenters are telling you to leave, to not go home — and maybe that’s something you can do, something you’re prepared to do. Regardless of whether it is or it isn’t, I would strongly urge you to call your local domestic violence shelter/hotline. Calling the national line will also probably work, because I’m sure they refer to local resources.

    Even if you think this doesn’t qualify as ‘abuse,’ or that it’s not so bad, I urge you to call. I’ve worked on a DV hotline before, and I can tell you that a lot of the calls we got were not the ‘he hits me every day’ levels of abuse. They’re used to hearing about the entire spectrum of abusive behaviors, and what your dad did is definitely on that spectrum. And as others have noted, they can help give you a reality check about the entire thing. One of the great things (of many) that DV hotlines can do for people is to answer the question, “Is this abusive or not?”.

    Here’s my own personal reality check for you: If somebody hits you, it is that person’s fault. Always. Regardless of what you said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do, wore or didn’t wear, drank or didn’t drink, etc. Somebody hits you, the responsibility lies with the hitter, not the hittee.

    I think it behooves you to find your local resource for three reasons. First, they can help you with safety planning. Safety Planning is A Thing in the DV world. It’s where an advocate or a counselor sits down with you and helps you figure out your best bet to stay safe, in a variety of situations. They can help you identify resources if you do choose to leave — housing, financial assistance, etc. They can also help you strategize on how to stay safe if you choose to stay. Over the years the DV advocate community has realized that lots of people don’t leave abusive situations, for many many reasons, and so they’ve adapted to that. (If you get an advocate who insists that you leave, find another one. That’s not SOP — though they may well encourage you to leave, the DV world has figured out that being told what to do isn’t actually great for survivors).

    Second, many local DV resources offer free counseling services to survivors of abuse, and I suspect that would be useful to you (and maybe other members of your family).

    And finally, your local resource will be able to tell you if you qualify for shelter, if that turns out to be something you want/need. Unfortunately, shelters are often full, and there’s something of a triage process to help the folks who have the highest need (because in the United States we don’t believe that freedom from violence is a human right, but don’t get me started)*. But by talking to your local peeps, you’ll at least know what your options are.

    Good luck, and be safe. Writing your letter to the Captain was a very courageous step — give yourself heaps of credit for that.

    *I’m American, so that’s the system I know. In the UK, I know the shelters are government-funded, as long as you’re a citizen. Probably elsewhere too.

  12. Hi. I am not a professional, and I think Captain Awkward and Marie have both given very good responses to this letter. I just wanted to add that the LW’s relationship with their father sounds a lot like my relationship with mine — except for the actual physical violence. These parts sound so, so familiar:

    Background: me and my dad will get into huge, screaming fights, but he has never been physically violent. I do not enjoy these screaming matches, to say the least. Lately these arguments have actually been happening less frequently because I’m getting better at knowing when to walk away, but everything just happened so fast this time.

    There’s nothing my dad likes more than angrily lecturing someone about what he thinks they’ve done wrong.

    I am almost 25 years old, and I lived with my father for 19 years, and I have only just recently begun to realize how controlling and unacceptable my father’s behavior was. I think if I had written a letter to CA about it, while I was living with him, she would have told me that my father was abusive. Sometimes I describe my father’s behavior as abusive. But more often, I describe it as controlling.

    I get the feeling that the LW is in a similar stage: you realize there’s something wrong, and it’s been going wrong for while, but you’re not really able to use that word “abusive” — at least not all the time. That’s probably part of why being physically harmed felt like such a relief. You finally had something concrete that you could say, for sure, was bad. But it’s still hard to reconcile this idea of “abuse” with the father you love and identify with.

    So I want to reiterate what Captain Awkward said, which is that even without the physical violence, your father’s relationship with you is abusive. From the perspective of someone who is not in your family, that is pretty clear. Just so you know.

    At the same time, I understand that if this is the first time you’re hearing real confirmation of that from other people, it’s going to be overwhelming. You’re going to be backpedaling pretty hard right now. It’s in your letter: this is just the way we are, it’s never been this bad before, it’s at least partly my fault, etc. So don’t feel you have to call it abuse, if you’re not ready to do that. If you can, great! It will help you get help and it will help you take care of yourself. But if you can’t right now, you don’t have to. I say my father is “controlling” because I feel like I can stand by that assessment, every time, no matter how unsure of myself I’m feeling. For you it might be “confrontational,” or something else.

    The important part is to GET HELP and GET OUT (even if “out” is just out of the room, or out of the next confrontation). Even if your father is “just” confrontational, you still need and deserve to set boundaries in order to take care of yourself. You don’t have to meet a threshold of abuse-victimhood to need a place of your own and professional support, or to deserve those things, or for people to help you get them.

    Best of luck. You can do this.

    1. Yeah, I’d have to agree and say the word “abuse” was one I was only able to utter once I was already gone. It was too much before then. When I finally left, it wasn’t “because he’s abusive!” It was because I am selfish and evil and a terrible wife but I am going to kill myself if I don’t leave and I am selfish and evil and terrible enough to think that’s a good enough reason to BREAK THE BONDS OF MATRIMONY (dun dun DUH). Or it was because I want to make our relationship better and we just need some breathing space to do that. In retrospect, I can say, “This was abusive and I don’t deserve to be abused,” but those weren’t thoughts I had then — I couldn’t call him abusive and even if he was, I wasn’t sure I didn’t deserve to be abused.

      At some point, I just knew I had to leave. It didn’t matter what I called it or what it was or if it meant I would be a bad person forever. I didn’t have the time or space or brainpower to process concepts like abuse or what I do and don’t deserve. I just had to run. Only once I was safe could I start picking things apart and admit to scary things like, “I was living, day to day, with somebody who wanted to hurt me, degrade me, beat me, and believed I deserved it, and wanted me to believe it, too.”

      However you need to say it, phrase it, believe it, compartmentalize it, achieve it, just get out when you can. Once you have the time and space and aren’t putting all your thoughts into “where is dad right now”, you can work out things like “is this abuse” and “do I deserve it” and “what could I have done better.” Those thoughts go on the back burner until you’ve got a locked door between you and him; they are second priority to the max. A safe body and a safe mind are first priority.

  13. I just want to chime in here with a couple of thoughts:

    1) Can we not decide that the LW *must* call the cops or *must* press charges or *must* get a TRO? Or that the LW’s mother *must* move into a shelter/leave her husband? I mean, these are all reasonable things to think, but the LW is reeling from being hit and has been dealing with being emotionally abused for years. You don’t go from “My father just hit me after exhibiting behaviors that are really indicative of emotional abuse” to “OK I’M LEAVING AND CALLING THE COPS AND PRESSING CHARGES AND STARTING CAMP SURVIVE-ALIVE! GO ME!!!” All of this “advice” and “shoulds” etc. is overwhelming, and when you put it like “Call the cops! Your father is a vile abuser who should be in prison” you will make it far less likely for the LW to take the eventual step to leave because whoa! Leaving means my father–who I do love–has to go to prison. Please stop that. Right now the LW needs advice about staying safe FOR NOW so they can a) not get hit and b) get their head together and figure out the next steps they want to take.

    2) Word to the “you should just” BS. Also, the “You seem so strong, I can’t believe you’d ever let someone treat you that way.” I hear that from two guys I know when I came out about the fact that I’d been in an emotionally abusive relationship, and I nearly flipped my shit on them. That attitude right there pretty much tells anyone who’s being abused “You’re letting him abuse you, you deserve it.” Seriously, anyone who says something like that needs a nice hot cup of shut the fuck up.

    Let’s not be part of the problem.

      1. That’s like a place you go on a Griswold Family Vacation. Ron Swanson and Katniss Everdeen are your camp counselors. There is yelling, and things eventually catch on fire, and possibly there are zombies.

        1. If Katniss is there, we will eat well as she can hunt and gather delicious wild and edible plants. I’m in!

    1. This is why I worship at the Church of Sheelzebub. Thanks, lady! If you’re giving advice and using the word “just” to describe what someone else should do, it’s a bad, bad sign.

