I’ve recently been reckoning with the abuse I experienced growing up. My father was physically abusive and in addition to regular beatings (spankings), he would often threaten to smash me against the wall, or hit me in the head, sometimes doing just that. I was often made to prepare his breakfast, usually being woken up by my mom to do it.

Something I’m trying to figure out is whether or not something he did commonly counts as sexual abuse or just him being extremely inappropriate.

From the time I was 14 until I left for college at 20 he would have me read from the bible to him while he was showering. Specifically when he would be getting ready for work in the morning he’d call for me to grab his bible and join him in the bathroom. Usually, he’d wait until I was there before getting undressed and getting into the shower, so I saw him naked a lot. I really hated doing this and eventually started waiting until he was already in the shower before going in. Sometimes I would not go in at all, but then I got all sorts of questions from my parents about whether or not I was avoiding him or if I was trying to avoid this morning “bible study”

When I eventually told my partner they said it seemed like it was verging on sexual abuse. But I don’t know. I haven’t brought this up with my therapist yet, I guess because I’m scared of the answer.

Your father’s abuse was physical, psychological, and sexual. It was also compounded by your mother’s negligence in protecting you and her complicit agreement with your father’s actions and demands. Your parents’ behavior sounds like it was severely distorted by their religiosity, the excessive belief in a religion to the point where “the bible” or the teachings of a particular belief override or mask pathology. The fact that this was common means by seeing it as “bible study” your parents lost the ability to nurture and protect you properly. Forcing you to do this against your will and shaming you into doing it wasn’t a spiritually wholesome act. What was missing were any safeguards against putting you in this situation. It was condoned by both of your parents, and at that level there is no difference between something extremely inappropriate or abusive. It was pathology disguised as a religious practice.

I am glad you are dealing with these issues now. I know people often say that their parents didn’t know any better or that they did the best they could. But that doesn’t change the fact that their best wasn’t good enough. Often, by not acknowledging the limitations and exploitation generated by abusive parents we can limit our own growth. Seeing it for what it is while having compassion for the circumstances that created it can allow for you to cope more effectively.

I’d encourage you to speak to your therapist about it, if you haven’t already done so.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral