Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

When Your Father Is A Bully

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 13, 2015


What happens when your father is a bully? Does this mean that you will be bullied on the playground? Or, does this mean you live a life fearful of humiliation? Or, does this mean that fear dominates your existence such that your imagination is killed? These are the questions I ask myself as I think about Sue, thirty-three who is timid and fragmented in her thinking. Her problem solving skills are limited. She constantly tells me that she has few choices in her life, but looking from the outside it seems she has more opportunities than most people will ever have. The father-bully is a particular kind of child abuse which, on the one hand is subtle, in that there is no evidence to anyone, other than her mother, that this abuse is taking place. On the other hand, the father-bully makes it clear that Sue has no mind of her own, and she must do what father-bully demands of her. As a result, Sue, not only feels inhibited, she has no idea what she feels inhibited from doing, because she has never nurtured her mind to see what ideas pop in. It is sad, but there is hope that Sue can come to understand this obstacle to her growth and then get past it.

4 Responses to “When Your Father Is A Bully”

  1. essemdee said

    Thanks for your insights into the effects of the father-bully. My father was a bully, even though he could also be funny and loving. We called him “the ogre” because of his terrible temper. When I was about 8 or 9, he gave me a calendar with a large photo of a horse for each month and a scrapbook and paste so that I could make a book of the photos. I was so paralyzed with anxiety that I couldn’t do anything, a good example of the “imagination being killed,” as you described it. Although I eventually ended up as an academic with a successful career, I never knew whether that was what I wanted — or what I wanted from life at all. Like Sue’s, my choices must seem enviable to others, but living with the feelings you describe have often been a torment for me. The father-bully is a special monster because he makes us fear what we need and love.

    • Hi Essemdee,
      Thank you for chiming in. I really like the way you say “the father-bully is a special monster because he makes us fear what we need and love.” That is so moving. SV

  2. Shelly said

    I can’t even imagine how scary it must have been for people like Sue and Essemdee to have grown up in a house where the father bullied them. That must have made life seem so frightening! The world itself is a difficult place and the schoolyard is often the place where one first faces bullying: it seems that Sue and Essemdee faced worse bullies at home. How can your work with Sue overcome what she experienced at home?

    • Yes, the father bully is an example of the hidden trauma of childhood.
      The first step with Sue is to help her understand where her fears come from, and from there, she can learn that her mind is a fertile place of good ideas and with time, she can learn to trust herself. As you know, it is a long and arduous journey, which is never completed, but each step moves the individual forward in his development. Thanks.

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