In my experience, my relationship with my father has been difficult to talk about.
He was never kind or encouraging; his words were always either critical or sarcastic. Most of the time, though, he was angry and withdrawn, and I quickly learned the best thing to do was to walk on eggshells and stay out of his way.
I would try to talk to people I trusted, like friends and family, about how badly my father treated me on a regular basis. They knew my father was an ill-tempered person, so it wasn’t surprising to them that he sometimes got angry. It wasn’t like he was beating me, they would say. In their minds, it wasn’t abuse if it wasn’t physical. Hidden within these responses I kept hearing the same refrain: “Stop making such a big deal about it, and get over your daddy issues. There are other people in the world with bigger problems.”
It’s hard enough to endure the abuse itself, let alone try to convince others that what you’re talking about is as bad as it is. It became a vicious cycle: The more I talked about my pain, the more people would dismiss my problems. And the more people dismissed my problems, the more I began to believe they were right. I came to think that I just wasn’t mature enough to deal with the fact that my father didn’t love me the way other fathers loved their daughters. I just needed to deal with it, and so I figured it was best if I kept my problems with my father to myself. I closed myself off from other people. I didn’t want them to understand what I was going through.
Luckily, I made friends with a priest in college who just happened to have a counseling background. I grew comfortable enough around him to start opening up to him about the pain. I realized that was the first time I received help and support for this pain; it was the start of a healthy way of dealing with it. But it was a therapist I saw back home who gave me the name of my struggles—emotional abuse. With that name I felt like I had power over the pain. I finally knew that it was legitimate, that I wasn’t a weak little girl who was crying over her daddy issues. My wounds, though invisible, were real and deep, and I needed to give them the attention they deserved.
This was a pivotal moment, and I started accepting my feelings as part of the healing process. I no longer felt ashamed and childish about my sorrow in not having a father figure. In fact, I was finally able to grieve that absence in my life, and that alone was healing.
Emotional abuse was a problem then, and it is still something I deal with as I continue my healing journey. My wounds are real, even though they are invisible. But I know now that there are people out there who do understand what I am going through and who want to support me.