Withholding Emotional Involvement ~ Passive Abuse

relationship equality
Darlene and Bodie 2006

My Father was a very passive man who seemed to be very happy with his job, his family and his life in general.  He didn’t beat me or abuse me in any other physical way, but he didn’t bother with me much either. As a child I didn’t recognize that I had to work hard at getting his attention.  I didn’t realize that I was inventing things like nightmares and tall tales in order to get a response out of him.  I was just a child wanting my father to notice me.  Ironically, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I was constantly reprimanded for doing things to get attention.

My father was very well liked; in fact he was popular. He was known for his jokes and stories and for his ability to entertain everyone with his singing and guitar playing. When it came to me however, he withheld.  When it came to me, he didn’t seem very interested in being my father.  My Dad withheld his interest in me and his attention from me.  He did not offer input into my life; there were no discussions about school, boys, hobbies, friends or any of the other things I heard and imagined other girls talked about with their Dads.  My father was not emotionally present. I don’t recall resenting this fact; I didn’t know anything different. This was just the way it was.

My father also withheld everything from emotional involvement to simple conversation from my mother, which is likely the real reason that they eventually divorced.  He just tuned her out. When I was younger, I believed that he got tired of her extreme ranting and nagging; that he left her and she deserved it.   The real truth is that she tried so hard to get his attention that she got a little bit crazy after years of having little to no impact. My point is that as the child of that marriage, I thought that was how life and relationship worked.  The wife or girlfriend tries harder and harder and the husband or the guy is just the way he is. If there is failure, it must be the women’s fault; my fault.  I didn’t think about my father’s passive behaviour as a contributing factor to a failing relationship, contributing to both the failure of his marriage and the failure of his relationship with me. I didn’t question the inequality of the responsibility. I didn’t know that this was passive abuse, and I certainly didn’t know that passive abuse is as destructive as any other type of abuse.

This laid the foundation for me to be attracted to men who made me work to be noticed by them. My relationships with men never started out that way, but they always seemed to quickly end up that way. I didn’t realize that relationships were a two way street because I alone carried the burden of the relationship with my own father. Not only was I willing to take the entire burden of the relationship responsibility, but I didn’t know I was doing it.  Part of the reason that I tried so hard without realizing I was doing so, was because I had always had to. It was what I was used to.  I had no frame of reference about what a healthy relationship was. From my experience, I only knew that I had to try harder.

I had to learn what a relationship was before I could have a healthy one. Just like in all other areas, I had to learn the truth before I could live in it. I didn’t know that I was just as valuable as everyone else or that the burden of all relationship shouldn’t be on me. I didn’t realize there wasn’t equality in the relationships that I had, just as I didn’t know that there could be equality in relationships since I had not seen an example of it.

Learning to accept abuse, even passive abuse, rarely begins in adulthood.

I welcome your comments on this post, and look forward to your opinions.

Bright sunny blessings,

Darlene Ouimet

p.s. it is not my intention to suggest that males that grow up in the same type of home do not suffer from these same issues.

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing


57 response to "Withholding Emotional Involvement ~ Passive Abuse"

  1. By: Meghana Posted: 19th May

    I cried and I cried and I cried… Thank you Darlene for this wonderful insight. Reading this one article felt more relieving than 10 sittings with a therapist. I am married for three months now. My husband and I were in a relationship for a little over a year before we got married. Here in India, families prefer us married soon after we get committed.

    i can understand what your mother might have gone through. Throughout this relationship I have been and I still am really afraid that I will end up a lunatic. I feel like I am being driven towards losing my mind. I used to be such a likable person. I used to like myself too…. but not anymore… I feel so tired all the time. Emotionally! I feel like I am trying too hard all the time. But it’s of no use. On the contrary, all this trying has left a severely damaging effect on my personality. I am too irritable now. These days I use such bitter words and go on talking endlessly, trying to make him understand me. I have become a nag. I used to hate such people. Now I am someone whom I don’t like.

