When Childhood Emotional Abuse Makes You Fear Men as an Adult

Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

When my father yells, I try to stand my ground — but my quicksand sucks me into the dark unknown, while he remains tall on his high horse.

The years of hurt, the fear of the bigger man with the stronger words takes over. How, after all these years, does he still hold so much power?

I’m an adult now. I should be free from the chains of the fear and hurt that he shackled me to as a child… right?

When he yells, it feels like nothing has changed. As a child, I hid in my room with my headphones on — drowning out my dad’s loud anger and my sister’s tears. As an adult, not much as changed. I still hide in my room with my headphones on to blast out any anger sound waves, but now I can’t hold back any longer, and use the music in my ears to ignore my own tears.

Yet, my headphones can protect me from the sounds of his words and from the sounds of my own tears hitting my cheek — but not from the stories in my mind. Memories continue to flood my mind, one droplet at a time.

When he yells, I remember my favorite toys being dunked into the trashcan, like a basketball game sponsored by a father’s rage. I remember games being thrown away, even though I wasn’t yet done with my turn.

I remember things being thrown across the room, left to wonder if his fist would be thrown next.

Would he throw me away next? Or has he always just been content letting his toxic words burn away at my soul?

When he yells, I fear old age or a freak accident taking my mom first. In my mind, he was always going to be the first to die. Not because of a morbid wish or desire created by years of pain and hurt, but because of reality. At 50 he was promised only five more years to live, but 10 years later — he’s still angry. He’s still yelling. I fear a new shackle being attached to my ankle if mom goes first, a shackle of obligation to take care of him as his health continues to fail.

I don’t think I could do it. I don’t have that kind of strength, or a strong enough heart.

When he yells, I wonder why my mother stayed with him. Marriages are sacred, and I’m not one to encourage divorce… but sometimes I wonder if I’m angry with her for not leaving. After all, it’s OK to divorce a man when verbal and emotional abuse is taking place — even in the Bible. Even if he is a church leader.

What quality does this man poses that was worth her daughter’s emotional and mental health?

I’ve always wondered.

Is this what marriage is supposed to look like? How a man is supposed to treat his family? I wouldn’t know otherwise, but I’ve heard this isn’t normal.

When he yells, my perspective of men is stained with an unwanted bias I can’t seem to wash out of my mind. Are they all this scary? Are they all this angry? Do all children fear their fathers, and all women fear their husbands? Is that what the world is meant to look like?

That doesn’t feel right.

That can’t be true.

Now grown, I find myself swearing up and down I won’t marry a man like my dad. He has some good traits I wouldn’t mind — he is a hard worker with an amazing work ethic. I never went hungry. He has a tasty secret cookie recipe that would make your mouth water for more, after just one bite. He gave good, kind gifts.

…But is that enough? Is it enough if I never felt safe? Is it enough if I can’t trust what happens within the walls I call home?

When he yells, I can’t help but wonder if he ever wanted me — or if I’m just a burden that “happened.” Was my arrival part of his anger?

I’m now dating a kind, loving man. He’s slowly helping me see men unfiltered, like a magical stain remover. Yet, sometimes it’s hard to see why any man would want me if I’ve never really been wanted, possibly even loved, by my own father. What does this kind man see in me that my father can’t?

When he yells, I wonder about God’s love. People say we should fear God — is this the same kind of fear I have for my father, the father I never felt safe with? The father I couldn’t and still can’t trust? The one who says I’m not good enough, that my dreams aren’t good enough? The one who threw my childhood passions in the trashcan, and watched as I tried to dig them out?

What does God’s love look like, if this is how my earthly father showed his love?

I know God loves me. I believe in Him. But I’m tired of fearing men. I’m tired of fear being the main descriptor I hold in my head for men who don’t deserve my fear.

I don’t want to fear God, or the man I love.

When my father yells, I wonder why no one ever stood up for me. Why didn’t anyone ask questions? Why didn’t anyone offer help, or see that something wasn’t right? Did they question their judgment, or feel it wasn’t their place? Would mom have made different decisions in the past had someone spoken up — had they asked her the hard questions?

People had to know. Like the neighbors, who watched me dive into my own dumpster to salvage my own toys, my sister’s favorite items, and my mom’s. Or the person on the other end of the phone, who I talked to as the smell of rotten food threatened to infuse itself onto my toy’s physical character — like a scented stain matching the ever-growing stain on my heart.

Why didn’t anyone turn on the hazard lights, and offer me a safer route to adulthood? A safer route through life?

For years I wondered if this was considered emotional and verbal abuse. But no one was brave enough to help me call it by its name until last year, the year of 26.

When he yells, I hide my internal bruises well.

…Is that why no one spoke up?

Getty Images photo via Archv

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