Reviewed By Cara Swanston - Registered Member MBACP Adv. Dip.
My Experience: I was physically abused by my Father
28 August 2023
I had to break the cycle of violence, seek professional help, and embrace self-discovery to heal and reclaim my life.
In this blog post, our anonymous My Experience writer shares her courageous journey of survival and healing after experiencing physical abuse from her father at a young age. The hostile environment at home, shaped by his troubled past and alcoholism, left her anxious and fearful. Despite the abuse, she found herself conflicted with love for her father. Over time, she learned to break the cycle of violence, seek professional help, and embrace self-discovery to heal and reclaim her life.
The physical abuse by my father started when I was around 11 years old.
I don't remember any ‘physical’ abuse prior to that, but I do know it would have been myself or the dog, who was teased enough to react, for an excuse for him to lash out.
Dads upbringing wasn’t very stable from the snippets I was told throughout life. Whatever happened with dad, led him to being an alcoholic. His addiction created a hostile environment for his children and wife in his future.
The Unpredictable Atmosphere at Home
I always remembered being really anxious returning home from school or club for example, nobody knew what mood dad would be in, which was torture in itself.
I remember at a young age drawing pictures with my friend on the top bunk bed. Dad was using the lavatory, my friend and I were laughing at the pictures we had drawn, but dad took it upon himself to pull me off the top bunk by the hair. I still don’t know why, I can only assume his mental state left him feeling paranoid and how dare anyone laugh at him.
Another punishment provided by dad was having to stand and face the wall in the room we were in. You were made to stand there for hours, while your legs got so tired, the feeling of discomfort was unbearable. This was a man who also glued your pocket money together, and made you stand oldest to youngest with your hands behind your back, just to receive a treat.
My older siblings didn’t receive any physical abuse from my recollection, but I remember a time dad was hitting me so hard my eldest brother stood up to him. By that stage we were growing older and less accepting of what was happening. This time his physical abuse left me not being able to attend school, I was completely covered in bruises and I found it painful to get around.
Navigating Complex Emotions
I had an aunt who was a social worker at the time. I remember talking with her, and she was so mad at the situation. She told me how people are jailed for less than what I was experiencing.
However, I loved my father so much that I found it unacceptable for her to talk about him in the way she did. I remember we even had a row about the way she talked about my dad. I have since learnt that this is a common reaction by someone who is being abused by someone they deeply love.
I still loved my dad, even though he mentally and physically abused me.
Empowerment through Self-Defence
I remember being that bit older, and something happened, and I can’t quite remember what, I just remember dad running down the stairs to hit me. But being that bit older, my reaction now was to save myself from another beating. I did exactly what I was taught to do; resolve everything with your fists. I lifted my fist up and I punched my dad in the mouth. I remember seeing his bleeding lip, but at that point this beast became vulnerable, and from then on my beatings stopped. I never wanted to hit my father, but my experiences in life led me to believe this action was how you got to a safe place and the answer to all challenges.
Discovering Healing Through Counselling
I remember always feeling very angry and defensive. It affected how I held myself, and how I spoke. When I was just simply talking to someone they could sense venom behind it. Why was I so angry? I knew my approach to life was unhealthy for myself and for others. If I ever got angry at my own children, I always had my dad in the back of my mind. I made a conscious decision that I never wanted to be like him, and I am so thankful that I sought help from a counsellor. She helped me understand what was happening, my fear of becoming just like my father and what I can do to not repeat my experiences.
Starting counselling really helped me to explore the possible reasons for my fathers actions, not to excuse them but to understand them. I found this extremely helpful.
Balancing the Past
On the days I did struggle with the aftermath of the abuse I suffered, I would acknowledge the feeling’s surrounding those memories. At first I would tell myself time and time again ‘this wasn’t my fault’. I told this to myself enough times that I finally began to believe it. It was important for me to accept and acknowledge those words with conviction and not to let it be a fleeting sentence.
When bad memories of these events came up for me, I tried to remember the good times I had with dad as there were lots. Mum was emotionally unavailable in my life and I think dad picked up on that, so he created good memories for me. We went berry picking, dad did ‘knock on the knee’ and played silly jokes on all of us.
Halloween was also a great time. We dunked for apples, and had indoor fireworks and played games. Even writing that brings back good memories, and puts a smile on my face. It was these times I thought about when the bad memories appeared, and I found the good memories helped to fade those bad memories.
I also found talking with a loved one really helped, and if I found my feeling’s hard to shake I would go to another room to be alone. I would put on my comfy jammies and watch silly TV. I always looked for comedy during these times and I stayed there as long as I needed to, always reminding myself that tomorrow was a new day.
My 10 Empowering Tips for Survivors of Abuse
- Seek Professional Help: Reach out to a counsellor or therapist experienced in trauma to begin your healing journey.
- Recognize the Roots: Understand that an abusive past does not define your worth, and explore the reasons behind the abuser's actions without excusing them.
- Embrace Self-Compassion: Let go of self-blame and guilt; acknowledge that you were not responsible for the abuse.
- Validate Your Feelings: Accept and express your emotions surrounding the memories; remember, it's okay to be angry or sad.
- Create Safe Spaces: When triggered, find solace in quiet spaces, or engage in activities that bring comfort, calmness, joy or laughter.
- Share with Loved Ones: Talk to supportive family or friends about your experiences; sharing can help lighten the emotional burden.
- Holding on to Good Memories: Dependent on the situation, exploring positive memories and experiences of the abuser can be useful, and is normal and healthy. Reminding yourself that complexity exists within relationships.
- Break the Cycle: If you have children of your own, you may find moments of parenting triggering or difficult to deal with. Be gentle with yourself, you are not your parent, you are your own person, take deep breaths, and step back from the situation if you can.
- Remember Tomorrow's a New Day: Embrace hope and resilience, knowing that each day presents an opportunity for healing and growth.
- Embrace Love and Forgiveness: Understand that love for the abuser can coexist with self-protection; forgiving doesn't mean forgetting, but it can free you from the burden of resentment.
Seeking professional help allowed me to confront my past and understand the reasons behind my father's actions. My love for my father never changed, we actually became really close before his passing 26 years ago.
Through self-acceptance and embracing love and forgiveness, I have freed myself. The road to healing has been challenging, but by cherishing good memories and seeking support, I found the strength to reclaim my life and move forward. It is my hope that sharing my story will inspire others to seek help, break the cycle of abuse, and find the path to healing and resilience.
There is hope for a brighter future beyond the pain of the past.
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