Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

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Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby flowerbudh » Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:49 am

Hello friends,

I am seeking guidance in dealing with my relationship (or really, lack of a healthy one) with my father. I won't go too far into detail, but he is a man with very little virtue... abusive emotionally/physically/mentally. I am sure he will be reborn many, many, many times. You see, I have forgiven him, in a sense, and I do my best not to think thoughts like, "He ruined my childhood", "He raped me", "He will suffer" etc. and I have cut contact with him (although he drives me to school occasionally/comes to the house to see my brother), but still, fear contaminates my heart whenever I am near him and sadness wells up in my whole being. What can I do to heal and overcome these emotions? How is this abuse viewed karmically, if at all? Any and all other thoughts/comments welcome, please share personal experiences if you have them.

Boundless love to you.
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. - The Buddha
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby smcj » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:27 am

Does your father have a substance abuse problem?
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby Dan74 » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:31 am

flowerbudh wrote:Hello friends,

I am seeking guidance in dealing with my relationship (or really, lack of a healthy one) with my father. I won't go too far into detail, but he is a man with very little virtue... abusive emotionally/physically/mentally. I am sure he will be reborn many, many, many times. You see, I have forgiven him, in a sense, and I do my best not to think thoughts like, "He ruined my childhood", "He raped me", "He will suffer" etc. and I have cut contact with him (although he drives me to school occasionally/comes to the house to see my brother), but still, fear contaminates my heart whenever I am near him and sadness wells up in my whole being. What can I do to heal and overcome these emotions? How is this abuse viewed karmically, if at all? Any and all other thoughts/comments welcome, please share personal experiences if you have them.

Boundless love to you.


I've asked this question to a very wise nun once (on behalf of someone I care about) and her response (which I think came from experience) is that patience (with yourself and all the feelings that come up) is the key and having the appropriate support. The appropriate support may mean therapy at certain times and good reliable friends that accept you the way you are.

All the best!

_/|\_
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:37 am

Other people's Karma isn't our business...to quote the Dhammapada: "Focused on the flaws of others, one's own toxins flourish"..or something along those lines. This is a big thing, thinking to much about how other people have wronged us, or trying to view Karma as some kind of punishment is simply unhealthy, and whether or not we consider ourselves to be in the right...it can never help us do anything about those wrongs, it will just make us suffer more.

That said, we are all human and have the feelings and reactions we do, you don't need to feel guilty about that or run from it. There is a Lojong slogan that is something like "when practicing unconditional acceptance, start with yourself" With time, hopefully we can generate and sustain some compassion towards people who have wronged us...it ain't easy though!

One thing to think about (and this is from my own experience), one day your Dad will be dead, it will be better for you (and possibly for him?) if you can let some of this go by that time, difficult though that may be. Dharma practice, and probably some therapy will help. i'm sorry to hear about your heart-rending experiences, but I rejoice in the fact that you are brave enough to talk about them and face them.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby flowerbudh » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:54 am

smcj wrote:Does your father have a substance abuse problem?

Not that I'm aware of, although addiction runs in his family. He is a gambling addict himself.
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. - The Buddha
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby disjointed » Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:01 am

What can I do to heal and overcome these emotions?
Overcome their object. Your father appears inherently real and that's the object of your emotions. If you mentally take apart who he is you will find that he can't exist without various parts and various conditions. Being dependent on those things, he's like a puppet being drawn around by ideas, feelings, circumstances, karmas, etc. There isn't a father in that mess of parts, so there's no one there to blame. And that leads to the next thing, that this idea of a inherently real father is something your consciousnesses have made up because they were deluded. So you recognize that apparition you have in mind and replace it with the father that is dependent on all these parts, factors, and conditions. In this way there's no one to get angry with, it would be like getting angry with a dream, and at the same time you can deal with things conventionally.


How is this abuse viewed karmically, if at all? Any and all other thoughts/comments welcome, please share personal experiences if you have them.
Karmically you had it coming, he was set up. You're both victims of samsara where people go around delirious with thoughts of inherently existent things, labeling people friends or enemies and hurting both groups alike. Agonized with the preoccupation of self cherishing, hallucinating the value of things and experiences people go around like dogs licking up vomit.

