help it all go away
September 2, 2009 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Bad memories are interrupting my life. What do I do and how do I cope with it?

I had a great upbringing in lots of ways and my mum remains a great lady, but my feeling about family is coloured by the way my dad behaved - from age 9 to when I left home, I was subject to his enormous mood swings and temper - when my mother was out at work, he would often find a small misdemeanour to get angry about, then spend hours shouting at me until I was hysterical, then shout at me again for 'snivelling', calling me names (stupid, boring, moronic, that my untidy room caused his heart attack), and hitting me over the head, sometimes with implements such as a book or a teatray. On one occasion he didn't believe me when I said I had not taken his batteries, and kicked a hole in the bathroom door while a schoolfriend of mine who was staying over was on the other side. (Perhaps co-incidentally, I've suffered from migraine since I was nine, and my brother has recently seen the hospital after severe headaches and they found something in his brain which requires medication.) Outside of this, he was overbearing, wouldn't allow me to speak up or disagree with him (at twenty, saying 'calm down' led to him getting so angry he spat in my face and told me that if I spoke to him like that again I'd never be allowed to cross the doorstep ever again) didn't take an interest in my life or congratulate me if something went well, would ignore visiting friends
and boyfriends in favour of the TV but say things like 'when you go out looking scruffy people I know might see you and it will embarrass me' and would be incredibly rude and dismissive about anything he didn't agree with, down to the smallest choices. In my early twenties I undertook therapy on this as I was waking up with flashbacks and wanted to leave it behind. When he died, my family forgot how much of an arsehole he could be (my mother and he did not speak for six months because she shouted at him during an argument, and he would throw his rubbish in bags out of the upstairs window rather than walk through the livingroom, where she was, to the bin) and thought that I was less upset about his death because I was pretending it wasn't happening - I'd rather not change that. What did upset me was the effect it had and has on my mum.

Anyway, last time I had the flashback thoughts was just before a nervous breakdown, and for the past couple of months it's been happening again. It feels like I'm back in that situation again and equally powerless - like someone's yelling at me and telling me that all the negative thoughts I have are true, and I can't answer back. I'm terrified something is about to break again, and I don't know how to deal with it - I found therapy the first time very difficult, there's almost a taboo on discussing less than perfect family relationships (for years nobody knew why I would get in a bad mood before father's day) and I find this extremely difficult to talk about. I had an argument with my boyfriend at the weekend and one of the things he said unwittingly reminded me of it all, and I couldn't stop crying - as I find it difficult enough to talk about this, I couldn't explain to someone who was angry with me, and he just thought I was putting it on. I finished a relationship once before - albeit one that had been going wrong for some time - because the way he was acting (breaking my things, shouting at me in an incredibly nasty way, getting physical, not giving a shit if I was upset) reminded me too much of the situation in my teenage years and I felt pretty angry with myself for putting myself in one like that again. Now it seems like it's wrecked another relationship and it's not generally doing me any good, either.

I feel like I've spent years not able to tell people why I get upset, and I feel like I don't want to go through it anymore - being someone with 'triggers' or 'daddy issues'. hearing that critical voice constantly in my head and not being able to take the present at face value, going through another breakdown and losing aspects of my life that I've worked hard to keep in place.But I don't think I can go through life with this happening every few months or couple of years. I'm not sure what to do anymore.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Your father was abusive. People who were abused usually need therapy to recover and stop having "triggers" affect their lives.

Best of luck to you--it will be a lot of hard work, but it is so worth it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:57 AM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is probably a question for a qualified mental health professional.
posted by jquinby at 7:57 AM on September 2, 2009

IANYT, but someone should be...Seek help.
posted by nineRED at 8:06 AM on September 2, 2009

I found therapy the first time very difficult, there's almost a taboo on discussing less than perfect family relationships (for years nobody knew why I would get in a bad mood before father's day) and I find this extremely difficult to talk about.

It's time to go back to therapy. You are right, it will be hard, but now is the time. There's no taboo in discussing family relationships in therapy; your therapist will not judge you, but will help you.
posted by Houstonian at 8:06 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

What Houstonian said.

It starts off being extremely difficult to talk about (I remember thinking I'd prefer to have my teeth ripped out by cranky wild dogs with pliers), but it gets easier. The therapist will be well aware of how tough it is for you to talk about this, and they might well be able to suggest alternative ways for you to express yourself at the start. Talking around the edges of things, as it were.