    2. Your point #2 is so true. I don’t care how many times you’ve yelled at the lady on Law and Order: SVU for not leaving the abusive jerkwad of the week, when it’s happening to you it’s harder and not the same. It’s so easy from the outside but abuse means the view from the inside is warped like a fun house mirror in all the ways everyone up thread has talked about.

      Job 1 is staying safe best you can. While I can tell you that being in debt is better than being hit and that once that line to physical abuse has been crossed it’ll be that much easier next time to cross it again, that doesn’t mean you have the resources to leave right this second. The only thing that I think you really need to do is give those hotlines a try so those people can help you make a plan, even if you can’t execute it right now.

  14. Get out, get out, get out.

    I know it sucks to feel like you are still dependent on him for tuition and all that, but you can’t live there. If he feels guilty, then GOOD. Work with your mom to ensure that your tuition will keep getting paid and perhaps your parents will help you rent a room for a bit until you can move into a college dorm. Work on not being dependent on them. Get a part time job so that you have money of your own. Use the DV resources that others have mentioned above.

    Also remember: student loans are not the end of the world. Lots of people have to use them to finish school and they are a lot better choice than accepting violence.

    [My own personal anecdote: I left home at 16 because my dad and I couldn’t get along. He was hard on the others too, but our personalities created great friction – I didn’t cower when he yelled – I got mad and yelled back. I stood up for myself and my younger siblings. It didn’t mean that he didn’t love me (I’d overheard him bragging about me to his friends, for crying out loud) but neither of us could keep our tempers under stress and it frequently escalated into physical violence, even in front of non-family members. (And what did I hear from witnesses? Advice not to make my father so angry. Great.)

    I was lucky and found places to stay with friends as I finished high school and then moved 1500 km away and put myself through university.]

    1. I’m sorry. I couldn’t even finish reading the letter before I had to reply. I see now that everything I’ve said has already been covered. Please just take this as more encouragement to leave. Listen to your mom – she had your best interests at heart.

      This is not your fault and you have to do what is best for you.

  15. Now for some advice–I’ve never lived with an abusive partner, but I kind of mentally prepped after being in an emotionally abusive relationship. Which speaks to a whole host of other issues I have, but that is neither here nor there.

    First, put together a bug out bag/get out of dodge bag, especially if you end up staying with your parents for even a week more. Remember Hurricane Irene, and how everyone was advised to have one of those together? Well, consider this a non-natural disaster bag for abuse. Make sure no one knows where it is besides you. Change where the hiding place is every few days. Include in it: birth certificate, passport (if you have one), banking information, etc. The things you would need in order to secure housing/jobs/etc. You may want to keep this in a location outside of your house, where you can get it any time of the day or night. Is there a friend or relative whom you can trust, who would give you a key/let you in with good humor if you needed this?

    Second, your bank account. Do your parents have access to it? Do they know about it? Well, change that. Open an account at another bank or credit union. If/when you leave the house and live somewhere else, close the old account. I’d say to close the old account right away, but if you’re still at home you don’t want your father to flip his shit if he gets wind of that.

    Third, income. Do you have a job? If not, can you get one? Stash every last cent in your new (and secret) bank account. This will be your fund for housing, etc.

    Fourth, mail. Open up a P.O. Box or use a trusted friend’s or relative’s home as your mailing address. Your father hit you–do you think he will respect your privacy? I don’t. Make sure the bank where your new account is sends any statements (if they don’t do e-statements) to this address. (I know banks don’t accept P.O. Boxes, but they may send mail to a PO Box if they have a street address for you? At any rate, ask.)

    Fifth, email/computer. Make sure you change your email passwords and passwords to anything else (accounts, etc.) on a monthly basis. Yes, that’s right, monthly. One way you can do this is to use a word you will not forget, take the middle four letters, and change them to reflect that day’s date. (For example, night010912gown.) Then change it in a month (night020912gown) to reflect that date. Etc. If your family has a communal computer, do not use it. If you have a laptop, keep it under lock and key.

    If you have to stay longer, make sure you’re working a job a lot, studying at your college library a lot, seeing your friends. And frankly, spending some time by yourself, in the library or a coffee shop, where you can start piecing together a strategy/plan to get out and a timeline for it. Be out of the house a lot. By a lot, I mean, every day, from very early in the morning to very late at night, weekends included. And if your father flips his shit on you for coming home too late or not spending enough time with the family, grab your bug out bag (or head to where it is) and get gone, at least for a while.

    And yes, remember to repeat to yourself every day, several times a day, that this is not your fault, you are not a disruptive influence on the family, that your father is being manipulative and abusive, and that you do not deserve this treatment. Tell yourself that no matter what your father has been through or is dealing with, his behavior is NOT okay, and it’s okay for you to do what you need to do to keep yourself safe.

    Hugs, LW. Please check in and let us know how you’re doing.

  16. Not much to say except to wish the LW all the best in this terrible situation. Also, you lot are amazing. Especially Marie.

    At another noticeboard recently, I saw someone say that her boyfriend hit her and hid her keys and took all her money, but it was kind of her fault because she unevenly browned the baby’s toast and put jam on it wrong. It was heartbreaking. LW, and everybody else in this kind of bind, it’s not you.

  17. I agree with what CAwkward said as well as the others who gave you pointers on how to deal, especially Jennifer and Marie. In the end, YOU have to decide what to do but definitely use the resources posted to help you decide what that is. I wish you luck…please keep us posted.

  18. The other commenters have really nailed the advice so I won’t repeat their wisdom. For the LW: I am so sorry that you had to write this letter. I am sorry that your father behaves this way. This is not a typical family dynamic, not at all. This is verbal and emotional (and now physical) abuse. My parents were controlling and I got into screaming matches with my father as a teenager but I never once thought he would hit me, nor did he tear down my self-esteem.

    This situation is not your fault. Your father is an adult. He should know how to conduct himself without hitting and belittling people.

    I wish you the very best, no matter what you decide. You deserve to be safe and healthy and happy.

  19. I had an ex who, in hindsight, had a lot of behaviors in our relationship (and after we broke up) that were abusive (or, really, just downright childish). What I learned from that is my only bit of insight into this situation but something I think is really, really incredibly important to internalize:

    You are not responsible for anyone’s behavior but your own.

    He will try to peg you as the destructive force whether it is outright stating it or subtly implying it. He will do that because then he doesn’t have to change his behavior, or put in the effort of actually controlling his actions.

    LW, your father is a grown-ass man. That he acts like a 19 year old has such power over him that he can’t control himself or his words is absolutely ridiculous. Your father is not a weapon, or an inanimate object, or an animal who has no agency of their own and can only do damage when someone else causes them to. HE is a person with agency who is being the destructive force here, not you.

    Just remember that, and read everything Marie has said, because she is a hella-smart lady.

    1. Also, I just wanted to add that

      “she was my sister and therefore sort of my business”

      Seemed to me like a completely reasonable response to me. She’s your sister! You want to look out for her! There is nothing about that statement that one could reasonably respond to with anger, let alone what your father did.

  20. Oh oh oh, one more thing. This post over at Feministe:

    There’s a lot you might recognize in this kind of stuff. It’s the small instances of abuse that lead to having somebody beat you and instead of being like, you know what, that is 100% never okay, you’re like, hmm, I guess I’m probably to blame? Abusers carefully lay long, long years of minor abuses as the groundwork for getting the big stuff through, and you might recognize some of that here.

  21. Don’t have anything to add to the assembled wisdom here. Just wanted to add my voice to the others wishing the LW luck and love in finding a way to look after themselves in this situation.

  22. I have no advice, but I just had to say that I read this at work and almost started crying because it reminds me SO MUCH of my dad and our relationships with him (except for the hitting part). I just know that if I had lived at home throughout college, it would have ended with him hitting me too, so I know pretty well how the original poster is feeling (though you can never say you know exactly how someone is feeling –everyone feels and reacts to things in their own unique way).

