The abusive father


Dear Artist,

Lately there has been a pileup of emails asking for ideas in dealing with abusive fathers, spouses, and other family members. Writers report stymied growth, inability to concentrate, trust and authority-figure issues, fear, depression, anger and other unpleasantries.

It seems this sort of thing rolls along in some families like a snowball. In talking to former victims, it also seems that forgiveness, together with the calculated act of leaving the abuser behind, can be a key to moving on. Frequently mentioned was the coming to terms, particularly in childhood, with the dual personas — the “bad” one as seen in the eye of the abuser, and the “beautiful” one they feel themselves to be. Interestingly, these transferred, beautiful people are often attracted to quiet, solitary work, the gentleness and nurture of nature, and the private joys of creativity. The “art persona” seems an appealing choice, perhaps because it’s more closely attuned to the beautiful inner being.

Abused folks often report trust issues. Distrust of one person migrates to distrust of many. These distrusting folks need to feel a greater calling, and art fills the bill. But there’s a catch. Art requires creative evolution, and an artist’s self-esteem often depends on external evidence — improvement of work, cash flow, etc. Perceived progress generates self-worth. Without progress, creators wither and die, and they know it. Those without trust may not want to risk progress. Locked learning and the flat-lining of growth are common results. These artists need to be shaken up and reborn. This can be done by solitary self-will or together with a trusted friend or mentor. There’s good news — many terrific artists rise and fly from the tangle of abuse.

Psychologists also talk about the “Stockholm Syndrome.” The name is based on a situation where thieves broke into a bank in Stockholm and held four people hostage for 131 days. The hostages came to like their captors and tried to defend them when they were finally set free from them. One hostage even accepted a proposal of marriage from one of the thugs. The Stockholm Syndrome suggests a belief in and sympathy for the abuser/controller. Abused people need to understand this condition and the co-dependency that can go with it.

Best regards,


PS: “The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still small voice within me.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Esoterica: Late at night, leaving a performance of the National Ballet in Kiev, Ukraine, we made our way through boisterous crowds of young people apparently waiting for buses or trains. Many of them were drinking beer from giant bottles. One couldn’t help but notice the collegiality of the scene. It was rough, yes, and full of individualists, but they seemed comfortable and at ease with one another. Something to do with the social fabric, I was thinking. Ukrainians dine together as families, struggle together to make ends meet and seem to know how to interact without passive or other aggression. Anyway, no need for water-cannons in this crowd.


Forgiving ‘Pop’
by Gavin Calf, Cape Town, South Africa


“Afternoon Bitters”
oil painting
by Gavin Calf

Of all the subjects you tackle, I never thought this one would come up! Not to burden you with too much, my alcoholic father lies in the indigenous forest on Table Mountain and his spirit is talking with Huckleberry Finn’s Pop. In fact I called my father, “Pop.” It’s true what you said: I love being alone with my canvases or dipping below the conversation at a restaurant while I sketch a face at the next table. My art is my haven of rest. My downside is my inherited psyche that galleries are out to abuse me so delays in replies or payment are often misconstrued. I consult with a therapist regularly who has helped me tremendously over a few years. After a long struggle things are coming right and I have forgiven Pop. He loved me in an odd sort of way as I did him.

(RG note) Thanks, Gavin. I’d like to thank the many, many readers who wrote. Remarkably, considering the stickiness of the subject, there were very few “anonymous” ones, but we always welcome those, too. We have published below a range of ideas and stories — by no means all. Please feel free to send further material to the live comments below. It seems valuable for people with experience in these sorts of problems to hear of others similarly beleaguered. Interestingly, whenever I write something in any way touchy, some folks always unsubscribe. This time it appeared to be only a half dozen or so abusive ones.

There are 2 comments for Forgiving ‘Pop’ by Gavin Calf

From: Anonymous — Nov 07, 2008

Hello Robert

I am astounded that some people choose to unsubscribe because you may have offended them with your thoughts. Even if you did write something I found offensive (which I think is unlikely), I would nevertheless maintain my subscription because of the ‘hundred’ other great letters you have written (and will continue to write).

It’s their loss …


Peter Eedy

Brisbane Australia

From: EJW — Nov 07, 2008


Solace from ugliness
by Sharon Voyles Belcher

A true artist can take something ugly and make it beautiful. But until today, it has never occurred to me that creating art might be a solace from the ugliness of my childhood. I have memories too painful to relate. In a life today, painful with the serious illnesses of a parent suffering from cancer and a too-busy, every-moment-filled agenda, I do find renewed strength and joy in my painting and find myself craving the solitude that embodies. I feel that creating art brings light and beauty to a world that can be dark and desperate, and I hope my paintings reflect that light and beauty in some small way.


An end to violence
by Anne O’Connor, Canada

I work as a social worker and it was a shock this morning to see the topic of your letter. To be truthful, art is my moment away from human suffering. Last year in an art history course, the teacher talked of the joyful playful approach to art that Paul Klee embodied. He then presented a slide of the line drawing called 4 nudes, mother and children waiting for father to come home. The mother’s hands protect her pubic area, the children’s hands protect their buttocks. Nothing prepared me for so clear a representation of violence in the family. I have found no other evidence in Paul Klee’s work that conveys the fear, anger and depression of this drawing. There are days that I wish that I could draw the picture that would put an end to violence.


The value of friends
by Helen Opie, Granville Ferry, NS, Canada


“Allison’s House”
oilstick and acrylic on paper
35 x 26 inches
by Helen Opie

My own experiences re art and abuse are two-fold. Perhaps they will help others. First, I keep in mind Socrates‘ dictum, “The best revenge is a life well lived.” I am NOT going to give the perpetrator any more power over me. I am evicting them from that comfortable rent-free place in my head – repeatedly. I have made the choice to avoid the Victim Role. It is hard work, but immediately upon recognizing I am slipping into the Victim Role and reminding myself that this is giving power to the abuser, enabling them to continue their abuse in absentia, I feel better. Then I set myself the task of finding some other useful, purposeful thing I can engage my thoughts and action in, even if it is only climbing out of bed and starting morning routine. In so doing, I have stood up for myself at this moment and won this day for myself.

Second, I have now learnt that whenever I face up to an event in my past and put it to rest, my art improves; I make a great leap forward, enough that friends comment on this leap. And I don’t think growth of this sort can happen without the support of kindly, loving friends who give gentle kicks in the rear when needed. God bless my friends!

