Haunted by Emotional Memories of an Abusive Father

Reader’s Question

I am 34 years old. When I was 4 my half brother and half sister moved out…and never came back for years. They left me alone with him. He was the reason they left. So I was raised pretty much an only child. My mom worked 3rd shift as a nurse. She left before he got home and got home after he left for work. He was abusive in all aspects. I became his wife it felt like. I cooked, cleaned, and took care of the house. But he hated me. He took me to a psych when I was 14. We never talked about what was wrong with me after the doc told my dad it seemed to be stemming from him. The last 3 years of my father’s life we never talked except to say ‘is mom home?’ on the phone. He lived 1500 miles away, that made it easier.

He died Jan 9, 2007. I am bipolar and have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I’ve been off of meds for 4 months due to a stomach infection. So now I have no meds, and I feel haunted. I know my dad hated me, but coveted me. I’ve had this feeling for the last year that he’s here. Not just someone watching over me, but stalking. It was easier before he died. I always thought I would feel freedom when he died. I feel more imprisoned now than ever. Like he’s always there. Every thought I have, I wonder if he hears it. I have the physical feeling that I am less safe now than I was 12 years ago when I married. Why do I feel more abused and violated than I ever did as a child? Does this go away? I have lived in a state of mild paranoia for almost a year.

When I was a child I would hide and he couldn’t find me if he was drunk. But now…I feel like he sees me all the time.

Wasn’t it supposed to be a relief when he passed? Why is it worse? I swear I hear him sometimes, but I just write it up to being off meds. Although I know most bipolars don’t hear other voices, and I know the others’ voices in my mind. I’ve never had an alter who sounded like him. I think it’s just me.

How do I start to make him go away? I’ve looked for books on the death of an abusive parent to no avail. I have a hard enough time. Is it me going a little loose around the seams? My mom wants me to fly out for the 9th. But I’m not on meds and I’m afraid I’m going to tear down this thing that looks much like a shrine to me he built and burn it. It sounds cleansing to me.

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Do you know of coping skills when dealing with the death of an abusive parent? There was no peace for me in his death.

And everyone wonders why I don’t cry. I lacked compassion for him when he was sick. I literally told the crematorium that we needed a ‘bake and shake’ ASAP because family had to get back to KY. Not a tear for him yet. Is there something wrong with me? (Besides the before mentioned conditions…lol)

Psychologist’s Reply

Your abusive and controlling father is dead and gone! Sadly, that doesn’t mean your memories of his abuse and your childhood are dead and gone. They are still alive and well — perhaps more so due to your lack of medications. In an abusive and traumatic environment we create thousands of “emotional memories” — memories that contain strong feelings when they are brought to the surface. We all have these good and bad emotional memories (see article on the topic on this website). When your memories of Dad are triggered in any manner, you are flooded with your emotions of that time — including fearfulness, a sense of being stalked, apprehension, helplessness, etc.

Your emotional memories are not amplified by your lack of medications for your Bipolar Disorder. While we often think of manic episodes in Bipolar Disorder, folks with this disorder spend the majority of their time in the depressed phase… as you are now. When depressed, the brain torments us and searches our memory banks for trauma memory — in your case, your childhood abuse. We are then forced to relive the past in a situation that is emotionally intense. When depressed, combat vets report reexperiencing the sensations of combat, smelling the smells, having a sense of being targetted, etc. You are now dealing with the same thing. Your abusive father is gone…but the emotional memories remain.

The major recommendation is to return to your medications ASAP — especially those that are antidepressant in nature. Read my article on Emotional Memory and recognize that it’s your brain system that’s giving you difficulty — not your abusive father from the grave. Practice the techniques I’ve outlined in the EM article. You may also want to consider therapy to deal with these lingering abuse memories.

There is help and you can recover from this traumatic situation. However, you will need to purposefully deal with the Emotional Memory left over from your past in order to improve your future.

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