Emotionally Unavailable Father; The Message of Passive Abuse


Emotionally Unavailable Father ~ Passive AbuseRecently someone wrote, telling me that because she stood up to her dysfunctional family and drew a boundary, she is now missing out on ‘the good things in life’. The first question that came to my mind was “what good things are you missing out on because you drew a boundary?” In my coaching practice, the homework would be: Define ‘good things’ ~ what are ‘the good things’? What do you feel that you are missing now, that you had before? Why did you have to draw a boundary in the first place?

And the answers to these types of questions are always very revealing. When I answered these questions for myself I found out some of the lies that I believed and how they were rooted in the shaky foundation of my belief system.

For most people including me, those ‘good things’ that had to do with my dysfunctional family were a fantasy.  I ‘wished’ that I had a loving family. The reality of those ‘good things’ was something very different from how I fantasised it was or hoped that it could one day be.

Christmas dinner and family holidays or celebrations were stressful for me and this continued on with when I married into my husband’s family too. Every family thing I went to was a reminder of how insignificant that I was even when at the time I wasn’t able to articulate how those occasions made me feel.

The boundary that I drew with my father was different than the boundaries that I drew when it came to over (more obvious) abuse. A couple of years ago I told my father that seeing him was a reminder of how little he knew about me and how disinterested he was in me as an individual. The way he disregards me is a constant reminder of how little I matter to him.  It has always been that way.

My father is passive abusive. His emotional abuse is very covert.  Mostly he just doesn’t care, doesn’t listen when I talk to him, doesn’t know anything about me, my life or my kids because he doesn’t care to know and he doesn’t listen to anyone who tries to tell him. To the general public, (and according to my siblings) my father is regarded as this ‘nice’ guy and he is never violent, never mean and never hurtful with his words, but the truth is that his relationship style is dismissive and disinterested all of which is very hurtful. I spent many years in childhood and in adulthood ‘begging’ (in all kinds of ways) my emotionally abusive father to notice me. The fact that he didn’t was and is very hurtful.  There is a very loud message that is delivered to me when I am disregarded.  The message is that I don’t matter, that I am not important, that I am not worth listening to and that I don’t have anything to contribute to his life. My father is emotionally unavailable, and that is very hurtful. Love is an action and love doesn’t damage self-esteem. Love doesn’t define a ‘loved one’ as insignificant.

After years of trying to tell my passive abusive father that his constant cutting me off whenever I tried to tell him about me, and that his lack of interest in my life was a problem for me ~ and due to the fact that there wasn’t any change on his part, I gave up; I finally realized that he wasn’t going to change.

Once I accepted that my emotionally unavailable father wasn’t going to change, I had a choice to make. I could just accept his treatment of me and feel frustrated and hurt every time I saw him or I could decide that I didn’t want to accept the way he treats me anymore.  I made choice number 2 because it was the only choice that supported my newfound self-value. I deserve better than he can or will give me.

To hear my father tell this story he has no idea why I “suddenly stopped talking to him” although I explained it on the phone in the same detail that I have written in this post.  I had to realize that the fact that he denies ‘understanding’ my explanation or even ever having heard it is also about him.

When I realized that being around my emotionally abusive father was a constant hurtful reminder of how devalued I was by him I began to realize that the same was true for all the people in my life who by their actions towards me, showed that they didn’t care about ME.   Even though with all those other people I had already drawn my boundaries much sooner than I had with my passive abusive and emotionally unavailable father, I had not actually realized that part of why I felt so anxious in their company was due to the same devaluing and dismissive treatment of me. Only the details were different. The action parts of the word “love” and the word “respect” were missing.

BUT the message was the same! The message is that I don’t matter, that I am not important, I am not worth listening to and that I don’t have anything to contribute. That message is like a death sentence. That message kept me struggling with depressions my entire life; feeling like I was being held under water and fighting for every breath. That message about me made me try harder and harder to BE whatever and whoever it was they wanted me to be, all the while never realizing that that message spoke louder about THEM than it did about me.

I realized that although other abusive toxic and dysfunctional relationships that I had with other family were much more overt, (obvious)  that the passive abusive nature of my father, the frustration was the same! Being around those people was a constant reminder of how insignificant that I was to them.   No wonder I didn’t like family get-togethers.  I couldn’t put it into words when I was in the fog, but when I came out of the fog, it hit me like a ton of bricks; being around most of those people was a constant painful reminder of how regarded me as ‘less’ than themselves and how they used many opportunities to make that point clear to me. Love doesn’t damage self-esteem. There were no ‘good things’ about that!

I am actually a very social person. I love having people over for dinner, or going out with friends. I love being with people! In my relationships today, I am not discounted. I am not ignored. I am not ‘cut off’ mid-sentence because no one is interested in what I am saying. No one rolls their eyes at me to indicate what I am saying is ‘stupid’.  No one pretends that they didn’t hear me to indicate that what I am saying is too dumb to even validate that they heard me.

