Bill and his wife, Margaret, brought to our counseling center their teenage son, Kevin, who was becoming increasingly rebellious and hard to control. He was throwing things around in his room, staying out late with friends whom Bill did not accept, and coming home drunk. After running out of options, and on the advice of their son’s school, they sought professional help to sort out their differences.
Bill was convinced that a therapist would tell Kevin to clean up his act, learn to behave responsibly as a near-adult, and stop engaging in his destructive, disobedient behavior of staying out late and partying. Bill believed that a professional would help Kevin jettison his childish behavior and learn to accept the realities of the adult world.
Bill thought the therapist would deal only with Kevin’s behavior. He’d pretty much had enough of trying to talk to his son. Their talks always seemed to end with them yelling at each other at the top of their lungs. Bill was determined to bring Kevin’s behavior under control, and Kevin was just as determined not to be ruled by his father anymore. Bill was looking to the therapist to provide weight and a second opinion to his attempts to reason with Kevin. Bill had prepared himself for being told about all the problems Kevin had. Although they would be difficult to face, these problems were a fact of their life. They had to be faced squarely and dealt with in an adult and responsible way.
Instead, Bill was challenged by Kevin’s therapist to take a hard look at the way he was treating his son and the messages he was transferring to him. Bill had to turn his view around from the adult he expected Kevin to be to the child Kevin actually was.
Bill discovered that Kevin really did want to please him but felt he never could hit the mark. Frustrated after years of trying unsuccessfully, Kevin not only had given up but in anger had rebelled against everything he knew his dad wanted him to be. Bill learned that the anger Kevin was feeling had been brought on by a deep sense of loss that he could never gain his father’s approval.
Kevin discovered that Bill really did love him – so much so that he wanted him to be perfect so that nothing bad would ever happen to him, and so that if it did, he would be tough enough to handle it. Kevin learned that Bill was raising him just the way Bill himself had been raised.
Bill realized how powerful his words and messages were in Kevin’s life and how much Kevin needed positive, affirmative messages from his dad in order to grow and function. Bill learned it was okay to show Kevin his love, his fears, his hopes, his emotions.
Kevin learned to begin to trust his dad.
As with other types of abuse, emotional abuse can be self-perpetuating. You accept the abuse, deny its impact, and ignore your inner self so much that, if you are not alert and careful, you end up continuing the cycle within your own relationships. Either you again take up the role of the abused in your new relationship or you switch roles and become the abuser.
The above is excerpted from Chapter 2 in Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse by Dr. Gregory Jantz.