Joan’s father had bullied and abused her all her life. He’d yelled, scolded, chastised, taunted and emotionally terrorized her. He’d been manipulative, sneaky and lying. He never admitted anything was his fault. He’d always blamed on her; everything was her fault. He still treats her the same way. He’s a narcissistic, control freak. Joan could never understand why he treated her that way. She hadn’t deserved it. She knew he’d had a terrible childhood, but she didn’t deserve to be the one he took it out on.
Now, he’s in his late 80s and Joan could see that he was sinking rapidly.
On the one hand, Joan was angry and vindictive. On the other hand, she felt guilty and ashamed of her dislike and hatred of him.
How can she resolve things with him before he dies?
Sporadically, through the years after she’d left home and made her own life, she’d tried talking with him about how he treats her but he’d always rejected her attempts, calling her weak and bad. He never admitted he’d done any of the things she said. That led to the usual angry rant about her failings and what she owed him. And a demand that he’ll never talk about that again.
Of course, she’s going to try once more. And maybe a miracle will happen. But my experience is that any change would be extremely rare. I’ve see most people recover from near-death experience and be unchanged. They immediately cover themselves with their old costume of abuse and bullying.
I’ve seen a sexually manipulative perpetrator on his death bed try to grope his daughter, just like he did when he molested her for years when she was young.
It doesn’t matter if Joan looks at her father as a sociopath or a poor, abused soul who never could overcome his rotten childhood. Her sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love or understanding likely won’t change him.
The real question for Joan is what she means by “resolution” and where she really wants to get internally.
If, by resolution:
- She means that they’ll have a heart-felt talk, and she’ll say her say again but this time he’ll admit to all he did and apologize and ask for her forgiveness, she’s probably going to be disappointed. No matter how much she begs, bribes or tries to appease him, likely he won’t change. He’ll still insist he never did anything bad to her and it’s all her fault. Also, he’ll never tell everyone to whom he bad-mouthed her, that she was actually a good daughter and he was simply mean and nasty. So the task for her is to accept that she can’t change him and to find a mental place in which to keep him that doesn’t stimulate any self-bullying by blame, shame or guilt – just like he’d do to her again if he had the opportunity.
- She means that she can come to like him and they’ll part friends, she’ll be disappointed again. They’re not friends. We can’t be friends with someone who has beaten us, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, no matter how hard we try. A survival part of us doesn’t want us to get close enough so they can abuse us once more. The task for her is to let the anger and hatred motivate her to get distance, no matter what he thinks of her or accuses her of.
- She means that she wants to forgive herself for continuing to exaggerate his good side and to have hope he’d change so she continually put herself and her family in harm’s way trying to prove that she was worthy of love, respect and good treatment, she can have that because that’s in her control. Her task is to find an inner place to put him so that instead of feeling overwhelmed and beaten, or angry and vindictive when she thinks of him, she’ll feel strong, courageous and determined to stop any other bullies and to create an Isle of Song for herself and her family.
His behavior tells her about him. It doesn’t tell her anything about her and what she deserves. Instead, she needs to take power over her life.
Should she stay at his bedside while he passes? If she wants to be with him at the end in order to assuage any guilt she may have for missing a last possible chance for resolution, then she should be there as long as she won’t let him hurt her feelings any more; as long as she doesn’t expect anything more than he’s always been.
Should she have her children visit him at the end? Again that depends on what she wants from the interactions. If he’s been manipulative and rotten to her children, or bad-mouthed her to them, then I wouldn’t let them be subjected to that again. In age and stage appropriate ways, she can talk to them now and as they grow.
For contrasting outcomes in dealing with abusive, bullying parents, see the case studies of Carrie, Kathy, Doug, Jake and Ralph in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site. Expert coaching by phone or Skype helps. We can design a plan that fits you and your situation. And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.