Class for verbal abuser on how to stop being abusive?
January 3, 2020 1:59 PM   Subscribe

For my entire life, my dad has been verbally abusive, as well as racist and sexist. I stopped speaking to him years ago. Recently, our relatives found out about his behavior and gave him pressure to change. He asked for a class to learn to stop being verbally abusive. Although I have no hope of him changing, I want to provide a link to a class, to help my relatives feel that he was "given every chance". Can you recommend a class?

My dad lives in a big city in the US. The two biggest issues I have with my dad are:

1. He has always been verbally abusive to my mother, me, and my sibling. He belittled and mocked us. If we made a single mistake (e.g. showed up late to an event), he used it for years as an example of how we're going to fail in life. He frequently called us stupid, arrogant, selfish, and other names. He raised his voice on a weekly basis and shouted at us over unpredictable things (e.g. taking too long to order at a restaurant, or choosing a restaurant that's different than his preference). He only did this abuse when there were no friends or relatives around to see it. 

2. He made bigoted comments. Sometimes it was during the verbal abuse ("You make as many mistakes as a [minority]!"), and sometimes it was calmly during everyday conversation ("So-and-so is smart, which is rare for a woman and a [minority].") I've often asked him to stop, and he just kept making the racist and sexist comments as though he didn't hear me.

He also displayed some narcissistic traits, such as bragging daily about himself, and acting furious and wounded whenever someone else was successful. 

Several years ago, I told my dad that he is abusive, and I stopped speaking to him. Over the first year of no-contact, he left me several teary voicemails about how he missed me and hoped I'd change my mind so that things can go back to how they were, but he never addressed my point about his abuse.

A year into the no-contact, I relayed through a family member that I'd start talking to him if he took a class on how to stop being verbally abusive. He refused. He said that the class was too much to ask. He said that he needs to feel comfortable in his own home, and having to watch his words would prevent him from ever relaxing again.

Throughout these years of me being no-contact, he continued to be verbally abusive toward my sibling and my mom. 

Recently, many of our relatives found out about the situation. They pressured him to change. They were especially appalled that he refused to take a class. Under the pressure, he said that he's now willing to take a class on how to stop being abusive. 

I have zero hope that he will do a 180 and become the dad that I want. However, I want to send him info on classes, to help my relatives move toward the stage of "We all tried our best, but Sandwich's dad didn't change" (as opposed to "Sandwich's dad said he wants to change and just needs to be given another chance").

There are domestic-violence classes that are court-mandated for physical abusers. Is there an equivalent for verbal abuse? Or should I ask him to take a domestic violence class even though his abuse is verbal instead of physical?

If you know anyone who has taken a domestic-violence class, can you please share your impressions? Or if you know someone who has successfully learned how to stop being verbally abusive, how did they learn that?

Because I have doubts about his sincerity, I'd like to find a class where he has to demonstrate improvement in order to pass the class. I'd prefer there to be exams or a teacher-assigned grade, so that passing the class requires genuinely learning the material and changing his mindset. I would be worried about suggesting a book, since he could skim it for a few seconds and then say "I read the book and have now changed".

In addition, if you can recommend a class to stop being racist and sexist, that would also be greatly appreciated.

I'm not looking for answers such as "he'll never change" or "you can't control what your relatives think". I agree with both of those. I've already read Lundy Bancroft's "Why Does He Do That", and I'm in therapy.

Can you recommend a class that teaches how to stop being verbally abusive? Thank you!
posted by sandwich to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure what you're looking for is group therapy. If your relatives want him to try and change, however, I see no reason that you should be burdened with finding a class. This was their idea and therefore it is their responsibility to find the "class" (i.e. therapy) they are looking for.
posted by Amy93 at 2:37 PM on January 3, 2020 [11 favorites]

I don't know of such a class but I'd like to share some thoughts with the sincere hope they are helpful.

1) IMO, he needs to be the one to find a class. I'm short of time right now, so if it's not clear why, message me and I'll elaborate.

2) His behavior definitely can change, and his likelihood of success will go up greatly if he addresses the underlying issues, which probably include one or more of: anger management, anxiety, and dysfunctional relationships when he was a child. (There are a fair number of anger management classes out there, and that might be a good starting point.)

