Do you have a difficult father? Is your father-son relationship challenging, and perhaps even abusive? Would you like to learn how to handle this situation so that you can reconcile issues with your self-esteem and live the life you deserve?

This week’s episode is brought to us by a young viewer who wrote in asking about how to deal with a difficult or abusive father. This is, of course, a tough issue to approach because our upbringing literally shapes who we are, and it can take a huge toll on our confidence and self-image.

No matter how confident you are in yourself, constant negative reinforcement is going to wear away your ability to remain strong and positive.

Whether your father is hypercritical, abusive in some way, or holds super high expectations, there’s no getting around the daily onslaught of his attacks unscathed. So, how do we move toward a healthier balance without sacrificing our dignity or putting ourselves in harm’s way?

Well, in most cases, the best and easiest solution is ultimately to escape the abusive relationship by getting out of that environment.

Now, I am very aware that, for many of you, this simply won’t be possible. For those of you who cannot leave because you don’t feel like you’ve developed the confidence to do so, then stick with these courses, and continue to work on your personal development—over and over again, I’ve found that as a client’s self-esteem grows, his sense of outrage at the injustices around him grows as well, and he finally feels justified in taking bold actions.

But, what about those of you who are financially dependent upon your father, or who can’t leave for other logistical reasons?

If you are stuck in any toxic environment, your best option is to minimize contact.

Can’t get out from under your father’s boot? Find some reason not to be around him: go to school early; do your homework at school or at a friend’s house; join an afterschool activity; play weekend club sports; make plans with friends—just find things to occupy your time and be somewhere else.

In the meantime, there is something very important that needs to be said: his behavior is not about you.

Let me say that again: even though he is picking on you or riding your ass or pointing out your “flaws,” these attacks have nothing to do with your value or goodness.

It’s basic psychology—bullies are simply damaged people who are taking their damage out on others.

These individuals are acting with aggression because of something they lack within themselves.

When they verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse you, they are sending a subliminal message that you are worthless, unlovable, no-good, and weak—generally all of the things they’re feeling about themselves.

This is psychological poison that you have to suck out and expunge immediately.

So, obviously, minimizing contact or eliminating it altogether is step one . . . but what about healing the wounds that are already there? This can be accomplished in several ways.

Some of the quickest and most basic options are journaling, mantras, and meditation: write and rewrite reminders of your self-worth several times per day. You can even include compassionate logistical thoughts, if that helps you move forward:

–          You are a good person—he picks on you because of his own sense of worthlessness.

–          You have so much value in this world—he doesn’t see it because of his own abusive upbringing.

–          You are worthy and powerful—he only inflicts pain to deal with his own pain.

In addition to the work you do to strengthen your internal life, you can also be working to heal the issue from the outside, in. A great way to do this is to develop and foster healthier attachments with other adults.

Maybe you can work to strengthen your relationship with your mother, a coach, a teacher, or a mentor. Seek out loving role models who accept you for who you are and who see the good in you.

Another great course of action is to build healthy relationships with your peers—and this includes evaluating your current relationships.

More often than not, when we are feeling badly about ourselves and getting negative attention at home, we seek out peer groups that are suboptimal.

When you are made to feel like you are not good enough to deserve greatness, you pigeon-hole yourself into a category of “bully,” or “loser,” or “misfit.” Now, I will be the first to assert that all marginalized groups are NOT suboptimal—you do not need to be captain of the football team to be a model youth.

What I am saying is that the trend bends toward pulling yourself down to a level that feels like what you “deserve,” when your potential is far greater.

This is why a quick evaluation is extremely beneficial: do you and your friends support each other? Are invested in one another and involved in each other’s lives? Do you talk authentically about what’s going on and feel comfortable expressing yourselves vulnerably without mockery or emotional attacks?

For high school students, this might sound ridiculous, and I get that most adolescents are just trying to survive the jungle. But you should also be aware that if your friendships include mockery, emotional abuse, and extremely shallow levels of support, then you are probably exacerbating the wounds of your home-based challenges.

Even if it’s not the norm in your circle of friends, the more you can foster supportive, open, loving friendships, the happier and healthier you (and your friends) will be.

Now, what I’ve covered here might not sound like a lot—and I wish I could just go on and on about this subject—but it’s a great place to start. You would not believe how much a little space from the abuse and a little MORE connection to supportive relationships can change your life.

The other thing that is vital to understand is that this is not all there is to life.

Those of you who are 17 or 18 and have lived your entire lives in an abusive relationship are probably so dejected at this point that you might be asking yourselves, “Is this life? Is this all there is?”

And the answer is, “NO.”

Whether it feels like it or not, you’re just at the beginning.

Right now, this might be all that you know, and it may seem like you’ve been alive forever, but the reality is that you have NOT.

It is basically impossible for me to express how little you’ve lived at this point in a way that won’t sound condescending, but I can assure you that life is going to unfold in mysterious and magical ways for you . . . especially if you keep focusing on your continued growth and development.

Watching these episodes and keeping up with this supportive community is just one way of accomplishing that. There are countless resources out there geared toward personal development, and if you keep at it, you will look back on this time in a year or five years or ten years and see a completely different reality.

One day, you may even look back and see the value in this toxic relationship.

Each hardship we endure makes us stronger, more resilient, more resourceful, and (hopefully) more compassionate—they are part of what makes us who we are.

If we can begin to recognize the worst events in our lives as those that have shaped us into the amazingly beautiful and unique individuals that we are, then ultimately, we will emerge as the happiest, healthiest, most prosperous versions of ourselves.

Please share your experiences, challenges, and successes with this issue in the comments below. What challenges do you face from your father figure? How has that relationship affected your life? What connections have helped you to thrives and move past these abuses? Whether you’ve got a common story to share or just words of encouragement, this should be one failsafe place that we can all come to receive the love and support we all deserve.

Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are, to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.