There are 2 comments for The value of friends by Helen Opie

From: Lyn Lynch — Nov 07, 2008

Helen, As I age I become more reclusive as a hedge against perceived or real personal rejection. Just yesterday I reconnected with a friend after 20 some years. She and I were close before our respective lives sent us in different directions. Last night on the phone I told her of the abuse of my life, beginning at my birth with my parental units. She never knew. I never told anyone.  The shame of being the person I was accused of being was too great to acknowledge, let alone share.

I emailed her my portraits, which I paint for amusement. She loved them, commenting “you are GOOD at this” prompting me to say “but I couldn’t paint a tree, even for money”. There it is, Helen, that is what has kept me back from succeeding in life, whether it be in the art world, or the private sector. The “if only you knew who I really am, the person my parental units KNOW-syndrome”.

I am 60 years old, my friend will shortly be 80. Eighty!!  She is a lifelong member of Alcoholic Anonymous, and reminded me of  Socrates’ dictum, “The best revenge is a life well lived.” I am so happy to have found her. Friends, real friends, are indeed what is lacking in my life.

In the past 5 years I’ve begun to vocalize the horror of abusive from my marriage. I’ve been out of the marriage for 30 years, Helen, but I’ve never let go of it, and I now see why. In these last weeks have I unlocked the horror of being a child in my parents home. I was born into and raised in abuse, I knew no other way so of course I would accept the continuation of behavior from someone else. Acknowledging the parental abuse has given me a few mornings of getting out of bed without the sky falling, and I know that I will have many more.

From: Dee M. — Nov 11, 2008

Helen Opie – Many Blessings and Thank you for your inspiration this morning while I am in a transitional period of my life.

YOU’ve helped me make a change today :)

“The best revenge is a life well lived.” — thank you!

I am going to paint that on a board and hang it in the entryway of my new home – a dream of an 1850 Victorian where my daughter and I can really live and flourish – I’ve been waiting my whole life for this house. We are going to live well :)


Art is the silver lining
by Chuck Marshall, Mason, OH, USA


“God’s Gift”
original painting
by Chuck Marshall

Wow! This one hits home. I grew up fitting the symptoms in your letter and even still today.

I grew up in a family of seven kids, two boys and five girls. I was the oldest boy. My father was very abusive physically, and my mother was very abusive verbally. At times they switched roles. Needless to say there were many good times as well. It wasn’t all bad. I used to wander off just so I could be alone and not have to deal with things. Drawing became part of the escape. Like so many artists at that young age it grew into winning art competitions at school. After a while I noticed I got lots of attention for my artwork. It was just about the only thing I found my parents complimented me on. I enjoyed the new found attention. Now I had another reason for doing my art. Over the years I have used my art like a drug to escape reality and get attention. The funny thing is, my art has always saved me in bad times. I have had many jobs in my lifetime due to financial needs and everyone telling me to get a real job. I now tell people I am not an artist by job choice but it is just who I am. I have no choice anymore. Of course without explaining all of this they don’t understand.

I am a perfectionist when it comes to my art. It is like the proverbial carrot in front of the horse. The closer I try to get to what I am after, the farther away it gets. I have learned to embrace all of this and use it to my advantage. Since giving into it, my art has blossomed.

That is my silver lining from my past. I welcome it now.


Untold reasons for writing
by Linda Holloway


“Pink Dress”
by Linda Holloway

When people learn that I am a travel writer they immediately ask the question, “How did you get started in that field?” Then they proceed to glean information of how they too can travel and get paid for it. Travel writing from the “first person” is all about paying close attention to details. I often tell them the story about writing for my small town newspaper for free, and my husband is a professional photographer and his work helps to sell my articles. I can go on for hours about the technical aspects of the business, but I rarely tell them that when I was 8 my mother died of colon cancer and by the time I was 12, I had a step mother. I began writing my feelings down in a journal after Mother died and that is the way that I coped with reality. I read a quote years ago that made a lot of sense to me: “One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family.” (Pat Conroy)


Some things never change!
by Rose Moon, Sedona, Arizona, USA


“White Sugar”
coloured pencil
by Rose Moon

For many years I’ve had very little contact with my dad because of his abusive nature. At age 89 he called me to help him through a major surgery. I reluctantly agreed. Afterward I sent him a picture of a recent colored pencil piece. He told me he would put it out on the back fence and use it for target practice. He wanted to know why I just couldn’t paint something somebody would want to buy and hang on the wall. I would like to have responded as an adult, but the little girl inside surfaced and I slumped into depression. Some things never change! Needless to say I have not spoken to him since. I have learned an old lesson once again.

There is 1 comment for Some things never change! by Rose Moon

From: lyn lynch — Nov 07, 2008

Rose, as a child in 1957 a teacher gave the class an assignment of making a christmas gift for our parental units. Most children drew and painted a bell, or a tree, or a santa claus. I made a scene — a little chapel in the woods, a deer, a footbridge. The teacher was astounded, commenting “you have a talent. You need to be encouraged. Tell your parents I said you should study art”. I did tell them. They said nothing, no comment at all which is the same comment as your father addressing your art as “target practice”, yes? After the holiday break the teacher asked me if I had told my parents of her comment. I said “yes”. She said “what did they say?” I said “they said nothing”. She said “you have very bad parents.” That’s how outraged she was, while I, of course, knew the “bad” one was me.

My parents did not acknowledge the gift of my art plate, nor did they encourage me in anything at all. Nearly 50 years later, as I cleaned out my father’s house following his death, I found the art plate. They had saved it. I have it now and it is my talisman, so to speak. Visitors see it and ask if my grandchild painted it. I say “yes, isn’t it great? I am so proud of her.”


Art makes us
by John Mix, Madison, WI, USA


John Mix

Mythologically our crowd is cut from the same cloth. Haephestus was the only god on Mt. Olympus who worked. All others got someone else to do their bidding. Son of Zeus and Hera, he was rejected as an infant for some defect so he committed his life to making beauty with his hands. Most of us know the consequences to our well being of not making art for whatever reason. Wounds of various kinds, oddly enough, are a source of creating what’s next. In the words of Jean Houston, “The Divine enters through our wounds.” After we’ve spent ourselves in the standard responses to betrayal — revenge, isolation, self-betrayal, and cynicism — comes the option of forgiveness, the true engine of our evolution. The art we make along that entire journey is also making us.


