Transforming the Parent-Child Relationship: Unspoken Words And Traumatic Outcomes

A family issue that often fails to be recognized is the transformation of the parent-child relationship that occurs when the child reaches adulthood.

In this week’s writing, this transition lies at the heart of violence in one family.

Dear Visible Man,

I am a middle aged African-American man residing in the Puget Sound area.  I am involved in local government and contribute prominently to my church and community activities.

Recently, in a dispute between my spouse and myself, my daughter, who was home from college during the recent holidays, stood up and got in my face. I reacted by physically pushing her away.  Before I realized what was happening, we were tussling on the floor with me on top of her.

With my wife yelling at us to stop, I caught myself.  I quickly got up and disengaged from the dispute.  The incident lasted a matter of seconds.  I have since apologized to my daughter for my actions.

We haven’t spoken about the incident.  Things between my daughter and I continue to go on as if nothing ever happened.  However, my wife is very uncomfortable about what happened and how I handled my anger.

I don’t view myself as being an angry person.  I do not want to be stereotyped as the “angry black man.”  The incident was unfortunate, and I acted the way I did because I was provoked.  I regret that the incident happened, but now it is over and it’s now time to move on.  What are your thoughts about this?

Provoked & Regretful, WA

Dear Provoked & Regretful,

Are you really seeking my thoughts on this matter?  In doing so this raises a concern that you may seek to limit what happened to the “intellectual or thinking area” of your consciousness, at the expense of your emotions and feelings.  I encourage you to focus your energies on the latter.

As a psychotherapist who seeks empowerment of the self as an outcome of therapeutic work, I want to focus on two areas of significance here:

  • Your relationship with your family, and
  • Your relationship with the psychological self that exists within you.

In this response to your letter, I hope that we can bring your thoughts and feelings together and have them work collectively.

The Transformation of the Parent-Child Relationship

Previously, as your child moved into adolescence, it may have been a mutual expectation that the child is never involved in disagreements between you and your wife.

However, understanding that your daughter is now an adult, you must want to consider the following:

  • What was your daughter observing when she intervened?
  • From those observations, what are the possible concerns that your behavior may have raised?
  • Was there anything in your tone of voice or mannerism that gave the perception that a threat or danger was possible?


  • It would be unreasonable to assume that your daughter would ignore her feelings or observations based on respect for your wife. (i.e. that’s my mother!)
  • Address the behaviors that have raised the concerns. Take a “time out,” allowing calmness to prevail.
  • Extend the gift of appreciation (i.e. thank you) to your daughter for alerting you to her observations of the behaviors in which she has concern.
  • Recommendation: Acknowledge that she is an adult and as such, is entitled to address her concerns.

The Physical Altercation

In previous years as a child or adolescent, it would have been disrespectful for your daughter to “get in your face.”

However understanding that your daughter is now an adult, consider the following questions:

  • What was occurring within you emotionally while your daughter was “in your face?”
  • Did you feel disrespected by your daughter? If so did this lead to feelings of shame and humiliation?
  • What nonverbal messages were you and your daughter communicating to each other during the physical altercation?

As you ponder these questions, please consider the following perceptions and recommendations:

  • The physical altercation was a loud, action packed, nonverbal statement affirming the transformation of the parent-child relationship.
  • It now becomes a situation in which two adults are resorting to physical confrontation to respond to difference of “opinions and observations.”
  • Recommendation: Extend the gift of an apology. Acknowledge and accept responsibility for your actions.
  • Recommendation: Acknowledge that she is an adult and as such, she is entitled to express herself without fear or concern of physical altercations.

Unresolved Anger

You are concerned that as a result of the incident, you are being viewed as an “angry person.”

This statement of concern is coming from your wife, a woman who has known you for many years.  With this in mind, consider the following:

  • What actions or incidents have occurred that would suggest that I have unresolved anger?
  • Understanding the changes that are occurring in my life, is it reasonable to expect that unresolved anger may be a issue?
  • Does having unresolved anger suggest that I am a “bad or negative person”?

As you ponder these questions, please consider the following perceptions and recommendations:

  • It is possible that the interaction of intervention by your daughter triggered a reaction within you.
  • The unwillingness to explore any such feelings of unresolved anger may be an unwillingness to explore whatever painful feelings lie within you.
  • Recommendation: Acknowledge that you may have some unresolved anger. Be aware. Become an advocate for change within yourself.
  • Recommendation: Have the willingness to explore the feelings that led to the incident as well as the behavior and actions on your part.


Provoked & Regretful,

I understand that you may have felt provoked by your daughter’s actions and that you have since  apologized for what has occurred. However, it may be that in seeking to “move on,” you have failed to understand the significance of the incident and the potential harm that it may cause in your family, especially in your relationship with your daughter.

Specifically, by involving yourself in a physical altercation with your daughter you engaged in an act of “domestic violence.”   In doing this, you have violated the trust between father and daughter.  In a day and age where violence against women is rising, you must want to consider:

  • What behavior are you modeling for your daughter regarding appropriate interactions between men and women?
  • What fears or concerns will your daughter develop when establishing meaningful relationships with men?
  • If your daughter cannot depend upon you as a mentor, model or beacon of appropriate behavior then what is she to do?

I assume that this is the first time you have you have engaged in such behavior with your daughter (or any person).  Clearly the incident was traumatic.  If you believe that she has forgotten about the incident just because she’s not speaking about it, you are misleading yourself. It may be that discussion may not be possible at this time. That’s fine. However, the emotional wounds suffered must eventually be validated and addressed.   The psychological self will seek to hold on and remember what the mind struggles to forget.

Rather than avoid or minimize the situation, assume that a large open emotional wound has resulted.  Look for ways to assist your daughter, the family and yourself to heal those wounds.

The gift of the apology although meaningful is simply not enough. It is essential that you devise alternative strategies that may assist you in resolving conflict.  What will you do in the future, as there may be situations in which similar situations could develop?

One such strategy could be the utilization of the Five R’s of Relief.  This would include the following components:

  • Respite –Remove yourself temporarily from the developing situation. As you are taking a “time out,” take a series of deep breaths, clearing your emotional and mental capacities.
  • Reaction– It is important for you to fully own your reaction, because it is solely yours and yours alone, and it is your responsibility to come to terms with it.
  • Reflection-“Process” the developing situation. Allow your intellect and your feelings to work collectively to assess the situation and your role in it.
  • Response-This is what you share with the external world—in this case, your daughter. Initiate the conversation with balance and calmness.
  • Reevaluation-After all is said and done, take the time to learn from the experience. At the end of this exercise, the goal is, as always, the empowerment of the psychological self.

Finally, to address the concern regarding being seemed by society as an “angry black man,” there will always be those who will seek to judge based on unsubstantiated beliefs.  To focus on society at large in disproving stereotypes is like pushing a boulder up a mountain.

Rather than waste precious energy on that, I urge you to redirect your focus to the things that you can control, like changing the way you handle your emotions, and empowering the self.

Allow your journey of self-discovery to be your focus.  Walk the new path.  You may find that you are not alone.  Empower the self.

A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

The Visible Man

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