One Son’s Journey to Seeing the Truth about his Abusive Father
Children, teens, and adult children often have problems due to domestic abuse. Sometimes the kids blame the protective (non-abusive) parent. Sometimes they feel their life is wrecked because their parents divorced. Quite often the abusive parent turns the kids against the abused parent. Children can model themselves on the abuser, which abusers often encourage as it makes the target-spouse even more isolated and abused. Kids can be very messed up because of all the abuser’s lies, impression management, and rewriting of history.
You may remember Moody Student’s post What is Moody Bible Institute teaching about divorce? A reader called “Mom” recently asked Moody Student to share something that might help her teenage son not feel he needs to find fault with her or with his Dad. … Something that might help her son have sense of agency and a future — instead of feeling that he is stuck in a ruined life. (You can read Mom’s request here.)
Moody Student wrote such a great reply to Mom that with his permission we are featuring what he said as a stand-alone post. And at the end of this post we are giving links to other posts that parents with this kind of dilemma might find useful.
First, remember that you are strong and that leaving takes courage. Do not let his constant threats deter you or his lies persuade you. You did what you had to (and still have to) because you love your son. Always remember that. I just want to encourage you that you are strong and (from a child from an abusive home’s perspective) you did the right thing. I can see that now, even though I couldn’t when my mom left my dad.
Also please know that these are helpful suggestions. I don’t want to lecture you. This is just what has helped me.
One thing that helped me was seeing the truth that my father was abusive. When we first left, I did not see why we had to leave. However, as time passed, my eyes were opened to the truth and I found freedom in that truth.
My eyes were opened when I connected the dots. When I was outright told the truth, I wouldn’t believe it or even consider it.
When my parents first separated, I somewhat saw the abuse that happened but I closed my eyes to it. However, one thing that helped was being away from my abusive father. Being separated helped me to start thinking clearly. While I was with him, I believed the lies that he told me because that had become my natural response. Being separated allowed me time to step back and (with the help of my mother pointing me to the truth) find the truth. She would talk about what methods abusers use, which would remind me of what my father did. I would start making the connections that my father is an abuser.
Before we left my mother talked with us children about having to leave. She never said that my father was abusive, but she did imply and say that something was wrong with him.
A second thing that helped me was talking through the reason we left. Rather than my mother just up and leaving one day without any explanation ever, she talked it through with us why we were leaving. She didn’t tell us all of the details all at once, but she gave us enough information to explain why we separated.
A third thing that helped was seeing my father’s reaction after the separation. Seeing how he reacted in comparison to what a normal reaction would be helped me to see more clearly that all was not right with him.
For me, I had to see the truth that my father was and is abusive. Until I had seen the truth, I believed his lies that my mother was the reason that there were problems.
My suggestions to you (again I do not want to preach to you or act like a know-it-all; this is just what has worked for me) is to talk with your son about the tactics that abusers use. Without using his father’s name, you could mention in a non-accusatory way how abusers do _____ (whatever his father did that your son remembers). That way, your son won’t think that you are accusing his father of being abusive. In a different conversation, you could ask him “remember when ____ happened?” My mom would read a passage out of Bancroft’s book about how abusers break promises. Then she would ask “remember when x, y, and z were promised to you but it never happened? What do you think about that? Do you remember any other times promises were broken?” Something like that. For me, I was helped by my mother not accusing my father, so I would suggest being careful to avoid coming across as accusatory towards his father.
Another way you could introduce your son to the tactics of abusers is by saying something like “I’m doing a lot of research on abusive relationships. I find this fascinating because of what I’ve been through. I’d like to share with you some things I’ve learned. This is what abusers say. This is what abusers do. These are the patterns that abusive people fall into. These are the common things that abusers share. I’ve seen this and that before with me. What do you think?” He may react defensively, but truth seeds will be planted. You could phrase what you tell him as this is about what you’re learning, or how you feel, since he can’t argue with that.
Another thing that helped me was seeing the patterns after we had separated. When I had to visit my father, I would start to see the patterns that were described by my mother. I would also start remembering the patterns that I had seen before we separated. For instance, I remembered when we used to hang out with friends when I was younger. Whenever we spent time with them, I had the nagging feeling that something was different between us and them. It had seemed like our friend’s children had a better relationship with their parents than we did with our parents. Looking back I can realize that I was noticing the abuse without fully realizing what it was.
Also, when I and my siblings started to see the truth my father accused my mother of tainting our thoughts.
Another thing that helped me was not being forced to deal with the separation. Rather than my mother trying to make us see everything at once, she let us discover things in our own time. She still did present new things for me to learn, but she did not try to force it all upon us at once. Along with that, my mother was always willing to talk about the separation or abuse that had happened (and was still happening). Whenever something new would crop up with my father, my mother wanted to talk with us about it and to help us process what happened. Again, she did not want to force us to conclusions, but she helped us see the truth.
I was helped when the “idol” of my father came down. I thought I knew my father, but I realized I was devoted to an imaginary figure of sorts. The person I thought was my father was in reality not my father. When I realized that I was believing a lie, I saw the truth. I realized I was believing in a lie through reaching my own conclusions (with the help of my mother), and through interactions with my father post-separation that I realized reeked of abuse.
I hoped this helped. I again want to encourage you.