Dedicated to the person who accidentally taught me boundaries: my father.

I just read an article that reminded me very much of my estrangement from my father.

In it, the author waxes eloquently about how badly she misses her adult children, who no longer speak to her. Only at the very end of the article does she sort-of kind-of admit that she might have done something wrong, but it’s unclear and downplayed.

Unclear and downplayed, like every memory I ever got up the gumption to mention to my dad, waiting for his acknowledgement that yes, that did happen, and oh God, I am so sorry.

It only ever happened once in my entire life, and I can still remember it: I was six or seven years old, and I had just gotten a spanking for something I hadn’t actually done. (My sense of personal justice was horribly bruised, as you can probably imagine.) My little brother’s guilt was revealed — I don’t remember how, he couldn’t have been more than five years old — and my dad had JUST punished me, but he pulled me into his arms and cried while I cried, telling me how sorry he was.

I still remember this because it is the only time it ever happened, and in retrospect, it hurts even more that he was only sorry for the mistake he made when I was still young enough to believe that every word he said was truth.

Really, the word ‘estrangement’ seems too optimistic, as if somehow I did not want it to happen, was hoping for it not to be so.

I didn’t want it to be like that when I was younger. I wanted a relationship with my dad. I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted to feel somehow accepted by him, wholly, no matter what I did or didn’t do.

I wanted the dad who cried over his mistake and asked my forgiveness.

But that is not the kind of person my dad is now. It is not the kind of person he was when I was a child, excepting that one shining, tear-streaked memory I have.

And that is why I don’t talk to him any more. I grew weary of putting myself in harm’s way again and again, allowing him close just so he could suddenly become emotionally manipulative (as if he ever stopped, it is in his blood and breath and always will be). I grew weary of small moments where it seemed he had reached an inch or two across the chasm between us, while I was balanced precariously over the gaping void beneath me, having reached a hundred miles in the hopes he would have met me anywhere at all.

I learned, relationship after relationship showing me what I didn’t realize was true: that I did not really value myself, that I wanted someone to both love me and punish me, to heal the wound in my heart that had been there, bleeding slowly, since I was a little girl.

Children of narcissistic abusers have a preternatural ability to handle misfortune.

We can clean up, chin up, and resolve to do better, all while the abuser screams and breaks chairs and doors and trust and promises and hearts. We take in all the violence and we believe we can make them be better, so we allow ourselves to be hurt again and again and again. We do our best to absorb it, as if we are folding shards of glass and razors and blunt serrated bread knives into the soft skin of our bodies, and we pretend that it does not hurt that badly, that it is not killing us, that we are not nearly dead from it.

In the between-times, when things are good and smiles and generosity, we can see that we were right. Things are okay. That won’t happen again, because now we are doing it right, whatever it is we desperately want to do correctly in order to never see the monster’s teeth again.

I don’t really know how I stopped doing that. Or, what is probably more accurate, I don’t know how I stopped doing it blindly and believing I was doing all the right things.

I will always have scar tissue that spells my father’s name across my heart. It will never be something that no longer aches from time to time, like today.

I mourn that which never was: because our relationship, as I hoped for it to be so many times across all the hours and days and years, never existed that way.

You cannot truly love a person who only loves themselves, and only sees others as an extension of their needs, wants, desires, fears, and failures.

I did begin to learn to love myself.

I don’t want to make it sound like I have become bereft of all hope. In my relationships now, I still sometimes take all the pain in, including the pain that has not yet happened — because I am able to. What a terrible gift to have, really.

If you are a survivor of childhood abuse, I want you to know that it is okay not to repair the relationship with that person. You are not obligated to make yourself into the image of their idea of you. And you are not obligated to subject yourself to whatever recurring abuse you almost certainly will receive at their hands again, no matter how much stronger you are now.

So to my father, I dedicate this piece of writing, because he taught me why boundaries around my self, around my heart, around my children and my choices and my life, are not just a good idea: they are essential to my safety and to my ability to continue on as a person who does not relive her abuse every time her abuser decides to try out the relationship again.

Wrap yourself in your own love and trust: it is more than enough. You are worthy of love, real love that does not kill you a little at a time. Reach out to someone who loves you if you need help. Reach out to me. Call the National Domestic Abuse hotline, 1-800-799-7233.

This post originally published at

Rhiannon Kelley
Stargazer, medium, druid, student. Activist & rabble-rouser. Married with four kids. Really fucking sweary. Genderqueer & poly. They/them/theirs.

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