3) Any class will need to be followed up with you having determined your boundaries and the consequences of his inevitable relapses. (Relapses are actually positive signs of progress and provide reinforcement, but they will also be hard on you.) Think of it as the parent-offspring version of animal training. Captain Awkward's blog has a great deal of very detailed and well-thought out techniques and approaches.

4) Better (more effective) than a class would be for him to find a therapist to work with solo. If your therapist has competency, they might be willing to prepare and plan with you a few conjoint sessions. The major pitfall here is your father claiming therapist is against him, which sounds likely given your report of him displaying narcissistic characteristics.

Best wishes in establishing a relationship of mutual respect and appreciation with your father.
posted by dancing leaves at 2:41 PM on January 3, 2020 [9 favorites]

IMO, he needs to be the one to find a class.

This. When a person expresses a desire to change, having other people do the work for them isn't a good first step.

You want to change, you take the steps needed yourself. Putting it on other people indicates you aren't at all committed to change.*

*I only know this from a failed relationship where my horrible ex agreed to go to counseling as long as I found someone, screened them, and made the appointments. In short, he had no interest in making anything better.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:53 PM on January 3, 2020 [21 favorites]

I'n familiar with Center for domestic peace I was impressed with the programming for a mostly court-ordered population and they took their jobs seriously. Domestic violence covers a variety of areas and definately covers the power dynamics and thought processes that people who abuse have. These courses are long.

It's easy to minimize verbal abuse, but it is still abuse and still inappropriate and if he wants to start somewhere, here is a place. The idea he's better than a physical abuser is a part of the problem. He's not. He's serve enough his children cannot interact with him for their emotional safety.

Change is always possible, but it takes time, effort and desire. That is not something anyone can give him but himself. Individual therapy is likely the best option, but there is a wide variety of things . A good group where interpersonal dynamics are reflected on would be useful.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:16 PM on January 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

I like the idea of making him do the legwork on this. In the event that he doesn’t know where to start, if there is a domestic violence center/shelter near him, they may offer groups for men.
posted by eirias at 3:17 PM on January 3, 2020

Something like Nonviolent Communication might be a good starting point to offer.
posted by FallibleHuman at 3:20 PM on January 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think a class isn't enough and he needs to be in therapy, and yeah, he needs to find the therapist. Good luck. It's okay not to follow through with exactly what you asked for, okay? If he takes a class and doesn't change, I'm concerned he'll use it to manipulate you further.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:56 PM on January 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Personally, I'm not sure that nonviolent communication is a place to start. Nonviolent communication is about expressing yourself and giving feedback in a way that people can absorb and respond to. If the main thing you want to express is bigoted viewpoints or unmerited criticism, nonviolent communication might just teach you to communicate it in a more manipulative or subtle way. It sounds like what the OP's father needs is to really examine where his viewpoints and behavior are coming from and commit to changing.
posted by knownfossils at 4:00 PM on January 3, 2020 [14 favorites]

From your question, it sounds like you don't think he genuinely wants to change (?). In which case, I don't think he needs to be the one to find the class/do the legwork.

It seems like what you're saying is that you would like to have a resource to be provided to him, as he has requested, so that your relatives can feel like they have tried their best - because that's where their heads are at right now.

I'm sorry I don't have a class recommendation but it seems like some people are missing that point so I just wanted to try and clarify if that was indeed the case?
posted by reshet at 4:23 PM on January 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

From your question, it sounds like you don't think he genuinely wants to change (?).
I don't think my dad genuinely wants to change. He cares about his reputation and wants others to think highly of him. I think that's why he capitulated to pressure from our relatives and said he'd take the class.
It seems like what you're saying is that you would like to have a resource to be provided to him, as he has requested, so that your relatives can feel like they have tried their best - because that's where their heads are at right now.
Correct. My focus is on helping my relatives feel that they and I have tried our best. I value my relationship with my relatives. Currently they are projecting from their own attitudes (they themselves would gladly take a class for months to repair their relationship with their child).

My dad has long expressed that as the patriarch, he should not need to change. His wife and children should change to accommodate him. He gets furious if his patriarchal view of the world is challenged. I expect that if he attends a class and is asked to acknowledge equality with his family members and to accept responsibility for his abuse, he will explode in rage and stop going to the class (or fail the class). If that happens, my relatives can then move closer toward acceptance of the situation.