Life choices in men
by Jill Unger, Windermere, BC, Canada


by Jill Unger

Have my choices in men only been different facets of my father’s love? I would have to say yes. Without these men in my life I appeared to have no center from which to trust life or secure my future. My happiness has depended on their approval, their thought of me. If I let them down, I became less of me, because ‘me’ was all about how they saw me, what relevance I’ve had ‘in’ their lives… not ‘on’ their lives, and there lies the difference. My life has been orchestrated by the Maestro of my choosing. Shouldn’t I be the Maestro of my own symphony? I’m sure I would be less timid. Less victimized (my own doing). To meet LIFE each morning when I wake up versus my PDA schedule which dictates my life. I never have to think about what “I” want to do because I fill up my life with things that ‘need’ to be done. Joy needs its own room and only I get to furnish that room with all the things that I find joyful.


Boundaries and edges
by Gregory Packard, Montrose, CO, USA


original painting
by Gregory Packard

The earth surrounded by atmosphere, continents surrounded by oceans, countries surrounded by borders, peoples surrounded by customs, and individuals surrounded by their own neurosis. Boundaries are found in nature and are a natural part of life. When they limit us they can be frustrating. When they limit somebody else from violating our personal space, or worse, boundaries can be liberating. Our differences often define our boundaries in an obvious and abrupt manner while our similarities examine the universal qualities of our being human. Easily accepting another’s boundaries while respecting your own is an art in life. It’s an art that has no specific recipe. It’s ‘edge-work’ in a painting. For every generalization there’s an exception. In relationships, boundaries can be viewed as endings or beginnings, a transition into a new opportunity. As edges do in paintings, boundaries weave their way through the winds of our experience. They are lost and found in sometimes logical and sometimes incredibly artistic paths. Some are soft, some hard, some very intense while others simply make the transition with gray tones. Handled with care it’s a poetic language that enables relationships to exist without conflict to nurture and support instead of antagonize and accuse, to be truthful and fair instead of deceitful and selfish. It’s the attitude of happiness that cares about others’ happiness too instead of the “we’re happy and that’s all that matters” attitude. As in painting, when edges are handled without sensitivity, the shapes and objects within stand alone like an awkward postage stamp pasted on rather than being intertwined with love, passion and respect for all the relationships brought forth: hue, value, saturation, intensity and drawing. Successful edge work doesn’t belie the truth; rather, it illuminates what’s important while letting rest what’s not.

Note on Nov 11 — I was not abused by my father or my mother. I wrote this months ago in my own journal and having experience with abuse of a different form found it very applicable. Gregory Packard

There are 2 comments for Boundaries and edges by Gregory Packard

From: Heidi Smith — Nov 08, 2008

Your thoughts and flowery words would be quite wonderful in a novel, but what does it really have to do with relationships – not to mention an abusive one.

From: Dee G — Nov 09, 2008

Gregory’s words have everything to do with the lived experience of an abused child who has grown to be an adult. I found his message inspiring and thought-provoking. Thanks to Robert for opening these doors of perception and insight.


Absentee dad
by Nancy Lennie, San Patricio, Mexico

My father was a great man, and many said so, but he was not there for us, he was solving medical problems all over the world. We lived with the idea that he was very valuable to others — but what about us, his kids? His life was devoted to others, not his children or wife — that left a big hole in the family always wanting and never getting. He left his wife and our mother most of the time while we were growing up. She idolized him and held up his picture to us to also worship, but the man was missing.

I find that when I finish a painting there is a depression and hole in my being that I feel I will never be able to fill again. It takes me a long while to let go of the painting and move on. Am I in the process of producing art or therapy?


Freedom of expression
by Odette Nicholson, Saskatoon, SK, Canada


“String series 08”
mixed media
by Odette Nicholson

I come from an abusive childhood, admit to trust issues, short fused in patience and strongly driven to be doing, doing, doing… which fuels the retooling of my art, where I reinvent ideas in my head and work creatively with physical surfaces. I will admit to shying away from actively seeking reward for my creative activity. I do not have what it takes to blow my own horn, though I do show my art to the public at regular intervals. I have never sought an agent or commercial engine and no longer seek grants because those things require preplanning what may or may not happen in the studio and I find that crippling. Self esteem is related to the process. I rationalize, someone pays you for something and control is relinquished. My production is not to be directed by monetary gain because in the studio my creative activity is the only true freedom of expression that I own absolutely. Everything else is couched in compromise.


Kicked out
by Belinda Morris, Perth, Australia

I’m 29, still single, studying Graphic Design full time (it’s my 2nd round as a student, the previous being as a Fine Art student at University), I recently lost my job, in July I had to move out of the place I was sharing and move into my dad’s. He’s single, has a good paying job, yet he’s unhappy and he makes sure I know it! I had to live with him for the first 18 years of my life, then my parents split up and a few years later divorced. At this time I was diagnosed with depression, which seemed to have originated from my childhood. For the past 9 years (it’s hard to believe where the time goes!) I’ve been taking anti-depressants, which has helped get this fuzzy brain of mine together. I’m a Christian which has helped heaps! The community, the love, the respect and the guidance I have received from Church and Christian friends has been invaluable, and their prayers and mine have resulted in times when things couldn’t be explained other than by divine intervention. And I’ve been doubly blessed with Christian creative and artistic friends (as well as creative friends who aren’t religious). I thank God for my creativity, for my imagination — the ability to visualize a better future than the present. But it still has been very hard! For my dad doesn’t see what I can see, neither does he understand my desire to be creative, instead he thinks that I’m being “a professional student,” that I should get a “real job” (he forgets his version of reality didn’t suit me — I’ve worked as a shop assistant, an accounts assistant and done data entry to earn my crust). Now that I have matured, I realize I want a career in the creative sector — hence the choice to study Graphic Design (I’m at the end of my second year). So at the moment I’m a bit dependent on my dad. But today when I got home from classes I found a note stuck to my door:

“Belinda, you have a week to remove your things and move out, by Friday 14 Nov 2008 (latest) this is not negotiable tell me where your things are to go and I shall arrange”

Hmmm very supportive… not! But I’m still ok, I have good friends, and the rest of my family will help me the best they can (my mum would do more but she lives 3-4 hours away). I have learnt to separate myself from my dad, avoiding him as much as I can, however being my dad he still hurts me when he says nasty stuff and acts mean. Being a parent is important, and ditching your kids coz it’s inconvenient is unacceptable. A parent is for life. Bless you for supporting and loving your kids, it is invaluable, and precious.

