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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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I am a 30 year old female, married, and have 3 kids (5, 3,

Customer Question

I am a 30 year old female, married, and have 3 kids (5 , 3, and 1). Growing up I had an abusive father (watched him being physical towards my mother on several occasions). But I always tried to intervene, and ended up with the emotional, and verbal abuse. As a teenager, I tried to avoid my father at all costs so as to not offset him. Everything I did (even attempting to comply with him), would still result in the abuse. There was always alot of suscipion(spelling?) and threats from him towards me. I also have a younger brother (9 years difference between us) he witnessed alot of it, but my father never acted out towards him. Now as a mother, there are moments at times, even when I myself can feel that my temper is rising, I lash out at my kids (verbally). It sickens me, and as much as I know and realize that it must be displaced anger from my own childhood. I want this to stop now!! I just would love to know which professional I should seek help from, to start processing through this . I would also like to know an opinion, my children see their grandparents ( I've asked them if my father has ever said or done anything "inappropriate" to them? which they have answered "no" to... but given his past behaviour, should I keep letting them see him, should I be terminating contact given his past behaviours ? I know that there are many other aspects of my life that are greatly affected by what I went through growing up... and I want to get past this, to be a better parent, spouse, and individual , and role model to my children. I keep thinking that in sweeping this under the rug, I'm teaching my children, that it's okay to take abuse, and let people bully them. But will I create more problems by bringing something up that happened so many years ago? Any thoughts, or suggestions would be greatly appreciated at this point. Thank you for your time
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue.

I have to say how that your story in your post is very, very interesting and compelling. You do a wonderful job of identifying some key problems and issues that resulted from the relationship you had with your father. You clearly see you have learned how to parent from the only source of observational learning you had available to you, which was your parents. You see yourself modeling or carrying into your own parenthood, the frustration-coping behaviors you witnessed with your father i.e., you are prone to erupt and become very angry and impatient with your kids, and you hate this reaction in yourself. However, you can thank your dad for (unfortunately) teaching you that you should never really express negative feelings, become overtly angry when someone hurts you or disappoints you---you learned you 'should' keep your feelings inside. Now, as an adult, it is very hard to keep suppressing your feelings when you feel strongly and you go for a while with the suppression, but then you find you erupt and feel a bit out of control and ashamed for doing so. This is all really normal stuff for someone with the fathering history you experienced.

I have to say that one of your greatest assets---and I it is actually pretty rare---I've been doing this for 25 years and know this----is your capacity for introspection, self-examination and interest in reflecting upon your own behavior, taking responsibility for it, and trying to 'do better'. This is hugely important! It shows significant psychological maturity. I'm going to pause here before continuing to address your specific questions. I want to make sure we are on the same page in understanding 'why' your manage your emotions as you do. What do you think?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

I'm not fully understanding what your question is trying to ask me... "why do I manage my emotions as I do?"

My emotions in general? my emotions with my kids?

Thank you for acknowledging my positive attributes in self-examination, introspection, that, i can say, was fine-tuned with 3 years of schooling in Child and Youth Work. Which I exelled in greatly academically. But fell a bit shortly in the field, as I was always hesitant to fully advocate as I had my own issues to deal with.

But back to your question, about dealing with my emotions? I try to deal with them in the moment. and being levelheaded about them.

Customer: replied 5 years ago.

After spending an hour this morning, reflecting a little more, on your question, how I deal with my emotions.. I came to a revelation. " I can identify what my emotions are, but i'm always considering how my emotions will affect others? I feel like I don't stand up for my emotions in the moment, because I may upset the other person/ the vulnerability and the rawness of the "emotion" makes me feel uncomfortable. i know in the moment of feeling consumed by a "feeling", i say to myself, why bother saying it out loud, they are MY emotions, why would they care what i feel.

If they cared, they wouldn't act/say/do, the things they do.

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
what I was getting at is that growing up, you learned that you 'must' suppress your negative emotions and never express them, or you'd face consequences from your father. You could never feel angry and retaliate against him for example. So how you learned to cope with them was to never express them in a genuine manner. You suppressed them regularly. Presently, you understand you can experience feelings of course, and label them accurately, but you can't 'stand up for your emotions in the moment' because you are afraid of how others might react----now I'm sure you realize that this is the very thing you had to 'watch out' for growing up when you experienced strong, negative emotions with your dad for example.

You also make the assumption that if you feel something strongly, you shouldn't express it because you believe the person wouldn't likely care anyway. This expectation about people's responses to your expression of emotion was also trained up by your father---he likely never showed he empathized or sympathized with your emotions so expressing how you felt was moot; another 'lesson' you learned well from him. However, here is the difficult part though---many people who learn to love and care about you CARE about how you feel and want to know how you feel. If they do not, you're in the wrong relationship. So this is why growing past the suppression mode of managing your emotions is important---people who are healthy want to know how you feel, can tolerate your becoming justifiably upset, hurt, angry, etc. Some people are of course, self-absorbed, selfish and unempathic and won't care how you feel, but many will. You may be overgeneralizing to "everyone" when you automatically suppress your feelings or censor what you say because you're afraid of how people will take it. And, there is a serious cost to doing this---I hope you also see that by never speaking up or rarely doing so, you are basically TEACHING that person that if they say or do something that is mean, hurtful or exploitative, they can count on you to never object or speak up, or complain. You are reinforcing their tendency to want to overpower you in conflicts or arguments, take advantage of you or bully you a bit. You become quite an easy, cooperative 'mark' for exploitation in the eyes of some people and they will take advantage. People who 'get away' with acting this way, when the victim doesn't object, are more likely to act this way toward them in the future. What do you think?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

