Alice Miller, the well-known author & psychiatrist says that victims of abuse must go back into the pain of their abuse, meet it, and feel all the emotions that were stirred in the encounter. These images for most of us are buried-and repressed far away in our unconsciousness. They’re too raw, for the most part, too visceral, too absolutely opposite to what we think is “good morality.” Instead, we live in a Pandora’s box of denial and suppression, afraid to open the lid-or what we’ll find there. This anger enflames, cuts right through, full-throttle, of our retaliatory emotions that may not be able to be controlled; impulse control may be gone when these memories make their way out of the shadows into the light of day.
In my family, I feared my dad, especially his imploded anger. We had the strict, hierarchal model of parenting going on, the tight steps of a government department or the Military, in our home. Dad was ex-Navy; he could look at me with his piercing, dark, Bohemian eyes of judgment & condemnation, and I often hated myself for simply existing. This was the genesis of my shame.
Mom would play intercessor using a nurturing model of parenting in our family. To me, it felt more like “smother love.” I think she favored me, and my dad leaned hard to my sister’s side. We were the only two siblings.
In families, this is all stuff under the radar. How family is lived out in its emotional process is often unseen by others’ eyes, unless for some reason it spills out into the community or neighborhood-many times it does.
But our family was a “good” family-at least when viewed by neutral observers. We were religious. My dad was a highly religious man, a member of the Christian Science denomination. His way was to keep out front, looking good to the church and the community, as a compassionate, caring person (that was a part of his identity, too). I believe he felt his own worst nemesis was himself. But I also think he was on constant guard, had a lot of hidden, unknown anger, especially with those more militant Christian people and/or groups. No question that he had a deep spirituality.
Since his model of fatherhood contained many secrets about his relationship with his dad (he had died before I was born), he kept his feelings boxed up & isolated inside. When he encountered what he felt was bad morality, he became cold & aloof. Since I was the child who was the trouble-maker, I felt this a lot as I grew up.
Mom would try to step in and soften him (even as he lay dying he couldn’t speak but wanted me to know he loved me), or got him to change his mind about my punishments, and sometimes she won him over; yet he was also very obstinate and didn’t change easily.
I saw him as rigid, a “religious perfectionist,” unbending, having had enough of obedience & orientation; he was perfectionistic about the behavior of me, the identified patient or family member, and I was constantly disappointing him or letting him down somehow.
Mom, on the other hand, was more flexible & progressive in her orientation, and after she became the mother of me, her son (who could do no wrong in her eyes) \she was from a generation that had not yet found the voice to stand up to her husband’s. She generally seemed in the shadows, even though she was highly intelligent, creative & artistic. I have a vivid memory of her always leaving the room during taking home movies, and spending much of her time in the kitchen preoccupied with food.
The memory still running in my consciousness also has shown me that her relationship with me was emotionally incestuous. I have no clear memories of it being sexual (although there is a very well-hidden sense of sexual abuse that has left me blocked), but only a vague uneasiness.
Thinking about this memory and the surrounding context makes me feel used & manipulated. At the time of this memory, what was most preoccupying my thought-life and behavior was to get girls to like me. I was heading into approval-addiction. The methods I chose to grant access to, my cravings & obsessions, usually got me into trouble, and I ended up in a deeper hole, dragging around more shame & guilt.
I would ask the girls I knew, the ones who I really wanted to like me, to come home from school for lunch. I must have been in Grade School-maybe fourth or fifth grade. I started stealing money giving into my infatuations of the girls I liked.
One of the reasons I feel like mom was incestual in our relationship is because she was afraid of what dad could do to me if he ever lost it, or went on a power-binge. But instead of really openly supporting me, she used subterfuge to try to get me to change. I think she was trying to get me to change in order to appease dad.
Often, I’d find myself in her bedroom or bathroom, standing there talking with her. She would just have her slip on. Looking back from where I am now, this seems really inappropriate, but for some it would be normal; the inappropriateness revolves around having good boundaries. This was a set-up for me. Since there weren’t boundaries, in the normal sense, it lowered my respect for mom-I saw her as weak, her possessiveness was a very personal since she wanted to bring me up as her little, lover boy.
One time we were talking in the bathroom; seeing mom in her slip as usual did create some questioning, a wondering about what she must look like naked. Of course, I banished these fantasies right away. She began speaking to me about missing some money, jewelry & cosmetics. She got hyper-emotional and hit me with a backhand slap across my face. I remember the sting of that slap, seeing the red mark on my face in the mirror; next thing I knew was I just reacted and hit her back, slapping her face. She then apologized and was crying heavily as I stood there stunned by my own action, I felt confused, angry, in pain, and my psyche felt wounded leaving a hole someplace inside.
It was such an incongruence: she was the one I thought really loved me, but she had hit me; I felt degraded and humiliated as a young boy just hit across the face by his mom. I think that day, I tried to run away. I was afraid to come home, & have to face dad. There would be obvious ramifications for me.
She may have been jealous or hurt that I was stealing from her to give girlfriends her things. She must have felt awfully dissed.
I hated her. She was an abuser who was just as mean as my dad, in a subtle way. It was clear she didn’t love me. This was a turning point when my trust towards mom & dad was broken, and went south. I was detached and I cut myself off from them by becoming more anti-social and delinquent; I was definitely anti-my-family.
I wanted to see her dead-hitting her like that in such a powerful play. I hoped she would fear me. But at an early age, I also contemplated suicide wanting to do it as payback to her & dad.
It was also around this same time that dad chased me into the bedroom, caught me on the bed, and hit my ass with his open hand, harder than he had ever done before. I remember the pain from that, too. We forget how much of a hammering a hand can deliver; hands are boney, and the force of one’s build-up can be a maximum capitalization of the spanking. This kind of parental abuse is so immoral & unjust-it’s so wrong!
Dad was also emotionally & verbally abusive with me; his anger boiled beneath the surface of his face, but I always felt it when it began to emerge, mainly through an emotional awareness of my environment, and his body language. It was a walking-on-eggshells-time. This kind of parental abuse enters the psyche, the soul & spirit of a child; it creates the habit of always being on the alert for what may happen next, or even for future possibilities; it decimates one’s self-confidence, because you’re feeling so ashamed & guilty, that you’re immobilized. It engenders dis-empowerment.
A child may have gotten angry at the same incident as the one in which mom got angry, stressed out, and burned out, but societal norms don’t allow a child to usually display this kind of hostility. In some families, for example, anger is something that must be avoided at all costs, because what on earth will happen if it gets out on the loose? The world won’t explode if we express our anger in healthy ways, or by even unhealthy means.
©Christopher Bear-Beam September 5, 2008