    I have tried everything… all in vain. Finally I decided that henceforth even I am going to withhold my feelings. No one values them anyhow. Moreover, I insult my own feelings by begging for them to be acknowledged. I felt like I have no other way left to keep my sanity. And in a silly lost moment, I googled “how to withhold my feelings?”
    That’s how I found this post. It somehow made me feel a bit better, as I felt there may be some people in this world (even if they are on the other side of the globe) who would understand me, who would know that I am not mad…. 🙂 Thank you.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 19th May

      Hi Meghana
      Welcome to EFB ~ You are not alone! There is a lot of information here in this website (450 articles with discussions) about taking our lives back. I had to value myself in order to break free of feeling like I didn’t matter because of the way someone else regarded me. I hope you will find other things here validating and comforting to you.
      Hugs, Darlene

  2. By: gary Posted: 9th January

    Thank you very much for validating my feelings about withholding. Meaning, that it is passive EMOTIONAL ABUSE. I am going through it with my family now, which is blended. Ever since my mom died they have virtually “shut me out” of their lives. I wrote them several letters….their response: NOTHING. DEAD SILENCE. No response. I feel that this is what you describe as emotionally passive abuse. I am angry about this. Any suggestions on how I may smoke these people out, embarrass them out, confront them out; whatever. I need a response in order to achieve closure (if that is what this means, i.e., no response). Denying me closure is very abusive, in my opinion, it tells me without telling me: “You don’t rate enough to deserve a response from us.”

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 11th January

      Hi Gary
      The answer isn’t in about them. I thought that I needed a response or admission, at least some kind of acknowledgement too, but they were unwilling and going forward I realized that if I spent half the energy on ME that I spent on them, I might have a chance and that is what I did and how I healed. I stared looking at how they had defined me (falsely) by their treatment and actions and I saw the lies, and I re-defined me!
      You can too.
      Hope you will read my book available in the upper right side bar here.
      hugs, Darlene

  3. By: debbie Posted: 4th November

    Thank you for sharing your story , I know many women who this would help to put responsibility where it belongs and increase awareness and strength. X.

  4. By: Steve Posted: 9th October

    I’m having such an “ah ha” moment of realisation reading this article.

    It never dawned on me that my father also being disinterested at best in my existence, is a cause for me to this day, at age 47, to have so much trouble handling rejection with people in my life or at work.

    I was just so conditioned into thinking the fault always lies within me, even when I’ve done nothing wrong, that anyone in my adult life “rejecting me” in some way, sends me into a lather of self hate, self doubt and feeling that every failing in life is on my shoulders.

    Who’d have ever thought I’d start to realise that everything in life that goes wrong isn’t my fault?

    Thank you Darlene!

  5. By: Simsim Posted: 16th January

    I am experiencing a major flip flop reading today – is some of it cultural? I’m from India. From all I have observed the mother is noble beyond flaws. And worshipped hand on foot. The dad absent indulgent provider. Generalisation of what I observe. Now… Suddenly I’m getting friends saying I am wrong in labelling my mother a NM. She has earned her way to being cranky difficult and rude. It’s ok. That we view it differently. That western psychology is not contextualising our culture.
    I’m seriously 50/50…. Dad is absent. Now… So is mom. And I’m confused.
    Can anyone help with this? Please?

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th January

      Hi Simsim
      EFB is read in 132 countries around the world ~ in spite of different cultures, what we are dealing with here is ‘the damage’ that is caused. It isn’t the fact that you labeled her with the title Narcissist that is the problem. The problem is that she caused damage to you. The bottom line is about the message that you got about yourself because of the treatment you received. Facing and validating the damage is where the healing begins.
      Hugs, Darlene