You can do this.
posted by psychostorm at 8:12 AM on September 2, 2009

Hi anonymous,

It sounds like our fathers are/were very much the same. I can relate, sympathize, and feel sorry for the undeserved abuse you received from your father. I also understand your mentioning that "there's almost a taboo on discussing less than perfect family relationships." I don't know much about your background or where you are, but for me, there is very much a cultural stigma about discussing the flaws and vulnerabilities of life at home. People just don't talk about it. We're a family of immigrants, so people in our niche placed such a value on presenting the perfect shiny image of wholesome integration. And man, do I fucking hate that taboo. Anyway. Others have suggested giving therapy a second try, and that may very help you to work with "triggers" (I've had a few too) and to unravel the significance that your experiences have had in shaping you. But, if you'd like someone to talk to, to know that you're not alone, to ignore the taboo's of talking about emotional and physical abuse by your father, please free to message me. Be well, and best of luck to you.
posted by raztaj at 8:32 AM on September 2, 2009

I'm not sure what to do anymore.

No one should have to bear a burden like this alone -- I doubt anyone is even able to. Think about that when you feel resistant to getting help. Like a refrigerator, your problem is to heavy for you to lift on your own. If you had to move a refrigerator, would you keep trying to do it on your own until you injured yourself, or would you call someone to come help?
posted by hermitosis at 8:43 AM on September 2, 2009

If you were capable of dealing with this on your own, you already would be. That's not a criticism in the slightest - your father sounds absolutely reprehensible, and I don't think that there's a person on this planet who would be able to come through the hell that you went through unscathed.

Therapy can be scary. Going there and visiting that situation again probably will be difficult. However, you'll be far better going there with a therapist of some sort to hold your hand, than you will be going there as a flashback, and not having anyone or anything to help you. A therapist will be able to teach you how to handle the situation, so it's not the completely overwhelming mess that it is right now. It'll hurt a lot less in the long run doing it that way than it will if you just leave it and hope the problem will go away.

Unfortunately, until you deal with this, it's not going to go away. I know that that's really not what you want to hear, but the alternative is being in the situation your in for (potentially) the rest of your life.

You deserve to give yourself the chance to get over this.
posted by Solomon at 9:43 AM on September 2, 2009

The work done in therapy is called "work" because it is a) hard, and b) not fun. The fact that you found it understandably difficult does not mean it is not a good, worthwhile idea.

It may be liberating to realise that while presenting a less than perfect picture of family life may be taboo in your family or even in your culture, it's anything but for your therapist. I'd wager that in general practice, most of what a therapist hears all day is about how totally fucked up and dysfunctional most people's families are. In other words, what is deeply horrifying and mortifying to you is run of the mill to a therapist, and that's a good thing in your case.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:45 AM on September 2, 2009

It is not your fault for "not being able to" just get over it. A trauma happened to you, without your permission, and it changed and affected you. Flashback thoughts and similar things sometimes happen to people who have had traumatic things happen to them, and it's not because you're weak or couldn't stop these things from happening. You deserve to live life in a way that is happy and fulfilling to you, not fearfully and angry with yourself. Seek out a therapist who specializes in abuse and/or trauma; this therapist will want to hear about what happened to you (and will understand and be very patient when it is difficult for you to discuss), and about your family and your current relationships (and will not judge you about any of it).
posted by so_gracefully at 9:49 AM on September 2, 2009

I'm so sorry. My mom was very similar.

Everyone is correct, seek a therapist now.

What you've been through was very traumatic, and it wasn't a single incident. The abuse was ingrained into your psyche over many years, the daily threats and instability kinda re-programmed how your mind works and how your body reacts to stimuli. It's no wonder you keep having problems. That's OK. You'll have to do some work before you can more permanently feel in control of yourself. Ideally, you want to re-program yourself to have "normal" and more relaxed actions, reactions, and responses to Life.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might really help you process and re-program.

Also, and I'm sorry to break this to you, but I think your family may not be of much help as you pursue your own health and sanity. You make it sound as though there isn't a lot of support available from them unless you agree with the narrative that you father wasn't abusive. I think their narrative isn't going to help you recover. I think their narrative has already failed you. A good therapist can help you cope with this and make sense of it.

Something for you to think about.... Some folks seem to do really well clinging to denial and blithely gliding through life, and others face imminent collapse if they don't acknowledge their truth and process it accordingly.

