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You can count me among the group of people who survived an abusive father. My childhood is a confusing, traumatic story that would make your jaw drop if you knew all the details.
But that isn’t what this article is about.
When you are a child living in abuse, you do the best you can. But when you become a woman, you can walk a path to healing, a path from victim to survivor.
No matter if your abuser is no longer part of your life (mine is deceased) or if you still interact with your father, there are ways to thrive and work towards healing those wounds.
When my dad was living, I had hard and fast boundaries — and those evolved as I aged, became a mother, and entered different seasons of life and healing. You cannot start that healing process without boundaries.
Even now, after he passed away, those boundaries still exist internally. I still exercise those boundaries and fences (as I like to call them) when the abusive father in my head appears.
Making the boundaries can be difficult, however, enforcing those boundaries — with pre-set consequences and all — can be excruciating. Prepare for that, but don’t be afraid of it.
I cannot tell you which boundaries to choose or which consequences to enforce. That leads me to the next point . . .
Because our abuser often adjusts the story to his benefit, bends the truth, blames others, and on and on, it is really difficult (and I’m going to say impossible) to unwind all of that on your own. You need professional therapy, friend. It’s a life raft.
A counselor can help you identify important boundaries and encourage you as you stick with those boundaries. He or she can guide you down the health path.
Don’t let fear or frustration stop you. Is there a long wait to be matched with a therapist? Put your name on that waitlist or on several waitlists until a slot for you opens. Or did you not “click” with your first counselor? Don’t give up. Keep looking for the right match. Most likely the adults in your life did not fight for you, protect you. So fight for yourself. Fight to help that little girl still living in your heart.
The most important thing I learned from therapy (next to making boundaries) is learning to set my defaults — and there were many! What does this mean? These are a handful of examples:
- What is my default response to stress?
- What is my default response to disagreements?
- What is my default understanding of love?
I first had to identify my default thinking and actions, and then, with the help of my counselor, find healthier thoughts and actions to replace the unhealthy ones. This is how you break the cycle, how you don’t repeat mistakes.
I can make different choices because I am mentally and emotionally healthier on the inside than when I started.
Those choices, too, then set me up to accept a man, who came my way that was nothing like my abusive father. I could make the choice to love and marry a man who exhibited integrity, kindness, and honesty — something I may not have been able to truly see if I still relied on my defaults.
This also means I can choose to parent my children differently. I am not destined to repeat a cycle of abuse. I’ve exited that roller coaster.
With all of this said, this pattern of “boundaries, therapy, and choice” wasn’t a one-time thing. I did do a bulk of work in my 20s, but this work is needed again and again as I enter new seasons of life and face new challenges. And that is a-okay. Abuse will always be part of my story, but it is not the whole of my story. I am willing to do the work.
I hope the same for you.