How to stop my father's rages (or at least their effect on me)?
December 11, 2013 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Throughout my life, my father has had anger issues, typically directed at me. Although he isn't violent, he will become extremely (almost uncontrollably) angry whenever I do anything 'wrong'. Now that I'm an adult and no longer financially dependent on him, I want to stop this cycle. However, I'm having trouble figuring out how to do this.

Ever since I was young, he's become furious at me for tiny things (he once screamed at me so much for putting the ornaments back in the wrong place after dusting that my mother threatened to move out). My mother has typically acted as mediator in these conflicts, and while I love her and she's much more reasonable than my father, she sees this as a fifty-fifty situation, and expects me to work harder to appease him. I also think there's an element of emotional abuse in their relationship (he makes her cry regularly) but she doesn't seem to see it.

In any case, I don't know how to appease a guy who throws a fit whenever anything goes slightly wrong. Today, in our most recent fight, he became furious because I didn't wash my hands in-between stroking the cat and looking in the freezer. (For reference, I wasn't touching any food.) My father is not violent (mostly), but he does seem to lose control of himself when he's angry. He physically grabbed me & pushed me out of the kitchen today, and he threatened to hurt (and poison) the family cat. I don't think he'd actually cause deliberate harm, but his tempers are out of control.

I'll admit that I'm definitely not flawless - when I was a kid, I derived a perverse enjoyment from seeing my father lose control, and regularly tried to push his buttons. (Using what I know now to psychoanalyse my child self, this was probably because he seemed to lose control whatever I did, and so it was preferable for me to have control over when it happened.) I always yell back when he yells at me, and ESPECIALLY when he threatens the cat. But at this point, I'm done with being screamed at for minor transgressions like using the wrong saucepan. What I would like is to not have this in my life.

I know that if I declare that I am no longer engaging with him in any way, this will be construed as childishness by all of my other family members, including my mother. My sisters in particular have always defended him and accused me of antagonising him. But I am just so tired of always being attacked and yelled at for incredibly minor issues. I also know that if I request that he attends anger management counselling, I'll be seen as overdramatising a normal family dynamic. It feels like the only option to avoid being seen as immature and histrionic is to just suck it up and try even harder to avoid antagonising my father.

I should note that I'm 24, I've moved out of the house (though I'm home at my mother's behest for Christmas), and while I don't make a lot, I'm financially independent. I need a place to stay for a few weeks over next summer, but aside from that, I don't really have to stay here for extended periods again.

So, in short, Metafilter: how do I stop my father's rages (or at least avoid engaging with him) without being treated by my entire family like an overdramatic child?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
If he goes off, say calmly "I don't need this in my life" and leave. Because you don't.

Don't make a big deal out of it, don't react strongly, that's childish. Just leave. You can't change him, you have your own transportation, you probably have a cell phone so that if someone else cares they can call you when the raging is done, but...

And find some friends to stay with for those few weeks over next summer (or save up some money and go road tripping).
posted by straw at 8:45 AM on December 11, 2013 [27 favorites]

You can't stop them. You can't control other people's behaviour. You can control your own though. You can pack your bags, pick up your cat, and go home to work on making other plans for those few weeks next summer.

Have the relationship on your terms, which means zero dependence on them so you always have the freedom to leave his presence when he becomes irrationally angry. That other members of your family are caught up in his dysfunction is unfortunate, but maybe they will be inspired by your example to also stop putting up with it. If your mom wants you to visit she had better put up a more hospitable atmosphere than "try to be a better victim, dear".
posted by saucysault at 8:46 AM on December 11, 2013 [12 favorites]

Find somewhere else to stay next summer.

When he flies into a rage next, you say in a normal voice, "I'm not going to stay here to be shouted at" and just leave and go home without further engagement. This may be inconvenient or awkward.

Then you do this again every single time it happens. Without fail.

If anyone gives you flak about leaving, you just say calmly "I'd really love to spend some time with you, but I won't be shouted at like that".

If anyone declares that you are an (offensive adjective) over it you can just say "Oh, maybe. So, hasn't the weather been lovely?"
posted by emilyw at 8:47 AM on December 11, 2013 [23 favorites]

It sounds like you are minimizing this. Using intimidation in the forms of threats, as well as grabbing and pushing is violent. This is uncontrolled anger.

How much does it matter what other family members think of your relationship with your father? Don't worry about what other people think, worry about what you think, and what's emotionally safe for you.

I have an abusive parent, and I have not had contact with them in years. My sibling does. This works well for me and I'm much, much happier without contact.
posted by munyeca at 8:50 AM on December 11, 2013 [16 favorites]

You can't stop your father's rages. You also can't control how your family treats you. The only person you can control in this situation is yourself. And you can stop engaging, with practice. Imagine scenarios in your head, and some ways to respond. When he gets rage-y, can you leave the room? Leave the house? You can remove yourself from the situation physically until you are well practiced, and then, if you choose to maintain a relationship with your family, work up to removing yourself from the situation mentally and emotionally without having to physically leave. Just raise an eyebrow, get quiet while he rages, and then carry on with whomever you were talking to. There is no need to declare that you are disengaging when you are doing it. Just do it. It may sound impossible now, but you can cultivate serenity.
posted by juniperesque at 8:50 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

One of the most important realizations I had about being an adult is that I can say, "No, you don't get to treat me this way." (I also learned that I could say "Go fuck yourself you fucking fuckhat," but YMMV with something that inflammatory.)
straw is right that you can't change him, but you certainly don't have to put up with him or your whole family using you as a scapegoat.
Please take the kitty with you to your fabulously independent and bullshit free life.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 8:51 AM on December 11, 2013 [18 favorites]

There is literally nothing you can do to ensure another person's behavior will change. Your willpower, focus, and desire will never beat out his lifelong habits. You'll only make yourself suffer, as you bob and weave and walk on eggshells trying to accomplish an impossible task. You are not responsible for his behavior in any way.

It's great that you're independent! I give you permission to be fully unburdened by your father's temper and your family's dishonest justifications and pathetic excuses for his behavior. You can certainly find somewhere else to stay over the summer -- subletting, couch-crashing, volunteering, even WWOOFing might be an option.

Please consider that the healthiest option may be for you to distance yourself from your father as much as possible, or even cut him off entirely, and tell your family that you are doing so to preserve your own health and well-being. If they want to believe that your self-preservation instinct is derived from simple-minded immaturity rather than poise and grace, hell, let 'em! Who needs enemies, &c.

Your life will be much easier, and your troubles significantly lessened, when you are not engaging with people who are actively sabotaging your desire to succeed and be at peace.
posted by divined by radio at 8:52 AM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I also think there's an element of emotional abuse in their relationship (he makes her cry regularly) but she doesn't seem to see it.

You do realize that he's being emotionally abusive and physically threatening to you too, yes?
posted by jaguar at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2013 [17 favorites]

This sounds a bit like verbal abuse.
There are several books for dealing with verbal abusers.
Perhaps the most famous is: You Can't Say That To Me.

