Abusive Father Has Destroyed My Self-Esteem

Reader’s Question

I am a 26-year-old woman finishing a masters degree. Even though I am 26 years old, I have only a part-time job and receive a lot of financial help from my father. My problem is that he is my problem. He’s an extremely type-A, controlling, manipulative man. He always looked at me with this kind of fury in his eyes when he was mad at me, and he yelled at all of us a lot — at my mother, at my sister, at myself. He used to suggest to my sister that she was overweight when we were children; she eventually nearly starved herself to death. I gained some weight in my early 20s, and he has done the same to me. I, however, am not anorexic.

He seems unable to accept that my opinions/thoughts/feelings have any kind of validity, and he constantly yells at me, tells me that I am wrong, that no one has any reason to accept my word on anything, that I don’t know anything, and so on. When I try to explain this to him, he gets angry and starts yelling, telling me that I had better never tell him again that he doesn’t listen to me, etc., etc. My sister, by the way, completely cut him off a year ago and as a result, he has never met her 10-month-old daughter. My mother is a passive woman who hides in the corner and hopes that no one will notice her.

I find myself at 26, unable to look men in the eye, much less speak to them. I can’t handle authority figures, and I cannot stand to be in the same room with someone who is judging or evaluating my performance in something. I constantly feel that others are superior to me, and I wonder why they get such good jobs and lives, and I deserve so little. I wish that my father could be normal, or that I could just quit dealing with him, but I can’t, for reasons that I mentioned before. And the thought of getting a real job terrifies me because of the need to have someone evaluating me.

Everyone tells me that I need to see a counselor, but I don’t think that would help, as it wouldn’t change the reality of the situation. It also would not change the fact that there is no one on this planet who cares about me other than me. And the counselor would be a stranger and would not actually care about me, anyway, aside from the fact that I would be paying her.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your father has likely destroyed your self-esteem and self-confidence. Your father is also likely to have a Personality Disorder (see my introduction to personality disorders). Of the Personality Disorders, you are describing a Narcissistic Personality — an individual who feels better than everyone else, feels entitled to correct/punish/control others, and who has no interest or sensitivity to the feelings of others.

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When we have a Personality Disorder as a parent, the family world revolves around them, and no family member is allowed an independent opinion. They verbally abuse, intimidate, control, and manipulate those around them. Family members, when faced with this shark in the family pool, typically develop strategies or reactions in this situation. Strategies include:

  • developing a form of Stockholm Syndrome (see my article on Love and Stockholm Syndrome),
  • becoming completely demoralized,
  • rejecting the parent and developing an independent life like your sister, or
  • developing anxiety and low self-esteem as they try to survive.

To survive this situation, with the understanding that you require continued financial support, you must emotionally detach from your father, repair your damaged self-esteem, and improve your coping strategies. You can detach by recognizing what your father is…an abusive, controlling, and mean-spirited individual. You didn’t cause it, and you can’t fix it. I’d read other replies to individuals with “toxic” parents by selecting ‘Personality Disorders’ from the list of tags in the sidebar.

Next I’d consider counseling. Remember that your experience with your father has damaged the way you see not only yourself, but others as well. If you don’t fix this, your romantic relationships will seriously suffer, as will your abililty to work with supervisors (authority figures) and males. Part of this damage is created by Emotional Memory (see article on this website). You’ll find that many people, especially males, trigger memories of your father’s abusiveness.

You should also evaluate your mood status. You may be emotionally exhausted dealing with this situation. If you are experiencing the physical symptoms of depression, such as sleep disturbance, you may want to consider the use of an antidepressant.

Your job is not to please your father — that will never happen. He is an equal-opportunity verbal abuser! Rather, your job is to survive your temporary attachment to him, complete your education, begin your career, then determine how close you want to remain to him. You may chose your sister’s strategy. Keep in mind that your mother won’t be able to help. Her stress level due to living with him has immobilized her. You can fix this on your own, but like your friends have mentioned, professional help will be needed.

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