There is 1 comment for Kicked out by Belinda Morris

From: Anonymous — Nov 07, 2008

Your story touched me, Belinda. Best of luck to you!!


A survivor of clergy abuse
by Becky, Hermon, ME, USA

I am an adult survivor of clergy sexual abuse, emerging from this abusive relationship about 2 years ago. Most folks don’t realize that most clergy abuse — 3 out of 4 — these days, happens with adults… mostly in the Prot. sector and with women (as victims/survivors) because women can hold positions of power and thus often work closely with their perpetrators (mostly male).

My husband was also groomed by him so as to keep me close. At any rate, we emerged, he had his clergy orders stripped, and the Church was held accountable. I also saw it as an opportunity to more closely examine how I was so vulnerable in the first place, and how I put too much trust in that position of authority in our society vs. physicians or others that I work closely with (I am a nurse). It is amazing how one can practice the ‘cognitive dissonance’ that helps the ego protect what it wants to protect — i.e., that your ‘choice’ of having a pastor-friend really made you feel/look good and gave you what you needed (a spiritual friendship/teacher/mentor), only to later have something happen and now you can’t get out of it for fear of shame and guilt.

This whole phenomenon is highly incestuous, given the ‘familial nature’ of churches. One knows the pattern of abuse well: you cut out a part of your life; peace and security are restored, relationship is preserved, and shame is avoided. My perp. had multiple offenses. We knew of 2 of them, but amazingly dismissed them! Alas — Stockholm Syndrome. So… on it goes. His wife is just as complicit. They are both in their 70’s — he was retired when I came out and spoke truth to power. It happened in the late 90’s when he was still working.

Survivors must move past the shame and guilt. If you have a good spouse, you are uniquely blessed. Plus supportive community who can see the truth for what it is. And then, you as a survivor find that quiet space within you that is now authentic, and you are blessed by the awful event to have an opportunity to keep it authentic and use it as the Higher Source intends it to be used. Finding out what that might be is why the quiet, inner nature that you name must be given room to have presence in one’s life. If not, ego takes charge!!

I am happy to say I am thriving, finishing my Masters degree next month, and hopefully making a difference in this world by being more aware and awake than ever!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The abusive father



From: Deliriousgirl — Nov 03, 2008

Hi dear,

This is an absolutely wonderful little letter. I think it’s terrific that you are able to reach inside yourself and produce compassion, caring, and ultimately, hopefully a helping hand in healing to the legion of walking wounded here on the planet.

And I am a writer, photographer and I’ve found the processes of both of these crafts to be cathartic, even soothing at times.

KUDOS to you, m’dear! A thoughtful and meaningful post that I’m sure will touch multitudes.

From: Jim Larwill — Nov 03, 2008

Oh Bob, I couldn’t help myself;

I know I am just a poet and not a painter dealing with the images of the larger perspectives of life, universe, and everything; but still your last letters have been “hitting” home (as they say) and you are right about the “Arts” attracting stymied growth, inability to concentrate, trust and authority-figure issues, fear, depression, anger and other unpleasantries flowing in the mish-mash of the world that surrounds us. Looking at myself I would have to accuse my “self” of being the most guilty of all artist I have ever run across in that particular department, so here is the latest poem I have just finished, a flawed draft I was working on as I received your personalised email letter in my box .

As they call it. Box – that is. Personal issues and Art? God help us! How could I have stridden from the impending Global Apocalypse and rising Stalinist ideal of Transcendent Socialist Being with this kind of crap????? Okay, it has no pictures; but maybe one of your many subscribers could provide illustrations and I could use it to make a crappy little poetry booklet with… eh!

My Choice Perspective.

Phone an abuse help-line.

Tell them your kidney was beaten-in by your spouse.

Tell them you are confused and suicidal.

Tell them you don’t understand how you could have forgotten.

Tell them it came back when you started pissing blood in the toilet again.

Hear silence on other end of line.

Plead to be heard.

Ask if they are there.

Hear phone hang up.

Call back.

Ask if you were disconnected.

Hear them tell you, that you weren’t.

Start to speak in desperation again.

Speak of blood in water wanting comfort.

Hear deadly click once more.

Phone habitually not knowing what else to do in murder of night.

Try to understand who is on the other end of the line.

Realise it is a Third World woman who has been given a healing Job.

Realise your call for help is an abuse to Her.

Let gilt of your gender beat your kidney forever in again and again.

Say you are sorry.

Hear her self assertive click.

Know you are born with abusive penetrative genitals.

Die alone; your choice: casualty in wave of history/Herstory.

From: Faith — Nov 03, 2008

The problem is that crimes of violence are crimes and need to be dealt with as such! The fact that some victims even believe they “had it coming to them” does not lessen the severity of crimes. Working out the pain, humiliation and frustration in art is not going to stop the violence. Loyalty cannot be the answer to years of beating mishandling etc whether physical, mental or sexual. Even if it’s a relative, you, as a victim, must take action to protect yourself and the people around you. Violence inseminates violence.

Don’t pick up a paintbrush, go to the police! There has to be a better solution than protecting and – absurd though it seems – loving people who mistreat you. These people are not worth your love and loyalty. They are the scum of the earth.

From: Jim Larwill — Nov 03, 2008

Right on Faith!!!!

A bit harsh. Or not.

But right on just the same.

Crimes are crimes.

Stand by truth!

But just the same don’t give up on love, even if hate can be its tool if used by a loving heart.

From: Dee M. — Nov 04, 2008

In this subject, one can always tell the responses of the abused from the responses of the non-abused: the non-abused always remind us that abuse is a crime, and should be dealt with as such.

The reason some victims feel “they had it coming to them” is because the abuser beats down their self-esteem so far, they don’t even think they are worth the trouble of telling the police, thinking the police will side with the abuser.

“Stockholm Syndrome” is an interesting phenomena. It shows how abusers do get the empathy of their victims. In that example, we had a group of strangers.

Trouble is, this is happenning in families.

Reporting abuse when its a parent or a sibling who is violating you is VERY hard, also when its a spouse. We are taught to love our families, and we are taught that daddies love their daughters, and husbands love their wives.