I'm speechless, and dumbfounded. It completely explains my baffleness as to why, when someone asks me, what I think, I can find the words to convey my thoughts, and opinions, but when the question is asked, as to what I feel... i draw a blank, and often say, "in this given situation, most would feel".... but it's never what "i feel", because in a way, i've forgotten how to feel?

which would explain, why I tend to shy away from social experiences (which was never encouraged to begin with growing up)....I feel awkward, and actually really sick to my stomach at times. but here is the thing, I can speak up and stand up for myself with others, such as colleagues, family members(including my father), strangers, etc. I have no problem stating my bit, and being levelheaded about it. It's just that with my father- what I say is always wrong, and never valid. and I've tried to confront him about `this, but everybody always tells me to let it go... people always dodge around him, and just say what he wants to hear... and I REFUSE to say something that isn't true to what I believe, feel, or care, about. I realize that he may have his own issues/insecurities in life, but that's something he needs to deal with, or atleast be honest about, so that others can help him with it. He's CHOOSING to be miserable, and make everybody else miserable too, and feel responsible for his life. and then it becomes a snowball effect, which i really want to stop being a part of. My parents recently went away on vacation, and the week prior to them leaving, i distanced myself from them. and no word of a lie, they were the best 2 weeks of my life not having any contact with them. I was a happier person with myself, with my kids, and husband, and others in general.

I felt alot of responsibility for them- they immigrated and I had to look after things, still to this day I have to always fill out paperwork for them. My father knows enough of the language to get by, but my mother is stubborn to learn/speak it. Even when the physical abuse was happening, I remember on many occasions, I'd say, "mom this is enough", and she'd say. you need to help me.(at the time I was 7) So now as an adult I look back on that, and I wonder, if it was my fault for not "doing something about it".... especially since, I see my brother (now an adult), exhibiting the same personality traits as my father.

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
It sounds like you are slowing figuring out all of the ways you upbringing has left you with certain deficits and personal issues to work on, especially in your emotional life. Couldn't have suggested anything better than you did or are doing---increasingly create your own life and reality with your own family (kids, husband) and let your parents 'be' on the their own, increasingly. Other family members can step up, strive to maintain close ties and suffer with your insufferable father. You can still be polite, cordial and yet, direct your time and energy more an more toward your own family. I think as you do this, you'll begin to actually pity your father and mother and their relationship and when this happens---seeing him as a dysfunctional, pitiful man with little actual power (the 'emperor has no clothes'), you can become freer emotionally. What he says will affect you less and less, his criticism, objections, directives, suggestions, etc., will increasingly "go in one ear and right out the other ear" and will have less and less emotional effect.

Let me know if I have overlooked any aspect of your original question. Please click on the green Accept button at the bottom of the screen. Thanks.
Dr. Michael and 3 other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

Thank you so much, for stating and validating my feelings, and reinforcing that it's okay to feel "pity" for him and my mother.

I am planning on having lesser contact with them, but am also aware that they will question me as to why? should i dread up the past? how should I answer them, when they ask why? I'm not afraid of answering them, I just don't know how I should be answering them so that it's directive, and doesn't leave any room for them to make excuses and try to be back in the picture?

Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
There is no way of explaining why you are curtailing your contact with the. I wouldn't dredge up the past. You can be 'more and more busy with the kids getting older and being involved in more activities' or trying to focus more on strengthening your family relationships (keep this vague) and so spending quality time with the kids and your husband is more of a priority.

If you want to be 'honest', you could say that your visits with them in the past year or so have left you feeling more distressed than relaxed pleased because even though you have been an adult, on equal footing for about 10 years now you; don't feel your father is very interested in really listening during conversations. That is, many of the conversations are tense and critical and that he doesn't appear to view you as a true adult, a peer, with equal status; and that you have concluded he doesn't really enjoy the visits with you all that much so you've decided to reduce the frequency of contact. And so you hope he might feel better about future visits if you don't have contact quite as frequently. If he does get defensive or objects and demands to know 'what you mean' by this statement, I would remain calm and say, "Dad, if you have to ask that question, it is clear you really don't understand what the problem is and it is best that I don't engage you in an explanation or discussion that might lead to another disagreement". And then refuse to engage him. He needs to contemplate this issue on his own, think about it, and you want to allow him to possibly feel anxiety about what is happening. It will do him good!

You can take the 'safe', non confrontational approach, or you can be a bit more honest, but in a way that makes it nearly impossible for him to respond, press for an 'explanation' pick an argument, etc. (as suggested above)

What do you think?

There would be very little your father could really say as an argument
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thank you very much for offering me two possible options as to how to deal with it, if it happens. I just need to remember to stay focused on what "I want" (to cease contact), and not anything else. Thank you so much! I send you a "viral hug" for giving me a little more emotional and spiritual groundness, clarity, and affirming that less contact is best for my kids, myself, and my husband and our future. I can't thank you enough Dr. Michael!
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
Thanks very much. Let me know if I can be of help to you in the future.