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Ask Dr. Zoe – How Do I Handle a Toxic Relationship With My Father?

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‘Ashley’ Asked:

I have dealt with years of mental abuse, lack of presence and once I allow him back into my life more mental abuse from my biological father. He is an addict and has been my whole life and drugs and alcohol have always been more important to him then anything else. In the past few years his health is significantly declined and he is very ill. I tried to put our differences aside and be there in and out of the hospital for weeks on end. Only to have him turn around and say awful things to me after he is out of the hospital and using again. I can’t keep doing this anymore. It tears me down and I know I have to let go. How do I live with that with his health though. How do I move past the hurt this has caused me all of my life?

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Yes, you are right. You can’t keep doing this anymore.

Trying to stay in relationship with people who you love, but hurt you is a delicate balance that should always err in your favor.

I am not a believer that we should burn bridges in our lives—only in the most extreme cases of abuse. Rather, we should know clearly where people stand.

I like to think of our relationships with our family and friends as a big circle around us, with smaller circles inside—kind of like levels. At the very center is yourself, of course, and in that core you have a few people. These people, you trust implicitly and you know they have your back. If you have one or two of these in your life—you are good.

The next circle are very close friends, and the circles expand from there. The most outer circle makes up your acquaintances or colleagues.

It’s important to note that at different times in your life, your inner circle people could move to outer circles and vice versa.

We get into trouble when we interact with people as if they are in a more central circle than they should be.

I know it takes an emotional toll to designate your father to an outer circle, but I truly believe it is better than burning a bridge with him.

What this means is that you have to expect your father to be exactly who he is. He will likely always have the issues that he has and will continue to treat you this way until he dies. Once you get crystal clear about this, then he can no longer hurt you.

What is hurting you the most is your desire for him to change. You have a hope that the more you do, the longer you wait, or the more you prove to him that you are a good daughter, that he will change. And when he doesn’t, you are devastated once again.

It’s time to stop that cycle. When you designate your father to an outside circle and remind yourself that he is who he is and that will not change, then you can decide how to move forward in a way that is healthiest for you—not him.

This may look like you visiting him in the hospital for small periods of time, rather than canceling your life and taking care of him 24/7. It will also look like you immediately disengaging whenever he breaks your boundary—which should include you no longer tolerating any verbal or emotional abuse from him.

It’s your job to care for yourself and you do this by not subjugating yourself to his abuse. Make it clear that whenever he says something offensive or inappropriate, the conversation or the visit is immediately over and you go back to your life.

His ill health is not your fault or your responsibility because of the damage he continues to create. You are a caring person—sometimes at your own expense. It’s time to focus that caring on yourself.

The reality is that all of the pain from your childhood to present has not gone away. Now is the time to grieve the loss of your father—the one that you always wanted. Promise yourself that you will no longer tolerate abuse. You will love yourself the way you deserve to be loved and will find people who belong in your inner circle to do the same.

I encourage you to find a therapist with whom you can work through these issues. This is a life-long journey that gets healthier as you walk along. It’s not easy, but you will thank yourself for taking these steps. Just make sure you get support along the way.

You’ve got this. It just takes a little grit and grace!

Watch Dr. Zoe answer this question, here.

You might like these articles with more relationship advice for women:

6 Ways to Love the Addict in Your Life
Why You Should Just Have That Hard Conversation (And How to Do It)
This Is Why I Have Mixed Emotions on Father’s Day

There Is Hope and Healing for the Fatherless
Establishing Healthy Boundaries in the Grit and Grace Life
When a Strong Woman Is Quitting, But Not Failing
This Is Why You Need a Self-Care Day (And What to Do)

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You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: 3 Real Struggles Women Face With Dr. Zoe Shaw – 107!

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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