Ask an expert: ‘My father is cruel and used to psychologically and verbally abuse my mother’

By | December 8, 2019

He controlled all the money in the family and she had to plead with him to buy basic things like food or clothes. She wasn’t allowed to go out with her friends or see her family.

As a child, I begged her to leave him but she never did. I have cut off all contact with my father and speak to my mum on the phone. I dread this time of year as all I see are happy families surrounded by love and comfort. I have no family here but I have made some good friends through work.

I often feel very sad and lonely, although I have a good job and kind colleagues. That’s what keeps me going. One friend has invited me to her home on Christmas Day but I don’t think I’ll go as she just feels sorry for me. I find the Christmas break so lonely. Any advice would be helpful? Thank you.’

Answer: Christmas can be such a stressful time for many of us, but for you, it must be so confusing. You are bombarded with images of perfect happy families. These images may trigger a yearning for the family you deserved. This longing may evoke layers of grief.

Although you logically know what your father was like, you may still want him to be the parent you needed when you were young. I can’t imagine how dark and frightening your childhood must have been. Living with an unpredictable parent means there’s no space to experience spontaneous emotions such as anger, rage, pain or joy, so we never get to know who we really are. Life can become soul-destroying and work-orientated. You had to abandon yourself to become a “parentified” child, neglecting yourself so you could mind your mother. This was too much for you to carry.

Even though you managed to leave your homeland, you left with a sack of rocks on your back. Those rocks are the painful legacy of your parents’ relationship. But they are not you. With support, you can emerge from your past to discover a different future. A new you.

You write that you’re feel lonely and sad. These feelings make perfect sense. You are hurting. You are still trying to make sense of who you are away from your homeland. If you were raised in a hostile environment, it’s very difficult to go out into the world and feel like an adult when there is still so much to be resolved inside you. It would really support you to see someone professionally if you haven’t already. That way, you can get to know who you are underneath all the family baggage. You would learn to sit with your vulnerabilities and know that they won’t break you. You could befriend the confusion and know that you don’t have to be defined by your past. You may learn to see your parents in a different light.

The psychologist Alice Miller said: “Our access to the true self is possible only when we no longer have to be afraid of the intense emotional world of early childhood. Once we have experienced and become familiar with this world, it is no longer strange and threatening”.

You will realise that you are a beautiful human being who deserves friendship and love. You will find courage where there was shame and doubt.

I wonder could you help your child self to recreate a Christmas childhood, one of wonder and play? Allow your adult self to parent this younger part of you by buying and wrapping yourself lots of gifts. Buy a small tree and put them under it. On Christmas Day, you need to visit your friend. I don’t think she pities you. She’s being your friend who knows that you are far away from your family and wants you to feel less alone. Is this a pattern for you: when people reach out, do you become suspicious of their motives because it’s unfamiliar to you? Accept her invitation and then you won’t sabotage yourself by being alone and miserable.

Could you invite a friend or two over to your house during the holidays? That will give you something to plan for. Or you could plan a small trip away for yourself. Or book a yoga retreat in the new year. Yoga has remarkable healing powers. It balances the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which stimulates rest and repair through the body and mind. In yoga practices, this stimulus of the PNS comes from taking deeper conscious rounds of breath.

As you practice, your mind relaxes and you’re able to stop dwelling on stressful thoughts and situations. Yoga gives you perspective and can heal the adult brains of adults who have experienced a stressful childhood. It also gives you self confidence and perspective.

Look at all you’ve achieved. You worked hard to build a good career. You managed to put yourself first by moving abroad.

You haven’t lost faith in other people and are able to build relationships with friends. It is your birthright to find peace and wellbeing for your own life now. Find emotional support during this lonely time and be kind to yourself during this difficult period.

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