I do think it was right to not associate with him.
Aim for wisdom realizing emptiness. Even a little bit of legitimate understanding of emptiness is miraculous.
Once you break through the appearance of yourself, it is pretty much game over for the afflictive emotions as long as you can re generate that view using the various reasonings.
Wisdom realizing emptiness is hard to understand, but it's priceless, so never give up and don't give up investigating it and refining your understanding until suffering has been totally and completely destroyed forever.
Until then it's useful to think of it like this, "my suffering doesn't benefit me or anyone else, so I will focus on things that do produce benefit".
If there is a radical inconsistency between your statements and the position you claim to hold,
you are a sock puppet.
Make as many accounts as you want; people can identify your deception with this test.
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby flowerbudh » Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:02 am

I really enjoyed reading your reply, Johnny. It made me let out a little sigh of relief. I think my post is pretty defiant in retrospect, hehe... I do want to let go of everything, especially this. While in the bath, I had a heart-feel thought... that my father is just as psychologically damaged as I am, if not more. His suffering is equal to my own. I have empathy for him, as I too have a lot to learn in this life. I'm going to do a metta meditation before I go to bed tonight. I think it will be helpful. :namaste:
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. - The Buddha
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:44 am

flowerbudh wrote:I really enjoyed reading your reply, Johnny. It made me let out a little sigh of relief. I think my post is pretty defiant in retrospect, hehe... I do want to let go of everything, especially this. While in the bath, I had a heart-feel thought... that my father is just as psychologically damaged as I am, if not more. His suffering is equal to my own. I have empathy for him, as I too have a lot to learn in this life. I'm going to do a metta meditation before I go to bed tonight. I think it will be helpful. :namaste:


That's probably a great idea, loving kindness meditations with people you have bad feelings for is really, gut -wrenchingly hard, but at least for me it's been vital in clearing out some of my baggage, even if it takes it a while and you have to sort of "fake it" at first, if the intention there is real the compassion eventually will be too.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby ClearblueSky » Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:41 am

It's wonderful you've discovered Buddhism through these difficulties, it can help in so many ways. Especially in helping you create a little "space" and not instantly get thrown into turmoil when the very difficult emotions regarding this arise.
That said, I really cannot urge you enough to get treatment from a legitimate qualified therapist, and the sooner the better. Abuse is such a complicated and terrible thing, and the truth is that's really the way to work it. No matter how wise people on the forum, or even your Buddhist teachers may be, a licensed PsyD is really the best person you can see. This is not me degrading Buddhism in any way, it's just that it's not a system designed specifically to deal with those very specific circumstances. Continuing your Buddhist practice will really supplement it on a larger level, and vice versa. Metta can help you feel good sometimes, but sometimes forcing compassion is not the best first step, and I say that as a serious practitioner. Familial abuse has a lot tied to it that unless processed properly can make things much tougher down the line. I don't mean to lecture, but as someone with a rough childhood myself, I really urge you from the bottom of my heart to look into (or continue if you already are) professional treatment, to help you move swiftly and happily on your path to enlightenment.
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby seeker242 » Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:10 pm

flowerbudh wrote:that my father is just as psychologically damaged as I am, if not more. His suffering is equal to my own.


I would propose that it is much more than your own since he has actually acted in such bad ways, which will produce even more suffering in the future. No one can escape the bad karma they have made. I have a friend who has the same kind of father who did the same things. When I first found out I was quite angry with him. Because of the suffering he caused to my friend. But now not anymore. He did this only because he himself was suffering. If he was not, he would not have done such things to begin with. This is a cause for compassion for him. Compassion can and does wipe out all that negativity. :smile:
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby flowerbudh » Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:53 pm

Clearbluesky, I am seeing a psychologist currently. I've learned a lot from him. :)
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. - The Buddha
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby ClearblueSky » Fri Oct 18, 2013 7:37 pm

Great. Some people look over the importance of it, so I just wanted to throw that out there.

For myself, it helps to remember that that person did the best they could, with the resources, tools and background they have. That's not to excuse his behavior at all. It's also not to say that he wasn't capable of making different decisions that wouldn't have hurt you. It's more just that we are all really, really mixed up in Samsara, and even when we intentionally hurt someone, it's because we are totally lost in our attempts of trying to make ourselves happy. You say your father is a gambling addict and has addiction in his family. That means he's got the "addict brain", which regardless of the addiction, functions in the same way. Addicts almost always hurt others in some way, because they are the perfect example of someone's attempts to feel good spinning totally out of control, which always leads into extreme selfishness, which leaves nothing but destruction in it's path. Also, someone who abuses family in such a severe way almost always was abused when they were younger, whether they are aware of it or not.

