“What’s your relationship with your father like”?
The question came from my therapist, whom I had been seeing for a terrible breakup that had plunged me into depression. It had been a year; and it still hurt like the first day.
“What do you mean?” I asked. What did my father have to do with this? My ex was the culprit for my broken heart, not him! (oh my sweet summer child, you are in for one big surprise…)
“Well, is he nice to you? ” my therapist continued.
“Mostly”, I answered. “He has some anger issues that can be quite frightening, but other than that he’s fine. Just try not to contradict him.”
“Tell me more”.
“Well, if something doesn’t go his way, he throws a tantrum. And he is also very insistent on me showing that I love him”, I went on, rolling my eyes. “If I don’t do what he wants how he wants, then he becomes distant and cold, and flips out, saying that he will cut ties with me, that I don’t deserve his love, that I’m nothing without him…” Judging by my therapist’s shocked expression, normal fathers were not like this.
“What your father did, and apparently still does, is emotionally abusive” my therapist said. “Parental love should not be conditional, and forcing contact is overstepping your boundaries, which ultimately ruins your self-esteem. No wonder you are here, you have an almost pathological lack of self-esteem.”
Ouch. Thanks, doc.
This conversation happened four years ago, but it taught me that what was happening to me was not normal, and the violation I felt every time my father stepped on my boundaries was valid. That him threatening when I asked for privacy was not right. That him attacking me and making me cry, then calling my mother saying he was worried about me, was abusive. That calling me five times a day was actual harassment. That him saying that he would have sex with me if I weren’t his daughter, was borderline incestuous.
I am still in touch with my father, and have not yet managed to extract myself from his grasp. I have C-PTSD and I get triggered whenever someone shows anger (not to mention how complicated it is for me to be angry). I am still working on my self-esteem and building my own identity. I shiver in fright when I read about the negative life choices I am more likely to make because my mind has been wired to make them because of the abuse. I procrastinate my life away because I think I am not good enough to reach for the life I want, because what if I fail and prove my father right?
However, I have become better at drowning out his voice telling me how I should live my life. A year ago I stood my ground for the first time, yelling at him louder than he could yell at me, backing up my arguments until he was forced to give up and change the subject. I tell him I don’t care about his opinion when he says “I think you should…”. I applied for my current degree with no one else’s help but that of my teachers who wrote my recommendation letters, and was accepted. Most importantly, I am training myself to believe I can make it without his help, so that one day, I will be able to say “I don’t need you, and you have no power”.
(Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder similar to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which results from repetitive, prolonged trauma involving harm or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic.),