So why would daddy verbally abuse me? Because I am not worthy of his love. So how do I make myself worthy? Do everything he asked me. Agree with everything he says, even if its not nice.

Abuse is about control.

A husband who is insecure will try to control his wife in the same way. The wife will keep remembering the dating days, and wedding day, and the honeymoon period of the marriage, and will keep hoping for those happy days to return, which is why she puts up with the abuse. As the abuse continues, her self-esteem and ability to fight back are reduced to almost nothing.

If she’s lucky, she will have a friend who will help point it out to her, she will resist at first, finding reasons to justify the abuse, usually blaming herself. If she’s very lucky, that friend will talk to her again and again and help her see what’s going on, bring her up off the floor and help her realize that its not her fault, give her some of her strength back, and get herself and her child out of the situation.

Been there, done that — with a father, and 2 verbally abusive husbands. It was when the latest one threatened my life, and the life of our daughter, when I flew to the other side of the country to get us away from him

From: Maureen Grantham — Nov 04, 2008

You are describing my marriage here. When my husband left me after 35 years my creativity soared and although I am in financial stress I am so much happier.

From: Catherine Stock — Nov 04, 2008

What a terrible topic this last letter covers; it reinforces how primal and important the creative process is, no matter what form it takes. One has to identify and isolate problems to properly counter them, and then move on to recovery. I am very moved by some of the responses. Please know that you are being heard and arousing concern, and keep moving forward.

From: Grace Cowling — Nov 04, 2008
From: BeenThere — Nov 04, 2008

Dear Bob,

What an insightful and compassionate letter – thank you. I am in the process of leaving a marriage to a man who started out as “perfect” and slowly isolated me from family and friends. Then the covert abuse began – really hard to recognize until you find yourself unable to make a decision even about what groceries to buy, and spending so much time trying to figure out what is going on that art is the last thing on your list as your energy is used up.

I will never again judge a woman who stays in an abusive relationship because it is so insidious that she most likely doesn’t even know what is happening to her until her self confidence is very low, making her doubt her own feelings. You really do keep waiting for Prince Charming to return but he won’t. Distance is the only thing that helps you get “yourself” back. I am excited to start painting again!

From: EJW — Nov 04, 2008

It seems here that the focal point is the negative events of one’s life with an abuser. We as a spiritual soul chose this person before we were born to raise us and to deal with the challenges of life in such negative circumstances. If we survived, it is because deep inside our psyche, we saw beauty, hope and faith that all would work out. We believed in ourselves as a worthy human being and began to separate our personality from the evils we encountered. Survival of abuse in a domestic situation as a child forces our brain to think hard. The world of art allowed us the freedom to create beauty and enlighten or lift our spirits. That is if you kept the thought within you that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Others I have known in this type of situation became reclusive and negative beyond hope. Don’t let that happen to you, look at the wonders in life, build yourself up, believe in your own worth and most of all take positive steps to become independent. Art is a human being’s right to escape from reality and create your own world. It is also therapeutic. It may not stop the abuse, but it is an internal journey that helps the person to grow stronger. Everyone deals with abuse in his or her own way, I have seen it many times. Learning to love yourself and forgiveness is vital. Learning to fight it and detach yourself from the abuser is necessary too. If I didn’t have art as my companion in my early years, I would be an empty shell of a person today.

From: Jim Larwill — Nov 04, 2008

Radiation Devil

In this waiting room no one sits next to you,

daily life is more important than invisible pain,

cancer of the heart has no happy ribbon days,

you are the infection others fear in themselves;

cannot comfort, but need to push away for fears

holding you for too long will steal happy times

from their own present need to succeed with joy.

Seed of trauma grows deeper the more you try to

radiate it out of your soul, planted by this act of

another, now the very act of speaking truth of your

past isolates you further from common experience,

truth an endless barrier to those you now would love.

Generals, powerless in a holocaust can be forgiven,

private citizens who die darkly without news footage

dance forever with a hidden devil, cannot change

perceptions of world outside of common experience;

locked in ballet of self blame for who you now are,

too often you live in innocent memory of who you

were before this cancer in your heart was growing.

To say you have been abused, is an abuse to those

you would speak it to, giving immediate excuse

and background explanation for every interaction

you will ever have with another, as this could only

be a cancer of heart you now choose to self-bloom,

as you empower lovers to not take responsibility,

they quickly fall prey to human nature – you now

unwittingly twist them into this chequered pattern.

To survive you once took yourself outside of yourself,

and now the self you have become can never return

to the self you left, and the happy memory of who

you once were haunts you like a worm in the heart.

You want me to tell you a happy story of healing

because you so badly need to know that when

seeds of devil cancer blow across your heart

no ground there will ever fall prey to holocausts

sprouting sick gardens of wild shadow flowers.

Knowing that our soft bodies are so vulnerable

we turn our souls into rocks of baron ground;

devils of environmental causes never addressed

when healing is a dark stone mutated, and alone.

And it is so easy to say a survivor is not a victim,

but if scars on a body forgiven, why not on a soul?

From: Bonny — Nov 04, 2008

I was lucky at 18 years old to be struck by my boyfriend of two years. The stroke rung an alarm and I flew, everyone thought I was crazy, even my parents. I was lucky – thinking back, now at 43, I recognize his controlling and abusive nature which I didn’t recognize at 18. He was brilliant, smart, popular, extraordinary. Girls, beware.

From: SWT — Nov 04, 2008

This letter struck a nerve and I can’t leave my name. I spent 30 years of my life with an Alcoholic, verbally abusive and controlling Husband. I stayed above water BECAUSE I always had my Art and could escape. I also had several Children who needed a strong Mother and I became that. Some good counseling helped me to move on and enjoy life. Ultimately to find somone who truly values ME and my gifts as an Artist. I must admit however, that some of the most interesting work I ever produced was when I was the unhappiest. I am surpassing that now, 20 years later, and

richness is returning to my paintings. Again !!! Your insightful newsletters touch us so personally. Thank you.

From: sholland — Nov 04, 2008

Wow, Robert, this one hits home. Dealing with these very issues, and I thank you for the input. It is heartening to know there are so many out there who know the “system” of this cycle, and who are buttressing those of us still in it.

