Q&A with Geoff: How Do I Help My Son Cope with His Dad's Rejection?Apr 26, 2023
My teenage son suffers from anxiety and depression. He has autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. He’s struggled with violent meltdowns since he was very young.
He tells himself he is worthless and other negative self-talk, daily.
One of his biggest obstacles is knowing his father doesn’t love him. His father is a narcissist and no longer shows any pretense to the fact that he doesn’t care. His neglect and abuse of me have had a huge impact on him as well. He’s cried many tears over this, and I’ve cried with him.
He sees his worth in connection to the lack of his father’s care and love and craves the attention that he will never get from him.
He sees a therapist and the two of us have discussions often. It’s difficult for me to see him go through this and I feel helpless. What can I do?
It’s hard when you have a vulnerable child struggling to navigate a situation that would overwhelm even the most resourced person. He’s fortunate to have you as an advocate and protector. Yet, as you know, he can’t escape his own work of dealing with his father’s personal rejection. Let’s help you help him.
It’s important to set boundaries with your son’s father, especially if he continues to be neglectful or abusive. Protecting your son from further harm and providing a stable and loving environment can make a significant difference in his mental health and well-being.
Consider involving legal and protective resources, if needed, and surround yourself and your son with a supportive community of friends, family and other trusted individuals. If these supports aren’t in place, then trying to help him cope while there is active abuse and neglect will only leave you both feeling more overwhelmed and exhausted.
It’s also important to make sure you keep your own nervous system regulated so you can stay present and supportive of your son when he feels dysregulated by his own emotions. Even though his dad is actively abandoning him, your steady presence can reassure him on multiple levels that he’s safe and secure.
Of course, you can’t replace the loss of his father, but your steadiness can give him a stable platform on which to build deeper resilience.
Watching him react to the same type of treatment you endured can challenge you even on your strongest days. Make sure you’re seeking the personal support you need so you can stay centered in the face of your own fears and worries for his wellbeing. Please don’t minimize the positive influence you have on his life.
It’s easy to fixate on what he doesn’t have and miss the beauty and strength of your love and devotion.
Your co-regulation of his distress is important, but since you can’t always be there with him, continue providing resources to help him heal from the trauma of abandonment. As he grows and develops, he’ll increase his own capacity and resilience with the proper support.
While you can’t turn his attention from the ever-present reality of his father’s absence, you can continue working with him to know how to regulate those big physical and emotional sensations that can overwhelm him from time to time.
Spiritual support, cognitive therapy, somatic/bilateral trauma therapy, mindfulness and self-advocacy are all important components of helping him gain his footing. The consistent presence of stable helpers can make a world of difference when dealing with attachment injuries.
He might have limitations in his ability to self-regulate and comprehend the truth of this situation. Thankfully, he can continue to count on what is right in front of him as you advocate and support him. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of so much unfairness and pain and look beyond what you’re doing to help him.
Stay steady and present as you continue to observe, ask good questions and notice his changing needs. I hope you can see how much of a difference you’re making for him.
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