I'd rather not get into a stalemate over who should look for the class. It just drags out the current situation and allows my dad to say, "I would gladly take the class, but I can't find one."

Thanks AlexiaSky for recommending a class and sharing your experience. I was worried that a domestic-violence class might be not appropriate for verbal abuse, so it's good to hear your thoughts.

I appreciate everyone's comments.
posted by sandwich at 6:18 PM on January 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Send relatives and your father the same information, such as here's the phone number of a therapist, or here's a class/group that meets once a week with the information on enrolling. The ball is then in his court. You have then met everyone more than halfway.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:47 PM on January 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just to reiterate the point, emotional abuse can be as bad if not worse for the victim than physical abuse. Courses exist that focus on more than just avoiding certain kinds of behavior, including things like socialization, objectification, healthy relationships (of all stripes), etc. Challenging patriarchal norms is kind of at the root of a lot of it, to your comment.

Seattle has a new-ish program that includes input from mental health professionals, substance abuse experts and victim advocates. A little bit of online searching shows courses in other places. And either your local DV resources or the National Domestic Violence Hotline might also be able to make referrals.
posted by Gorgik at 7:56 PM on January 3, 2020

I hear what you’re saying, but your dad is continuing a cycle of dismissive and controlling behavior with your relatives. I would honestly either talk to them about educating themselves to see how awful he’s being by not getting help on his own, or I would step away from this. By helping your relatives, you’re getting drawn into his nonsense.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:18 PM on January 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Have you talked with your own therapist about this "family wants me to find a class for dad" situation? What do they have to say about it?
posted by Aleyn at 9:33 PM on January 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Leave him to his own devices. I agree that he's just using the situation to further dictate the behavior of others and set terms they have to scamper to meet. Same old same old.

Instead, focus your help efforts on your relatives, so they can better deal with the trauma of being in relationship to this person. Offer them some resources for therapy, some readings, some links.
posted by Miko at 6:29 AM on January 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm not in the US so I can't recommend a specific class. But I can confirm what AlexiaSky says about verbal abuse, especially of the type you describe, definitely counting as domestic violence. Given that you don't have high hopes I think you should find any domestic abuse treatment in your city, pass on the details to your relatives, then wash your hands of it until your relatives are ready to realise he's stalling.
posted by harriet vane at 7:11 AM on January 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I recently read Rachel Louise Snyder's superb No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us. In it she discusses the groundbreaking work of the Manalive program, which has a number of group locations in California, as well as the shortcomings, in comparison, of conventional anger management programs in dealing with abuse. As I know Manalive is geographically limited, you might begin by taking a look at Snyder's book and seeing whether there are comparable batterer intervention programs available near your father.

I also read Jared Sexton's The Man They Wanted Me to Be this past year, and while I don't know if your dad would be receptive to it, you might also check that out to see if you think it might be something that'd be useful.
posted by jocelmeow at 9:14 AM on January 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I work for a domestic violence agency. We treat offenders as well as victims. One of the myths we work hard to dispel is that verbal abuse isn’t domestic violence. It 100% *is* domestic violence, and a domestic violence agency should be able to help you. If you need help locating one, has a feature where you can plug in your zip code.

If none of the solutions mentioned in this thread so far work for you, send me a DM on Monday and I’ll ask our head of counseling services for suggestions.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:18 AM on January 4, 2020 [8 favorites]

Many abusive men are required to take classes. As Mexican Yenta suggested, call the family violence project near you, and/ or the family court.

You are a champ at disengaging, kudos.
posted by theora55 at 9:35 PM on January 4, 2020

Thanks for all the suggestions.

I found a domestic violence organization in my dad's city that holds classes. Once I understood from your answers that verbal abuse counts as domestic violence, it took only a few minutes to find.

I told the name of the organization to my relatives, and now I am done with this.

I understand the warnings about my dad using this situation to manipulate me or relatives. Demanding that he or my relatives find the classes would have been problematic due to their levels of computer literacy and English proficiency.

I appreciate your links to actual programs in various cities (as examples) and descriptions of what happens in the classes. It was really helpful.
posted by sandwich at 4:19 AM on January 6, 2020 [8 favorites]

« Older Big pills   |   What Type Of Glue To Repair This Sole? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.