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abusive parents

Rabbi Ari ShvatTammuz 8, 5771
253
Question
How should a person act towards parents who have abused them in the past and who currently continue to abuse them; mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and physically. The person greets their abusive mother and father with shalom imma/ shalom abba and ends the greeting with shalom imma/ shalom abba. The parents causing mental health problems to this person whenever the person is in contact with them/ the parents having a constant need and gratification to abuse this person as they know that the person will not disrespect them in any way as they fear and love G-D/ with the power once again being on the parents who are aware of this and have the torah on their side! The Torah suggests to move away from bad people, neighbours, friends how does this apply to abusive parents. Here is the dilemma a person honours their mother and father, being in contact with them causes the person to experience mental health and physical problems! Each contact with the parents is abusive! What should this G-D fearing person do? When it gets all too much causing mental health and physical problems the person then stops contact/ the parents then say that they are not honoring parents and abusing them further by saying that they will be cursed by G-D that the person is a sinner! Should a person in this situation stop all communication with the abusive parents? Should the person in this situation carry on communication which always results in abuse? If one parent wants contact with this person and another parent doesn’t want any contact with this person what should this person do? If abusive parents do not want any contact with this person what should the person do? humbly
Answer
Shalom! Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon question, and it actually was addressed 800 years ago by R. Yehuda HaChasid (Sefer Chasidim, 343). He writes that if the parents make it unpleasant for the adult son, it is better for all sides involved for the son to leave home and distance himself. It’s not good for the abusive parent to get used to abusing, and it’s almost impossible for the son not to retaliate. You must be careful not to degrade them, for even though a parent can forego his honor (“kavod”, Kidushin 32a), the Sha’agat Arye (Turei Aven, see also Sefer Chasidim, 570) points out that they cannot forego “bizayon” (their dishonor, i.e. yir’ah). It is therefore prohibited to abuse them. So instead of degrading your parent, let them know that they leave you no choice but not to visit them. I would suggest trying to continue communicating with them on the condition that they know that as soon as they become abusive, you will need to terminate the conversation. If one parent is not abusive, obviously your connection with them could and should be different. If they don’t want contact with you, that’s there problem and absolves you from your obligations. Hopefully this approach may drive home to your parents how much their behavior hurts you, and very well may even improve the situation. Remember, the Living Torah is not only moral but also practical, and that’s part of her beauty. With Love of Israel, Rav Ari Shvat
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