I spend a lot of time talking about other people’s childhoods and how it affects the way they see the world. It is part of my job as a therapist to look at the cause of dysfunction in their lives and there is usually plenty to work on. I hear some real horror stories and some of these make you wonder how some people have managed to stagger into adulthood with any functionality at all. Sometimes in quiet moments, some of these stories naturally make me reflect on my own past and the road I have taken since.
My father was a violent, abusive cheater who made a conscious choice to abuse. I had 3 siblings but he decided that only one, me, was going to be the focus of his beatings, violent, neglectful behavior and punitive parenting style. My mother was an enabling, controlling codependent who allowed this and spent the later years of her life taking revenge on him by completely dropping and avoiding any kind of affection and intimacy but making the choice to stay with him and make his life hell. Due to this, her focus was on that and not on where if should have been…her children.
Needless to say, growing up in this environment left its scars and it took me many years to heal. I came out of childhood with guilt, shame, a raging self-hatred and absolutely no confidence in myself to do anything worthwhile. I was quiet and sullen, was often bullied and ridiculed and always felt different. Don’t get me started on relationships with the opposite sex at that time. However, just as my parents made a choice to behave the way they did, I eventually made a clear choice to reject the way they saw the world and how it had shaped me. I chose the future me, the me that was going to be different to them, better than them and the me that was not going to be defined by them. The awful way they parented me left me with a wounded inner core but as in my last post, I decided that I cannot and will not allow their legacy to continue. I cannot tell when that point was or what initiated it but I believe I was one day reflecting on life while shaving. Yes, it might have been as simple as that! I firmly believe that their dysfunction has promoted the values I hold true today. Let’s look at some of these.
Fidelity. My father was a cheater and an irresponsible, self-centered individual who thought of nothing but himself. I cannot remember one year of my childhood when he was not either with another woman or chasing after one. He would disappear for days and weeks at a time, spending all the family’s money on his latest conquest, leaving my mother devastated and picking up the pieces, usually unsuccessfully. This brought misery to the family. When he did come back, my mother’s focus was on him or revenge against him. He would beat me because, at 13, I wanted to know where he was. This cycle went on for years. I am proud to say that I have never put anyone through this and never will. I have zero tolerance for infidelity in my life.
Abuse. I was an abused child. Emotionally, physically and it left its scars. I was beaten for no reason, was not cared for, neglected and parented in a disgusting, savage manner. For many years, I thought this was because of me. I believed this because, this is what I was told. My father would beat me violently, leaving bruises and drawing blood sometimes because my siblings did something, sometimes because he perceived I had done something or sometimes because he could. Even his apologies were about him when I didn’t fully forgive him. ” See, I am right about you…look how you make me feel”. I used to lay in bed, listening to him talking about sending me away…that I was the big problem in the family. (Subsequent knowledge that came to light may give a reason for this apparent hatred). I am not proud to say that at 17, after playing rugby for a few years that I eventually defended myself by knocking him unconscious. I have never been involved in a physical fight since that day. That is not to say I would not defend the ones I love.
Parenting. Where do I start? My parents had no idea how to effectively parent or even how that might look. We are talking here about an environment dominated by fire and brimstone Irish Catholicism. They were not in any way prepared but chose to have children and didn’t make the effort to learn, as they could have done. They instead decided to take the easy route and parent with fear and abuse. I became interested in positive discipline techniques after the birth of my daughter, 29 years ago. I was determined to believe that there must be a different way and of course, there was and is. I did my best to connect with her, spend time with her, coach and teach her and set boundaries when needed. No parent is perfect and I made mistakes but I tried to make sure she had it better than me on all levels.
Relationships and Responsibility. I learned something positive from my mother in an abstract way. Despite her refusal to see the obvious about her husband, she gave me the work ethic I hold dear today. Resilience and perseverance, she had in abounds and it was only due to her solution focussed approach and her willingness to put herself on the front line during the times when my father was absent, that we survived at all. My wife calls me a “doer” which means (I hope) I get things done and see the value of finding solutions, taking responsibility for those and making them happen. I also work extremely hard with her on our relationship, keeping it functional and making sure the foundation is constantly there and strong.
Despite the difficulty involved, rejecting the baggage from your past can be done. Just choose you!!