I have kept your letter in my “keepers” file. SGH

From: Joyce — Nov 05, 2008

What the heck is “merged media” under Betty’s painting!! Could you go into that for me?

From: Brad Greek — Nov 05, 2008

It is amazing to me how it’s always the husband at fault of the abuse. Hmmm I turned to art as a child and stayed out of reach of reality for many reasons. Mostly abuse from other kids for being so little. As a young man in the Service I had to grow a back bone to defend myself. I found liquid courage in a bottle and became an alcoholic. I thought marriage was a great thing to do until the alcohol got in the way. Of course her bi-poler disorder didn’t help either. Yet we managed to have children and try as hard as we could to drive the largest wedge between us as we could. We were lucky though, all of our problems were blamed on my drinking. It was the cause for her verbal abuse, infidelities, seperations and the distruction of all my paintings every time. So finally I quit drinking, yet nothing changed. We are still together today and I’ve climbed into this empty shell of a man and paint like I’m on fire. And every time I’m not painting, I’m in reality with all the memories and bull that is around me. I’m emotionally dead inside, don’t put up with bull and yes I yell a lot. So my New Years Resolution this year is… recluse totally inside. I am an artist.

From: Joyce Goden — Nov 05, 2008

“seems that forgiveness, together with the calculated act of leaving the abuser behind, can be a key to moving on.” from Roberts above post.

I totally agree…you can forgive without reconciling….close the door and move on…dwelling in the negative past will only make it worse. Use it to make you strong. Try to be happy, and don’t look back.

My husband of 25 years and I say this as a joke.

“If we didn’t like abuse we woulden’t be artists”


From: kato — Nov 05, 2008

Gallery relationships can be very abusive. Artists are vulnerable to an abusive relationship – what is more needy than an artist seeking validation with their art? And a lot of gallery owners know this & use it. I just left one of these relationships when they finally slipped the mask & pushed it too far & I saw it clearly. I will never fall for that crap again. I had no abusive relationships in my life apart from my gallery – i didn’t realise what it was but it made me uncomfortable, till i realised & it became untenable. I just realised – why would i pay someone for that?

From: Betty — Nov 05, 2008


My Gradmother was an emotionally abusive woman which made my father emotionless person and myself distrustfull and angry. It’s all abuse, but man usually don’t like to talk about it.

From: Russ Hogger — Nov 05, 2008

So far these posts are about adult abusing adult. Such as relationships in bad marriges. No mention of abusive fathers and their children. When I was growing up in the 1950’s UK, there was a saying “spare the rod and spoil the child”. In my case my father used the rod excessively. As a child I became scared stiff of my father. In later years I got to know my father a little bit better. First of all he had mellowed. His anger was gone and when we met I could sense his feeling of remorse. The funny thing is I never hated my father for the way he treated me.

From: Anonymous — Nov 05, 2008

When one grows up knowing only criticism, what is interesting is that the criticized child grows up to be a self criticizer and self abusing adult. It’s painful and difficult to get past. I’m sure your letter “spoke” to many. Thank you.

From: Linda Saccoccio — Nov 05, 2008

I have had my share of childhood abuse, both physical and psychological. It does take its toll with a fallout that has to be addressed throughout life. It also provides for the impetus to go within and be creative. It can even make us stronger, but also fearful. One warning I would like to point out is that once the abuse is over we must pay attention to how we treat and view ourselves as well as who we choose to be with. Being mistreated in youth can lead one to carrying a harsh and aggressive voice within that continues the banter of judgment, criticism and violence. We can weaken its grip by paying attention to these thoughts and feelings as they arise. This begins to loosen the grip they have over us. Paying attention also to who we are attracted to because they feel familiar (feel familial). If there is abuse in one’s past sometimes one may not realize one is repeating a pattern by letting it back in through new relationships even on a subtle level. It may take time to realize that our threshold for pain is too high, and we can allow gentler, more loving people into our lives instead of aggressive ones. This may actually feel uncomfortable at first, because it requires trust and vulnerability. Even if we learn much from challenging situations and get much creative fodder from them, we don’t have to choose them. We can also grow through experiences with gentle, insightful and nurturing people too! Change takes time and the willingness to see the truth, and adjust to new way of relating.

From: Jeanne Long — Nov 05, 2008

Thank you for your very insightful letter about the motivations that drive those of us raised in abusive settings. I watched myself attempt to find comfort in a string of abusive partners after being raised by abusive parents. Reaching an impasse in the relationship area, I turned to art and continued the attempt to feel a sense of worth, this time through creating something beautiful. Turns out I brought all of my neuroses into a new setting. I was “up” when things were selling, and “down” when things weren’t, just as I had been externally controlled when approved or disapproved by parents and partners. I studied many spiritual/psychological teachers and found several (Krishnamurti, Vernon Howard, Barry Long) to help point the way out of the morass I was floundering in. I am currently attempting to determine whether I like painting at all for itself, or am using it still as a path to the redemption of a pseudo-self. Feeling quite alone in this struggle, manifesting itself in the art field, I am pleased to read in your letter that there are many of us embroiled in this issue. Often I’ve found in seeing the commonality of a condition I am embracing, I am freer to release it, due to seeing through its uniqueness. When something seems special it is harder to separate from. When something is just another common problem, it loses some of its hypnotic control on my psyche.

From: Steve Brown — Nov 05, 2008

You know I experienced an abusive childhood and when I read the lives of many artists I find that artist have been raised every way that people can be raised some good and some bad. The only thing that I see that seems to separate successful artists and unsuccessful ones is the ability to keep on working no matter what happens. A dedication to the commitment that is art. Of course I also think that a life time of making art makes an Artist successful. Has nothing to do with the money or even the lack of money. Just keep going.

From: Lynda Thompson — Nov 05, 2008

Thank you for your letter on the abusive father. While I have dealt with this in many modes, the regret of not having a “normal” father comes around and around. I haven’t seen mine in 21 years but there still remains parts of the “Stockholm Syndrome” as you have connected. I knew about this syndrome but hadn’t related it to abusive fathers. I understand that this is part of what I have struggled with.

From: Bev Sobkowich — Nov 05, 2008

It is painful to read the letter about abuse. To live two lives, one for the public and one that is private and painful is difficult for the people who are on the receiving end of abuse. It is important to take a good look at yourself and realize what a great person you are. Build your self esteem and carefully stop letting someone else steer your ship. No one has the right to run your life except you. Remove yourself from dangerous confrontations and when you start to believe that you are a worthy person, life will start to be what you wish it could be. Your letter struck a nerve with many people I am sure. Everyone has either observed or been a recipient of abuse and we have to do what we can to help those who are in this situation.

