What My Violent, Abusive, Neglectful Parents Taught Me About Being A Man

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!!

  13 comments for “What My Violent, Abusive, Neglectful Parents Taught Me About Being A Man

  1. February 11, 2018 at 6:47 am
  2. February 11, 2018 at 7:03 am

    Thank you very much for sharing your encouraging experience, Dr Jenner and showing others that it is possible to forge your own path. We don’t need to be replicas of our parents and are free to be our own person.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

    Like

  3. February 11, 2018 at 9:06 am

    You have the experience of crawling out of that childhood abusive hole our parents created.

    You have been there and done the work, actually applied what you teach and share.

    There is a depth and wisdom we gain on our journeys.

    We were given two lemons as caregivers but we made lemonade.

    Your childhood story is so similar to mine and we both are considered doers by those closest to us.

    Funny how we think we are the only ones who felt that u worthy, that shamed but we walk this journey in very similar ways

    Kudos for you and your turning your abuse into a healing adventure.

    Like

  4. February 11, 2018 at 10:45 am

    You should be proud and happy to have kicked your dad unconscious. When it is needed, it is not a sin, they say in Italy. I bet everything changed in your relationship from that moment, for the better. I cannot blame you for not rebelling earlier, it was too risky.

    Like

  5. February 11, 2018 at 11:13 am

    So thoughtful story.

    Like

  6. February 11, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    I sensed you had something that drives you, to care more about impacting your clients.

    I would say sorry for your experience, but you know it made you who you are.

    One thing that sticks out that we share, we refuse to be anything like of father.

    At my lowest, agoraphobic and suicidal, I refused because he would win.

    Thank you for sharing, takes courage to put this out there.

    Your willingness to show others you walk the same path you teach is impressive.

    You are a true healer.

    Like

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