    All I can say is, GET OUT OF THAT HOUSE. RIGHT NOW. It is worth the necessity of taking out loans and being in student debt. That’s the only way that she will be able to repair her relationship with her father in any meaningful way–in the future, that is, if he realizes that he *is* abusive and gets help. My dad never got help so I still have no real relationship with him. We talk acquaintance-style about books we both like to read, and that is pretty much it. But I don’t live in the same space as him, so I *don’t* have to put up with his abuse. I can leave and walk away whenever I want. That takes the power away from him and allows you to control the situation to some extent. His interactions with you are now on your terms, not his.

  23. I think we should be very careful about advising anyone, even someone living in an abusive household, to go into debt. Unless I missed it, the LW didn’t explicitly say anything about their debt status, or whether they had considered taking on more debt in order to move out. But at least in the United States, student debt is a pretty big problem right now, compounded by very high unemployment for young adults. Many people who haven’t recently been young adults and/or in college can’t really relate to how bad it is.

    By all means, if you can get out, that’s almost certainly the best option. It sounds like Mom is willing to help — pursue that opportunity! Being financially dependent sucks, but having your own space does help. It also might be more financially feasible to get your own place than you realize. This is one reason why getting help from professional outsiders is important; they can help you evaluate your situation more objectively. (Abusers encourage the people they’re abusing to feel like they can’t leave. You may be less financially dependent on your dad than you think.) And a little asking goes a long way when it comes to finding creative solutions through friends, professors, etc.

    In the end, it may actually be true that you can’t move out right now. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck; it just means you’ll need different coping strategies. Commenters, let’s remember that taking on debt is not a trivial decision, especially in this economy. We can’t know whether it’s “worth it” to the LW; only the LW can know what will make them most safe.

    1. This is definitely a case for campus financial aid. Too bad you can’t really “divorce” a parent from your financial aid package except for stuff like being married or emancipated, as far as I’ve heard. But hell, maybe there’s some emergency exception out there I don’t know about, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.

      1. An “independent student” qualifies on their own.

        Particularly of note: “**If you do not have a determination that you are homeless, but you believe you are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, answer “No” to the FAFSA questions concerning being homeless. Then contact your financial aid office to explain your situation.”

        One of the girls in my reading group was successfully granted independent student status after explaining the emotionally abusive situation in her household of origin.

    2. You bring up a good point, and as in the case of this poster: :it might even mean needing to go back to the parents if the financial situation spins out enough.

      The loan option might work for the LW. Finding a way to keep the father’s support while keeping distance/living on campus might work. Finding a scholarship to help the LW with tuition might help ( is good for that). Dropping out and getting a job (and going back to school later) might work. Ultimately, only the LW can tell what will work for hir.

      (But I hope you know, LW, that whatever is best for you, there ARE options aside from simply shouldering the misplaced blame and weathering the storm.)

      1. Um, not to say that weathering the storm in your own way is not an option as well, (as Marie eloquently pointed out above).

      2. That’s exactly why I brought this up. In my case, the fact that one of my parents is controlling/abusive is a huge motivator for paying off my student debt as fast as possible and avoiding taking on debt until I am very financially stable — I never want to have to ask them for money. If I’m ever going to have a healthy relationship with my parents, I can’t be dependent on them in any way.

        I’m really glad to see from the update down-thread that the LW will probably be able to move out soon. Hooray! This comment is probably not relevant to the LW in this case, but it does concern me that people would recommend taking on debt to someone who is currently dependent on an abusive parent, without considering how that could make the problem worse down the road. I would say, if a person is comfortable taking on debt, ok! Do it! But it’s not a cure-all, and I don’t feel like I’m in a position to say it’s a good choice for someone else.

        1. Oh, there’s an update? Hooray! I’mma have to read that.

          And yeeees, debt is a scary thing on its own, but throw in the sort of potential manipulation you’re talking about and… eesh. Not good.

  24. This has already gotten so much coverage, so I’ll be brief.

    College education is not worth being smack around, feeling nervous all day long.

    My mother abused me consistently from age 13 to 19. At 19, we got into an altercation on the highway. I got out of the car once traffic slowed to a crawl. She abandoned the car on the road and came roaring after me. Police came. She left. No charges.

    I dropped out of school. I had a shitty life for 9 month couch-surfing and generally being homeless. I was out of touch with my family for 4 years.

    I got a job with health insurance. I found an apartment. I recovered… and excelled. I went to a good local school on student loans. On graduation, my parents came to watch me walk down the aisle. They bought me a car. We talk now, although we’ll never be friends.

    The point is, I made it to college eventually. My life was so much better when I went. Instead of struggling by with Ds, I got a 4.0. I firmly believe that people think we ought to do things in a specific order, and that order can lead to heartbreak.

    Drop out of school. Crash with friends. Find a job. Put yourself through school and you’ll end up better for it.

    1. I second this. My parents were abusive. They also liked to control by holding the purse-strings. I ended up going to college on a scholarship. I can’t tell you how much it helped me to move forward under my own recognizance, to come out with my degree, owing them nothing.

      We have a good relationship now, my parents and I. Largely because I owe them nothing, and I live in another state.

      Good luck, LW!

  25. My History: 18 years of a very complicated psychologically abusive relationship, with someone who was also very socially adept, charming and manipulative. I still like lots of things about this person — but the abuse that escalated after a crisis is a giant BUT that colors everything(not in a good way). It is possible to still love your father but hate his behavior.

    My perspective: it is important for you to sort out what YOU need to do to survive right now. Whether that means that you leave the house, or your father leaves, or something — the choice/decisions are up to you. You know what is right for you. Many people here have made excellent, constructive suggestions. It was my experience that most people who have never been faced with domestic violence (even if that violence is “only” psychological) just don’t get it, at all. This includes well meaning, but untrained(in DV) therapists. I suggest that you speak with a domestic violence hotline for more information, resources that can help you, and support.

    Reading books about abuse also really helped me to understand and recognize abuse for what it is. He has only physically assaulted you once, but is certainly sounds like there was an ongoing pattern of emotional abuse happening in the household. Abuse can be one isolated incident — but it generally is a pattern. It also usually escalates over time. I read and re-read several books that really helped me. Someone above mentioned “Why Does He Do That ?” by Lundy Bancroft. I also recommend “the Verbally Abusive Relationship” by Patricia Evans. I also recommend these books to people who haven’t been in an abusive relationship, who would like to understand how insidious non-physical abuse can be. These books are aimed at women in a romantic relationship with men, but the behavior and tactics can certainly apply to same sex couples, family members, bosses, etc. I really wish that the Lundy Bancroft book was compulsory reading for girls aged 14+. It would have made me understand about those “moody” boyfriends I had who were shitty, controlling, selfish (in short: abusive) dudes. Get them from your library, or if you can afford it, buy a used copy. Tell your mother and sister about them, too. It is affecting their lives, too.

  26. The only thing I have to add is that “sorry” isn’t enough. People who physically hurt other people when they rage need help, the professional kind, and need to really engage with it if they’re ever going to be safe to be around again. I know this through experience. It’s not impossible that you’ll be able to have a good relationship with your dad again, but DO NOT share living space with him now and DO NOT give him a pass. He has to change if you’re going to be close to him again, and change doesn’t generally come in the form of a New Year’s resolution. It comes by going to the people who are trained to help and doing what they say to do. I know this through experience, too.

  27. Adding one rec that I didn’t see in the other (awesome) comments:

    If possible, try getting out of the house for at least a week. Stay with friends or at school or have your Mom spring for a cheap hotel room.

    I say this because when I was in my own abusive situation I had been there for so long that the reality of it had just seeped down into my very bones. I could not picture being away from it. Heck, I didn’t even realize how much “it” there was to get away from.

