My relationship with my dad has been rocky the past 9+ years. After divorcing my mom when I was 16, (I am 25 now) his passive-aggressive narcissist behavior has become more prevalent.

For example, he will appear kind and caring while friends of his are around, then if he is upset at something (List below of history) he will text the offender and tell that person (most often, it is me, my mother or my younger sister) what they did wrong, and how he was hurt.

What I have offended him about:

  • A Facebook post (TL;DR I discussed the topic of gas-lighting, he accused me of gas-lighting him, and I posted randomly a quote educating people about gas-lighting not tagging him or commenting about it that pointed to him in any way)
  • Not being able to go to his birthday/father's day party (because my car was in the shop.

EDIT: I was able to go with a different car, after a LOT of guilt-tripping and manipulative statements which the conversation could have been done WITHOUT easily.)

  • Not visiting his mother as often as he would like (complicated family drama attached to this visit)

  • Not visiting him as often as he would like (which is never satisfied)

  • Not following his advice (despite me finding something better)

  • Assuming I see my mom more often than him (Both true and not true- my mom lives closer, plus I have a closer relationship with her, plus my sister and little brother want me to come over to mom's house rather than dad's. Still, I don't talk with my mom as much since marrying, and both of us are fine with that.)

    My dad isn't fine with not talking as often, but still expects me to initiate the conversation.

There are many, many things I can think of, and am trying to let go of. These topics seem to come up more often than others.

My issue here is that if this were a stranger or an acquaintance, I'd stop interacting with them.

However, this is my dad. Some of the things he says do make sense (in parenting, he loves and cares about me, and has valid worries), but his approach is very manipulative and causes more harm than good.

I have a lot of resentment towards him for being mean and manipulative to many of his family, both on my mom's and his side of the family. I am a married woman that is living away from family- my father lives around 30 minutes from me, far enough away that I cannot keep going to him every day (I see him around 2 to 5 times a month), and I work all day every day.

I have gone to counseling for 8+ years for trying to figure out what can be done. I have had civil conversations with him, telling him how I feel, and he still turns it back to himself, telling me i'm not listening to his feelings enough. It goes back and forth without a good resolution.

My question:

How do I tell him to stop immediately when he starts guilt-tripping and manipulating me, without causing him to over-react and start firing away at me?

Please note that I have gone to counseling and I have talked with him after the situation, but I have yet to stop him in his tracks when he starts guilt-tripping me more than only once or twice out of many conversations. He has not apologized or acknowledge fully his actions towards me.

One statement I have used when he started demeaning me about how I needed to fix my feet, and do what he does, just because he knew better:

"I respectfully disagree. We can discuss this later, let's do (whatever planned activity) now."

What happened after was that he backed off a little, said something along the lines of

"Okay, I can send you web links later"

I responded with something like a nod, "yes", "okay", or a "yeah" and it helped that I just went back to getting ready to rock climb (which was the planned activity), just putting my shoes on, getting my chalk, etc.

I do not intend to demean him, or cause him to completely clam up. I wish to simply make him think twice and steer away from saying invalidating and demeaning statements about me and to me.

I converse with him 40% of the time over text and around 60% of the time in person. I do not call him (profoundly deaf, can't hear over phone at all). I usually am around him with my sister and others, but sometimes I find myself alone with him, in the car, at a restaurant, etc. where it's not logical or safe to just bolt.

  • Just to be clear...when you talk to him after the situation, does he agree that he was acting out of line by guilt tripping you? How do these talks after the fact usually go?
    – scohe001
    Jul 11, 2018 at 18:09
  • 1
    He completely denies it, and turns it around on me. Once, I brought up gaslighting, in an article "how parents accidentally gaslight their kids" and he basically accused me of gaslighting him, which is far from what I was doing. My husband had to tell me that my dad was messing with my head when he did that, because he made me doubt myself, and start looking at my own actions, when I had confidence that I was doing my best to hear him out and not gaslight.
    – ElizB
    Jul 11, 2018 at 18:13

5 Answers 5


WOW! Do our dads have planning sessions together? Did they go to the same school of how to mess up their off spring? My parents also went through something similar and the way you describe his gaslighting, diminish, belittling, ignoring, and all around confusing disconnection from the understanding that other people have feelings that are not his to dictate could be verses from my personal songbook. So here goes.

Disclaimer: So, I'm going give you some really hard yet effective possibilities I developed with a combination of many teenage and adult years on dealing with a father like this and experiences from 1)extensive counseling 2)support groups 3)trial and error 4)having to just deal with the unavoidable facts of the man he is.

The advice not to react is good advice. The advice to come at the situation from in the reasonable and calm direction that explains things yet is a shut down is also excellent. I second that heartily.

