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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Scared of My Dad

Written by  Marc Garson MSW, ACSW, ACP

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I'm 15, and I'm scared of my Dad. He used to hit me hard when I was in elementary school whenever he got angry, or sometimes he threw me against walls. He stopped doing that in 7th grade because he realized I was old enough to report the "violence". Even though he's not hitting me anymore, I'm still scared of him. Now, whenever he gets mad at me, he just makes hitting gestures, like lifting his fist or belt, and screaming and then cornering me. I know he won't really hit me, but it's already frightening enough to know that he always has a temptation to do it, and he's only holding himself back. God forbid if one day he can't hold himself back I don't know what's gonna happen to me. He told me that in those exact words, "If I ever fail to hold back my temptation, I swear you will end up in the hospital!" I've tried talking to him heart-to-heart, but he always ends-up saying that he can't help it, its just the way he naturally is. He knows how I feel already, but it's like a habit for him, or something. How can I adjust?

- Scared of My Dad


Dear Scared,

First of all let me emphasize that family violence and physical abuse are completely unacceptable behavior, under any circumstances, and are illegal in most cases.

If your father becomes physically violent towards you again, I would strongly encourage you to seek out some immediate assistance. You can tell a guidance counselor at school what's going on, or call an abuse hotline.

See Crisis Center / Abuse.

Just because he is no longer physically violent with you, that does not mean that you are no longer being abused, or no longer in danger.

Verbal abuse, screaming, and threatening behavior are also forms of abuse.

It sounds like you are living under a constant threat of violence, as is evidenced by your wondering what would happen "if he one day can't hold himself back", never knowing if the next altercation will be the one that "pushes him over the edge."

You and the other "victims of rage" in your family have probably already learned to hold back your honest feelings or opinions from your Dad, because you fear his violent reaction to them.

Growing up with this sort of random and unpredictable violence often impacts your ability to trust and communicate honestly in other future significant relationships.

No child should have to fear that his or her own parents might intentionally cause them bodily harm, no matter what they might have said or done to deserve it.

Your father's excuse that "he just can't help it" is unacceptable!

He must learn to control his rage. There are many excellent programs and therapists, which specialize in helping people to overcome their own violent inclinations.

Furthermore, you are absolutely correct to describe his propensity for violence as a "habit...or something" - it is!

I would strongly recommend that you and the rest of your family should, if at all possible, hook-up with some sort of local support group for families who must contend with a frequently "out-of-control" family member.

I would also strongly suggest that you and the other "victims" in your family get some good family therapy or counseling, without your Dad.

The therapy ought to help provide you with a safe and healthy place to examine in what way/s you have already been hurt by his anger.

Also in therapy you'll begin to learn how to better cope with his rage and violent outbursts in the future, without having to sacrifice your thoughts, opinions, and feelings in the process.

The best advice that I could give you for the moment is to try and stay out of "harm's way" as much as possible. When your Dad does start to scream at you again, as is probably inevitable, you should try to disengage.

Disengagement means learning not to be at the mercy of his anger, learning not to let his anger trigger an angry outburst from you in response.

Remember, "it takes two to tango". The following are a few exercises that you can do, which will help you to begin to disengage from your Dad's rage:

  1. When he attacks (verbally) try to stay focused on keeping your breathing as normal as possible, this will help you to stay calm.

  2. Listen to his words, and try to acknowledge that you are listening by nodding your head; but let his words just be his opinion - you do not have to "own" what he screams at you - work on letting his words 'flow through you".

    I know that it especially hurts because, after all, it's your Dad saying all these terrible things to you; but when he's raging, it's not him - it's his anger.

  3. Learn to recognize your own "eruption" signs, as the anger begins to well up inside of you. Become aware of the temperature rising in your neck and face, learn to feel your muscles tensing, and the shortness of breath, etc. Use these signs as reminders for you to graciously take your exit cue - because if you stay any longer, you too are likely to "lose control" and erupt, just like him!

  4. It also often helps to clench your fists together behind your back where he won't see. Try and channel your anger into your own hands, squeezing them tightly together, and using the tension you feel in your hand's as a reminder to keep your lips shut - and to not strike back!

Let me repeat - no child ought to have to fear for their life - especially from their own parent! Get help now.

Good Luck Keeping Your Cool,

Marc H. Garson

Last modified on Thursday, 16 June 2011 11:15
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Marc Garson MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson has a BA in psychology from the University of Texas in Austin, a MasterSs of Social Work (MSW) from Yeshiva University in New York City, and a Master of Science in Business Management from Boston University. He has been a practicing clinical psychotherapist since 1986. He is a licensed clinical social worker and advanced clinical practitioner in the State of Texas, and a longstanding member of the National Association of Social Workers. His clinical specialties include marriage and family, adolescence, parenting, and family therapies. He also has an extensive background in chemical dependency and codependence treatment. Marc is married and the father of three beautiful little girls: Daniella age 7, Ariella age 6, & Miera age 3. Marc's special interests and hobbies include football, rock and jazz music, boating, weightlifting, chess, philosophy, and business. He loves to travel, and is something of a gourmet chef.

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