May your day begin with a grin and your day be fine. When you go to sleep at night, smile, and soon you will be in charge of yourself and everything will be all right.

From: Charles Peck — Nov 05, 2008

Well this time you managed to pierce the veil and I will attempt to write a thank you message without the muck of memory getting splattered all around. In truth I see no reason for this as one’s particular experience has no value in the meta-world of all.

Simply said I left home gladly the day I graduated high school and learned from life what I could, always finding drawing (and later painting when things got a little better) and reading my only place that wasn’t filled with folks trying to step on my spirit.

Nothing has changed much in that regard but I’ve managed to tame the outside world enough now that I’m 61 that it avoids screwing with me these days and part of that is smiling at folks as a means to disarm their egregious intentions and managing a circle of friends whose warmth & humanity serves as an extension of mine. For those not susceptible to the smile there is a whole trunk load of tricks that just get progressively worse until they either choose to play nice or go away in one fashion or another.

I always suggest children learn chess early for it is a reliable training ground for strategy and seeing your opponents future options so they can be defused ahead of time.

Drawing, Painting, & Literature are not bad places to find strength and succor … they have the advantage of being reliable as well. As the decades tick by the shiny things take on less importance and my favorite 3 take on more as well as the balance that comes from making sense of homosapien behavior.

From: Barbara Greb — Nov 05, 2008

What an amazing letter. Switch it, in my case, to abusive children, and likely switch it again for all your reader friends – I have read and re-read it and will read it again.

Thank you, my friend.

From: Marilyn Pease — Nov 05, 2008

Life is surely the sum of its parts. If you dwell so fervently on self indulgence that you envelope yourself in the blame for all of your own unhappiness or your inability to assist in procuring the happiness of those you love, your art will suffer and you will become the cyst that cannot be removed. As a malignant cyst, you can indulge in blame, guilt, self sacrifice and downright cowardice. Art was only the crutch, however brief, that gave you the excuse to no do “it”. How droll. Get off your ass. Stop dreaming that you are some fantastic twit above the rest of us. Paint. Draw. Love. Cut the bullshit. Create something worthwhile.

From: Rick Rotante — Nov 06, 2008

I don’t know why Robert chooses to use “father” as the guideline for this letter. I’m sure there are stories of abusive parents on both sides and I can’t say I know personally about this kind of abuse. Be that as it may I’d like to add that with all the obvious abuses that can be seen and documented that I sympathize with and don’t condone, there is also the element of discipline that sometimes is misconstrued as abuse. My father used discipline that was outright physical when needed and I guess you can say I suffer from Stockholm syndrome. But I beg to differ that not all-physical discipline is abusive. In retrospect, I rebelled against authority. I grew up in an era of national rebellion among most of the youth in America and my father, against his will, had to use whatever discipline necessary to try can control me and his family. He being an immigrant I also made it harder for him for the old ways he was raised with didn’t work here on me. I can truly say I made him use physical discipline.

I was exposed to an abuse that isn’t easily recognizable until it’s set deep within and shows as an adult. It’s a lack of understanding and compassion for who you are and what you do. I guess many can say that their parents didn’t understand them. “Art. That’s nice but settle down and get a real job”

Was said to me throughout my formative years. If it wasn’t verbalized it showed on their faces. I know now that it was only their lack of understanding of art in general and wistfulness for only the best for me.

But, this left me with self-doubt and an uncertainty about myself that was only overcome by stubbornness. What offset this was my drive to not be like them and be whatever it was I was supposed to be whatever that was.

What makes us unique is our ability to “overcome”. Life in general isn’t easy and no one promised a free ride. Every profession I’ve entered into involves others critiquing my ability or my work. Abuse in whatever form may be part of the game but we overcome, sometime we forgive, but we overcome.

From: Denise Scaglione — Nov 06, 2008

I have been fortunate to grow up with a happy loving family. I am an artist and a high school art teacher. I love to teach. I left teaching when my son was born and I slowly became familiar with the reality of autism but even more so with domestic violence and how a father’s non-acceptance could turn to fear for my life and my son.

I had to work hard, and still do to try to be in forgiveness since the father had been treated badly too. He had no real model of how to be kind and loving. To keep myself I had to let go of what I wanted to hang on to.

We had to leave the day I found marks on our son and I never looked back. It was something I still have a hard time believing has happened. The next year was terrifying. We are getting our lives back. My house is for sale and I hope it sells soon even if that means losing my studio. It was never really mine–it was used as a form of abuse. I was allowed to build it but then never could use it. You are right about trust. The lack of it is what leads me to more tears than loneliness.

The ONE thing that I got back is my ability to see beauty. Unfortunately, I have little tolerance for the uglyness of hate and cruelty.

From: anonymous female — Nov 07, 2008

Bad memories of childhood still haunt … I’ve tried to bury most of the bad ones … but some will never go away. A father who would come home staggering drunk every night and be verbally abusive … it was after putting me in a headlock on Christmas Eve when I was 15 that my mother finally stood up to him and kicked him out the house … they apparently stayed together for me! Many, many years have gone by … I don’t see my father … we live in different countries, but I realized when I saw him the first time in 13 years and reminiscing through an old photo album, he had no recollection of anything … didn’t recognize himself, me, the house we’d lived in … nothing. All these years I had been the one to carry around this imaginary bucket of troubles and past hurts … he was oblivious to it all … well, I emptied that imaginary bucket and it was liberating to do so … it doesn’t take away the memories, but it allows you to get on with life … my art is my solice, my muse, my friend … one of the things I’m really good at … and something my father praised me for when I saw him after all those years. Sad.

From: Jim Larwill — Nov 07, 2008

Maybe bringing up abuse in November wasn’t such a good idea????

Said the mad poet who lives in the woods.

Anyway one last thought…. I hope…

Passing ships in life-long night don’t need to share scares, they just blow their horns, wave lights in dark shadows, avoid touching in an endless ocean.

