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Signs of Abusive, Authority Based Relationships

This list is based on an adaptation of work from Alice Miller's For Your Own Good and John Bradshaw's Healing the Shame That Binds You


Authority figures (AF) can be parents, partners, teachers, school principals, school directors, supervisors, bosses, religious figureheads, cult leaders, etc. Dependents can be children, teenagers, partners, students, employees, religious followers, etc. What matters is that there is a power imbalance and a dependence of some sort, whether physical, financial, "spiritual," psychological or emotional.

1. AF's are the masters of dependents.

2. AF's alone decide what is right and wrong,, good/bad and "appropriate" and "inappropriate"

3. They alone make up the definitions, the rules, the "choices" and the "consequences" (See pseudo-choices and consequences)

4. Dependents are held responsible for the AF's feelings (anger, disappointment, embarrassment, humiliation, happiness and unhappiness)

5. The AF is only responsible and accountable for good things that happen, never the bad ones. Thus the AF' appears to always be in the right and when things go wrong, the dependent is always blamed and feels responsible and guilty.

6. The AF tries to exercise total control of the dependent by controlling his thoughts, feelings and behavior. Whenever this control is not absolute, the AF feels threatened.

7. The dependent's individuality is minimized as much as possible by the AF.

8. The AF creates an intricate system of punishments and rewards which rob the dependent of any sense of inner direction and esteem.

9. The following freedoms listed by Virginia Satire are denied to the dependent as much as possible:

The freedom to perceive
To think and interpret
To feel
To want, need, and chose

10. The AF never (or rarely) admits mistakes or apologizes.

11. All of the above take place in a way which does not expose the AF's true motives and none of this is openly talked about. No "back talk" is allowed.

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Some of the Effects
  • Mistakes are concealed
  • People are under constant stress
  • Needs are frustrated, denied
  • Fear dominates
  • Power is based on fear, not respect
  • Information is withheld and distorted
  • Information flow is primarily from top down
  • Behavior is forced; does not come naturally
  • Behavior is not consistent with true feelings, which adds to the stress
  • Conflicts and problems are blamed on the dependent's "poor attitudes" and "character flaws."
All of this tears the dependent person apart, causing self-alienation and even self-loathing. The dependent person loses faith in his/her own mind and feelings with devastating self-esteem consequences. Depression, rage, mood swings, co-dependency, self-injury and self-destruction are typical outcomes. If the authority figure is a parent the person will likely develop symptoms of various "disorders" such as the so-called Borderline Personality disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Anoexia, Bulemia etc.  

"Signs of Abusive Fathers"