    By sheer coincidence there was a week-long family thing in another country and it was exactly what I needed. By being out of the environment I could get a feel for what living without it was like. I could also see just how much of my life was being affected. (Like OMG did you know that you could eat cereal for breakfast in a chair of your choosing and it’s NO BIG DEAL??? type revelations).

    Plus the advantage of a week is that it gives you some breathing room on making any big scary decisions. Maybe you move out forever, maybe you move back in with ground rules, maybe something else. You’re now giving yourself time to figure that out, and you’re doing it in an environment where hopefully you can focus on what you need and want before you commit to anything.

    Hang in there!

      1. It’s really easy to get caught up in the idea that any decision made now is the decision FOREVER AND EVER WAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!! When the reality is that people are, in fact, allowed to change their minds. Getting out for a week is often just the thing to clear out the brain and stop seeing things as either/or.

  28. I was there once, too. Luckily, my mother had divorced him years earlier, but he was going to pay for my college. I had to be nice. He was emotionally abusive more than anything with me. Easy with me- I worshiped him. When I started to stand up for myself, he threatened to disown me to get me to back down. The student loans were completely worth it.

    The things I needed to hear and didn’t hear often enough are: It’s real. You’re not making it up. you’re not exaggerating. You’re not hallucinating or being dramatic or letting your temper get the best of you. You are upset because it’s not ok.

    The other is: It is in no way your fault. Your temper is not a reason to yell at you like that. being mouthy is a normal part of being a teen in a lot of Western Culture and it is not a reason to be treated like this. even if you were making mistakes, it wouldn’t be a reason to be treated like this.

    I didn’t know about the hotlines and only started calling it abuse in the last 2 years or so. if I had it to do over, I’d call.

    Keep safe.

  29. Even if you aren’t ready to call your father an abuser…

    Even if you aren’t ready to say “I don’t feel safe here” — because you’re still telling yourself your father wouldn’t REALLY hurt you (because you’re not ready to acknowledge how much he’d hurt you before the first physical blow, and because you want to believe things will get better when almost anyone who’s been there will tell you they’re a lot more likely to get worse than better now that he’s broken that ‘unthinkability’ barrier and hit you)…

    I know you can say, “I am not happy here, and I never will be happy under his roof.” And that alone is all the justification you need to dedicate yourself heart and soul to the mission of getting out.

    Happiness matters! It is a legitimate goal! It is such a legitimate goal that the Declaration of Independence refers to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness as inalienable rights!

    So don’t feel like you’re supposed to endure ’til it’s “bad enough.” Go with the fact that it is not good enough.

    1. Remind yourself, when he’s being a jerk, “it’s not unreasonable to want to be happy. It’s not unreasonable to want to get through an evening without being yelled at. He’s supposed to be the grown-up here, the one who takes care of the family, not the one the rest of the family cowers from and placates.”

      1. Oh my gosh, this is so important. I stayed with my ex for so long because there was never a reason that was “good enough” to leave him. He would intentionally ruin a meal I had cooked, insult me in front of friends, and break a memento, and when I’d say that’s it, I’m leaving, it would be, “Oh, you’re leaving me because I got drunk at dinner? How superficial!” I used to pray that he would hit me or cheat on me or steal from me or something, so I’d have an unimpeachable reason. I was so envious of my friends who were still in early-20s type relationships, where they broke up with each other because “I dunno, she lives 20 miles away and isn’t on a bus line,” or “We just don’t have any hobbies in common.” AMAZING. You can do that?

        Living happily and peacefully and without your shoulders up around your ears and without listening for the sounds that tell you where somebody is in the house, those are all good enough reasons to go. You can walk out on somebody (permanently or temporarily) for ANY REASON AT ALL. They don’t have to understand, your family doesn’t have to understand, nobody has to validate it except you. The world totally doesn’t crash down on your head for it, everybody just snipes about you at dinner and you go have a drink with a friend and talk about Vampire Diaries instead. It really goes just like that.

  30. Hi everyone, Letter Writer here. I’m okay right now; my mom will support me moving out. I just found out there are rooms available in my college, so there’s a chance I’ll be able to leave within the week (fingers crossed). Right now I’ll just try and be as home as little as possible (leaving early in the morning, coming back at night).

    It’s a lot to take in right now. Intellectually I know it wasn’t my fault, but it’s hard to really believe that, you know? I’ve spent so long feeling guilty and like there was something wrong with me. That I don’t get along with my dad because we have the “same temper” and he’s old so he’s not going to change so I should “control myself” and just avoid him when he’s angry. (yeah… he’s never said this to me, but other family members have.) I can barely wrap my mind around the idea that it was *never* really my fault, not just this one time.

    They see themselves as beleaguered heroes. “Things would be fine if you would just do everything I tell you to do and completely anticipate my moods. You know how I get when you’re like that.”

    Yeah. That rings true.

    My mom says right after I left he said he was sorry and something like, “I just want to make her understand… why does she think she can talk to me like that?” (Obvs this is not verbatim, but you get the idea.) I guess that’s… a bad sign? When my mom told me I initially just felt shitty for making him feel shitty, but maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe he should fucking “take responsibility” for his actions the way he always says that everyone else should.

    A few hours after it happened I told myself: okay, I don’t necessarily have to move out. Next time I’ll try harder, work better at not being angry. But you’re right, that’s never going to work.

    Apparently this morning my dad went and scheduled an appointment with a therapist, with no prompting from anyone. My mom says he realized he needs help. (Christ, finally.) I was kind of shocked: he’s always been the guy who makes fun of therapy & the people who need it. (So gross, right?) I know this is only the first step, and I have myself to worry about now, but I’m glad. It hurts to think of him as an abuser. Right now I don’t want be near him, but if he sticks with it there’s no reason we can’t have a healthy relationship in the future. I’m hopeful.

    Thank you so much for replying to my letter and thanks to all the commenters who shared, it means so much to me.

    1. I am very, VERY grateful for the update and to hear that things are moving in the right directions and that both your immediate safety and the ability to get out of the house for the coming semester are both handled.

    2. I am so glad to hear that you are safe and that your college may have a room for you. Thank you so much for updating us!

      My mom says right after I left he said he was sorry and something like, “I just want to make her understand… why does she think she can talk to me like that?”

      The way non-abusive people “make someone understand” that is to say, with words, out loud, “Don’t talk to me like that.” The fact that he’s justifying reacting to your *words* with physical violence means that he really doesn’t care what you understand; he is an abuser. This is not your fault.

      1. But, “don’t talk to me like that” can also be part of verbal abuse and precede physical abuse.

        1. It definitely can. I think abusers use it as a threat, and it can be clearly heard as one. A non-abuser would say it in a very different tone.


      Really, all the rest of it is secondary (still important, but secondary). Whether you think of him as an abuser? Whether he gets some help through therapy? Whether you’ll have a good relationship ever in the future? So secondary. You are getting a safe place. SO PRIMARY! That is the best ever. All the rest will now have the time and space and safety to be worked out.

      Just wanted to say a quick thing about therapy. In that Lundy Bancroft book, he talks about running group therapy sessions with abusers. One guy went on and on about how he had had this breakthrough in therapy about his intimacy and anger issues. He concluded very smugly and self-satisfied that, “When I was punching my wife, I was punching my mother!” and waited for everybody to praise his incredible insight and sharing. Another abuser cut in and said, “Nooooo, you were punching your wife.”

      My ex had also been totally against therapy, and totally against treatment (he had a drug problem). Then, when I finally announced that I wasn’t happy and our marriage might not work if he didn’t change, suddenly it was all therapy, all treatment, all the time. This bought him more months with me than he deserved, while I waited for him to “work through his issues” and “my sponsor says I’m doing really well” and “my therapist said I have anger issues” and “change takes TIME, Marie.” It was just the same game, only now with new psychobabble added. And he managed to use that psychobabble to blame me more, suddenly bringing home diagnoses for MY problems, and how they caused US to have a very unhealthy dynamic, and how he realized all the things *I* had to work on for us to get better.