  6. By: Julie Posted: 15th January

    Hello! I can relate to this blog about “emotionally absent” fathers. It wasn’t until I was grown that I learned that my dad had been married 3 times before my mother and had abandoned 2 sons entirely. This explains a lot….why my mother chose him was a mystery to me for awhile, until I figured out that she was basically an enabler and a control freak who wanted to make everyone “right” (to her own standards of right) Ironically, after my parents divorced…after 30+ years which was amazing in itself, I was the person who had to see to my dad’s care in his old age. Fortunately, he never lived with me although he wanted to….he wanted to be waited on hand and foot like my mother did even though he never was involved in my life…ever. He was a very passive person who let life just happen to him. He was however, easy going which made the last couple of years of visiting him and managing his care easier for me. I guess I figured someone had to do it and he hated my sister. I still believe that my mother resents me for seeing to his care. Mom and I do not talk anymore because I do not do things her way and she is mean and hateful to me regarding this. I do not speak to my sister anymore because of her drug and alcohol problems which she denies (and Mom, the enabler denies too) I am the bad guy and have been for most of my life because I refuse to engage in controlling behavior and enabling with my own children and grandchildren…whom I never see, but that is another sad story. I have enough disappointment in my life without someone constantly reminding me and telling me that it all is somehow my fault! I really like this blog site and reading about other’s struggles because it helps me to be strong in my resolve and to help me develop a better attitude. Julie

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 15th January

      Hi Julie
      Glad you are here too! Thanks for sharing.
      Hugs, Darlene

  7. By: Lori Posted: 6th January

    Here it is Jan 2013 and I have read this piece for the fourth time since the summer of 2012 and it was one of the reasons I took action to move on with my life, without my husband. I actually felt guilty over the years like I was not doing enough, pretty enough, good enough at anything to hold his attention. The only time I did was during intimate moments when he was getting something out of the situation. Our children were continually neglected by him to the point that the oldest two finally accepted that they weren’t important enough to be seen and our youngest had to annoy to get attention… It makes me sad still to this day and I KNOW we all need therapy in order to become healthy individuals and keep our bond close as we move forward into a different path for our lives. It still hurts because their father doesn’t make an effort to keep in touch and automatically assumes they will be fine when he sees them on a rare occasion. Sad thing is, even though the separation has affected him tremendously because he has to do for himself, he cannot understand why it hasn’t made me or the kids fall apart not to have him with us…he still doesn’t “get” that our lives haven’t changed all too much. He was never really “with” us, so the absence of him totally just seems normal. I just don’t go through days of depression and guilt except for when I think about how long I allowed it to manifest and hurt my children. I feel horrible that I allowed them to believe it was normal and that it was my duty to work twice as hard to take care of everything and still be ignored by a man that once said he loved me and couldn’t wait to be a father. It takes everything I have not to have hate in my heart for him but it isn’t worth keeping negativity in my soul. I can’t make him change but I can control where I go and what I do. I only regret that I hadn’t made the choice years ago. Thank you for putting into words, everything my life for the past 15 or so years has done and that it really does happen. I let my family think everything was perfect and it tore me apart…now I am trying to rebuild what happened to me and live the life I wanted for myself and my children. I thank God that I am as close to them as I am or emotionally, they would be in a much worse position. No one deserves to be treated this way and it is ok to want more.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 6th January

      Hi Lori
      Thank you for sharing this. I can relate to what you said that because he was never really with you, there wasn’t much to miss.
      My husband and I resolved everything but I can relate to the remorse of modeling the wrong stuff to the kids. BUT it is never too late to be a new role model! It is never too late to re-build. My kids have come along in the process as a result of the changes we made. I was so worried because my oldest was 12 or 13 when I started to see the need for changes. By the time I came out of the fog completly and started to really impliment the changes that needed to happen, he was 14 (he is 21 now) and I was terrified that it was ‘too late’ but it wasn’t. (and YES it is okay to want more! More than OK!)
      Thanks for sharing
      hugs, Darlene

  8. By: A Real Person Posted: 18th October

    Thanks Darlene for making the concept clear… its seems if it’s too ambiguous in my head I can somehow take that to mean it really doesn’t exist. Coming outta of the fog is exactly what feels like is happening with me. It’s overwhelming and scary BUT it’s also great to finally be able to see more clearly (I’ve always found real fog scary as well). I can understand now how if too much is seen at once it could kill a person. I have to trust that my mind won’t give me more than it can handle… that as it comes out I am ready, strong enough, and have the right resources available.

