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Ask Amanda: Mom Isn't Seeing Dad's Cycle of Abuse
Advice for an adult child who is being subjected to an abusive father at home and worries for her mom’s safety
- Feb 13, 2023
Q: I live with my mom and dad. My dad has been known to show narcissistic characteristics and my mom doesn't want to see it. She sees that he's "trying to change." How do I tell her that it's just the honeymoon phase again, and it's only a matter of time before he's full-blown mean and verbally abusive again?
A couple of years ago when I tried to leave, he got in the car and attempted to run me off the road. My niece was [a teenager] at the time and she saw it. Even though my mom believes it [that this happened] she's refusing to see that my dad's just putting on his good guy act. I want to leave. My boyfriend who is in [another state] keeps begging me to come back there. Yet, I'm afraid of leaving my mom because I don’t know what my dad would do if I'm not here.
That’s a big burden for you to carry on your own. I hope you know that it’s not your job to protect your mom, even if it sometimes feels like that. It should be their job to parent you. And it sounds like your mom is unable to do that to the fullest extent right now due to what your dad is putting her through.
Your mom, like any other survivor of domestic violence, has to decide for herself when it’s the best and safest time to leave an abusive partner. It’s really tough when we see a survivor of domestic violence who is clearly in danger but who doesn’t feel like they can leave the abuser for whatever reason. Sometimes, the barriers (here are 50 that can exist) are very real—the abuser has threatened them that if they leave, the abuser will hurt them, their kids, other family members or even pets. Sometimes, the abuser ensures that the survivor becomes dependent on them either financially or emotionally. In many cases, the survivor feels like they have no choice but to stay.
It sounds like your dad has your mom convinced that he is trying to get better, and she wants to believe him. It’s possible to still feel like you’re in love with someone despite them being abusive toward you or others. It’s conflicting for survivors. You’re right that there’s often a “honeymoon stage” in relationships with an abuser. The cycle of abuse is a graphic illustration that shows how some relationships with abusers go—if you show this to your mom, it may trigger some familiarity with what she’s been through.
It may also help your mom to read about narcissistic personality disorder as well as other facets of domestic violence that your dad may be employing. DomesticShelters.org is a good place to start to find out all about the many types of abusive tactics that exist. Just make sure that if you show your mom this information it’s during a safe time when your dad isn’t around. Also clear your (or your mom’s) phone or computer browsing history when you’re done, in case your dad tends to look through it. You may also consider encouraging your mom to reach out to a trained domestic violence advocate near you who can help talk her through what she’s going through and help her develop a safety plan (if she’s ready for that).
It sounds like your dad’s abuse has escalated from verbal abuse to physical violence. Trying to harm you by running you off the road is violent and terrifying. Most abusers, unfortunately, escalate their tactics over time, from verbal, emotional and psychological abuse to physical abuse and sometimes even threats of homicide. Your mom may be in an increasing amount of danger, and you as well. As tough as it may be, if it’s not safe for you to be there, then you need to protect yourself first and foremost. Hopefully, if you tell your mom all the reasons why you’re leaving and how your dad’s choices have affected you, it may make a difference in her choice to stay.
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As an adult child of an abusive parent, you may also want to read about childhood domestic violence or CDV. Something called your ACEs score, or Adverse Childhood Experiences score, can affect certain areas of physical and mental health as you grow up. If you haven’t already, it may be helpful for you to talk to a counselor or therapist with experience in domestic violence. Your dad’s choices have likely had a profound impact on you.
Most of all, I hope that you don’t consider the situation, or yourself, helpless as you denoted. There is always something you can do to help, even if you can’t “fix” it. Survivors of domestic violence need that constant in their life—the person who won’t give up on them. As frustrating as it may be to feel like you’re standing by not doing anything, just by not giving up on her, you’re doing more than you know. Get yourself to safety, and then continue to encourage your mom to do the same. Your dad is likely not going to stop his abusive tactics if that’s been the pattern your whole life. Eventually and hopefully, your mom will see that, too. Here’s some advice I gave to a person whose friend was in denial about their abusive partner. It may help as well.
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Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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