There is no easy answer. Good luck.
posted by Flood at 8:57 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

My great-grandmother behaved a lot like this all her life. She had three children, and was still throwing tantrums (and bonus guilt-trips) at them when they were in their 70s.

The only approach that seemed to work with her was the one my great-uncle used: any time she started up, say "If you don't stop [speaking to me like that/shouting at me/whatever], I'm leaving." No negotiation, no arguing, no explaining to her that it was a hurtful or unreasonable thing to say - just "stop now or this conversation is over and I'm gone." And if she didn't stop immediately, he would indeed leave, and then refuse to see her or answer her phone calls for the next few weeks.

It didn't stop her yelling at him (like I said, she was still doing this when her children were looooong since grown into adults). But she did it a lot less with him than with her other children, who made more of an effort to placate and negotiate and were less willing to just walk away. She might have been yelling that he was a terrible son and wished she was dead and whatever else in the moment, but she wanted him in her life, and he made it very, consistently clear that the only way she'd get that was to behave better around him.
posted by Catseye at 8:58 AM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

This sounds very abusive (and very uncivilized I might add). You don't need to appease him. You need to be away from him.
posted by Dansaman at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

First of all, know that in most dysfunctional family's there is a "scapegoat," I was the one in mine, you appear to be the one in yours. If only you didn't breathe too hard, Daddy wouldn't be mad. It is utter bullshit, as you now know.

My Mom used to yell at me for similar crap.

First of all, you need to stop caring about whether or not your Mom or siblings think you're being childish. Screw them. Let them think it.

When visiting your family, always have an out, and be prepared to leave quickly if he turns nasty.

If he starts up on one of his rages, you can say, as dispassionately as possible, "I will not tolerate being spoken to in this manner. If you don't stop it this instant, I will leave." He won't, so grab your shit, get in your car and go home. Do not discuss with your mom, if she tries to engage you as you are leaving simply say, "I love you, but I'm not going to be bullied any more." Do not answer your phone when she calls to wheedle you back. Let the sun set on the drama.

Do not discuss this with siblings, except to say, "I'm not interested in your opinion of the situation. You aren't impacted by it. I will not allow Dad to rage at me any more, full stop."

If you are invited back, only go if your Dad agrees not to rage at you. If he won't, don't go.

You will be surprised. My Mother never realized how detrimentally her actions affected me. She had the nerve to get her feelings hurt when I left with my sopping wet laundry, after a tirade about washing some of her wool socks that she threw in with my load. (It was the dumbest screamathon in a long historty of dumb screamathons.)

You may only now be realizing how messed up this all is. I'm 50 and I still have to have an escape plan when visiting my parents (I usually get a hotel room or stay with my sister when I visit.) I ALWAYS have a rental car.

I have flat-left my parents in Albuquerque, most recently, I hauled ass when my Mom was screaming at me at the Liberty Bell in Philly.

I don't care how much pain a person is in, or what kind of fucked up drug dosage they have (my Mom's excuses) there's no excuse for not treating me with the respect I deserve.

FWIW, I'm 51 years old and she's still testing me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2013 [39 favorites]

The easiest thing is to not DECLARE that you are no longer engaging with your father, it's just to no longer do so. Cut back your visits to the absolute bare minimum to see the rest of your family, but don't go to stay for extended periods. You're 24, you don't NEED to live with your parents for weeks at a time. It might be financially easier than some other options, but summer's ages away, you can make other arrangements. Do other things with your life. Don't engage with him when you're at the house; let him yell, then do something else.

That's the easy thing. It's not necessarily your only option, it's not necessarily "fair", but it is on the whole a lot simpler than trying to fix anything at this point. You can't fix people who don't want to change and it doesn't really sound like he wants to change, the same with your mother, and they're adults so you can't make those decisions for them. You're an adult, you can decide for you to spend your time and energy on interactions that are more fruitful.
posted by Sequence at 9:06 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

What you do when you're in this situation is say, "Please do not yell at me." or "Please stop yelling," very calmly. If he persists in yelling, you walk away and disengage. If he follows you while yelling you say, "I am not going to be treated this way," and leave entirely.

Repeat ad nauseum every time you visit with your family, or stay in a hotel instead of with them so when things escalate, you have another place you can get to easily.

If this upsets your mom, make it clear your mom is welcome to hang with you any time, but you will not see your dad if he is going to rage at you like this because that is not how people should behave toward people they love.

I will say that since I had children that my tolerance for this kind of behavior has lessened immensely. I do not have time in my life for behavior like that. I recommend you find a way to not have time in your life for behavior like that now.
posted by zizzle at 9:07 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just here to say that you should feel totally ok about spending the holidays elsewhere.

Some friends of mine (a couple) are estranged from one set of parents, and from members of the other's family. They either spend christmas on holiday, staying with friends, or on their own, indulging themselves with treats of all kinds.

Most people feel more hospitable at christmas, so don't feel odd about seeing if any of your friends have "room for one more". I spend a few nights at friends' houses over the holidays just because I live far from where they all are and it's nice to hang with them. I bet your mates would love to have you for a while.
posted by greenish at 9:14 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

First, a short reaction, then the advice.

I'll admit that I'm definitely not flawless - when I was a kid, I derived a perverse enjoyment from seeing my father lose control, and regularly tried to push his buttons.

You were a CHILD. I'm not your therapist, and it's not my place to tell you what to do, but I don't think it will be constructive in the long run for you to think of your child self as an equal antagonist in a battle with your adult father, the man who should have been teaching you how to form healthy relationships because you couldn't have been expected to figure out how to do that by yourself.

OK, now the advice.

My father had similar personality and anger issues. I've gotten over wishing him ill will and hope that he's worked them out, wherever he is. But although a lot of people who had OK relationships with their fathers don't understand this, his dropping out of my life and cutting off all contact has turned out to be one of the best things he ever did for me. You do not need this in your life.

As I suspect you suspect, there's nothing you can do to mitigate his behavior; he acts like this when he wants to act like this, because that's the way he feels like acting. You say you don't know how to appease him - if he's anything like my father, that's because that ever-elusive way to appease him simply doesn't exist.

I know this is easy for me to say because my mother mostly stopped defending him after he left, and my sister had the same experience I did, so not having him in my life didn't mean seeing less of them. I did lose all my paternal extended family, but grew closer to my mother's family in the process.

Of course I'm just a stranger on the Internet, but I think if I was in your shoes my goal would be to find someplace else to stay when I needed it, keep in touch with my mother and sisters as much as they were willing via phone, Internet, and visits without Dad outside of your parents' home, and try to laugh it off and change the subject if they try to make a big deal of calling you immature and histrionic.

My mother was the black sheep of her siblings for a long time, but she wore them down by faking a relentless sense of humor about it. They went from, "What a kook!" to "She's a kook, but I guess she's our kook," to, "She's kind of kooky, but we enjoy our time together," to "I guess we're all a little kooky, even if she is the kookiest," to "I love you, you little kook." Not saying that's guaranteed to happen; just saying it was one person's experience.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:18 AM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

Oh fucking boy.

The whole family has certainly done a number on you because as much you can now look at it "rationally" as a 24 year old who doesn't even live there anymore, they've still got you trying to figure out how you can stop your father from behaving like this.