    EFB has been a wonderful resource… for knowing I am not on the path alone, for seeing others in all different stages of healing (knowing what might be coming helps me not fear it as much), and just seeing someone that fought all those voices in their head enough to put themselves out there. It helps me find the strength inside myself to do the same. I will find my answers, I will find my truth. I am emerging from broken and will bloom into something beautiful from this.

    I have to say the name of the site is part of what drew me here. I was getting so frustrated by all the sites & stuff that try to tell me over and over I am not broken… because I feel broken. I told this to a friend of mine once and he told me feeling broken is ok, pointed out how I love gardening and that a seed has to break & create roots in order to grow. I took it a step further and realized that even shit, dirt, and trash could help that garden grow if it was tended right in a compost pile. The compost pile has to have enough stuff piled on it, it has to be tended and turned and has to get hot in order to activate and be useful… then that is spread in the dirt the seed is planted in and helps grow those roots. If the plant is nurtured properly it will grow strong roots and thrive.

    I want to grow strong roots and thrive. It’s really all I’ve ever wanted. Finally I am tending my seed… it has broken but that’s ok… in the end I will have strong roots and thrive.

  9. By: A Real Person Posted: 17th October

    Passively abusive… So it really does exist? Other people see this as abuse as well? I admit I’m still having trouble figuring out what is abuse and what isn’t.

    Because of the way I was raised I’ve been afraid until recently to even look into what other people see as abuse…. Like if I read it somewhere else and it resonates with me it still must not be true… like I’m “pretending” to have someone else’s problems because I read/heard/learned it from someone else and didn’t come up with it all on my own. Or as my mom would say being a “sarah bernhardt”… as in “Well aren’t you our little Sarah Bernhardt!”

    I’m finding that somethings resonate and some don’t. I reason that the things that resonate with me hit close to home, the things that don’t aren’t a part of my experience. Somehow this means that I’m not making it up. I mean otherwise I wouldn’t I be saying all these exact situations I’ve read I’ve had, I’d think it all happened to me. But I don’t think that. But I’m not crazy, over-dramatic, a liar, etc.

    For the first 14 years of my life my dad was just unavailable. Most of the time he was at work, when he was home he was too busy fighting with my brother to pay attention to me. When I would try to talk to him about how my brother was treating me (My brother was extremely abusive, to the point it was agreed that it was too dangerous for the 2 of us to be left alone together… only instead of doing anything about his behavior my mom would kick me out of the house “for my own safety.”) he would alternate between saying it wasn’t as bad as I was making it out to be (then why couldn’t I be alone with him?), or using my mom’s favorite explanation “Your brother is having to deal with being adopted and we have to love him, and make sure he knows he’s loved and a real part of this family (I don’t even know where to begin with this other than wasn’t it important for me to be a part of the family?).” Other than that my dad would try to get control of his house/family back from my brother and there would be physical violence (again meaning I would be told to leave for my own safety and not to come back until I was told it was safe). Then he’d work again from early morning to wee hours of the morning and I’d never see him. When I, god forbid, tried to talk to my dad about any problems I was having with my mom I was cut off and told “I will not listen to anyone say anything bad about my wife! She is your mother, respect her.”

    I always wanted my daddy… but up until I was 14 he just wasn’t there.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 18th October

      Hi “A Real Person”
      Finding out about ‘passive abuse’ was HUGE for me and answered a lot of questions. Passive abuse is when someones lack of action is abusive. When someone doesn’t bother. It is related to neglect. There was LOTS of passive abuse in my life but I didn’t see it for a very long time.
      Sounds like you are coming out of the fog; an expression that I use to refer to when we begin to see the truth. I did not see everything all at once. (good thing because it might have killed me) It took time and the fog lifted in layers as I was ready to see the truth.
      The way that your mom treated your brother sent you a huge message; it was realizing those messages that I found the answer to ‘what happened to my self esteem’.
      Thanks for sharing
      Hugs, Darlene