Real relationship gives everyone equal value. Real relationship, healthy, functional and equal value based relationship is co-creative and mutually respectful. Those are the good things! I didn’t have them before when it came to my own family or with my in-laws but today I have choices and I exercise my right to have a choice in relationships. I don’t have to accept unacceptable treatment or disregard or any kind of overt or covert abuse that ultimately serves to make me feel bad about myself. 

Please share your thoughts about the reality of relationships. Have you ever noticed that you have not been regarded in action part of love and respect? Abuse isn’t always aggressive and very often it is hidden, (covert) which is much harder to see than more obvious (overt) abuse is. It was in coming out of this fog and into the light of the truth that helped me so much on my quest for freedom and wholeness.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This week A woman lodged a complaint in paypal asking for her donation to the EFB website to be refunded. She told paypal that she did not get the service that she paid for because I didn’t answer her comment. I refunded her donation however I want to state that donations are NOT for that purpose. Donations help to pay the expenses~ tech support, security and back up costs but they are not payment for my responses on comments nor have I ever received enough in donations to have any sort of an income from the work that I do here. The emerging from broken blog is a free resource however it isn’t cost free for me to run it therefore donations to offset those costs are still very much appreciated.  As much as I want to answer everyone, due to the high volume of comments and email that I get I am no longer able to answer them all. ~Darlene

Exposing Truth; one snapshot at a time

Darlene Ouimet

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For related posts see the highlighted phrases in bold throughout this post. One more related post is “Why Setting Boundaries is NOT as easy as it sounds”

192 response to "Emotionally Unavailable Father; The Message of Passive Abuse"

  1. By: Ash Posted: 11th May 2017

    Thank you for writing and sharing your experiences with us Darlene; I have spent my whole life on a carousel of self-torture wishing my parents would love me – on the outside they come across as the perfect parents, making statements about how proud they are of their children. Yet they haven’t called me for over 2 years – I make fairly regular trips to see them (paying the expensive transport costs even though I’m a full time student) and I feel like a dancing monkey desperate for their approval. But NO MORE! I’ve been having therapy and have been learning about self-respect. I am going to teach others how to respect me by respecting myself. I am going to withdraw my attempts at contact, and focus my love and light on those that really do share equal love and respect with me. I have struggled for so long because it’s not overt abuse like you describe, it’s subtle and I don’t even know if they are aware of it themselves… (as I question their emotional awareness). I know that ultimately I have to explain all of this to them, but I’ll do that when I’m ready. For now, I’m going to look after myself which feels selfish but that’s just because of the guilt and shame that has been drummed into me regarding putting myself first. Anyway thank you I really appreciate your writing x

  2. By: Lorraine Posted: 26th February 2017

    My father similar to yours Darlene. My mother used “shut up” and our fathers favourite words to me were “you dill” “twit” or “stupid”! My father was president of the football club a good bloke and he had lots of friends, he did voluntary work for rotary. A great man. He spent every night at the pub after he finished work. He returned late at night drunk. Our mother took her anger out on me and my siblings because she was married to an alcoholic and a gambler. I’ve been condemned by all my siblings and lextended family for speaking up about the abuse. I have freedom now from that awful feeling of dread when you get glared at, mocked, spoken to in that awful condescending way, ignored when spoken to or made fun of. Best of all I’ve protected my daughter from the nasty mind games that my mother enjoys. I have my own circle of good friends (my family) who treat me with respect

  3. By: Yvonne Posted: 5th January 2017

    Olivia and Bonnie:

    I had the same type of passive enabler father. I don’t understand how anyone can say that they love you when they don’t even know you. How true! I was afraid of my severely narc mom but also my enabler father. I feel that these enabler parents are also abusive but it’s more of an introverted way. My father was her accomplice and his role was to support his crazy wife no matter what. I was angry at how come he had no sense of justice? He chose his wife over me when I was a child and that was always the game that we played. His wife was always right and I was always wrong. At times I felt as if my own father really hated me. Why? He was also a perfect stranger and couldn’t care less. He did not know the names of my friends, or any of my favorites in life—-color, song, food…

    My father’s world was watching the TV set 24/7 without a single friend or hobby in life. He always had the paper TV Guide on a side table, along with his drink, and a dish of peanuts. He was always moody and grouchy when he came home from work. The only time that I could talk to him was during a five minute commercial break or else I would be bothering him.

    My father died two years ago and I was very relieved. Then it was hard having to recall all the past bad memories about him. I was also verbally abused by him insulting my looks. He actually said that my NMom was better looking than me when she was young! NOT! I have seen photos of her when she was young and compared to me I was the better looking one. What a sick and cruel thing to say to a daughter. I wonder if he was ever happy. I can say that I have truly NO LOVE or regard whatsoever toward this man. I could not even begin to have any regard for him if I tried—zero. He was just a very sick, odd, grouchy man who supported his wife 100 percent and viewed me as the enemy in the house. I was responsible for every problem—financially and just everything. I am now 48 years old and so glad that our relationship is finally over.


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