      Not saying therapy won’t or can’t work. But I am saying: listen only to the results, not the promises and hope. If he still makes you feel as crappy as ever, and all that’s changed is that he’s doing it with shrink words now, then his therapy and “working on it” is just more of the same old bullshit. Any taking ownership of what he’s done needs to stand alone, and not get followed up with “buuuuuuut… something about you and your problems, and something about my childhood.” His childhood wasn’t his fist, and you weren’t making his fist move. If he tries to put any therapy ghosts between your face and his hand, therapy is just a new tactic, not a fundamental change.

      1. Wow — I so strongly agree with what you have written about this. Sometimes bad or inappropriate therapy is worse than no therapy at all. I have been reading a ton about trauma, but still haven’t found a peer-reviewed article concerning “Effective Therapy for Domestic Abusers”.

        Personal Experience: Ex’s 1st or 2nd therapist didn’t seem to help him with anything, except teaching him to say “You’re judging me” whenever I tried to call him on his stuff. Therapist # 3 suggested that he read “Co-Dependent No More”, as though the ex had been “enabling” me by helping me with money when I was desperate(even though the ex made 10x the money that I did — literally). Here is a link to an essay about what is very wrong with the co-dependency model and domestic violence:

        #3 Therapist has also implanted the notion of “healthy boundaries” which has been twisted in his brain to mean barricades, secrecy, paranoia which is the opposite of clear communication, negotiation, etc. Boundaries do not equal barricades.

        There seems to be a very consistent pattern for the inability of the abuser to acknowledge that the ultimate responsibility for abuse is theirs alone.

        There is a lot of research that seems to have proven that child abuse directed towards males can often result in creating a man who is more likely to abuse his partner. It is easy to feel sad for them, about their uncontrollable history — even though it is the contradiction of basic common sense. They were victimized — so why would the default setting be to re-victimize a person who they claim to love ?

      2. Part of what made therapy work in my situation is that we weren’t sharing living space while it was happening, nor were we seeing much of each other outside of it. Therefore it was a terrible way to buy time.

      3. I’ll admit to being wary of therapy as a cure-all for an abuser for all the reasons you mentioned. Your story somewhat reminds me of Fugitivus: (trigger warning for rape) who went into couple’s counseling with her ex… not so much helpful, since they encouraged her to stay and ‘work it out’ and ‘make compromises’, making the situation worse since they gave her abuser validation.

        Like you said, not saying therapy won’t work. It MIGHT make all the difference. But it’s definitely worth it to remain wary and keep a careful eye on the tangible results.

    4. Hey LW.

      So proud of you for coming forward and talking about this. SO proud of you for thinking about how you can make things better for yourself. These are big, BIG steps, and you are already helping yourself heal. I’m proud of you. We are ALL so proud of you.

      Also, this may have been mentioned already– your handling this is heping your sisters. You need to know that. If you EVER think “but I can’t leave them with him”, THINK AGAIN. When you left the house after this incident, you taught them that walking out of an unsafe place, even for a few hours, was possible. Your planning to leave teaches them that leaving can happen. Above all, it helps them see that ABUSE IS NOT OKAY. And they need that. Just like you need it. In helping yourself first, in getting yourself to a safe place, you are doing the equivalent of putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

      Right now, your one and only priority is being safe and taking care of you. Embrace that in every way you can, and know that it is NOT selfish. You are helping yourself. But you are also helping your sisters. Maybe even your mom. And hey– if he is serious about therapy, maybe even your dad.

      Stick with it. You are inspiring.

    5. I’m so glad that you and your family are taking good forward steps. I’m glad that you will have somewhere else to stay and that finances will be taken care of. And how wonderful that your father is voluntarily going to a therapist – maybe you deciding to leave is the shock he needs to turn his life around (and make things better for everyone around him) Good luck!.

    6. I’m so glad to hear about your prospects for moving out! Thanks for letting us know. I’m rooting for you!

    7. Oh wow, I hope things work out with a college room! Depending on what type of town you live in, you might want to look for rooms on Craigslist or ask around in your circle of friends + acquaintances if they know anyone who has a room free, too.

      Good luck, everyone here is rooting for you 🙂

    8. Oh, LW, that is so terrific to hear that you’ve got prospects for a new place to stay. I wish you all the luck in the world with this endeavor and I hope things keep moving in a positive direction. (Also, major props to your mom for helping you.)

      *huge e-hugs to you, LW, for real*

    9. Thank you for the update, LW. It’s good to hear you’ve got options available for you.

      I remember with me one of the reasons why I was hesitant to label the relationship as abusive was that it would mean that I was in an abusive relationship. It was like I was labeling myself as someone who was weak and who allowed herself to be abused, instead of recognizing that anyone could be abused because it’s not about the victim, but the abuser.

      In other words, don’t let the label scare you off. You’re in a bad situation. You are allowed to say it’s a bad situation and that you deserve better.

      Regarding your family’s comments, one thing that’s not uncommon is that abusers have personalities that make everyone around them want to walk on eggshells and do whatever they can to not set the abuser off, instead of confronting the abuser about their behavior. So them saying that you should’ve behaved differently isn’t necessarily a sign that you should’ve behaved differently, but rather that all of you might be in one of these situations.

      Hang in there. I’m thinking lots of good thoughts in your direction.

  31. I’m so relieved to see that you’re on your way away, LW. A departure that you choose and plan will be so much better than waiting for it to escalate and then fleeing into the night (though the jump bag suggestion is excellent if you can’t leave right away). You deserve to be safe. I know it may take a little time before you feel able, but you do deserve it.

    The logistics of leaving can be intimidating, and abusers often make it seem not only difficult but impossible. They can paralyze you with doubt. Not to mention that (to paraphrase something I read in a book somewhere) parents know exactly how to pull your strings because they tied them there in the first place.

    You know the compromise you were thinking of, the one where you would have tolerated the threat of violence in order to protect your younger siblings and ensure help with the cost of your education? I tried that. It did not work for me. I couldn’t protect myself or anyone else, and I collapsed into a stressball and dropped out of school. (I still cringe to think of the wasted time and the lost tuition money.)

    I got better eventually, but not until I got out. It’s been eight years since I left university, and six since I last saw my father. I’m not depressed any more (hallelujah!). I have a good job and a community of friends, and I’m planning to apply to my local college for the fall.

    My story is not your story. You could very well be more resilient than I was – you may have bounced back faster, or you may not have crashed at all – but it would have been a big chance to take. Yes, you can survive this, but you deserve even more than that. You deserve to thrive. And I don’t just mean that you’ll deserve it eight years from now – you deserve it today.

    (Super ridiculously awesome star bonus ditto to everything Marie said, by the way, including that therapy is not magic, therefore “but he’s so different now, he’s so much better” should be taken with a shaker of salt. Trust your own experience.)

  32. I read this earlier today while I was at work … at a DV shelter! … and wish I could have commented earlier, but better late than never. It sounds like a lot of people here have given great advice, so I’m just going to throw in a very specific two cents, mostly about the moving onto campus.

    I’ve worked at campus advocacy/crisis centers at two different public universities in the US in the last 3 years. They are a GREAT resource for students in situations like yours, and they very, very often are able to get things done that aren’t official. For example, at both places that I worked, if Residence Life had available rooms and we went to them with a client who either needed to move onto campus or needed to move from one room to another on campus, our client went to the top of the list. They would also work with us in deferring fees and adding additional security features to the room, if our client wanted it.

    Same goes with school. We help clients talk to professors to get leniency if the shit hits the fan right before an exam or just generally interferes with the ability to get school done. We can sometimes work with the Dean of Students and financial aid to find the loopholes and get around rules to make something an option. You can get a little, confidential note put on your student and/or financial aid file that says, under no circumstances, does your dad get information [from the school], even if his name is on the loan.