The reason that it's so essential for your other family members to continue blaming you and holding you responsible is that it keeps them from having to look at everything in the cold light of day and see that your father is abusive and they are suffering and/or enabling him as well. As long as your father's behavior is "your fault," they can avoid all the pent-up rage, grief, guilt, etc involved in facing something like that.

None of that is your business, though. Whatever goes on in someone else's head is not your business unless you choose to make it your business.

When you're home, be ready to be able to leave at a moment's notice. Have a method of transportation set up to take you away if you don't have a car—a friend you can call, a taxi company phone number at the ready, the bus schedule, whatever. Pack light. Don't leave your stuff strewn all over. Bring a cat carrier or whatever.

You will need to say something like "I don't like being yelled at" or "I'm not interested in being yelled at." That should be the limit of your engagement. There's no discussion to be had about whether you're deserving of being yelled at or whether it's really yelling at all. None of that matters. Then remove yourself as far as necessary: from the room, from the house, from the town.

You will not have any allies in your other family members. They're going to be upset because you're removing their scapegoat strategy. Their interest is not in your emotional wellbeing, it's in propping up their fantasies about your "normal" family dynamics, so take whatever shenanigans they give you about standing up for yourself and leaving in that light.
posted by thebazilist at 9:18 AM on December 11, 2013 [19 favorites]

I think the hardest thing about walking away and removing yourself when he rages is losing the need to have his or the rest of the family's approval. To prepare yourself, read everything you can on abuse and think about how it relates to your family, because his behavior toward you and your mother is classic abuse behavior (also his threat to the cat). Heal yourself by understanding the disease and putting a plan together to handle each potential abusive situation you can imagine.

Here's a good place to start: Good luck - a better life is ahead, I promise.
posted by summerstorm at 9:18 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Listen to zizzle and everyone who says that you have to stay calm. Don't yell back. Yelling of this kind isn't okay for him to do, nor for anyone else.

You know, and violence isn't only violence if there's some physical engagement. What you describe is violence.

As it seems that your other family members have all been brainwashed by years of being exposed to this nonsense, maybe it's time for you to cater to your own sanity and actively create some distance. I imagine some aspects of this will hurt, yes, but are you really worried about being judged by people who - as a matter of course - view a lifelong anger-challenged person's tantrums [did you mention "childish"?] as part of "a normal family dynamic"? In such a context, being called "overdramatizing" perhaps isn't such a big deal.
posted by Namlit at 9:20 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

As for how to survive this holiday visit that you're already committed to - are there places you can go around your parents' home to avoid spending a lot of time in the house with your father? Childhood friends or extended family you can visit, errands to run? If all else fails, can you fake a cold or a migraine and spend some quality time alone in bed?

Can you arrange to have someone from your new home call you with an "emergency" that requires you to cut the visit short?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:23 AM on December 11, 2013

this will be construed as childishness by all of my other family members, including my mother

Yeah, to deflect the worst of it onto you to save themselves. Abuse cycles are nasty.

One way to deal with this is to roll it into your disengagement. "This is not how adults act, we're not going to do this anymore." And then leave. You have to walk away. Standing there waiting for a response is not disengagement. (And it's true - this is not how adults act. Really hard to argue otherwise. It does mean you have to be the bigger person and stop letting him push your buttons. See it for the embarrassingly pathetic sick dysfunctional behavior it is, privately feel sorry for him and the people who have been tormented by him all your lives, and walk away.)

But anyway, feel free to disengage in the wider sense by not being around as much. That's what you do when people are awful to you - you stop hanging out with them. Your father, mother, sisters, this is an incredibly sick system. You can't fix it, you can't stop it, but you can stop contributing your dynamic to it until everyone involved is in agreement to improve.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:23 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

He physically grabbed me & pushed me out of the kitchen today, and he threatened to hurt (and poison) the family cat. I don't think he'd actually cause deliberate harm, but his tempers are out of control.

This is physical violence ... specifically, domestic assault. You should call the police, now, and press charges.

He can be forced to get help for his rage and violence if he's under the thumb of a court.
posted by jayder at 9:27 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Make arrangements to stay elsewhere next summer. I don't care what they promise or any of it, just do it.

Wooof, or volunteer, or couch surf or sublet a room. Under NO circumstances are you to be in that house subject to this nonsense ever again in this life.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:34 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know that if I declare that I am no longer engaging with him in any way, this will be construed as childishness by all of my other family members, including my mother. My sisters in particular have always defended him and accused me of antagonising him. But I am just so tired of always being attacked and yelled at for incredibly minor issues. I also know that if I request that he attends anger management counselling, I'll be seen as overdramatising a normal family dynamic. It feels like the only option to avoid being seen as immature and histrionic is to just suck it up and try even harder to avoid antagonising my father.

I'm going to open a door here, because I don't really have time to read all the contributions to this thread here, but in short, the comment I wanted to make that opens new possibilities is you don't have to be perfect in order to be loved. Your father is being disingenuous in treating you like this. He doesn't realize it but he is affecting your ability to self-care. It is not his job to fix this; it is your job.

I grew up in the same household. You're not going to be able to change your dad. Over time, you may realize that there's a reason he's doing this and it doesn't have anything to do with you. Your part in it is only how long are you willing to suffer. Detachment doesn't have to mean running away from the family or shutting down, but for a short time it might be just that.

Take care of yourself these holidays and stop giving a shit what your sisters or your family think. Appeasing them won't make you feel all that much better. You really have to reach deep down inside and consider being a new person that isn't entirely defined by "a reaction" to the family. You are young, so cut yourself some slack. You can memail me if you have any questions.

The one-two of your mom and dad - the inviting peacemaker followed by the punisher - if you don't start looking at the evidence and taking care of yourself, if you keep following their lead, you are always going to walk straight into the meat grinder. These are major mixed signals. Notice also in your attempts to make everyone in your family happy, no one is happy with you. Happppy Holidays!
posted by phaedon at 9:38 AM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Wish I could offer some words of wisdom.. but I can't really suffice to say I'm here too trying to learn a bit from the great responses. I can relate to your situation. Do you drive? That is something I wish I had.. in this madness it would be so good to have an escape route... especially in the midst of so much crazy making denial. CODA can be ok for hearing about other people attempting to put in boundaries.

I don't want to hijack the thread but I'd be really interested to know what some of the respondents think about how to handle it when your dad is abusive to your mum? Can a daughter step in there? How? You don't want to see people you love hurt but it's very hard to stand up to bullies.

I don't know if you feel this but I feel I am colluding somehow with the abuse of others if I don't step in.. yet get frozen to the spot in fear.

If you're from a middle class background you may find this book especially useful "not to people like us" it's how this kind of crap is subtly 'justified' by this demographic and I found it spot on.

Other than that any time out you can muster - take some stuff to do and try mindful detattchment when it's really mad.