  10. By: really Posted: 22nd July

    Dont have the courage to be as honest as you, but there is something that touched a chord in your bog id like to comment on: everyone is equally, uniquely, pricelessly valuable. How is it that globally this fact is overlooked; that we each must suffer rites of passage that have no intrinsic meaning in light of the foregoing fact, that we beat each other down because we fail to recognize this universal truth.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 22nd July

      Hi “Really”
      This fact is overlooked on purpose. People are unwilling to give up their control and power in exchange for equality. This is because people mistakenly believe that they get their validation from other people submitting to them. People are much to filled with fear and insecurity to live by the concept of “equal value”.
      Welcome to emerging from broken!
      Hugs, Darlene

  11. By: Elizabeth Posted: 7th May

    I re-read this article 3 times……..my husband act’s just like your father an he is also the same way towards our daughter……I’m at my wit’s end an have been thinking about divorce for some time. My husband has told stories about his father an I have hear other stories about his father from other family member’s an they all lead down the same road-my husband learned from his father an now he’s acting like his father did…….I need to know where do I go from here I want to get him help because I refused to let him sabotage our marriage,his relationship with his daughter—-please tell me what I should be doing now or where we should go from here Counseling??? is their treatment? Can he change or get better? How is his behavior going to affect our child?

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 7th May

      Hi Elizabeth
      Welcome to EFB
      I can’t tell you what to do, but there is hope. He can change IF he wants to, and you can heal enough to see what you want or need to do for yourself and your daughter. His behaviour is going to affect your child exactly how so many of us share in this post aobut how it effected them. It’s the message that this type of relationship sends to the child that caused the damage to the self esteem of the child.
      Hang in here! I am glad that you have recognized the problem! That is the first step.
      Hugs, Darlene

  12. By: Deborah Posted: 22nd February

    Thanks Darlene i get what you are saying… we need to focus on our own healing and wholeness before we can be a loving partner… and know we deserve a loving available partner…

  13. By: Deborah Posted: 20th February

    Hi again Darlene..you were so kind to respond to my blog of late 2010.. my partner and I ended up separating….. and last year was so painful…. he too was abandoned by his mother at age 4 and it took a long time to see that he attracted me as someown who needed to take distance as I was very scared of connecting with others due to my own abandonment history….emotionally disconnected/ work preoccupied parents and a mother who had her own deep abandonment all covered over…it was so good to hear that in similar circumstances you and your lovely partner worked it through… my ex wasnt really open to anything psychological.. he put all my reading down….. I thought he was narcissistic cause emotions were too threatening for him… and Im so emotional… anyway….. its such a wonderful article you have posted and so good to read of others experiences…..one question… are there things you feel you did in your relationship that tended to push your partner away or into the role of your parent…. if so would you be able to share some.. kind wishes Deborah

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 21st February

      Hi Deborah
      Oh yes, there were lots of things that I did to try and resolve my own histroy. I have written about it in here ~ but can’t remember where!
      I don’t focus on my marriage healing in this site because it came well after I was into my own healing from the past before my husband. I wish there were more hours in a day but since there isn’t I pretty much focus on my passion for healing at the root of the probelm. (which happened way before my husband and I resolved our marriage problems as those things too, were rooted in our individual childhood history traumas)
      Hugs, Darlene

  14. By: joanne Posted: 6th February

    Thanks for your quick answer. I am so glad for this site. I have been skimming through the testimonies of others and i am really glad to find i am not alone.

  15. By: joanne Posted: 6th February

    i would like to know, darlene ouimet, did the reality of an emotionally absent father cause you to become an abandoholic? did you start getting attracted to men who were unavvailable? if you did, how did you overcome this?

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 6th February

      Hi Joanne
      Welcome to EFB ~ yes I was attracted to emotionally unavailable men. There were many problems that stemmed from the ways I was regarded in my childhood and this website is about how I overcame all of them by understanding how I got so broken. Once I knew what the damage was, I had to replace the lies that I believed about myself (unworthy of love etc) with the truth by learning to love and validate myself. Each blog post has some of that process in it.
      Hugs, Darlene

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.