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My Adult Son The Verbal Abuser And The Basher

by Ali
(Ketchikan, Alaska)

My son is now 29 years old. He is handsome, charming, and almost everyone adores him. They would think, in my telling the following, that I am completely nuts. That's the thing about verbal abuse: the perpetrator picks his times and victims with care.

I'll call my son Steve, for the sake of telling this story. Steve doesn't hurt other people to the best of my knowledge. He saves his hostility for me. And it comes at times when I am most off guard; when I least suspect it. It will happen when we have enjoyed our time together, gone out to dinner, or had a meaningful conversation.

Steve lives about 10 miles from me. I avoid him as much as possible, but get caught in a trap of, "Mom, I need you. Could you come over."

It is nice to be needed. I think I am helpful. And after a few hours of accomplishing whatever task he needed done, or assistance with, something awful will be said. Not every time, though.

This has gone on for years. I blame myself. I doubt myself, as in: "Did I really just hear him say that? Did he mean it that way? Am I too sensitive? Why would a son talk that way to his mother?" Steve talks to me as though he is superior, both in wisdom and life experiences. He assumes a "Don't-tell-me-I-already-know" tone of voice; he challenges me; he corrects me; he scoffs at me.

I blame myself because I allowed his father to treat me in exactly the same manner. Steve grew up hearing his dad constantly criticize me. Sometimes I would strike back. Steve often reminds me that he felt as though he was raised in a household "full of drama, tension and arguments."

So I feel very, very badly about that. And Steve has not found a girlfriend that he can hang onto. They seem to leave him (thank God - I would really feel for a girl who would take on Steve; their life would be hell).
Yesterday, however, I finally drew my line in the sand. After a particularly painful accusation from Steve to me, I decided "enough!"

And I wrote and told him that there would be no future contact; that he wasn't to drop by; visit my dog; have dinner; borrow something; call or e-mail. That I was completely through. Until such time as he can find it within himself to get help, get on meds, get broken, as in full of remorse - bottom line, prove, through his actions and words, that he has made huge strides to change.

I am at peace with this decision. Fortunately I live in something of a gated community and he is not allowed here without my permission. There is no other way of entry.

I do not believe I am in physical danger. But I am broken hearted over the loss of a relationship, albeit a sick one; and I am worried that he might choose to never look at himself and get help.

My question: How can I be strong in this decision? I have always gone back. I don't want to this time. His father and I are divorced. I, within this past year, told both of my children (Steve has a sister, who does not share in this problem), that I would no longer be willing to see the father under any circumstances.

The divorce happened in 1995 and I have been a "good" mom in attending parties and family gatherings, believing I was somehow a better person and also protecting the children. However, even though it took me years to see the light, I won't go to any event where the father is there. I need to heal from the divorce, I told them. I can no longer pretend the divorce didn't really happen.

My second question: Is there anything at all I can do/say to get Steve to a counselor? Probably not. He knows he has this "problem," but reminds me that "other people think he is great." Therefore, he casts me in that shadow of doubt - a unique trick of verbal abusers.

I am very strong now. I see that protecting myself, as I am now 62, is extremely important. I love my children. I love Steve. However, if I never see or hear from him again, to no longer have those terrible and very painful words tear my heart and soul apart, will be fine. It will be hard. But it will be fine. I just hope I can continue with this resolve when his lame apology comes through and he says something that makes me feel guilty. That is what worries me.

I know that I hold the key to stopping the pain of verbal abuse towards me. I probably don't hold the key to stopping verbal abuse for him. That is his journey.

Thank you for listening.

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Ali, and thanks for telling your story here. You sound like a very smart, strong, healthy woman. I totally support your decision to put a boundary up between you and your son. I hope you have stayed true to that. Either way, I will try to help you feel good about your decision and move forward with healing and resolution.

It is very important that you heal from all past abuse, or it will be very difficult to not be drawn into more of the same. For that reason I strongly encourage you to do the trauma writing described on this page. Be sure and write about everything, in total detail, again and again, until you feel that you have told the whole story. You may choose to share this with safe and trusted friends/family, or keep it to yourself. You will benefit either way. Only share it if you're totally sure that the listener will be respectful and nonjudgmental toward you.

I think you'll also find these pages on relationships to be helpful:

how to deal with abusive relationships
letting go of a relationship

Your son will either get help, or not. It's his choice. When you think of him, imagine him doing the right thing, and then let it go.

You will benefit from learning about these CDs on self esteem.

Make up your mind, Ali, that you will only be in relationships in which you are treated with love, care and respect. If you do talk to your son again, you might want to add to what you've already said, that you will only be with him if he treats you with respect. At the first sign of the slightest disrespect, you leave and take care of yourself.

You are worthy of kindness and love.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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