Not 100% sure I'll have net access at xmas, but if I do happy to exchange a few sanity saving memails if that might be useful.
posted by tanktop at 9:42 AM on December 11, 2013

Maybe the issue is not how to stop your fathers rages, maybe the issue is how to be free from the impact of them. Sometimes reframing the problem is useful. As long as the problem is framed around controlling another persons behavior you will be dependent on them changing to arrive at your desired state. Borrowing from a great teacher, "Why try to cover the world in leather when you can just put on a pair of shoes?"

Your families justifications are immaterial. Your families dysfunctional dynamics are immaterial. You can be free of all of this if you are willing to pay the price. If you are not willing to pay the price, than get used to being a slave in the system. It is unfortunate that your choices are so stark, but anything else is predicated on getting others to change. That way lies madness.
posted by jcworth at 9:50 AM on December 11, 2013

You can't stop your fathers reactions, you have no control over how he acts. Really you don't despite what your psychoanalysis of your childhood self says, you had no control over his reactions then and you don't now.

You don't want him to rage, don't engage. Say calmly "I don't need this." and walk away, don't be dragged back in don't egg him on, don't yell back. Just say I'll talk to you when you've calmed down and walk away, remove yourself from his presence, go out for a while and come back when he's had chance to calm down. If he starts up again, say the same thing in the same calm voice and walk away. Treat him like you treat a kid having a temper tantrum.

I say this as the advice my SIL's therapist gave her to handle my emmotionally abusive brother who used temper tantrums to control her. The only way to "win" is to not play the game, to not engage and to make act like an adult if he wants to talk to you. Of course to do that, you have to act like an adult too.
posted by wwax at 9:56 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yep. This is my dad. I haven't spent a night under their roof since I was 17. But he still raged every time I saw him. It wasn't until I said, "If you are going to scream, I am going to leave." and then he screamed and I said, "I love you mom, I'm going to go now." and left.

Done. We have had progressively fewer incidents since I started CHANGING MY BEHAVIOR.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

This sounds so familiar to me - except my dad was violent toward me, though less so as I left home. When I was 21, I made the mistake of saying 'can you just calm down', and he got so angry he was literally spitting in my face, telling me that 'if you speak to me like that again you are no longer welcome under this roof.' For years, there was a hole in our bathroom door where he kicked it in - with my friend on the other side - because he thought I'd taken some of his batteries and I wasn't telling the truth. I have frequent headaches and migraines which I often wonder whether they are the result of being hit around the head (with hands or objects) as a teenager.

I had as little contact with him as possible when I left, and generally would arrange to meet my mum (who I got on well with) where I lived rather than coming home. I don't know if I'd say he was emotionally abusive to my mum, but once she 'talked back' to him and he didn't speak to her for six months - he would come home, walk straight upstairs, eat food that was in a drawer and throw the rubbish out of the window onto a bin rather than walk through the living room and encounter her presence. For six months.(I spent a lot of this time wishing they'd divorce, and partly because it means I could legit not have to see or speak to him again without cutting off any of my other family.) It only ended when he was diagnosed with cancer, and he died 18 months later. Had he not, I'd possibly be posting the same AskMe as you. I would speak to my mum about him as a child and her advice was 'just humour him' - and for years I didn't realise that it wasn't a case of her not taking me seriously, but she was just as unable to deal with him as I was.

I completely understand your feelings that it will be interpreted as childishness. I had very mixed feelings when my dad died, which one of my siblings interpreted as my not giving a shit - despite the same sibling being pressed up against the wall by the neck when they were a teenager during one of his rages. I know it's a standard answer here, but having counselling when I was about 22 really helped - for ages this felt like a dirty secret, and having someone say to me 'That wasn't normal, it was bullshit behaviour' was incredibly powerful. I still find the after effects hard - passive-aggressive behaviour sends me up the wall because it is so reminiscent of when I was in the house alone with him and had to somehow gauge his mood to work out whether to stay away or not - especially when it comes to dealing with people who are angry or intimidating. I hope some of the answers here are putting things into perspective, as for me the biggest step was someone else saying to me 'that was painful and it is OK to feel pain because of it' when I'd spent years feeling 'childish' or that I was making too big a deal out of it 'because it was years ago'.
posted by mippy at 10:02 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

The whole family has certainly done a number on you because as much you can now look at it "rationally" as a 24 year old who doesn't even live there anymore, they've still got you trying to figure out how you can stop your father from behaving like this.

Yes, absolutely this, a thousand times this. The abuse has become so commonplace to you that it seems reasonable to you to try and further accommodate the whims of an irrational asshole. Stuff like threatening to torture and murder the family pet because you opened the freezer IS, in fact, causing deliberate harm. Further, the fact that you were deliberately difficult as a small child does not in any way excuse or justify his shitty behavior; you were a CHILD and he was and still is the adult. When your family members tell you that you "brought it on yourself" they are being just as abusive as your dad is, by actively approving and furthering his abuse.

There is nothing to be gained in screaming back at him. If you can manage to walk away and just ignore him I think that would be for the best. Also it can only be to your benefit to find somewhere else to stay next summer.

Also also if it were me, I would take the cat with me when I left.
posted by elizardbits at 10:04 AM on December 11, 2013 [15 favorites]

I don't want to hijack the thread but I'd be really interested to know what some of the respondents think about how to handle it when your dad is abusive to your mum? Can a daughter step in there? How? You don't want to see people you love hurt but it's very hard to stand up to bullies.

I think the most helfpul thing to do, really, is set an example of how one can leave the situation.

Other strategies might be calling the police, giving your mother the number for the local women's shelter (they generally offer counseling, even if you're not staying at the shelter and even if you're continuing to stay with the abuser), and letting her know that you're happy to help her in whatever way she needs that doesn't involve subjecting yourself to ongoing abuse.
posted by jaguar at 10:07 AM on December 11, 2013

your father is abusive and you are not responsible for instigating or provoking him in any way. i hope you take the cat out of that home and sever contact with him. you can set up another place to stay over the summer where no one will abuse you or threaten/possibly abuse the cat - sublet a room, stay with friends, couchsurfing, volunteering, whatever. i am sorry you experienced this for so long. you don't need to declare you are cutting him off, you can just do it and not look back.

if that seems to extreme to be possible, you can do exactly as Sophie1 does, but even in that case take the cat.
posted by zdravo at 10:09 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Next time he does it, leave.

Even if you're in town on a visit. Just walk out the door. Go sit in a coffee shop or do some other stuff around town or whatever you have the ability to do that's not in his presence.

This will achieve two things.

1. It will communicate to him that you refuse to stand for that shit anymore, and if he wants to be in your presence, he will stop doing it.

2. It will give him time to cool off and give you the ability not to be affected by it.

I think it's probably OK to come back after an hour or so, but if he saves it up for when you walk back in the door, I would find someplace else to stay when you're in town. Or consider not visiting in the future.

I stopped going home for the holidays for a few years post-college when the family drama was ramped up way too much and the stress of going, plus having to take time off work, plus having to pay for a trip, just made no sense. I'm not sure if things ramped down on their own over a few years or if my making a point of not going had an effect (I made sure to tell my parents that I wouldn't be there precisely because it was torture for me), but giving myself permission to take care of myself was definitely an all-around good in terms of my adult relationship with my family.
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2013

If you never made another mistake, he would still find a reason to be abusive to you. He's not angry for good reason, he's not just expressing his emotions; he's abusing you and your mother.

