Fathers Who Hit Their Children: Do They Deserve Forgiveness?
You can be hit on the face or over the head.
You can be hit with a belt or some other weapon of discipline.
You can get things thrown at you.
You can get pushed, shoved, slapped or pinched.
You can be smacked around once in a while or be your parent's regular punching bag.
But no matter how you're hit, you're hit in your solar plexus - the center of emotional stability, will, joy of life and ego-identity.
What Happens When You Hit a Girl
Girls are socialized to put blame on themselves. Even when we're angry, we're not allowed to express that anger, so it often turns inward. This type of anger is a lot more dangerous than regular anger because it can go unnoticed for years, while a girl is 'punishing' herself through drugs, starvation, self-mutilation and other issues that can be masked.
So when a father hits a girl, two things happen: she will likely blame herself, and she will have serious relationship issues with the opposite sex when she grows up. She will subconsciously choose abusive partners, and distrust men in general.
What Happens When You Hit a Boy
When a father hits his son, the boy is likely to become an abuser himself.
He is likely to have problems at school - getting into fights, acting out aggressively without provocation, not paying attention in class, losing interest in things he used to enjoy, and becoming friends with boys of similar disposition.
If a boy doesn't receive help, he is also likely to become an abusive husband and parent since he will see violence as the norm, and will probably say things like: "I was hit as a child, and I turned out fine" or "Some kids just need discipline". This type of man is far from fine, or even remotely OK.
Being hit is bad enough; but physical abuse at the hands of the person who's supposed to love and protect you is simply devastating.
I know this because I was hit as a child. It wasn't a regular thing, but it was enough to distort my self-image into something unrecognizable. At times it seems that I'm still putting the pieces back together.
I was about 10 the first time it happened. I don't remember it very well, only the overwhelming feelings of shame and anger that eventually fused together and turned into a pervasive slow-burning sadness, something psychologists refer to as 'cold depression.'
My father never acknowledged the abuse, let alone asked for forgiveness. In his mind, he was a good parent because he was a good provider. To this day I find it difficult to be in his presence.
For many years I carried on the best I could, from one bad relationship to the next, struggling with issues of self-esteem, depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and a fear of speaking out. I felt like I was never good enough. I felt ashamed of myself. I was angry at my mother for not protecting me. And I hated my father and blamed him for everything that went wrong in my life.
At the age of 20 I moved to another country and severed ties with my family.
But the hurt and the anger are enormously heavy burdens to bare, and they were holding me back. I couldn't live my life as a mature happy adult. It's like I was trying to climb a mountain with a backpack full of rocks. I was suffocating under the weight of my childhood and I needed to be free.
Not only that, blaming my father for everything that went wrong was a very disempowering experience. I needed to take my power back, and forgiveness seemed like the first step.
- How To Forgive Yourself and Others by Louise Hay
When you forgive yourself and forgive others, you are indeed free.
Not Willing to Forgive an Abusive Father? That's OK
Forgiveness can be healing and empowering, but only when it's sincere. If it comes from guilt or outside pressure, it's worthless.
Sometimes you're just not willing to forgive. Maybe the pain is so familiar, it's almost comforting. Maybe you want to 'punish' your father by not forgiving them. Maybe you're waiting to be asked for forgiveness.
Don't hold your breath though. Abusers rarely, if ever, are self-aware enough to recognize the harm of their ways and to ask to be forgiven. In the case of paternal abuse, it's even less likely because it would mean admitting he was a bad parent, and who is willing to do that?
Two Things to Keep in Mind
- Forgiveness is an act of kindness to yourself. Emotional pain, when stored for long periods of time, has a tendency to fester, and to sip through every aspect of your life. You're not even thinking about it, yet you're acting from it, and your life starts going in a certain direction. Your abuser doesn't suffer from it; you do.
- Most likely, the abuser was a victim of abuse. Although that doesn't justify the abuse, it can help you understand how they've become this way, so you can have enough compassion to forgive them.
My father's parents, my grandparents - God bless them and may they rest in peace, were simple uneducated people. My grandfather was often 'away' (read: in prison), leaving my grandma to raise two boys by herself and to make a living. When he'd come home, he liked to spend time binge drinking and chasing my grandma with an axe. My grandma would run to the neighbors screaming: "Help, he's killing me!", he'd get arrested, and the cycle would start over. Knowing what my father went through as a child helped me see how this damaging behavior shaped him and, unfortunately, desensitized him to domestic violence.
Is There Any Way to Undo the Damage?
Three decades, countless books and one Psychology degree later, I am still asking that question.
I don't think there is a way to completely undo the damage, but you can find healing and forgiveness if you seek to find it, and you might even help someone along the way.
Jungian archetype of the Wounded Healer describes someone who uses his 'wounds' to help others. In fact, only by going through something yourself can you truly know what others are going through, and have the compassion that can potentially extend into service.
I acknowledge that my parents are imperfect, and they did the best they could. I forgive them for any harm that they knowingly or unknowingly did to me. I forgive myself for holding a grudge against them. And as I embrace true forgiveness, I open my life up to light, laughter and joy.
Were you a victim of...
I dedicate this to all the kids who are or were abused, be it physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse. I know what a scary and lonely experience it is. But it doesn't have to be a defining moment of your life.
I also dedicate this to my father who was an obvious inspiration for this article. I love you, and I am trying my best to forgive you.
© 2015 Lana Adler