However, what if you're dealing with someone who hears you explain your whys and your mandate and just flat out will not internalize it? You lay out your point, you've been clear and calm and reasonable but he isn't internalizing it enough to maintain a respectful behavior when it comes to your boundaries or limits or feelings. It sounds like that might be what's happening to you.

If so, then whether the realize what they're doing or not? Our fathers are trying to get us to react in the form of submission to their judgement. They are RIGHT about this! "Listen I'm right that you should fix your feet. I have the solution, and you would see that if you would just look at these web links. You have to understand that I am the victim here! If you would just do those things, I could behave differently." But you can't do that because you're your own person with agency and self-will and respect and your own opinions on things. It can be very easy for things get heated because in my experience because I love him and want him to love me back, to understand me in return, to stop doing things that hurt me not because I won but because he cares about my feelings. When that doesn't happen, it can feel very intense, especially since the seemingly adult method has failed. When that happens, I know I can start feeling so intensely that it's hard to think. So here are some reactions that have been helpful for me in case

Before I start: Accept that you cannot control his behavior.

I'm not talking about him gaslighting you or any of the other larger problems(although you can't control that either). I'm talking about the fact that you cannot control his behavior at all. I mean in any way. This includes how he reacts to anything you say or do. This is the hardest thing about what you're dealing with and is the most important one. This is going to take the longer term work but I put this first because while acceptance may still be a long why out, KNOWING THIS when you try the other things can help soften the sting if or when they do not work.

Option 1 - Just Say No. But JUST say "No."

So, Nancy Reagan was wrong about drugs but the saying is absolutely right for this. "No." is a complete sentence. It does not require that you elaborate. You do not need to go into the JADE(Justify, Argue, Defend, Exlpain) of it all. Just say no. Nothing more, nothing else. There is nothing else to pull from that. Anything he chooses to extrapolate is his alone. See that first essential point.

Option 2 - "I've got this."

This was the most effective one with my dad. Whatever it is, your feet, your posture, with my father it was how much I weigh, one of the most effective comebacks I have ever discovered is "(Optional: Thanks)(Optional: I think) I've got it/I've got it under control/I've got it handled." It doesn't matter whether that's true or not, this statement is me saying that the conversation on X Topic is over. It communicates "This is resolved. I have this. I got it. I need nothing more, from you or anyone else" without putting anything positive or negative on him. He can choose to interpret that as him taking your advice or or ignoring him but you got this. It's handled.

Option 3: The Nonverbal Noncommittal

Non-word responses are your friend when silence fails you. "Oh." "Ah." "Hm." Anything like that. Do not attach these to anything out loud. There's nothing attached to those but what the listener, your dad, wants to hear. This tends to make them happy and that submission/win they want but you know, and I know that an "Oh." you say outloud to your dad is actually short for "Oh, please stop." or an "Oh my god, why "Oh you are so awful right now." An "Ah" is just an "Ah, well that was was pointless." "Ah, this is a thing that's happening now."

Option 4: Noping Out Without Going Anywhere

This is the less, um, gentle version of the method you have that's working now, the one that doesn't put pressure but redirects the conversation ala the link referral. When you are in a less hospitable conversation, because you seem to be looking for the next step up from this. For that, you take the squish out of your statement and let him know, that if he's not done, you're done. Full stop. - "Okay dad. I'm done talking about this now. Let's move on." - "Dad I don't want continue this conversation right now. Please stop." - "Okay. I hear what you're saying but I'm done talking about this topic for now. [insert conversation pivot here]." In this version, you don't put feeling words in your statement. Don't talk about wanting things or needing him to do things because of how it makes you feel. This is not about getting him to behave because he empathizes or cares about you. You are setting a boundary. He can respect it or not. If not, the next step is: - We can move on from this or we'll have to stop talking.

Option 5: Lie.

No one ever gives this advice but sometimes lying, especially small lies, are a Break Glass In Case of Emergency option. I hate this solution. That's because this is a terrible solution that feels terrible to do. We're raised to honest, genuine, in the words of Sky Masterston in Guys and Dolls, upright downright forthright squares. But here's the truth: sometimes lying can fairly effectively end things and get you out cleanly. Your dad sees what he wants to see. He has a reality that is all his own. To paraphrase a saying we have in my family "Dad lives in Dadland." and because of that, sometimes the only way out is to eject out of the conversation so hopefully the other things will work but if not, bullshit can act as a parachute. Here's some examples of what I mean when I say lie - "Awesome, send me those links when you get home but lets do this now." - "Yeah, fixing my feet sounds great but lets talk about it another time." - "Maybe I have been spending more time with you than mom. I'll work on that.[and if you're already together] Like right now! So what are we going to do next?" - "Sorry I didn't take your advice dad. Next time." This is a toxic, god awful route to take. I don't recommend it if at all avoidable. But you asked for things that could cut a fight off at the knees? Him winning will end it. He doesnt need to know that you're going to go out and NOT DO ANY OF THOSE THINGS. What this route is for is holding the fort while you get counseling and work on detachment and acceptance and do the longterm work so that him doing these things doesn't bother you.

