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Should Teen See Verbally Abusive Father On Birthday?

Dear Aunt Traci,

I'm 17 years old and have been estranged from my father for 6 months. He was what I consider to be verbally abusive to me from the time I was about 10 years old on (my mom and therapist agree). Finally, when he threatened to sell my bedroom furniture if my mom made him pay for me to get a root canal, I said enough is enough and stopped going over there.

I live with my mom and little brother. My brother still goes to see our dad regularly, and I feel a little guilty that he has to be the only one who deals with dad. But my dad doesn't yell at my brother or guilt trip him the way he used to do with me.

My birthday is coming up this weekend, and my dad sent me a text asking when we could get together. Aunt Traci, I *really* don't want to see him. I mean, I know that I am going to have to at some point, but I'm not ready yet. But I feel guilty. What do I do?


Don't Want His Presence

Dear Presence,

First of all, let me say that I'm sorry that you experienced growing up with a verbally abusive parent. I did too, and it's taken me a lifetime to recover from it. Also let me say that it shows a tremendous amount of courage to walk away from someone who is treating you poorly as a teenager. It says a lot about your self-esteem.

As far as your birthday goes, you are under no obligation to spend it with anyone you don't want to. It's YOUR day. Just politely tell him "no thank you" and let your mom deal with the fallout if it happens.

But, let's go a little deeper and talk about the guilt you feel over your brother and your dad. Guilt is a useful human emotion that lets us know when we have done or are doing something wrong. You didn't do your homework and feel guilty? Good. Lied to someone and feel bad? Good. Having a guilty conscience is the difference between a person with values and morals and a sociopath.

The problem comes when we have unwarranted guilt. When we feel bad for something when we shouldn't. If you are keeping your behavior in alignment with your values, then you have nothing to feel guilty about. Now, you may feel BAD that you are hurting someone's feelings. But it's not guilt. It's compassion. Don't mistake the two.

There is nothing wrong with walking away from a relationship with a person who continues to abuse you. It's the right thing to do. But, if you're a nice, good, caring person, you'll probably feel bad. And that's okay. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it anyway. Sometimes doing the right thing is actually the harder thing.

Oh, and one other thing. Happy Birthday!

Words, especially when yelled in anger, can be very damaging to a child's self-confidence. The child probably already feels bad enough just from seeing the consequences of his or her behavior. Our sons and daughters don't need more guilt and self-doubt heaped upon their already wounded egos.

Jack Canfield

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