Question:

I have been in recovery for twenty years and even though I have been sober all this time, I never got it together with my ex. I was still a scary abusive jerk. I am divorced now, but I have four children, some are teenagers and some are in their early twenties. I was abusive to them as they grew up. I would put them down and I was physically abusive to them, too. I want to stop being this way. I know it is way too late with my ex, but I want to somehow make the relationship with my kids better, but I am not sure how to do that. They have a lot of problems as a result of what I did to them and their mother and I have a hard time talking about it with them because what can I say? I see a lot of harm I caused. How do I start to make this better? When I did my amends as part of my recovery, it just didn’t touch the fact that the kids are now doing to others what I did to them and their mom.

 

Answer:

Recognizing harm you have caused is a good first step. Our awareness of who we have harmed and how we have harmed is the door to transforming our abusive behavior and values to non-violent respectful and non-controlling behavior that is safe. As we become more aware of the kinds of harm we have caused and the ongoing impact of that harm on those we love, we can steadily work toward behavior that demonstrates true, ongoing accountability.

This requires a strong commitment; this is not a time limited effort. Often we learn to internalize abusive values at a young age if we are exposed to violence or dominance as role models or if we are given impossible choices to make about our survival. There are also all those social messages that reinforce violence and aggression as good things. This is a lot to examine and change.

Your next steps forward begin with an understanding of the reality of what this effort is going to take. A full-time, long term commitment is required from you to start to address the impact of the years of your acting abusively. We have to begin to consider how we act in every moment and interaction with the people we have harmed that we still have contact with, and with all the new folks we touch in our lives.

From the moment you awaken to begin your day, this work begins. We start with being aware of our stance, our orientation—do we believe we need to dominate, to be superior to others, or do we believe we are truly and mutually equal and accountable to others, especially when they say and do things that make us uncomfortable? If you get the chance to make a true repair with your children, they are going to show you how very angry they are with you. Imagine their rage. Now ask yourself–How is your tone of voice? What is your face is communicating? What is your body language communicating? These are good starters. Are we showing other people that we are open and safe to be with when they are angry with what we have done or are we walking around being scary and intimidating and impossible to impact?

Each word or behavior we do stems from a thought and feeling that is based on a value or belief that is based in deep respect or dominance. Every moment is an opportunity to change into a person who is safe to be close to.

Building relationship with your children after years of abusive behavior is going to take time. The trust and bond has likely been broken, but your desire to be different opens a possibility to amend this.

We want to help you do this. Give us a call and let us help guide you to the specific ways you can be the safe and loving person you want to be to your children and current or future partner. Your willingness to be different is a key first step.