Sharing deepest wounds with someone who says or shows they have no responsibility and commitment towards you, empowers huge potential for emotional abuse because deep wounds exposed to one with hidden wounds generates psychological fear in the viewer. This further engenders a need to protect their hidden wound. Denial and dismissal of the exposed wound is the first response. This lack of acknowledgment is painful for the one with the wound and makes them feel isolated and incurable. Anger usually shows up when the exposed wound does not go away. Instead of healing, denial of emotions is indirectly demanded, but this just opens the exposed wound farther instead of healing it… the cycle heightens… emotions begin to lash back and forth eventually getting out of psychological control… the need to deny existence of a hidden wound is a control pattern… control is often re-established through an outburst violence of some kind… emotional shock in the one on the receiving end of the violence basically recreates the psychological pattern of the abuser on the abused, shock numbs the exposed wound for a little while. Since the exposed wound is exposed, it is easy to keep all the relationship focus on that wound. This then can become a very effective tool used to further hide the hidden wound. A painful paradox is then created for the parties involved. The one with the hidden wound is constantly reminded of its existence by the exposed wound; however, the exposed wound can be used as a very effective external projections site drawing all attention away from the hidden wound. “Must get away from that exposed wound, it scares me, because it reminds me of my hidden wound: Must hang on to that exposed wound, it gives me comfort, because I can use it to avoid exposing my hidden wound.” Having an exposed wound gives the person with it a natural empathy for one with a hidden wound. But nothing more dangerous than trying to expose a hidden wound in one who doesn’t want it exposed. Sexual intimacy combined with emotional and physical violence breaks down psychological barriers between the co-dependents. The one with the exposed wound is soon carrying emotional weight of both wounds; the one with the hidden wound is free as long as the destructive pattern continues. One exposes a wound in hopes of healing it in the open air, but the air is also filled with the diseases of others. Opening a wound takes courage, but it also leaves one naked and vulnerable and surrenders a lot of personal control. In addition a high level of empathy does lead to the Stockholm syndrome where understanding of the hidden pain of the abuser can be used to avoid ones own pain for a little while, denial only works when flowing both ways. If personal control is surrendered, quickly control in ones life can be immediately replaced by the control of another. Empathetic awareness of the needs of the one controlling, felt as one’s own feelings needs to be cut off, or walked away from. One with an open emotional wound is desperate for comfort and shared healing experience with a trusted Other; however, too often floating in a sea of wounds they find one or many of the millions of hidden wounds floating like destructive mines below the surface. One doesn’t need to feel guilty in leaving a hidden mine waiting to go off. They are magnetic. Will quickly attract to the next passing ship.

On a hopeful note: a mine sweeper can cut the chains that keep mines hidden below the surface. Once floating above the water the work of defusing can begin.

From: Andrea Colby — Nov 07, 2008
From: Pam — Nov 07, 2008

I really appreciate this letter Robert. Seems that you’ve gotten into my head and heart once again. I know that there are many people out there that have had and are having the same experience(s) as me but there are times when my heart forgets this and the intellectual knowing goes out the window.

I have been doing a lot of “inner work” over the past 8 years, off and on that is. Part of that inner work is what brought me to painting in the first place. I knew that I would enjoy it. I’ve always had a secret longing for it and have always been the “creative type”. But I didn’t expect it to completely consume me in the way that it has. Unfortunately I also know about the need for external evidence as well…in all ways that you’ve listed.

Your letter has not solved my issues but I just had to let you know that it has put some of the puzzle pieces together for me. Thank you for this.

From: Don Bryant — Nov 09, 2008

This important subject has a place in this “world’s greatest blog”, since art is a mental/spiritual product.

From: sbb — Nov 11, 2008

hi mr. greek:

if you’ll pardon the informal nature of this, my immediate reaction upon reading your message was “holy sh*t, brad!”

I don’t know… I have no idea why two people would stay together when the relationship is as flawed as the one you describe, and I say this with the kind of empathy for your situation that can only come from one who grew up with an alcoholic father whom I adored but who was either emotionally absent or raving and scaring us all to bits, and as one who has seen her share of marital difficulties, to the extent they almost ended in divorce. but the reason we’re still married has to do with a herculean effort on both our parts to keep it together. again, please forgive me if I’m poking around in deep wounds and making them worse – and by all means, tell me to mind my own business – but it sounds as though you’ve both instead resigned yourselves to a life of unhappiness. that I don’t get. especially as your new year’s resolution is to “turtle.” are you truly convinced this is the only way you’ll survive?

From: MaryElizabeth McIlvane — Nov 18, 2008
From: Jane Toliver — Nov 23, 2008

I was surprised to find the nature of this subject in Painter’s Keys, and the outpouring of pain that has come from it. Except for the fleeting satisfaction of “sharing” it only serves to bring the thoughts back to an unhappy memory loop that keeps one depressed in the present and tied to a tragic past. This does not serve the process of healing and labeling one’s self as a “victim” in one’s own mind is debilitating, rather than strengthening. I have scrolled down to this place and seen the most beautiful art work that I may never achieve the likes of, and I have to wonder if the tragic past has not been the cause or the trigger for such talent that seeks to produce Beauty as a antidote for that pain. Could that past pain be the price to pay, the trigger that opened the door to the inner drive to create something beautiful out of chaos? Blessings can come from the most unusual places. Victimization is not a badge to wear, and an angry sorrowful past is no place to dwell… if you want to heal. I am a therapist, and in order for one to heal, one must accept the past one cannot change, glean what positive elements one can from it, and thereby be set free …and victorious. This subject is better served in a different forum, and not in Painter’s Keys.





Cherry blossoms

merged media
by Betty Pehme, Sunshine coast, BC, Canada


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes M. Frances Stilwell of Corvallis, OR, USA who wrote, “In reference the Stockholm Syndrome, there is a school of thought that says “forgiveness” isn’t necessary. I think perhaps it comes after all the anger is gone and the survivor has managed to prove him/herself valuable to him/herself in spite of the abuse.”

And also Fred Asbury who wrote, “Abuse from family members in charge of your life can be subtle and divisive. This scenario has been played out many times in books and films. The recently released independent film, Bee Seasonrelates to this. I highly recommend it for greater understanding of this problem.”

And also Leslie Beauregard of West Newbury, MA, USA who wrote, “A person can spend his/her life looking backwards and never see the good stuff ahead. So I choose to look forward. Besides, looking back hurts your neck and your soul. Thanks for this letter. It just made me feel grateful for one more thing today.”




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