    If there is such a center on your campus, you should definitely go talk to them. If not, a lot of campuses provide similar services housed in the Dean of Students office or the campus women’s/gender advocacy center. [I can’t speak for non-US universities, but I imagine there is something similar]. If you’re having trouble finding it, you can always call the local DV shelter or another resource, because if a campus advocacy service exists, the community resources will know about it (unless it’s brand new). Most centers/services like that on campus are listed primarily as dealing with rape and/or sexual assault, but they handle interpersonal and family violence as well, even if it’s not advertised.

    *This isn’t your fault, and it never, ever was. I know everyone else has said that, but in my experience, you can’t hear it enough. And it’s true!
    *You are doing the mature, adult thing by taking care of yourself first, and ensuring your own personal safety and well-being.
    *You have lots of options, and almost all of them are completely non-committal. If you talk to an advocate, you can make all kinds of decisions, and then change your mind later. So don’t be afraid to get some information and explore your options — an advocate won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.

    I saw the calling-the-police thing come up, and I agree with most of the responses. I want to make one technical point about calling the police: in the US, depending on the state, if the police receive a report of partner or family member violence, they HAVE to make an arrest. It varies state-by-state, but it’s not always possible to call the police just to let them know and have a record when it’s domestic violence. In my state, police are encouraged to arrest when relationship violence is reported, and they’re required to arrest someone and investigate if there are minor children in the home. If you’re not in danger now, and aren’t sure how you feel about involving the police, I recommend talking to an advocate first, and you can get to one through all of those phone numbers that CA included.

    Good luck!

  33. LW, I’m so glad you gave us an update. We’re all rooting for you! And yes, what Marie said about therapy. Hopefully your father is going to do the hard work involved in this and not use the psychobabble to deman and manipulate other people, but know that if he still pulls his crap and uses the psychobabble, that you’re fully within your rights to maintain your distance from him. Abusers can and do use therapy and a manipulation tool. Having said that, I truly hope that he had a moment where he realized that the way he’s acted has alienated one child and possibly alienated the rest of the family, and that he wants to change.

    Either way, I’m glad your mother is backing you up and helping you. Hugs to you!

  34. One item to consider that I haven’t seen mentioned is documenting/journaling. It’s good to write down the events that happened in as much detail and as objectively as possible as soon as you can. Memory is very malleable, and it is very easy to forget or misremember, especially the more often you rerun it in your mind thinking about woulda/coulda/shoulda. Make sure that you document not only the time that the events occurred, but the date that you wrote it all down. Documenting any future incidents in a similar fashion, however minor, helps build a body of evidence that can serve multiple purposes: 1) gives you concrete validation that this is a pattern of abuse, not just isolated incidents and that it isn’t a minor thing and you’re not overreacting, 2) helps defend you against the insidious effects of gaslighting, 3) may help others in your family recognize the problem, 4) if you ever do get to the point of reporting to whatever authorities (which may never happen), it may help minimize the he said/she said because you have documentation over time. That’s the objective part.

    The subjective part is possibly journaling. People process difficult things a lot of different ways, and sometimes writing can help. What were your emotions and thoughts during and immediately after this crisis? How did they compare to previous incidents? Can you describe your family dynamics during this crisis and previous incidents? What about now? What about poetry? Sometimes things that are too difficult to say can be expressed in other ways until we get to the point we can talk about them.

    If you do choose to write about this for whatever reason(s) may work best for you, make sure that it is not accessible to family members. Sheelzebub offered excellent advice for protecting your privacy and essential documents.

    Congratulations on some first positive results. I reiterate what everyone else has said. It isn’t your fault, and you have the right to be safe in your home.

  35. I am not sure exactly how much my situation resembles yours, LW. I do not want to use the word abuse about my father and our relationship, and so much of the events are so warped by memory that I don’t know how to judge them. I do know that, even when I loved him like any kid loves their parent, I was afraid of him and his temper. He spanked us as young children, and even now anyone saying “shit!” in the angry tone that he had sends my shoulders up around my ears. However, our yelling matches were pretty restrained, which is one reason I wouldn’t call it abuse – it wasn’t systematic, and although I can remember some terrible things he said, they were extremely few, and mostly he just sent me to my room. Our relationship got worse as I got older, particularly because he had trouble respected state boundaries. I would guess, in retrospect, that a lot of his anger had to do with his deteriorating marriage with my mother (which was 100% not my fault, and neither was his resulting behavior). 99% of the time, though, we were pretty tranquil.

    One day in the kitchen, he was getting into my space in a way that usually heralded our yelling matches, and something changed, I think I told him I hated him (which was not uncommon for me at 15), and he grabbed me by the neck and shoved me against the wall, holding me there and yelling. I managed not to kick him outright, but put my foot on his leg and pushed him off of me, back towards my mother. I have never been as scared or angry as I was when I looked into his face then, but my mother intervened and sent him away. After that, I went to therapy, because I was “being difficult.” I don’t remember feeling relieved, when he grabbed me, but I do remember getting into my Taekwondo guard stance as soon as he was off me, and being ready to defend myself physically. I remember being in a state of semi-shock, and collapsing in my room afterwards.

    It’s horrible to write out. It’s horrible when I reflect and realize that his angry outbursts are why i am afraid to “do things wrong,” especially when trying new things or staying in other people’s houses, even if those things aren’t something he ever yelled at me about (AS IF THERE IS A WRONG WAY TO WASH PLATES). I am still untangling this in my brain (and when I get health insurance, I will be doing it in therapy too). And I suppose one reason I am reluctant to say abuse is because I hold so many of the cultural prejudices about it – my father loves me, I understand his psychology better than I think he thinks I do, it wasn’t frequent, except that one day in the kitchen and the young spankings it wasn’t physically violent, I am pigheaded and outspoken and an aggressive boundary-setter in the rest of my relationships, I tried to be so in our relationship, I said worse things than he did…I don’t know what I think (but I am going back to therapy to figure it out!).

    I will tell you that getting out of my parents’ houses drastically improved my relationships with both of parents, even though I was still financially dependent. I was nice over the phone and through email, as nice as I could be on visits home (there were some verbal dustups every time), and then I left the country for 2.5 years right after graduation for a job that made me financially independent for the first time ever, and saw my mother 3 times in those years, and my father not at all. The time difference meant I could ignore any phone call at any time, because it was always reasonable that I was sleeping or busy, and I used that to avoid my parents until I actually missed them. Then I called them, we had lovely chats, and I ignored them until *I* wanted to talk with them again. At one point, my father started sending me desperate sounding emails about how he tried to call me but I didn’t pick up, and I finally answered that I’d prefer it if he waited for me to initiate contact, because emails like that made me feel like he was trying to guilt me into it, which made me not want to speak with him. He is trying, and has been better this past year about waiting than ever before, though I’ve not called him more than a dozen times.

    Your mileage may vary, and going halfway around the world as soon as you finish college may be a bit…not for everyone, but space and time, and eventual financial independence, can change lots of things. My thoughts are with you, and I hope most of all you remember to take care of yourself.

    1. Your dad sounds like my dad, only my dad never did hit me. He told me his bark was worse than his bite once, and I had to point out that angrily shouting at your kid for every little thing they do wrong counts as a bloody bite, ok?

      No Christmas without shouting until we cried because we were late for mass, or there was wrapping paper and toys all over the floor, or we didn’t have any appetite for dinner because it was four hours earlier than we usually had it. Being yelled at for slopping too much water around cleaning my hamster’s cage, even though I was doing it outdoors. Being yelled at for not cleaning the cage properly the next week when I tried to use less water and be more careful. The reaction to your kids having made a fort out of the couch cushions being to shout at them until they cried instead of asking them to clean it up please.

      At the age of twelve I had a revelation: Dad was wrong. When he yelled, it wasn’t because I deserved it, it was because he was angry. I hadn’t made him angry, he just was. Then, I would try to smile sweetly and calmly put the cushions away or thank him for pointing out that bit of dirt I’d missed washing up and rectify the problem immediately. And he would still be angry but with nothing to justify raging, and I would privately laugh at him. Of course, he still sometimes got to me and we would have tremendous shouting matches, but I had learned that he was only a bully and he was not always right and my god I would shout right back at him, because he wasn’t more important than me.