It is not a normal, healthy relationship where someone who is supposed to love you instead threatens you, threatens your pets, and shoves, pushes, slaps, or hits you. I know you grew up thinking this was normal because we all grow up thinking our families are normal. This is not normal. This is not healthy. This is not how all families or parents behave.

You cannot change him, and it's not your responsibility to do so. It's your responsibility to protect yourself, and that includes removing yourself from any situation in which he threatens you or puts hands on you. Do not go home next summer. Find yourself a house-sitting gig or couchsurf with friends.

And get some therapy. Seriously. What's happening to you is not okay.
posted by rtha at 10:21 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is abuse, and the physical component is serious.

1. Label it. Dad, you're yelling/ screaming. Dad, you grabbed my arm and pushed me. Dad, you're out of control. Dad, threatening to poison the cat is bullying and creepy.
2. Describe your response. Dad, when you yell, it upsets me. When you grab me and shove me, I'm frightened and intimidated.
3. Ask him to change. During an episode Cut that out, right now. It's unacceptable.
During a calm time Dad, when you get angry/ riled/ start hollering, it's terribly upsetting. I want you to work on controlling your anger. If you grab/shove/push me again, I will call the police.
4. Change your behavior. Don't threaten to leave. Just leave. Leave the room, leave the house, leave town. If he yells on the phone, hang up. A calm You're yelling, so I'm going out for a while is okay. Do not engage with him if he wants to pursue yelling at you, arguing with you, etc. Walk away. If he gets physical, call the police. Seriously.
5. I just read Stop Walking On Eggshells, and recommend it, whether your dad has borderline personality disorder or not.

My Mom was ... difficult, manipulative, probably had some personality disorder, etc. It took years before she learned that I would not put up with manipulative crap, or meanness, but we ended up having an okay relationship. It's worth making this work. Also, your dad's anger is probably hurting his heart, so learning to manage his rage would be very good for him. People who say you should 'get the anger out' are wrong - violaently expressing anger and rage makes you angrier.
posted by theora55 at 10:24 AM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

It's time to take the cat and get comfortable with not seeing him again and keeping him at a distance.

You need to make your threshold clear, and your threshold needs to be far lower than it is now.

You can't put up with that anymore.
posted by discopolo at 10:28 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do what I did. My mom had terrible BPD and tortured us with anger and then begged for emotional support and told us kids she was going to kill herself.

Once I got out of the house, she continued the behavior over the phone. My aunt, her sister, a clinical psychologist recommended that I call her up and tell her how hurtful the suicide threats were and that I would have to get off the phone. If she continued, I was to hang up.

Skeptical, I did it. The first time she did it, I said I'm sorry but I have to hang up. I did the second time when she softly hinted around killing herself. The third time never came. This all happened in 1991.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I also know that if I request that he attends anger management counselling, I'll be seen as overdramatising a normal family dynamic.

Your family sounds dysfunctional and you were made the scapegoat for calling your dad on his bullshit while everyone else enabled him. You saw the side of reason. Good for you for getting out, you have my admiration & prayers today.

Now, since you don't want to cut all ties, the best thing you can do is not internalize his anger i.e. don't think you did anything wrong. Intellectually it's easy but emotionally.... just feel that one for a sec. Seriously. Petting a cat and then touching a freezer box is totally ok. You didn't kill someone, lie or steal. You didn't do anything wrong. Feel that in your heart.

When you stop internalizing his anger, things will come a lot clearer and you will have a LOT more options to respond to his outbursts. You may feel less compelled to toy with him. You can stop seeing him as your father (roll with me here) and instead see him as a sick person who needs attention and validation. He is the weaker one in this situation because he is totally ruled by his emotions. You can decide to be merciful. Therefore when he freaks out, you can choose to calmly and lovingly say "Dad, that's enough" or "you sound really upset, but I promise you this saucepan will cook our dinner just as good" and then give him a hug or something. See him as an angry hurting child, but do not be intimidated by his tantrums. YOU will shift this family dynamic because YOU will be reacting differently. It will take strength and the true love of the Dalai Lama to do it, but you can. (I did it in mine.)

Then minimize your time spent there, and get thee to a therapist.

P.S. Next time you leave, take the cat with you.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:24 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

how do I stop my father's rages (or at least avoid engaging with him) without being treated by my entire family like an overdramatic child?

I had to add... you stop being treated like an overdramatic child when you stop acting like one.

Yes, your dad is a rage-a-holic. You can't stop this, not really. But somewhere, some how, your dad is pushing your buttons - this you CAN stop.

You need to find out what those buttons are...low self esteem? ...deep down believing that his criticisms of you have some truth to them? (they don't) ...your own hurt & anger because he's not the dad you needed from him? a sense of vengeance and satisfaction? (want to get him back for all the misery he caused you) ...your own anger because he doesn't see your point of view? (the futile wish to change our parents) ... a desire to be in control and on top? (fuck this family, they're not going to be able to control me!) If you do some honest self-dialogue, you will understand what YOU get out of reacting to him the way you do. This is the key that will help you stop reacting to him, this will help you consciously choose your responses to him. Then you can communicate effectively; for example when you tell him you want him to attend anger management classes, you will do it in a way that is relationship-building instead of alienating.

Then you need to get rid of those buttons, so no one can press them ever again. Therapy is good for this. So is Buddhism (reducing the defensive ego, learning how to tolerate our own negative feelings, developing true self-esteem instead of pride).

It is hard to love the family you are born into when the family is dysfunctional like this. They will probably never see and love you for what you really are and that is a goddamn tragedy. I am impressed that you're asking this question, since it shows maturity and a willingness to own your own piece in this dynamic. You can treat your father with love and maturity, even if you only see him twice a year. You are definitely taking the high road by taking this kind of approach, and given the amount of scapegoating and negation you have suffered, you are well within your rights to just up and leave your family. But you still need to look at and understand these buttons that your dad is pressing because I promise you they are going to come out in your future relationships if they haven't already.

It is a shame that your family is expecting you to act mature when they haven't given you the skills and tools to develop that maturity.

P.S. I still recommend taking the cat.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:52 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

@jayder understands the seriousness of this: "This is physical violence ... specifically, domestic assault. You should call the police, now, and press charges. He can be forced to get help for his rage and violence if he's under the thumb of a court."

You wrote: "He physically grabbed me & pushed me out of the kitchen today, and he threatened to hurt (and poison) the family cat."

There is a reason he did not do this to you somewhere out in public, OP. He picked the time and the place to physically abuse you and threaten to kill your cat: in the privacy of a home, full of enablers. Abusers never grab and push another adult and threaten to kill an animal in the middle of Wal-Mart. He picked the time and place. This is calculated. He does not want people to see.

He physically grabbed you, OP.

He physically pushed you, OP.

He threatened to hurt the family cat.

He threatened to poison the family cat.

