Survival and Recovery from Verbal Abuse

In my own personal experience, prolonged verbal abuse can damage the victim’s self-worth and self-esteem.   It is also my opinion that it can cause problems for the victims in interpersonal relationships with others, and if not addressed, verbal abuse can have a long-lasting (possibly permanent) negative impact on the victim’s life.

When I moved out of my parents’ house at the age of twenty-three, I made 2 major decisions for my own mental health: The first was that I would try not to think about what might be going on at my parents’ home.  I didn’t want to worry about my parents fighting, my Dad yelling at my mom and putting her down.  The second decision: I was going to try to break the cycle of my father verbally abusing me which was tearing down my self-worth and self-esteem.

The first goal was relatively easy,

Granted, some nights when I was alone in my one bedroom apartment a few blocks away from my parent’s home, I would think about if not worry what was going on at my parent’s home.  But I kept telling myself “There was nothing I can do about it” and I would find something on the TV to distract my thoughts.

The hard part was stopping the damage to my self-worth, self-esteem and my confidence.

Being out from under my parent’s roof did reduce my exposure to my Dad’s hurtful words, but still I heard them – just not as frequently as I did before.

I began to search high and low for a way to combat the negative thoughts that had been burnt into my mind by the cruel words I had heard repeatedly throughout my life.

“You are never going to be anything better than a stupid garbage man or dumb janitor” and “How are you ever going to get into college if you are too stupid to spell college?”

The movies of the 80’s came to my rescue

One evening, I popped into my VCR a copy of “Police Academy IV: Citizens on Patrol”.   Near the start of the movie there is a scene where officer Mahoney (Steve Gutenberg) sees his former police academy instructor Harris (G. W. Baily).

Harris looks at Mahoney and asks “Mahoney, has anyone told you that you are still a little piss-ant?”

Mahoney smiled and replied, “Not anyone who’s opinion matters to me sir”

I fell in love with that line and quickly memorized it.  I wanted that line to run through my mind whenever my dad said something mean or hurtful to me.

Mahoney’s line helped, but it didn’t solve everything.

Although the thought that my Dad’s opinion not mattering to me helped, I still battled with the impact on my life from the hurtful words.

I imagine that just like most sons, I was seeking my father’s approval.  I was seeking him to see me no longer as a child, but as a man who was equal to him.

I formed a plan to achieve all my goals.

My goals were big yet simple.  I wanted to put an end to the hurtful words and get my Dad to see me as a fine young man.

My father once told me “I have more respect for a man who stands up for what he believes is right, even if he is wrong, than I have for a man who goes along with the crowd because that is the easiest thing to do.”

With that sage advice in mind and knowing that my father politics were the complete opposite of mine, I mixed in the concept that if I added in the idea that I stood up to my dad not only would he see me as an adult, but he would stop saying hurtful things to me.

The plan…backfired!

I wasn’t looking for a confrontation with my father, instead I waited for him to ask me one afternoon “so how are you voting in this presidential election?”  I knew my answer would be the opposite of his and without gloating yet with pride I told him whom I was voting for.

His response?  Well it sounded as if World War III had just begun.  There was so much yelling and screaming of hurtful phrases including “You are being disrespectful to me by your vote”.  “You know that the political party I vote for was the only reason that we had food on our table and a roof over our heads?”

I stood up for myself for as long as I could stand it, then I left his house feeling both hurt by his words while yet grateful that, unlike my childhood years, I could walk out on his rants.

When my father said he was proud of me, it was hard for me to believe him.

The hurtful words from my father continued through the years intermixed with the occasional “I am proud of you son”.  Unfortunately, my dad could verbally abuse me one day, the next day be proud of me then followed by more verbal abuse.  This lead me to always be cynical of his pride.  I usually politely thanked him while thinking “yeah, right, whatever!”

Towards the end, things changed.

During my father’s last nine months of life, when I had to make medical decisions for him as I was his only legal next of kin, his abusive words stopped as he began to lean on me almost daily for help when he was confused.


Before my father passed, I did tell him that I forgave him for all the hurtful things he ever said to me.  I didn’t necessary do it for him, I did it for myself to help begin my healing process for the scars that were left from years of verbal abuse.

After my father passed I was grateful for four things:

  1. He was no longer in pain.
  2. His mind was clear
  3. He had returned to his heavenly home to be with his heavenly father, his parents, his two brothers and their wives, and my younger brother.
  4. NEVER AGAIN would I endure any hurtful words from my Father.

Freedom from verbal abuse.

It has been over a year since my father passed away.  I feel a sense of freedom from his verbal abuse that had a grip on my life.  I am feeling more confident in myself each day that passes and writing about the experiences I have been through has been very beneficial to me.

Regrets?  I have a few….

I regret that I allowed the verbal abuse to impact my life as an adult.

I regret that I allowed the verbal abuse to impact my success which in turn may have hurt my marriage.

I not only regret that my childhood was tainted with verbal abuse, I wish it had never happened.  But if it never happened, I might not be the strong and compassionate person I am today.