Today is a mini-episode. I’m still on my paternity leave, so I’m coming at you with a single question and answer, rather than my typical 3 per episode. I hope you enjoy this quick bite of information and I also hope that you’re taking great care of yourself.
I am 16 years old and my parents have been divorced since I was very young and since I was about 7 or 8, our family has had a one week on, one week off type of custody. About nine months ago I decided to move out of my dad’s and into my mom’s full time. This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but a necessary one due to the emotional and verbal abuse I faced nearly every time i came in contact with my dad and/or step mother. I hadn’t spoken to my Dad in over six months until he reached out offering to have lunch a few times. We went out three times with a month or so in between each meeting. While I was living with him my perception of reality became warped. Things I did started to revolve around his approval and the world around me, figuratively and quite literally dulled (the colors of my surroundings had changed to more dim versions, I was hoping you might be able to touch on that if you choose my email). My step mom and I never got along, we both tried to make it work until she started to stand up for his abuse towards me. With him starting to reach out it’s made me worry, I want to have a relationship with him, but I’m also in a really good place right now and I don’t want to let him drag me down. I could really use some guidance with this. All the people I’ve talked to have said I need a father in my life to be healthy, but I feel healthier without him.
First off let’s talk about your color perception – there is actually a body of research out there that suggests that our work actually does become grayer when we are depressed. There are a variety of studies, some better than others. One of the most recent ones had to be retracted due to some methodological flaws, but there was a study done in 2010 where the researchers measured perception of contrast by looking at something called pattern elecroretinogram. Basically how your retina responds to flashes of light.
The studied looked at people with varying degrees of depression with and without medication and found that in general, most severe depression was related to decreased contrast. Things looked washed out. Pretty interesting. It actually was an accurate way within the population of the study to distinguish depressed patients from normal controls, which could serve as a good objective means for assessing depression.
Now about your question – first I’m proud of you for making a decision and finding the clarity to understand that you were experiencing abuse. That can be such a hard cycle to break so props to you. To the people who tell you that you need a father in your life to be healthy, that’s bullshit. You 100% do not. Especially if it is going to cause you more pain or abuse.
In an ideal situation, sure you may be better off if you are able to heal a ruptured relationships and he is able to change, but that’s not often realistic. You need to do what’s right for you. As far as I’m concerned, this is on your terms. Your father lost the right to be considered in the equation when he abused you.
You also want to consider what it means to have a relationship with him. There are many different types of relationships. Do you need to be close for that to count? You always have some sort of relationship with him whether its good or bad, and what you are saying is that recently you have made the decision to change that by meeting with him a few times. That could be enough. It depends on what you want and what you feel safe with. Your safety matters. I think it totally makes sense to want to take some time to get yourself into a more stable position. You don’t even have that much distance.
One of the things that abusers do is try to make sure they are in contact and influencing you. The more distance you get – sometimes that means you are getting more clarity. You probably need to give yourself the chance to get some clarity and really work out how you feel about the situation and how you feel about him. You probably haven’t had the chance to understand that yet.
Maybe you could tell him – look I am open to repairing things between us at some time. That time is not right now. I need some space to try to understand my feelings about our situation and to work on myself. If you want to improve our relationship in the future, you’re going to need to respect that right now.
Alternatively, you could just not repair the relationship at all if you decide that that’s the most appropriate thing. I just want you to realize that you have options and the ball is in your court here. You’re still growing up and you have a lot of your own identify stuff that is all in flux. If you need help talking through this, never be afraid to ask your mom to take you to the doctor or to talk to the school counselor.
The whole narrative that you need to repair a relationship with your abuser or an estranged parent is kind of problematic. As I mentioned, this is for ideal scenarios. It can be helpful to repair a relationship to move past it, but if the person on the other end is not trustworthy or ready to change, that may not be possible. If they are just going to pull you in and hurt you again while denying that they did anything wrong, it could do more harm than good.
There is also a difference between forgiving or humanizing someone and having a relationship with them. You might meet with him and understand WHY he is that way a little better and that can give you some needed perspective to move past your negative feelings, but that doesn’t mean that you need to excuse him for what happened.
Take it slow, bring people into the fold that you can trust like professionals, your mother etc., and understand that there is no absolute right answer. You are handling it well.
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