Patricia Redlich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Violent Parents

15th November, 2009


The past few months have been the hardest of my life. I'm 33 and feel like I'm having some kind of mid-life crisis as my abusive past catches up with me. In so many respects, I believe I've made it. I have a good job and friends who really care about me. But I desperately want to begin the next phase of my life and have my own family. Yet I never get to even dating point. I spent a night out with friends recently, met a man I talked to for hours, and was sure he'd ask for my phone number. He didn't. I have a catalogue of similar experiences with men. I am attractive, so clearly I'm giving off some other vibes which send them away.

My father was physically abusive to me and my mother. My mother was depressed for much of my childhood and made me the scapegoat as I was an easy target. She hit me too. Recently my father got very aggressive with me and I am now no longer talking to either parent, as they chip away at my self-esteem. I feel my world is closing in on me. I feel so powerless, alone and so lonely. I feel I've worked so hard to have a different life, but right now I cannot make things different for myself.

The majority of the time I feel like everybody else, someone who has come from a somewhat normal family. However, my inability to have an intimate relationship with the opposite sex makes me painfully aware that all the suffering in my childhood is still affecting me now. Also the fact that my father was recently physically aggressive with me has brought up a lot of memories. I get upset, scared and angry about the life I have lived and the fact that he just doesn't get it. I warned him a couple of years ago that I would not put up with the abuse as I was now an adult and had choices about contact with him. He changed for a few years. During the last year, however, he has been extremely verbally abusive, screaming if I leave the heat on, or forget to take the washing in. And now he's hit me again.

I am really struggling with the fact that I cannot have a relationship with my parents. Although I know it's necessary to put down markers about the unacceptability of my father's violence, I still feel incredibly guilty about not talking to them. And I'm struggling, too, with the fact that I really do not know how to have a relationship with the opposite sex.

I'm taking it that you're still living at home. At the very least you're still intimately involved in the daily running of the family home. You may not be speaking to your parents right now, but you're certainly firmly caught in a tight family web. The reason for that is simple. You're still trying to fix it. The reality is, you can't.

Your father is a violent and abusive man. He won't ever 'get it', as you so earnestly desire. Well, maybe he will, but you can't make him. And it's not even your task to try.

Malfunctioning parents don't just do obvious things like beating, neglecting, or generally abusing their kids. The real damage is psychological. The child feels guilty, believes it's her fault that her parents behave badly. This doesn't just happen because the parents tell her she's bad, or that everything is all her fault, or that it's a criminal offence to forget the washing on the line outside. When we're small, parents are all-powerful. It is too terrifying to see them as bad. In order to feel safe, the child decides that she's the bad one. This has the added benefit that making things better then lies in her hands. If she just tries hard enough to be good, to get it right, all will be well. And here you are, at 33, still plugging away.

You do have to move away from your parents, you know that don't you? It's not possible to change how you feel, and behave, and think, until you've removed yourself from the pattern of interaction which has been built up over a life-time. Not that moving away is enough in itself. It's not. It's just a prerequisite for starting the slow and steady road to a better life.

Of course you're sending off vibes. We all do. Yours just aren't the ideal ones in terms of starting a relationship. Think about it. Your self-esteem is fragile, which means that you probably ask for very little. Take the conversation with the bloke that evening. The chances are that it was all about him, to the point where he didn't even see you properly. Do you understand? When we're abused we learn to disappear into the wallpaper. And we don't just do that because we feel we're unworthy of attention. We do it for safety. Being invisible is important when you're in danger of being bashed up.

You probably also tend to appease. This can be very subtle. It can just mean that you say all the right things, deftly avoid any kind of collision in a conversation. That's great if your job is diplomacy. It's not great for personal relationships because again, it's a form of invisibility. Our personality only shines when there's a clash - and no, I don't mean rows, or being deliberately confrontational, or in any way brash. It's about being you. You have good friends, so you know what I'm talking about. You can also understand why doing this with a man is difficult for you.

I don't think it's as simple as being afraid of men. You have built up a set of habits when dealing with men because of your past experience. Your task is to dismantle those habits. And the point I'm making is that you can't dismantle them while still dealing, on a daily basis, with your father's destructive behaviour. Apart from anything else, where's the dignity in it? How can you truly feel good about yourself when guilt has you staying put, and still taking the abuse? Get help in ditching that guilt. The rest will follow.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design