How Do I Get Rid of a Toxic Father?

Reader’s Question

I’m a 24-year-old woman, and I can’t seem to get rid of my toxic father. My parents divorced when I was a-year-old. I did not see my father until I was maybe eight years old. I was so excited to finally have a father in my life that I did everything in my power to make him proud of me, but it never worked. Ever since then, he has done nothing but hurt me. He always wanted a boy, and I was not it. I even became a tomboy to try and satisfy his need for a boy. For many years, I resented being a woman and did not want to accept it. He also reminded me that I was a mistake and he was not ready to be a father because he was so young. When I was born, he was 19 years old, so I could see why he would say he was young.

He is a Casanova, always going from woman to woman. When we were in public, he told everyone that I was his niece. When it was his weekend to be with me, he would have his roommate babysit me while he was off clubbing. Every chance he had an opportunity to put me down, he did. Then, when I was 16 years old, he finally had his son.

My dad lives in New York and I live in the Midwest, but his words cut me deeply. It really bothers me that he is so good to his son. At times, I resent my little brother for his good fortune with my dad. He is always talking about how perfect his son is, and when I tell him of my life he dismisses it. Then, not so long ago I told him my half brother is having a baby and he is the age my father was when he had me. Then he asked what the baby’s gender was, and I told him it was a boy. His reply was, “Lucky him, he got a boy on his first try!” This really hurt me. Why would he say that?

My relationship with him has really affected my love life, as well. I hate men, I can’t trust them, I resent them, and If I can put a man down I would do so in a heartbeat. I need advice. How do I get rid of my toxic father? Or how do I tell him about my feelings without him telling me that I am stuck in the past and need to get over it? Also, if I start telling him about my feelings, he lashes back with hurtful remarks. I feel so vulnerable with him, as if I was still a child looking for my dad’s affection.

What would you recommend? Thank you.

Psychologist’s Reply

Toxic parents are usually Personality Disorders, and your father sounds like a classic case of Narcissistic Personality. Normal people — those who think in a healthy manner — have tremendous difficulty with Personality Disorders because they don’t think, behave and feel like the rest of society. They live their lives through selfishness, deception, lies, excuses, manipulations, cons, and blaming others. They never accept responsibility for their bad and abusive behavior and consistently blame others. It will always be your fault that your father treats you poorly.

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You’re making the classic mistake of taking his excuses seriously — when they’re just excuses. Let’s look at this objectively. Your father doesn’t see you the first seven years of your life, treats you very poorly, is disrespectful, manipulates you and other women in his life, and his explanation is “I always wanted a boy!” With that five-word excuse for totally selfish and irresponsible behavior, you suddenly feel you have the problem and could never please him. The general guideline: You can’t understand the behavior of a Personality Disorder by thinking normally! You have a toxic relationship because your father is toxic — not you. Dealing with your father is actually about dealing with Personality Disorders. Some recommendations:

  • Read the articles on this website about Personality Disorders (PD), Identifying Losers in Relationships (guess who you’ll see?), and Love and Stockholm Syndrome. I’d also read questions related to Personality Disorders and Relationships (see the list of tags in the sidebar), as I’ve discussed these individuals many times.
  • Recognize that your father behaves in a totally selfish manner because he’s totally selfish. It has nothing to do with you, being female, being first born, etc. While he has provided a variety of explanations and excuses over the years, bulls produce that same product after a big meal. There is no connection between his excuses, you, and his behavior. You want an explanation — a Personality Disorder will provide one. Don’t torment yourself or become upset by his excuses and comments.
  • While it may seem like a “normal” solution to discuss your feelings with him, it’s actually of little help. You’ll only get another excuse or verbal abuse. Sadly, he actually doesn’t care how you feel or think, even about him. As time passes, you’ll also find that he doesn’t care about his son as well. He uses the comments about his son to emotionally batter you and keep you from confronting him. Don’t discuss your feelings with him — he doesn’t care, and he’ll only attack you. Rather, fix those feelings. Talk to a therapist or counselor.
  • What do we do with a toxic father? We protect ourselves first, reducing information provided to him to a grocery-store level, the kind of conversation you have with a neighbor in the bread section. We don’t look for answers — he doesn’t have any. We live with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get expectation that you can expect selfish, rude, insulting and mean-spirited behavior from him. You didn’t cause his personality, and you can’t fix it. We keep him at an emotional distance and use a business approach to all contacts and interactions. Just facts and details — no emotions or feelings.
  • Your father has damaged your ability to relate to men in your life, and this is very common in the situation you describe. Remember that 15% of the population has a Personality Disorder — not all men. I’d read my article on Identifying Losers in Relationships on this website so you can better tell who might be like your father and who might be like you. I’d also recommend my article on Emotional Memory. Your struggle with your toxic father has created thousands of bad memories that might be triggered by the comments of people, especially men, around you. Those memory triggers cause you to put down men “in a heartbeat” as you impulsively react to the triggered memory.
  • You don’t need the approval of your father to be happy and successful. In truth, he will never totally approve of you — he doesn’t have it in him to be considerate of the feelings of others. Instead, look for the guidance and recognition of those you respect for their responsible and supportive behaviors. Strive to be happy in spite of having a toxic father. Keep in mind, if you’re very successful, then in typical Personality Disorder style, he’ll take credit for it to gain attention for himself.
  • You can’t get rid of him but you can minimize his influence and involvement in your life. Create a new family with friends and loved ones, and continue your life. You can check on your father at any time in the future…and he’ll still be operating the same way…and it will still be your fault.

We cure the effects of a toxic substance by neutralizing it. You can do the same with your toxic father by neutralizing his influence on your life and self-esteem.

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