I had real serious issues with my father. Even though I'll never really like him as a person, and I know his bad actions were his choice, it helps me let go of my anger when I remember that he made those choices due to his background, and his totally misguided attempts at feeling happy and doing what he thought was "correct", even when it hurt me.

One of my favorite stories from Buddha's life is the man named Angulimala. He was what you could call a horrible person, who killed hundreds. You learn his early background though, and you can totally understand why. Even though it's obvious why he did it, he still made that choice, and not every person would have done such terrible things, even with that background. Angulimala was lucky (or karmically fortunate) enough to encounter the Buddha and change his ways. Unfortunately, not every person who does terrible things due to their background and misguided attempts at happiness, is fortunate enough to encounter something that changes their ways in the same lifetime.

I'd never suggest you need to forgive your father for the actions themselves he's done. But sometimes understanding the reasons why can help you develop a view that's beneficial for your own path. I think you're right separating yourself from him. The best thing to do is work on your own practice, and become better than that, despite what happened to you. Think of escaping the cycle of abuse as escaping a mini cycle of rebirth. Suffering and confusion in your father's life unfortunately lead to suffering in your own. Inevitably your compassion, awakening, and understanding will help your father and all others turn in that new direction, even if just from a karmic viewpoint.
Angulimala: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angulimala
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby TheSpirit » Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:41 pm

I work in a mental health field and everyday I read alot of these intakes and situations as part of my job. It makes me so sad. It sometimes make me so angry that someone can do such thing to another person and how it continue to affect the victims years and years down the road, infact for many it is their whole life.

I was talking to a wonderful wonderful therapist the other day that work with us. She always try to get her patients to forgive those that have done them wrong...not to say that what they did wasn't wrong...but by forgiving completely you are just doing yourself a favor and to finally being able to let go and continue to move on....Having that said, sometimes these experiences are so traumatizing that it still affect us subconsciously and that is alright but slowly we work on them one by one...like overcoming obstacles one by one and unwinding a tangled up string.

I guess I don't really know the point of my response. I guess sometimes we are all victims including your dad. That is not to say what he did was anywhere okay. It was wrong, beyond wrong and he should, in my opinion, held responsible for all the wrong things he had done. However we know that we are just a product of influences. And a lot of times...the cycle abuses happen because he was abused or something had happen. Having that said. It seems like you are breaking out of the cycle and doing great. I do wish you the best in everything and the recovering of your mind, heart, and spirit. :smile:
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Re: Abusive relationships from a Buddhist perspective

Postby wisdom » Fri Oct 18, 2013 11:10 pm

flowerbudh wrote:Hello friends,

I am seeking guidance in dealing with my relationship (or really, lack of a healthy one) with my father. I won't go too far into detail, but he is a man with very little virtue... abusive emotionally/physically/mentally. I am sure he will be reborn many, many, many times. You see, I have forgiven him, in a sense, and I do my best not to think thoughts like, "He ruined my childhood", "He raped me", "He will suffer" etc. and I have cut contact with him (although he drives me to school occasionally/comes to the house to see my brother), but still, fear contaminates my heart whenever I am near him and sadness wells up in my whole being. What can I do to heal and overcome these emotions? How is this abuse viewed karmically, if at all? Any and all other thoughts/comments welcome, please share personal experiences if you have them.

Boundless love to you.


To begin with you must make peace and space within yourself, which will require effort and time. Forgiveness, acceptance, and determination to make the best out of a horrible situation is in my opinion the best helpers your situation. How do you make the best out of it? What good can come of it? Pain can easily ripen into wisdom when we allow it to. As Buddhists if we manage to let go, we can make strides in our development. Then it becomes of immense benefit to other beings, especially those who suffer the same problems, because we can help and relate to them in ways that we couldnt before. Also, we cannot help but learn about ourselves and the world no matter what happens.