      1. Sometimes I try to imagine what it’s like to get angry at things like that. It’s not like I haven’t gotten really pissed off about stupid shit in my life (why won’t all the unfolded laundry fit in this hamper RAAAAAARGH inanimate objects RAGE). But I just can’t imagine watching somebody do something that doesn’t involve me, that I don’t care about, that I expend no effort upon (is it your hamster, dad? No? Are you cleaning the cage? Then fuck the fuck off), and get SO PISSED OFF that I need to yell at them until they cry. Like, do I really have that much time and energy leftover in my life that I need to spend it watching other people like a hawk, taking everything they do personally, and then make them cry about it? Can I not think of a better hobby?

        And I know, I know, it’s not really an anger thing. It’s a power and control thing. But it’s so bizarre to me why anybody would really want to walk around with their ragepants on all day. Doesn’t it get boring, tiring, or old?

        Though, to be honest, I sort of DO know what it’s like to feel that way. The only times in my life where I do feel that way — prepared to lash out at others for no reason, feeling some sort of compulsion to do it and grim satisfaction after — are when I’ve interacted for too long with somebody else like that. I used to have a bully in my workplace who was like this. After working with her on a project most of one day, I just had this permanent scowl on my face, and I started snapping at my coworkers, and thinking to myself how none of them were even TRYING to help me or make my life easier, they DIDN’T EVEN CARE, and they weren’t smart enough to even SEE how shitty they were being — and I suddenly realized, “Oh my god, this is how that shitty coworker feels ALL THE TIME. No way, I am not going to pick up her outsourced hate slack.”

        I’ve read that abusers project their worst qualities onto their victims, as general gaslighting, and as an attempt to justify poor treatment. Once I made a list of everything my ex ever called me, that really clicked, because for sure, it was a list that described him perfectly, and described me not at all — I had just been so busy defending myself against accusations of selfishness and laziness that I didn’t have the energy to be like, “Wait a sec, pretty sure you’re selfish as hell, boy.”

        I think abusers believe or want to believe that other people feel the way they do, that they’re completely normal, and everybody else is just better at hiding it, or worse at getting what they want. And when the reality around them doesn’t add up, they try to goad other people into acting their worst, even if their worst is actually not that bad, and then say, see! *You* get angry, too. After a day with my coworker, I felt and was acting just like her, resentful and entitled and bitter, and it made me think of things my ex used to say, that everybody hated things he hated, was angry at the things he was angry at, believed the things he believed, but he was the only one “honest” enough to say it. I used to buy that because lord knows I am not always my best self, and it snagged my shame about that, which kept me from looking up and seeing that my worst self is temporary, his “best self” was more abusive than me on my worst day, and he didn’t have a lick of shame about it, to boot.

        1. Honestly, I think it makes them HAPPY to do it. That deep down inside under all the screaming, they are really super enjoying it.

          Because the yelling gives them:
          (a) power
          (b) a sense of superiority
          (c) power power power
          (d) the ability to get everyone else to bend to your will and cater to them to make them happy
          (e) power some more
          (f) domination
          (g) the ability to be the one who controls everything and is in charge
          (h) being the huge one who screams and beats on everyone means that you’re the strongest, most manly, most superior one in the house.

          I think it’s a giant high for them, honestly. Pounding everyone else down raises them up on to the highest pedestal.

        2. I read a study somewhere that showed that abusers, when in the middle of a so-called “rage,” were actually quite calm. Their heart rates were normal, all of the physical signs of stress and rage were absent.

      2. Yeah. I think a lot of my dad’s yelling came from feeling helpless about the bumps in his relationship with my mother. He’s never spoken much about his childhood life, but my mom came from a very abusive background, so I think her ability to identify his behaviors as “not okay” was using a kind of fucked up yardstick. That said, the abusive behaviors from my dad (I think I’m okay with identifying them as that, rather than identifying him as abusive) were not a regular, everyday thing. I did not, in general, live in fear of his temper – I was only afraid if I broke something, or if he was in a bad mood, I would tread carefully.

        Honestly, the stronger I’ve gotten, the more my reactions to that treatment have come to the surface, because they are no longer unconscious self-protective behaviors. Now I actually find myself explicitly thinking of what excuse I will give if I accidentally break something that will make it totally not my fault at all, or worrying about how to clean the thing in a way that Whoever will approve of – before it was kind of…worried paralysis that operated under the radar. Now I can see and flag it, and while that almost feels shittier than it did when I didn’t notice it, it’s definitely part of my process in healing.

        I actually regularly do things that scare me, and I think a lot of my ability to do that comes from feeling like my very self depended on standing up to my dad (and my brothers).

        When he yelled, it wasn’t because I deserved it, it was because he was angry. I hadn’t made him angry, he just was.

        YES. Although I wasn’t able to not shout back ever, I think because I grew up fighting with my two full brothers too, and in the sibling context (especially socialized primarily by boy siblings), not yelling/fighting back meant LOSING, and I hated to “lose.” Shouting back was definitely easier the older I got, the more I was able to realize my dad was a fallible human being who wasn’t correct about everything in the world.

        My parents are both control-freak doctors too, so there’s that in the mix too.

      3. “Your dad sounds like my dad, only my dad never did hit me. He told me his bark was worse than his bite once, and I had to point out that angrily shouting at your kid for every little thing they do wrong counts as a bloody bite, ok?”

        No shit. I’m remembering all those times my family would joke about how my dad is SECRETLY NICE inside which apparently means it’s okay if he’s horrible on the outside. It was just so easy to excuse his behavior as okay and understandable, just a personality thing, he doesn’t mean it, etc. I internalized that to the point that even when I knew something was Not Right and would fight with him about it, I was always struggling with this shameful sense of guilt for being so harsh on my poor dad who is secretly a teddy bear inside and just has ~trouble expressing positive emotion~ or whatever. Like, how dare I expect a baseline level of decency and respect? And no matter how wrong I knew he was, in my heart I always thought I was the problem.

        It’s shocking to think that I grew up like this and while I knew something was off, I never thought of it as unhealthy or abusive.

        1. Oh, oh, oh!

          “He loves you… in his way.”

          The amazing day of freedom when I could say, “Well, that shit ain’t good enough!” No, let’s stop arguing about abusive or not abusive or he means it or doesn’t mean it or he’s really nice or not nice — I admit my abuser loves me and I am also definitively saying that his love isn’t worth very much to me. That’s right, give me the selfish stamp, I earned it and it is my precious.

        2. You know what just struck me? The whole “He’s really nice *inside*” “He’s actually a Nice Guy underneath it all” etc. has been used by people I know to excuse shitty, shitty behavior from guys we knew. I finally realized that the poor sad clown who cannot show niceness on the outside isn’t my fucking problem, and started saying, “I don’t give a fuck about what he’s really like on the inside. His behavior is shitty, his behavior is leaving me with a bad impression, and it isn’t my fucking job to twist myself into a pretzel to see if he’s different on the inside. If he wants people to think he’s a good person, he can goddamn well start acting like one.”

          1. I’ve been following this thread, and while it can be a little triggering (left my emotionally abusive control-freak husband 2 years ago, and the freedom? It is FINE, my friends), it also does my heart so, so proud to see so many women break free and thrive away from abusive bullshit. Please, do yourself a favor and get away from this as fast as your feet can carry you. You are carrying in your heart and your mind the seed of your best self, and your best self does not accept the unacceptable. Look, you’ve already made the decision to talk to Captain Awkward–see, best self steering you toward good people (and there are still good, kind people, believe that) who want the best for you.