The long term is where your real solution lies. There are cognitive and emotion regulation skillsets that you can learn to become teflon while still not becoming cold because that's your real solution. Hope these help while you get there.


Sounds like a familiar situation! I have had my share of abusive people in my life from classmates to home issues, and with lovers. I understand how frustrating it is when all you want to do is just scream STOP which of course leads to them projecting onto you with issues of anger, and being unruly/impossible to talk to.

It wasn't until I started seeing a therapist that I learned to better handle these types of situations. By reacting out of frustration, which it's hard not to lash out, you just make it worse or further reinforce the thoughts they have about why they need to treat you the way they do.


One of the first bits of advice I got was to stop reacting to the things I don't like. Sounds simple and easy in theory, not so much in practice. But by not reacting to manipulation, not lashing out at things they know push your buttons, you take away their power to upset you, you take back control of your emotions and actions. If you stop reacting to the manipulation and only respond to the positive, you are stating to them "I will not respond to being treated badly". This makes them try to find new ways to reach out, and by responding when they do it in the behavior you desire, they will likely realize that's the only way they will be able to approach you. Maybe they don't change their approach but instead say, you know, I realized that the way I have been talking to you and treating you has not been good so I will make it up to you by...


Another thing you can try doing is sitting down and having a civil discussion about this using "I feel" statements. These are great for discussing how YOU feel without turning it on them.

Hey Dad, I feel really frustrated when my life choices are challenged. It would mean the world to me if I had people supporting my choices and not put me down for decisions I decide with my partner.

Notice the above statement is all about you and how you feel. Not:

Hey Dad, It frustrates me that you always get mad if I don't follow your advice. Why can't you be supportive of my choices?

See how very confrontational that is? It puts almost anyone immediately into the defensive mode.

These "I feel" statements are great non-confrontational ways that you can use for virtually any situation when you want to have a serious talk about something bothering you without starting world war 3.


At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do on your end. Your Dad also has to be willing to accept your feelings and have a civil conversation about it as well. Which if he doesn't, may lead to harder choices down the road that you may need to make.

9 years sounds like a fairly large gap from when your parents were divorced, It is possible that he wants to make sure you don't end up like your mom (forcing you to do his advice), and it's also likely he is lonely especially if he doesn't have a new partner (wanting you to visit him and your grandma more frequently). So It is important to hear him out too and why I said in comments that sometimes taking a step back can really help when you get the full spectrum of details. Try asking him why he feels you need to only follow his advice (in a civil non-confrontational way), try asking him why he wants you to visit more (maybe he can visit you more often or set up a half way mutual night out).

Of course none of it will change his behavior over night if at all, but if you can at least come to an understanding with eachother, you might be able to repair some of the relationship and have the peace you want.


So, you've tried...

  • Confronting him to come to a mutual understanding of what's wrong and solve the issue. But he doesn't admit that he's done anything wrong or apologize.

  • Putting up with his behavior and hoping it'll get better. But it clearly hasn't and things are getting out of control.

Given the above, I'd suggest you stop trying to deal with this together with him. Assume the worst--that he will not see reason on this--and let's work from there.

So what can you do?

Take control before the confrontation starts

When he starts arguing that you're doing something wrong and you argue back, you're giving him the power in the situation. There's an old saying from Mark Twain:

Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

If you argue with a fool, you'll be dragged down to their level. A perfect example is the conversation on "gaslighting" you mentioned in the comments. If you take these arguments seriously he'll make you question yourself with these accusations to keep you in the argument.

It sounds like the one time you successfully prevented this was by shutting him down before the argument started, but how can you do that when he's not on "best behavior" with other people around?

Enforce your stance

Find a time when he's calm and tell him that some of the conversations you have with him upset you. It sounds like you care dearly for him if you're willing to put up with all of this and still try to have him in your life, so tell him that! But also warn him that the next time an accusation/argument/conversation starts that makes you feel this way, you will end it immediately. And that if he tries to continue, you'll leave.

This could look something like:

Hey dad, I had a lot of fun hanging out with you like at rock climbing the other day. But sometimes we have conversations that really upset me. I want you to be a part of my life, but I don't like these kind of conversations. In the future if one starts to come up, I'm going to tell you "Dad, I'd rather not have this conversation. Please stop." I'd appreciate if we could drop what we're talking about when that happens. I love you and I want to see more of you!