Have the courage to call your local police, report that you are the survivor of a battery, and press charges. The only way domestic abusers ever change is when society holds them accountable.
posted by hush at 12:03 PM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Stop Walking on Eggshells is a good read, seconding a previous post.
posted by singingfish at 12:55 PM on December 11, 2013

Lots of people have posted the best answer (say you aren't going to put up with that behavior and immediately leave every time it happens), so I don't want to belabor that.

However, you posted that you are now rational about these issues. I just wanted to point out that it's pretty clear to everybody in this thread that you are still involved in the abusive dynamic going on in your family and that your judgement is still very colored by this. The best way to get out of this dynamic is to stop participating in it until you have clarity.

If some dude you just met screamed at you and threatened to poison your cat for literally no reason (opening a freezer door is NOT a reason), how would you react? I'm willing to bet that you wouldn't waste time trying to figure out how to make them be nicer.
posted by zug at 2:01 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think that sometimes people who have been exposed to this sort of behavior from childhood don't realize how bizarre it would appear to others. This article, from the satirical "fake news" magazine The Onion, might help to make the point to your father or the rest of your family how crazy and inappropriate the way he acts is:
Father Teaches Son How To Fly Into Rage Over Completely Inconsequential Bullshit
posted by XMLicious at 2:14 PM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Willingness to disengage and articulated firm boundaries are the only thing that has allowed me to take care of myself. It's gonna suck sometimes, but then it sucks interacting with a person incapable of relating to you outside of their own ish as well, right?

The point is to take care of yourself and not let them force their problems/frustrations/rage onto you, which is a difficult dynamic to change if the other party is not willing/capable. Especially difficult if a whole group of people are centered on this person's dynamic.

The thing to remember is that you are responsible for your own wellbeing, just as this person is responsible for his.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:19 PM on December 11, 2013

I should add that I found therapy super helpful for this sort of thing where the goal was basically how to negotiate this sort of situation on my own terms and not needing validation of the messed up dynamic from other members of the group or the problematic person.

It hurts at times, but I started feeling a lot better once I stop worrying that others saw me as being difficult because I was advocating for myself.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:27 PM on December 11, 2013

When you grow up in a family where abuse is happening, a lot of really fucked-up stuff can seem normal because you have nothing else to compare it to.

The stuff your dad is doing is in no way part of a "normal" family dynamic, no matter what other family members tell you. Him screaming at you for every tiny little transgression is not normal. Him escalating an argument to physical violence (even low-level physical violence like pushing you), is not normal. Him threatening to hurt the family cat - and this line here

(I always yell back when he yells at me, and ESPECIALLY when he threatens the cat.)

leads me to believe he's done this on multiple occasions - is so far from "normal" I don't even. This is abuse, and of a particularly low, nasty kind.

I bring this up - and maybe I'm completely wrong on this - because I get the strong impression that you're only just now starting to brush up against the idea that this is what abuse looks like. And it's confusing, because everyone around you is minimizing - I mean hey, yeah, Dad flies off the handle sometimes, but it's not abuse, I mean, it's not like he ever beat anyone up, right? And he's never actually hurt the cat, right? And maybe if you just tried harder not to piss him off, he wouldn't yell at you in the first place, right?

No. This is abuse. It doesn't have to look like a scene from Once Were Warriors to be abuse. Identify it as such, even if only to yourself.

Your family's disapproval should be the least of your concerns right now.
posted by Broseph at 2:36 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

i'm not sure how well this would work for this situation, but sometimes when i find myself afraid of confrontation i practice with myself in the mirror or with a friend i really trust. when i'm alone thinking about things i am calm and focused, but in the moment my blood starts pounding and i have a shaky unstable voice and i lose all train of thought and sort of collapse in on myself. you have to be strong here. you have to know what to say and how to respond so you fight through the panic. so i've found that practice can help. it's like how you run through a speech a few times before standing up in front of a group of people, it helps to have the verbal words physically ready to fly.

have a friend you trust pretend to be him, fake lose their temper, and do this a few times to get some practice in before the real thing - figure out what you would say and the moment you decide to walk away. it may trigger some emotions, but that's the point - if you get upset but work through it anyway, you will be better prepared to deal with it when the time really comes.

oh and one more thing - i'm another vote for take the cat with you when you go!
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 2:37 PM on December 11, 2013

I know that if I declare that I am no longer engaging with him in any way, this will be construed as childishness by all of my other family members, including my mother.

Fuck them sideways.

This is a monstrous situation, and someday you'll look back and be absolutely dazzled by how monstrous it is. Get out and get some therapy to help you process this and understand how deeply damaging and horrific what you're describing is.

There are not many situations that call for this, but this is 'change your number, move to another town, stay with friends, whatever it takes' territory. Get away from this horrific situation.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:39 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also with regard to the idea of trying to talk to him, or alter your behavior in response: he threatened to poison the family cat. He's either unhinged or should be treated as such. The only way that you should alter your behavior is for safety purposes so that you can pack your things without escalation.

Preferably in the dead of night.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:41 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Go sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here."
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:42 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I need a place to stay for a few weeks over next summer,

Okay, I'm sorry, last post: buy a tent. Rent a campsite. They have showers. It will be a pain. But it will be peaceful.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:43 PM on December 11, 2013

One of the hardest things to learn about transitioning from childhood to adulthood, at least for me, has been about control, and how to wield it. Human beings naturally want to control our surroundings to be and feel safe and happy. Everyone always wants that. What changes when you're no longer a child is the set of tools available to you to do that.

As a child, you have very little direct control over the world: you're too little to manipulate a lot of physical objects, and if you try to do whatever you want to do, there are bigger people around you who will often be able to stop you, either physically or with the power and money and authority they wield. So, if you want to control your surroundings, the best (and often the only) way to do that is to control the bigger people who control you, specifically by making them want to do the thing you want. And you learn that oftentimes, you can do that by screaming or throwing a fit or crying or using whatever words you know. If a baby screams, the adults will feed him or change him or comfort him, because they're distressed by the baby's distress. When a teenager provokes a fight with her parents, her parents will often argue with her, because she can use their feelings about her to make them feel angry or exasperated or afraid. But the bottom line is that, when you're a kid, the only way to make your world better is to make the people around you think or feel what you want them to think or feel.

When you're an adult, however, you lose some of the power to make other people think or feel what you want them to by crying or throwing a tantrum: a crying 25-year-old will produce a very different reaction from a crying 6-month-old. And that's a sort of panic-inducing transition, because when you can no longer "push buttons" in the same way you used to (even if the only reason you can't is because you feel foolish or guilty when you try to do it), it feels as though you've lost the only control you ever had over your own life. But while you're losing that, you're gaining something way more powerful: the ability to change your environment directly, using your own body and mind and abilities, even if other people don't want you to. Unlike when you were a kid, you can refuse to do stuff, and no one can physically pick you up and force you to. You can leave an unpleasant situation, and no one can require you to stay or withhold the means for you to leave. You can do what you want, even if other people don't like it, and they can't ground you or take away your allowance or make you write an essay on the importance of obedience. They can't yell at you unless you decide that you're willing to stand there and take it. That's an enormous new power, and for people who weren't raised in a way that prepared them to take it on, it can be really hard to internalize the fact that yes, you really do have that power.