            To go along with Sheelzebub’s comment, my new rule is this: if I have to explain the basics of decent human conduct to another adult person, then I am out of there. Because, the fuck? This is sandbox-kindergarten-super-basic shit here, folks—i.e., no hitting, no mean words, no creepiness or cruelty of any kind.
            And a big YES! to the reading of ‘Why Does He Do That’ by Lundy Bancroft. Short answers: yes, he knows he’s hurting you. No, he doesn’t care as long as he gets control, and No, he is unlikely to ever change.

  36. LW,

    I second the Captain on listening to your mom. When I was 16 and my brother escalated *any* conflict into finding a way to hit me, my mother found me a place to live during the week, and I went home on weekends. For the longest time, I felt like I was letting him ‘win’ somehow, and I felt pathetic for that – like I was doing the wrong thing by ‘running away’, that I had an obligation to stand up to him and stop him from doing this shit. But what I *got* was a place to be safe in, where I wasn’t subject to constant tension. Because although there are reasons that my brother became an abusive person, those reasons don’t mean he gets to harm me.

    He assaulted me a few years later, when I was visiting after I’d moved interstate – I had him arrested, and charged, and so began his first foray into the juvenile justice system. I did it even though there were people who asked me to have a little ‘compassion’ and drop the charges (after he put a hairline fracture in my eyesocket) because when he asked me if I’d ‘had enough’ or if he had to ‘give me more’, that was then I knew that if I didn’t take that step and make him officially accountable for what he’d done, his accountability would disappear for everyone but me. I chose to escalate, because *not* doing that would have been absolutely wrong for me. But it was 4 years of distance, safety and therapy that got me to that point.

    Like Marie said, do whatever you need to do to survive your situation. You don’t *have* to do anything except what works for you, but creating a little space, a little distance, doesn’t have to be a permanent severing of all ties, or anything.

  37. One clarification I should add. I didn’t get away from my parents immediately.
    It wasn’t as simple as that.

    Instead what happened was after being used as the family punching bag I spent about a week with my boyfriend while everyone calmed down. I then went back to my parents place for about two or three weeks. I kept out of their way for the most part – I’d leave the house early and wouldn’t go back until late, regardless of what my work schedule was.

    Initially I started searching for a place of my own, but after meeting some rather … off … people who were looking for a housemate my partner asked me to stay with him permanently. I bought a car, packed up my stuff in it, and left.

    I was lucky in so many ways, but the only reason I got out of that situation was by working on smaller tasks that I felt would directly help me get out of that situation rather than taking it all on in one shot.

    What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to make one big leap where you move out, get a job and try to juggle university on top of being An Adult (TM). Break it down into little steps, and focus on what you feel is most important in keeping yourself safe, happy and healthy.

  38. Thanks for the update. It’s good that you can move out at all, wonderful that you can do it in a calm and orderly fashion.

    Intellectually I know it wasn’t my fault, but it’s hard to really believe that, you know? I’ve spent so long feeling guilty and like there was something wrong with me.

    Once you’re out of the house and safe in your own space, my greatest wish for you is that you come to know emotionally what you already know intellectually. There’s nothing wrong with you. If I’d grown up in an environment like yours, I probably would have cowered in corners, hoping that if I made myself invisible enough, I wouldn’t bring the abuse down on me. But I wish I were more like you — the one who stands up for herself and for others.

    You are already the person other people aspire to be. Good luck, and I hope you let us know how things are going from time to time.

  39. LW, this is basically just a reframing or additional comment on what others have said, and I don’t have experience with DV. But, when I think about struggling to understand my much more minor family dysfunction–even then, when coming to terms with something fairly low-key–I still find it really hard to emotionally understand that people can love you, or have an okay or good character in some regard, AND still do things that are Not Okay. I think some of the difficulty described here around feeling comfortable using the word “abuse” is that some part of us thinks that only the worst of the worst situations merits the term: that we should only call a sociopath or extremely violent person an abuser. I believe this is because our brains have a much easier time with making things binary, black or white; of course, what happens in our lives is usually a shade of gray. In real life maybe the abused person has been mouthing off or arguing with the abuser. But if we take a step back–in what world does that “justify” abuse? If a stranger on the street called you a name, would it be okay to haul off and sock them one? No, and you would probably get arrested. Even if you were having a bad day. Even if the stranger called you something inexplicably awful.

    I really like how Janey Mac put it. Your dad was wrong. He did a very wrong thing. He has been doing wrong things. It is not your fault that he has been doing wrong things. I hope he starts doing right things, but in the meantime, please keep yourself safe and whole. Keep your eye on his actions, not his words. Your dad doesn’t have to be a sociopath or using you as a punching bag on a regular basis: he can still be a person who is doing wrong stuff and who is a legitimate danger to you.

    Hugs and best wishes for your safety and well-being.

  40. LW, So sorry to hear about your situation. I hope that getting a room on campus works out for you. I just wanted to let you know (in case the housing situation doesn’t work out or you end up having to live with your family again in the future) that in some states you can get a restraining order against someone with whom you share living space. (The order may say something like your father may not enter a room you are in or your father must stay at least 5 feet away from you.) This may be something you might want to look into, and a local organization should be familiar with what judges can and cannot include in restraining orders in your state.

    Also, to echo what people have said about making a safety plan, safety planning can help you stay safer whether or not you are living in the same house as your father. Again, a local organization may be able to help you, but hotlines and online resources will also have a lot of information on safety planning. This may also be something you could suggest to your mother and sister to help them take care of themselves at home while you take care of yourself on campus. Best of luck.

  41. Hey, LW, I’m really glad you’re taking care of yourself.

    This is a very minor concern in the scheme of things, but it’s one that kept me from leaving my parents’ house sooner: If you’re in the U.S., the federal student loan system considers you a dependent of your parents until you’re 25, unless you’re married or in the military, or one or two other exemptions you likely don’t qualify for. Dependent students are required to submit their parents’ financial information as part of their FAFSA, which you may not want to do or your father may not want you to do.

    But don’t let that stop you! Although it’s not well advertised, there ABSOLUTELY IS an exemption for people who were abused by their parents and—take it from someone who knows—it is not that hard to qualify for. A financial aid counselor at school can help you with the details, but I think all that was required was a couple of letters: one from you explaining why you don’t feel safe asking your parents for this information, and one or two from other people verifying that you’ve told them about the abuse and they believe you. Get a friend to write one. Talk to a counselor at school and get them to write one. Get a friend who’d been internet-ordained so he could officiate a wedding pretend to be your spiritual advisor and have him write one, like I did. It’s totally doable.

    And as much as I hate paying off all these goddamn loans, I know that not being as miserable as I was in my parents’ house is worth every single penny.

  42. I just wrote the story of my abusive marriage. It literally just went live today. Here is the link if any of you are interested in reading it:

    Hopefully you too will find your way out with your dignity and psyche intact.

    I recommend that you seek counseling after you have left your parents’ house. Cognitive Behavioral therapy worked best for me, but YMMV.

  43. Oh my god. This is me.

    Does anyone have any have any information on DV lines or other things on the internet, because I don’t have free access to a phone?

    I’m 16 and realizing my life is really really screwed up.

    1. You’re 16, so you’re in school, yes? It’s possible you’re not, but if you are!

      – Talk to the guidance counselor. Even if s/he is more of a career counselor, you can use their phone. Say to your most sympathetic teacher “I need to see the guidance counselor.” Then go do that.

      – Do you have any friends who have their own cell phones? Can you borrow it during lunch?

      If you are not in school and are isolated from phone-owning friends:
      – Next time you’re at a convenience store or Walmart or whatever on your own, buy a preloaded phone. It’s not free, but it’s fairly inexpensive.

      – If your family is church/synagogue/mosque/etc.-going (AND you feel safe talking to people in authority there) see if you can meet with priest/rabbi/imam/preacher/other and talk it out. Bonus points, there might be a specific Youth [Person] who is supposed to help you.

      Some of the sites listed in the main body of the Captain’s answer have chat-help available. You’ve obviously got access to a computer (that your parents can’t (or don’t know how to) check history on hopefully! Watch out for that!), so try those.

      Good luck.

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