Breaking a pattern of abuse


Breaking a pattern of abuse


your avatar   Rose, 20-year-old woman

I'm a 20-year-old woman. My parents had me at a very young age: my father was 16 and my mom 18. Even after my parents separated (I was 2) they were still abusive to each other. My father would pick physical fights with people, even my mom's new husband. My father and mom use to yell at the top of their lungs when I was an infant. As time went by my father became very physically abusive with me. If I didn't finish my food he would hit me, if I didn't listen he would hit me and so on and so forth. In my family there is also a long history of cheating (my mom was cheated on, my grandma, my aunt, etc.). As a young teen I fell in love with this guy who ended up cheating on me. I would always believe his words over anyone else's and it bit me in the butt.

I've been dating this amazing guy for about a year and a half. He's so sweet and kind to me. If I'm sick he makes me soup; if I have an exam he gets me coffee. But at some point he started asking about my past and who I've been with. This evoked old memories. When I asked him about his past, I started to be abusive towards him, physically and verbally. I was living with him at the time. I eventually moved out and we still stayed together and he forgave me.

As time passed, however, I still had this anger in me. I had to lash out and get mad, scream and hit him in order for to feel better. I knew I was wrong every time but couldn't seem to stop myself or shut myself up. Eventually he started defending himself and started to hit my leg. We talked, and I learned to calm myself down again. Recently though, I found a bathing suit that wasn't mine and I lashed out once more. I started hitting him again, throwing stuff, and when he tried to stop me from hitting him his arm fell on my nose and I started bleeding. I only learned later that it was his mom who put it there, not knowing it was her husband that got it for her as a gift. A couple of days later, my boyfriend panics, and said he wanted to leave me.

We are currently trying to take a week break - no talking, not seeing each other, nothing. I don't want to be like this. I'm hoping it's not too late for our relationship. I contacted a psychologist through email and I'm hoping she will answer me so that I can set up an appointment. But I am terrified to know if it is too late for him and I. He's the best thing that has happened to me and I would hate for my past to ruin such a beautiful thing. I love him so much and I know he still loves me. I just don't want to lose him. I don't know what to do and I know I need help.


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Rose my dear,

Your story tells me that you want to get away from the family pattern. From your childhood, you learned to react with violence, and when you are under pressure, that's what comes out. But you hate this, and want to do things better. You can, but it is hard work to change childhood habits. Please read and study what I have written here and practice what I describe there.

You are lucky that you have a helper in changing habits. Tell him, "I am doing my best to stop being violent like my father. Please be my helper." When something happens that used to get you verbally and even physically abusive, take a breath, count in your mind to 10, and work out how else you can react. Sometimes, you will succeed in this. When you do, your boyfriend's job is to notice, and to congratulate you. Sometimes, you will forget, and automatically start being abusive. Your boyfriend's job then is to simply say, "Hey Rose, remember, you're not doing this anymore." Then thank him, and take a time out. That means going somewhere by yourself, forgiving yourself for having slipped, and thinking about how to handle the issue. This may take you 2 or 3 minutes. Then go back, thank him again for the reminder, and do it right.

Habit change needs at least 3 weeks of consistent effort, but the longer you do it, the better it gets. You could have a slip back even years later -- but then you can handle it in exactly the same way. Give this a go, and let me know how successful it has been in maybe a month's time.


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


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