my step-dad is an abusive alcoholic

dear heather,

My step-dad is an alcoholic. He gets drunk a lot, and sometimes he goes off on me and my mom. What I mean is, he’ll come in and start yelling at my mom, calling her all kinds of horrible names, then when I go into my room and shut the door, he barges in and starts doing the same to me! Even though my mom denies it, I’ve seen him hit her, try to push her down the stairs and break things.She always tells me that we’re going to get out soon, but we never do. We came close once, but my mom turned around and we went back to him.

He always apologizes the next day and I foolishly accept it every time because I really want to believe that he is sorry. I can’t take it anymore! I’ve never generally hated anyone before, but I hate my step-dad. My mom knows how I feel, but she doesn’t listen. What should I do?

I’m so sorry that you are going through such a rough time. It must feel pretty horrible not only to see such violence inside your household, but to feel helpless to change it.Try not to judge yourself for accepting your step-dad’s apologies. According to Dr. Natalie Humphrey, a psychologist who specializes in child and adolescent issues, it’s quite common for teens or anyone who witnesses domestic violence to have conflicting feelings about the abuser and to want to believe that everything will turn out okay.

This is a very difficult situation because there are no easy answers. It’s likely that your mother is terrified to leave your step-dad. Statistically, the likelihood of an abuser escalating the violence multiplies 10 times when a victim is trying to leave the abuser. There may be other issues at play too. Your mother may feel guilty at the thought of leaving, may be financially dependent on your step-father or may feel that she would be socially isolated if she were to leave. Though you may clearly see why it is so dangerous for you and your mom to stay in the household, you can probably also understand how cloudy the situation may be for her.

There are some ways you can help your family…and yourself. In many cases, those who witness abuse in their homes are reluctant to report the abuser because they don’t want him or her to be penalized. However, in some instances interventions are necessary and putting the abuser in jail is not the only option.

You may want to consider telling your school psychologist, guidance counselor or social worker about the violence in your home. School officials are obligated to report cases of domestic violence to the local child protection agency, which can intervene and monitor the situation.

You and your mother may both benefit from a call to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE). Phone counselors can share tips for keeping you (and your mom) safe, tell you about support groups in your area and direct you to local agencies that can provide emergency assistance as well as long-term support. Ask for a list of temporary shelters available to victims and children of domestic violence who are transitioning out of the home. This is information you can have on hand in case your mother does make the decision to leave–whether her decision comes during an emergency or after a reasoned decision process. Share this information with her.

It may also help to have an emergency action plan. Keep a list of emergency names and phone numbers you can call in the event of a serious crisis, including the police if you or your mom feel that the situation may escalate. The call may be reported as anonymous.

My last suggestion is to try to take care of yourself too. According to Dr. Humphrey, an exposure to domestic violence can be quite harmful not only to the abused, but to children and teens who witness the abuse, often resulting lower grades at school, anxiety, depression and difficulties in their own relationships. A school counselor can usually offer short-term counseling and referrals to individual or family counselors. They also may suggest other local resources for you and your family.

take care,

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