Once you have space and peace within yourself, part of the process may be involving him in your healing process if that's something you want to do. From the beginning you should accept that he might not want to have anything to do with it, he might be in denial, and he certainly has a number of issues of his own as well as a lot of emotional and mental pain of his own. Nobody chooses to harm others, especially those they love, unless they are already deluded and in pain. Recognizing that might help you move towards total forgiveness as well, but don't pressure yourself. Feel however you want to feel, no feeling is wrong in this situation.

Dont forget to be kind to yourself. Even if you don't blame yourself, forgive yourself for the ways in which this situation might have made you a more difficult person (if it has at all), don't be hard on yourself, beating yourself up over something you didn't ask for. You may not have had control then, but you have it now, so don't let someone elses abuse transform into self abuse!

Karmically there is no easy answer. The reality is that whatever happens to us in life, whether good or bad, karma exists primarily in our own mind. How we handle situations, how we deal with experiences, what happens in our minds... that is karma. Some Buddhists say that whatever happens to us in this life we "deserve" it from our past actions. This is not necessarily false, but in order to understand this view, its important to consider the perspective from which it is spoken. From this perspective, we have been incarnated for countless millions of lives. In those lives we have taken numerous shapes, sizes, sexes, and have taken incarnation as numerous kinds of creatures or spirits. According to the teaching on karma, basically, we have all done untold countless negative actions in our past countless lives. We have done good ones too of course, and both good and bad things arise in our life as a result of this. So we might have a situation where we are abused, but have a wonderful and committed best friend. Or maybe later in life we become wealthy. Or maybe we find true love. Who knows what might happen? So when Buddhists talk about people deserving what they get, its not because in THIS life they are a bad person and now are being punished for their actions, its because at some point in countless lives and rebirths we have done an action which is now manifesting as this event.

Yet it would be wrong for me if I got hit by a car and was paralyzed to then blame the event for my suffering! From the Buddhist perspective, I suffer due to how I see the event itself. We act based on whats in our mind, and we experience the reality that our mind creates. We see the world based on whats in our mind. How we treat others, what we think of them, is based on whats in our mind. Its easy enough to see just by seeing how people react differently to the same situation. How they react is based on whats in their mind, not on the external event itself and this fact is empowering. It means that nobody and no event can ever gain total control over us and our reality, and in fact there is nothing stopping us from attaining total freedom within ourselves... except for our own ignorance which we must clear away through meditation and study. Buddhism focuses on becoming aware of our mind and transforming it through the power of intentional thought and action coupled with presence and awareness in order to remove ignorance. Few people are aware of whats happening in their mind in any deep way. Many people are just dragged around by their minds by the noses, following every appearance and impulse that arises as real and never for a moment conscious or aware of how they are being led around by their own thought patterns and emotions. You are fortunate because although you are young, you already have an interest in this science of the mind. Since Buddhism can without a doubt lead to freedom from all suffering, its wonderful to have found it at such a young age.

The emotions themselves, Buddhism takes many approaches. For example "sitting with them" is a common practice. This means that you neither reject them as bad, nor do you focus on them and allow them to dominate your mind. When fear arises you just look at it, aware that its fear. You know its there, you know its cause, and you sit together with it. What is "It"? It is you, or at least a part of you. But its you in the same way that your foot is you. You don't have to identify with it in order for it to be yours. Your foot is your foot, but there is no need to attach to it or try to avoid it. You have a foot, but you are not a foot. You have fear, but you are not fear. If you lose your foot, you don't lose yourself. And gaining a foot, you don't gain yourself. Since self is neither lost nor gained through the presence or absence of your foot, you should consider emotions in the same way since they are no more real than your foot nor is their arising any different fundamentally from the arising of your foot. What you are transcends all temporal appearances. You just let them be. Emotions are neither you nor are they separate from you. They just are. So just let them be. When emotions are attached to, they produce the three poisons which stirs the negative karmic imprints in the mind and this in turn causes the poisons to strengthen, and so on and so forth (the cycle of samsara) which is why we seek to not attach to these appearances. Finally in Buddhism its taught that the Buddha nature is present at all times, which means its also present in moments of fear or discomfort.

You might also look into Shamatha meditation, or Calm Abiding. It is a wonderful practice and extremely beneficial for life in general, the sooner you learn the skill the better off you will be all around, all the time.

Keep being courageous!
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