Photograph by Joana Meneses
I’m confused… My dad is sometimes mean to me, like he’ll say that I’m selfish and that I should be a better person. I feel like he’s unjustified in saying this but he won’t listen when I try to talk to him and tell him that he’s being unreasonable. He justifies the things he says through the guise of saying he’s doing it because he cares, and because his dad never took the time to talk things through with him. My dad makes me feel like I’m worthless and a bad person, but am I just being a stubborn teenager? Maybe I really do need to change? I’m not sure if I’m just taking things too personally because I know it’s because he cares. I feel emotional even when he says things like “why did you leave the lights on”. Just looking for some clarity about how to know whether I am being overdramatic or if what he’s doing is really wrong. Sometimes when he helps my brother with his homework, he’ll make him cry (even though he’s not SAYING anything bad, I think it’s just the tone?) and then yell at him for crying, saying he’s only trying to help him. Are we all too sensitive or is our dad in the wrong?
Firstly, thank you so much for writing in. It takes courage to talk about emotional topics such as this and we will try to help you as much as we can.
I would like to say this one hits really close to home for me. I grew up feeling exactly the same way and my dad treated me like this as well. So, first off, I empathise with you on a deep level and I want you to know you’re not alone.
I don’t think there is any justification for someone making you feel worthless and like a bad person, even if they say it’s for your own good. You don’t deserve that. If your dad does feel like you’re selfish, and he wants to help you, it’s still not okay to label you as this. Being called names, even as seemingly small-scale as being called “selfish,” can cut really deep and stay with you for a long time. He needs to understand the ramification of his words.
It sounds like you’re having to walk on eggshells a bit and even when you do something so small as to leave the lights on, you get in trouble. I also used to have this problem; I was constantly on edge because I never knew when I was going to be in trouble for such small things as not refilling the ice cube container or not closing a door that was meant to be closed. The problem with behaviour like your father’s is that when you tell other people the things that upset you, it sounds very small and petty and as if you are overly sensitive, but the reality is, you have to deal with this constantly and after awhile it chips away at your confidence, your nerves, and your self-worth.
Being a teenager is a time in life when you’re learning about yourself. You have so many new things happening in your body and so many new experiences being thrown at you, it’s okay if you’re a little selfish. In fact, science actually says teenagers can’t help but be selfish. I feel like your dad may be expecting too much of you and needs to understand you are going through a lot and you need a break every now and then. Perhaps you can gather some articles like the one linked above and ask him kindly to read them. Teenagehood is often when mental health issues arise and he needs to be extremely careful of this. If he is making your brother cry just by trying to help him with his homework, he isn’t going about it the right way and your brother is at risk of developing anxiety.
In regards to clarity on this topic and whether you’re being overly dramatic, my advice is stick to your gut. The fact that you’re even questioning yourself is a good sign you’re not someone who is overly dramatic. If you feel in your gut that he is being too hard on you and that you are not deserving of his constant put downs (no one is deserving of put downs anyway) then believe in that voice. Have your own back and know that you deserve better.
My advice for trying to deal with this issue is talk to another adult you think might be more understanding. Do you have a mum who you can talk to about this issue? Or maybe a trusted teacher or school counselor. Of course, you can try one more time to talk to your father first–have you tried to tell him that while he thinks it’s for your own good, his words have actually become very hurtful and are in fact causing you more harm than good? You could tell him that you appreciate his good intentions but that you’re now asking him to consider being a little less harsh, and that it would be a lot to you if he tried to be more sensitive; that ultimately YOU are the only person who can be the judge of what is best for you, and you’re saying that what he’s doing is not that. Of course, sometimes talking to the parent who is actually the problem won’t help, especially if he hasn’t listened in the past. I know my experience consisted of never feeling like my pain was heard, so being able to confide in someone who does care really helps.
I’ve suffered from intense anxiety through my experience because my dad’s constant belittling made me feel like a bad person for so long. Words seep in far more deeply than anyone realises and that’s why it’s so important to think before saying harsh things to people. I had the help and support of an amazing mum and have sought help through counselling since. I’ve come to realise I didn’t deserve that treatment and neither do you. If you feel bad about yourself because of someone else’s words, it’s on them. It is absolutely not a reflection of you as person. It’s important to know you’re not alone and to remember there is help out there.
I’m so happy to chat to you more about this if you ever feel like it! Shoot me an email!
Best wishes, and good luck!