When you were a child, the only way for you to make the situation with your father better was to control your father. You had to avoid making him mad, or deflect his attention to other things, or goad him to channel his anger in ways that were safer for you than the ways he would otherwise display it. That was the only choice you had, because you didn't control your world. But now, you're an adult. And you're right, you probably can't deal with his anger the way you always did as a kid. But you have a power now that you didn't have as a kid: the power to say "I am not going to accept being treated this way." In order to control your world, you no longer have to make him feel not-angry, or make him express his anger in certain ways. And you no longer have to make the rest of your family feel not-upset at you for disrupting things or for making your father mad. You no longer have to make them do what you want them to do in order to be safe and healthy and happy; you have the power to simply choose not to be a part of that situation.

(Additionally, though, I should say, that with that new power comes a new responsibility. Because when you were a kid, you had no responsibility to protect anyone else from your father. You were small and helpless and powerless, and you didn't have the ability, much less the obligation, to do anything other than protect yourself as best you could. Now, however, I believe that you do have a responsibility, as all adults do, to do what is within your power to protect the helpless from abuse. And that means that, to the best of your abilities, you have an obligation to do what you can for the cat (as well as any children or other small, helpless beings currently under your father's control). That could mean taking the cat, or it could mean calling the police, or it could mean alerting the ASPCA, but if you possibly can, you should do something. Because that's the right thing to do. But I also suspect that exercising that responsibility, taking something small and helpless under your protection, will help to remind you that you have a huge, huge power now that you didn't have when you were a kid, and you're entitled to better treatment than your father is trying to give you.)
posted by decathecting at 3:10 PM on December 11, 2013 [11 favorites]

Oh no, this sounds awful. Nthing what everyone else above has said about not tolerating it and there being no easy answer. I’m going to share my experience because I hope it will flag some of the challenges you might face – and let you know that they are, indeed, able to be overcome.

I also have a raging verbally, and sometimes physically, abusive father. In my teenage years he would literally foam at the mouth when really mad. He explodes over tiny, completely unpredictable transgressions. I also have a mother who blamed me for his rages and expected me to placate him. I too escalated things when I was a child and teenager, in my case because it was so manifestly unfair and I wouldn’t back down in the face of epic injustice. Which ended in Armageddon-level meltdowns from both parents and me blaming myself for antagonising them.

Now that I’m grown up and no longer financially dependent on them, I deal with it (after lots of therapy and reading) by realising his anger is not. my. doing. And I can’t control it. No matter how much it might feel like I have pressed his buttons, I didn’t cause him to go nuclear. His sad abusive background (child of violent alcoholic), a traumatic brain injury about 20 years ago, coupled with 40-plus years of a dynamic with my mother where the rage has been enabled and excused and I have been scapegoated for it, has meant he just has no freakin’ control over his temper, no incentive to change and now, with increasing dementia, no ability to change. When he goes off (and he still does) and I start to blame myself (and I still do) I remind myself of this. I actually have it written down in an Evernote note so I can read it when the rage happens. I still feel sad. I mean, I wish he wasn’t like this. I don’t like being screamed at. But I don’t feel anywhere near as distraught as I did when I was younger.

In practical terms I have a script. My script is “I can see you’re really upset. I love you very much, but I won’t put up with you shouting at me. We can talk this through when you can speak with me calmly.” Followed by an exit statement. “I’m leaving now / I’m turning the car around and dropping you home” or whatever. After that, I walk out, or turn the car around and drop him off.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in dealing with this has been my parents framing of this response as me having emotional problems, as “making a big deal” out of “nothing”. They believe their verbal, emotional and physical abuse during my childhood, and into my late twenties (I was 27 when I really put my foot down and am 40 now), was normal because it’s what they experienced. And I think, it would just be too hard for them to confront that they are pretty awful people in some ways. It was terribly, terribly hurtful to realise that my parents have decided I am “emotionally unstable”. It was also very difficult to explain to other people, who only see the warm, social, kind side of my parents. This side is real, but exists mostly in public. Because abusers don’t usually carry out their abuse in public with witnesses. I am certain that some friends do not believe me and think I am cruel and heartless for enforcing the boundaries I have set and for refusing to accept appalling behaviour from my parents. I also feel very sad about this, but recognise that I can’t control other people’s reactions. I know what the truth is and I hold firm to it internally.

In practical terms, what happens when I do enforce those boundaries when my dad looses his shit and I walk out calmly, is I feel sad, but basically OK. I make sure I call them the next day. (They are now very elderly.) He acts bewildered and quite often sulks and refuses to speak with me. I ignore this. In the past I might have apologised, and in fact was forced to apologise when I was a teenager, argh, just horrible. Eventually, it blows over. The end.

Something that has really helped me to deal with weathering the emotional storms and withstanding the terrible sadness that comes with being scapegoated and characterised as “the unstable one” by my family, is meditation. YMMV, but it creates, for me, an all pervading sense of calmness, and the knowledge that I can reach that calm place when I need to. This was not quick – it took me a long time to learn to meditate deeply, and is a constant (but very rewarding and worthwhile) practice. I do recommend you find something healthy and nourishing that will soothe and comfort you because there is a good chance difficult times are ahead. Exercise? A kind therapist you can trust, who will help remind you of what is normal (uh, not being yelled at!) for sure. There are as many coping strategies as there are individuals. But find something. Because if (when) you put those boundaries in place, there is an excellent chance they will be tested. If you can stand firm, while caring for yourself and absenting yourself from the path of your father’s fury, and possible backlash from the rest of your family, it still won’t be easy, but it will be so much less awful.
posted by t0astie at 3:23 PM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Also, don't stay there next summer. Save up and sublet or something.

This is not you at all. Its all him. Part of this is gonna be unlearning the coping mechanisms everyone else is still using: appeasement and self-limiting behavior. The key is to watch for it outside the home and with others.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:52 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay, some of these are just making me cry a little, so I'm just going to skip ahead and assume that nobody else has addressed it this way:

Speaking from the perspective of a recoverring asshole with his own rage issues*, IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. However, it also sounds like your dad pretty obviously has no control over his emotions, and no self-control around you or your mom. Appeasement ain't gonna help.

He needs psychological help, and I'd be surprised if you don't, let alone your poor mom. It might be worth being seen as the emotional, histrionic one if it gets that conversation started; also, because you can leave the room.

*It sounds like I'm around a 3, on a scale where your dad is around an 11.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 4:56 PM on December 11, 2013

I've had some success in out-grown-upping my father.

So first, it was always a few days in that he had a meltdown, so if at all possible, I have a visit of less than 3 days, or stay elsewhere and arrange to catch up in small doses. Honestly, it all goes much better in small doses.

I behave completely as if I am a guest in the house. It is a very different vibe, but he starts treating me more like a guest (ie responsibly). I don't assume I am entitled to anything, thank then politely for anything I receive, and 'offer' to help around the house.
I try and cook a meal while I am there, and it is not something they usually eat. It is something that this adult, grownup who is visiting their house has made as a nice gesture.
I dress differently, and as an adult.
I often bring a gift, or take him and his partner out to dinner.
I talk to him as an adult equal.
Kid me =/= (does not equal) adult me.
Adult me is classy and intimidating.