I'm not sure if one philosophy is "right" and the other is "wrong," but when you are facing imminent collapse, you can't worry about what the other guys thinks.
posted by jbenben at 10:04 AM on September 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

I found therapy the first time very difficult, there's almost a taboo on discussing less than perfect family relationships (for years nobody knew why I would get in a bad mood before father's day) and I find this extremely difficult to talk about.

It might help you to start by reading self-help books, just to get a sense of a) how many other people have this kind of issue in their past, and b) how helpful therapy can be in this sort of situation. Sometimes you have to see it on the page before you understand that you're not alone, and that professional counselors deal with dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of similar situations in their work lives so they're not going to judge you.

Memoirs can also be a source of reassurance on that point. Quite a few people--both celebrities and others--have written memoirs about experiencing emotional abuse and bullying in their childhoods, and the impact that has had on their adult life.

Best of luck to you. Therapy can help you, and the therapist won't judge you. You are not alone, as a quick walk through your local bookshop will tell you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:05 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Shite. "...other guy thinks."
posted by jbenben at 10:07 AM on September 2, 2009

Yes, therapy will help. And the great thing about therapy is that you hopefully can work it out and not have to go over it again and again.

My father was really awful in many ways too, and did some horrible things he should have been arrested for. It embarasses me to talk about it, and I rarely do, but I have worked though a lot of it in therapy. It has crippled a sibling of mine emotionally, and I don't think she will ever be right. She just remains angy and isolated.

And it takes time. I know that I expected a lot out of the sessions, more immediate recovery, but sometimes the evidence of me being able to make good, healthy decisions didn't come for a year or so. The great thing was that it helped me make permanent good changes in myself.

Just as a funny twist to this, one time I was riding in a car with my then sweetie-now husband, and he said to me that when he was a little boy he would cry himself to sleep at night because his father was so boring. It about blew me away, since I would cry myself to sleep since my father was so weird and flamboyant (think Running With Scissors). I knew that I had to marry this guy, and I did and it has mostly been great.

Good luck.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:54 AM on September 2, 2009

In addition to seeking out a therapist, you should discuss these thoughts and their impact on your life with your physician. They sound like intrusive thoughts, a symptom of PTSD. Sometimes anti-depressants can help.
posted by tr0ubley at 11:04 AM on September 2, 2009

Affirming what everyone's said about therapy, therapy, therapy. Some additional points:

+try to let go of your sense of there being a "taboo" about discussing less than perfect family relationships. I held on to that one for YEARS before I realized that abusers often cultivate this sense of misplaced loyalty in their victims, in order to keep their victims from getting the help they need to break the cycle - the idea that it will "tear the family apart" if you say anything, that the resulting fallout will be all your fault, that you "owe" your father your silence because he helped raise you... whatever the taboo is that's keeping you from talking about the abuse, it is bullshit. You can talk to someone and it will be okay.

+find a therapist who specializes in dealing with survivors of childhood abuse. They're out there. They can help you get past your difficulties talking to someone about it, too.

+expect to be a little more fragile than usual when you start going to therapy and sorting out your head. It's common for people seeking therapy as adults for trauma that happened to them as children to go through a period of belated anger or grief, as they confront and to an extent (emotionally) relive said trauma. It's a "good pain" kind of thing, but if you have a partner or close friends who you spend a lot of time with, you may want to give them a heads up. You don't have to tell them details; just, "I'm in the middle of some personal stuff so if I seem a bit off to you, that's why" should do.
posted by ellehumour at 11:08 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just want to be one more person telling you that what happened to you was not your fault. It was abuse. The fact that you are affected by it is not your fault. It is natural. You do not need to feel shame about how your father treated you, and you do not need to feel shame about your feelings now.

If your previous therapist did not help, try a different one. If your father had broken your leg, you would go to the doctor to get it mended. This is just like that. Find a therapist who can help you, and get the help you need and deserve. You do not have to live in pain.
posted by prefpara at 11:08 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have very similar issues and am currently receiving EMDR therapy, which is helping. I suggest going to to find a practitioner near you. Good luck, I know it's hard. Memail me if you like.
posted by xenophile at 12:05 PM on September 12, 2009

Sorry, link didn't get posted. Should have read "I suggest going to"
posted by xenophile at 12:06 PM on September 12, 2009

« Older How do I deal with a defamatory blog post?   |   Drop her like she's hot? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.