The abusive father

November 4, 2008
Robert Genn

Lately there has been a pileup of emails asking for ideas in dealing with abusive fathers, spouses, and other family members. Writers report stymied growth, inability to concentrate, trust and authority-figure issues, fear, depression, anger and other unpleasantries.

It seems this sort of thing rolls along in some families like a snowball. In talking to former victims, it also seems that forgiveness, together with the calculated act of leaving the abuser behind, can be a key to moving on. Frequently mentioned was the coming to terms, particularly in childhood, with the dual personas--the "bad" one as seen in the eye of the abuser, and the "beautiful" one they feel themselves to be. Interestingly, these transferred, beautiful people are often attracted to quiet, solitary work, the gentleness and nurture of nature, and the private joys of creativity. The "art persona" seems an appealing choice, perhaps because it's more closely attuned to the beautiful inner being.  

Abused folks often report trust issues. Distrust of one person migrates to distrust of many. These distrusting folks need to feel a greater calling, and art fills the bill. But there's a catch. Art requires creative evolution, and an artist's self-esteem often depends on external evidence--improvement of work, cash flow, etc. Perceived progress generates self-worth. Without progress, creators wither and die, and they know it. Those without trust may not want to risk progress. Locked learning and the flat-lining of growth are common results. These artists need to be shaken up and reborn. This can be done by solitary self-will or together with a trusted friend or mentor. There's good news--many terrific artists rise and fly from the tangle of abuse.   

Psychologists also talk about the "Stockholm Syndrome." The name is based on a situation where thieves broke into a bank in Stockholm and held four people hostage for 131 days. The hostages came to like their captors and tried to defend them when they were finally set free from them. One hostage even accepted a proposal of marriage from one of the thugs. The Stockholm Syndrome suggests a belief in and sympathy for the abuser/controller. Abused people need to understand this condition and the co-dependency that can go with it.

Best regards,


PS: "The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still small voice within me." (Mahatma Gandhi)

Esoterica: Late at night, leaving a performance of the National Ballet in Kiev, Ukraine, we made our way through boisterous crowds of young people apparently waiting for buses or trains. Many of them were drinking beer from giant bottles. One couldn't help but notice the collegiality of the scene. It was rough, yes, and full of individualists, but they seemed comfortable and at ease with one another. Something to do with the social fabric, I was thinking. Ukrainians dine together as families, struggle together to make ends meet and seem to know how to interact without passive or other aggression. Anyway, no need for water-cannons in this crowd.