He wants me to contribute somehow (so he can't accuse me of being lazy), but as a teenager he'd always trap me into doing things that he does/wants done in a particular way, something in his 'domain' if you will, and then blowing up at me (so I tried to avoid doing anything for him).
Instead, I've been volunteering to do things, but mostly he doesn't do - tending his neglected garden (especially part of it that had a dead spot from where his dead dog used to lie, which he appreciated), fixing computers etc.
I 'schedule' (ie mention at the breakfast table), when I will be doing these things, and when my other plans are (ie to leave the house on these days).
I arrange it so that I am NOT doing things in his domain, although I may compliment him on his things.

When he insults me, I go with the most sugary sweet (/passive aggressive judo chop) reply possible. Or, I make a comment that maybe we share something in common (I didn't grow up with my father, so he tends to seem pleased at, I guess, having a genetic legacy?).

In response to:
You're an idiot! What, are you Autistic or something?
Maybe I am! Maybe that's why I'm so good with computers!
(Leaving him disconcerted - also, I'm pretty sure he d means, extra note, I'm pretty sure he's undiagnosed Aspergers. )

After giving me directions to turn, in a car, I verbally checked, here? And turned, but it turned out he meant up ahead:
You just don't LISTEN!
5 second pause... 'Well maybe that's genetic'
After a longer pause, he said that actually, people sometimes say that about him (I did NOT say, no, really?).
posted by Elysum at 8:08 PM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

You'll be amazed at how liberating it will feel to simply say, "No one speaks to me like that - I'm outta' here" - and leave.

Believe me, I know the almost scary, tremulous feeling - did I really do that? - and then the feeling of freedom and strength and realization that what you said was true - no one has a right to speak to you that way.

Don't bother exchanging crap with him; he won't hear you - he only hears himself.

But you're all grown up now and you no longer have to take whatever he dishes out. Walk. And more power to you.
posted by aryma at 10:06 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might read up on Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. My dad has a Jekyll-Hyde thing going on and he and I tend to butt heads. We can't be in proximity to each other long before something becomes a point of contention and the conflict starts building. It is sad because when I was little we got on really well and I was closer to him than my mother, but once I hit 11 or 12 he flipped on me and seemed to view me as a threat - to his authority, to his identity ... he just had angry and violent reactions to me. I really hated him for it. In my head, I used to just call him "the old bastard".

A few years ago I ran across OCPD and while I cannot diagnose my father, he fits so much of the profile that through researching the personality disorder I am able to understand, at least in part, why he does what he does. Because he is a perfectionist, and anything that threatens his need to be "right" has to be squashed. He wants so badly to be viewed as a good father authority figure and he can't handle even the slightest challenge to his way of doing things, because he takes it as a deeply personal insult. It's really sad, because his desperate temper tantrum efforts to get respect and validation destroy any chance of him being seen as the father figure he wishes to be.

It doesn't magically fix anything - we still can't spend much time together - but I view him differently because I get what his goals are. I don't hate him anymore. I just feel sorry for him. Sometimes I go out of my way to do tiny things to validate him. Thank him for a recommendation or something. I see him as insecure and ego-fragile, now.
posted by griselda at 3:46 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

she sees this as a fifty-fifty situation

She's dead wrong.
posted by flabdablet at 4:34 AM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I should have linked to this article on OCPD that is more in depth about the mentality - the wikipedia entry is rather dry.

One last note - what changed how I handle my father was realizing that he is terrified of me, like a toddler is terrified of monsters under the bed. All the anger is just a bluff and a pre-emptive strike to muddy the waters. He's terrified of being seen as worthless, especially by his kids and family, because he values them so highly. That's why he has so many rules and "right" ways of doing things. They're all he has to protect him. He has to point out how "right" he is and how "wrong" you are to keep the balance tipped in his favor.

I don't plan on telling my dad about OCPD and suggesting he get diagnosed, even though it might be a comfort to him. 1) I don't know what his knee-jerk response might be to me telling him he could be a diagnosed asshole, even in the kindest terms (probably not positive). 2) I don't care so much if our relationship ever gets fixed. It is enough for me to know he's screwy and it's not my fault - and not really his, either. Only you can decide if you want to put the effort forth to do counselling and try to mend the rift in your family. Yeah, you might get dumped on for a while and you're going to have to play long game. Worst case, plan on getting booted out with no warning and losing any financial support. If you have the resources to handle that, you can rock the boat more. Ultimately, what do you want your relationship with your dad to look like in 10 years? How do you want to feel about him when you're trying to write something for his funeral service? Let that guide you.
posted by griselda at 5:07 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't get ragey back. Do not.

If you play this game you cannot win it. You cannot disengage from the crazy unless you disengage.

So what do you do? You disengage and act like an adult. If he starts screaming, you calmly say you're not going to be yelled at. If he doesn't stop, you leave. You can say that you want to hang out, but not when he's acting like this, and you'll come again and hop things are more calm.

The key here is that you simply will not put up with this behavior. And yeah, you need to be prepared to walk away. I don't give two fucks that your mom and sisters will disagree wih you here; they have Stockholm syndrome. You don't accept this behavior by not accepting it.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:50 AM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

He laid his hand on you and he communicated threats to the cat.

This man is an abuser.

I'd leave. I'd rather have Christmas in a hotel room with a pimento cheese sandwich than be around that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:55 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

P.S. I'm sorry for the super-confusing, non-edited nature of my above post. was always a few days in to a visit, that he had a meltdown...

...also, I'm pretty sure he d means, extra note, I'm pretty sure he's undiagnosed Aspergers...
= I'm pretty sure he doesn't know what Austistic/Autistic spectrum actually means, other than using it as an insult. It's not really ironic that he uses it as an insult when I think he's Aspergers, I guess it makes it more likely that people insulted him that way. Which adds layers to the way I chose not to respond to it as if it was even an insult (I know severe Autism isn't really anything like the good at computers Aspergers stereotypes), even if out of context my response looks a little facetious.

Also, I have some sympathy. His family are very bitchy toward each other.
His extended family mock me less than him, but partly because I do have to play the same Miss Manners game with them. Urgh.
I'm just glad I don't have to stoop to that, that that isn't my life, isn't (by and large) my family, and isn't what I put up with.

Anyway, because of this I think he enjoys his time with me a lot more than he used to, so ironically, he takes a LOT more of the initiative in contacting me.
It feels ironic, because it initially felt like withdrawing, to me. Instead, it's just withdrawing as a lesser, as a child, and trying to relate as an adult.

Next mefi question - how to talk/relate with someone I don't share that much in common with. I've about exhausted talking about the weather, and my retirement options & savings (seriously, closest thing to a regular topic of conversation!).

P.S. I'm not very classy and intimidating, I'm more unkempt and friendly. But that is the armour I wear when I'm with them, more than I am usually.
posted by Elysum at 8:42 PM on December 12, 2013

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