And the next time you feel one of these conversations coming on, recite the line you gave him: "Dad, I'd rather not have this conversation. Please stop."

If he continues the conversation, or begins yelling at you for telling him to stop the conversation or does anything except quit the yelling and change topics, remain silent. If you're in the car, turn and look out the window. If you're in a place where you can, walk away.

If he stays silent or gives you some lip and then stays silent, take a deep breath and try to change the subject. It won't be easy in an awkward conversation like this, but it'll get better the more you do it!

The effect this should have

One of two things should start happening here. Either A) he'll learn that he needs to being heeding your warning when you tell him to stop because you mean what you say or B) you'll find yourself remaining silent more and more and seeing him less and less.

I know you said that you don't want to remove him from your life, but if you set down this path, you need to stay strong and stick by what you say. If that means seeing him less until he learns, then that may be the only way.


I know you said you wanted a simple patch that you could start using immediately to fix these situations, but I think laying a groundwork like this and enforcing it are your best bets at dealing with just these arguments.

This situation sucks, but if he's going to act like a child, you may have to treat him like a child. He's not responding to your attempts at reason, so you'll have to teach him through action.

  • 1
    Question: Should I give him permission to do the same to me, because he could turn this around on me by saying something like "This is very one-sided, you have more control, etc. I want a say in what I prefer to talk about as well!"
    – ElizB
    Jul 12, 2018 at 15:28
  • 2
    @ElizB good question! I worded the script the way I did (trying to focus on the fact that you value the relationship and want to keep it) to try to avoid him seeing this as you taking control (while I worded the answer to be all about control). But honestly, the script is entirely optional, but if it were me I'd prefer to give a warning before starting to implement the "please stop""s to make it clear what I'm doing. If you're worried he might argue back like that, then you could leave off the conversation before.
    – scohe001
    Jul 12, 2018 at 17:12

I learned the following technique after reading Josette Sona's book: "Are Women the Stronger Sex?" The author provides it for free but the knowledge I gained from reading it has saved my sanity when dealing with emotional vampires, troublemakers, passive-aggressive narcissists, etc.

It's often very difficult, communicating with these kinds of people. My personal experience was such that the person I dealt with would constantly interrupt me when I tried to talk with him, he would twist and distort what I said, he would accuse me of having a different intention than I had, he would accuse me of saying something I hadn't said, etc.
So I would calmly listen to what he had to say, answering his questions/responding to what he said with short answers. Then when he finished emotionally exploding, I would go somewhere by myself and write down my thoughts, my responses to what he had said, etc. It was in the form of a letter to him. Then I would re-read what I wrote, the next day - after I had a chance to recover from the interaction (by having a good meal, a relaxing bath/shower, a good night's sleep, etc.) I made any and all changes I needed to make. Then I'd photocopy/duplicate the letter and give him a copy. I was then able to emotionally "let it go" and not have to think about it again.

That way, I got to say what I needed to say, explain what I needed to explain. I was able to answer his questions properly so he couldn't say (later on): "Oh, I don't know what the problem is."

And if he brought up the subject/problem weeks, months, even years later, I was able to show him the original letter where I explained what the problem was and what he did wrong.


I believe it takes a certain kind of person at the receiving end of an verbally abusive relationship as well as an abusive person for such a relationship to exist. I have always had a father who liked to belittle me and humiliate me, and attempt to guilt trip me into shame for a large portion of my life. I think the strategy of not-reacting mentioned above is a good start, however, talking about your emotions and how you feel immediately after sounds like a blatant nullification of the approach. A problem that has gone on for this long obviously needs more drastic measures, so I recommend becoming a more masculine person, particularly around your father. By masculine, I mean unapologetic, un-emotional, logical, not showing weakness. Your father's strategy of manipulation through guilt-tripping tells me you are prone to feeling ashamed from guilt. To make it pointless to guilt-trip you, you must become a person who is completely unashamed and accepting of who you are. This simply but painfully done by trashing all regards you have for your father's opinions on you. This ultimately means you stop holding your relationship with your father as precious. The next time he points something out that is aimed to make you feel ashamed, just own it up. Say, "Yes that is who I am. I am that kind of person. I'm okay with that. You have to deal with it. I don't care that you have an issue with it. Have a good day." Maintaining this kind of stance towards him over time will make him realize that it is pointless to attempt to manipulate you, since you are indifferent to his opinions. From my experience following this strategy, my father has since kept his negative thoughts at bay, and is now focusing more on making me like him since that is the only way he may have influence over me now. A weakness of this strategy is that you are only empowered to do this if you are first financially, and/or spatially independent from him.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.