Me: I hear what you are saying, but I believe my parents did the best they knew to do.
Carl: Your mom knew better than to violently hit you when she was out-of-control with anger. Your dad knew better than to whip you with a belt even after you expressed your terror by peeing your pants. So, they could have done better. They knew to do better, but they chose not to.
Me: But, what if they didn’t know how to do it better? What if it was the only option they knew? I know they believed they were choosing the best option available to them . . . the option that was prescribed to them by their parents and by the church.
Carl: They could have searched for a better way. Your parents chose to have four kids. They had plenty of opportunity to figure it out.
Parents have a responsibility to figure out how to treat their children well . . . if they aren’t willing to do that, they shouldn’t have kids.
Me: What if they didn’t have the resources—the money, the time, the professionals, the information, the psychological freedom to challenge the status quo? I think they didn’t have those resources. I think they truly did the best they could with what they had available to them. I cannot bring myself to be angry with them. How can I fault them for doing the best they could?
Carl: During what decades did you grow up?
Me: From the late 60’s to the early 80’s.
Carl: During that time, the idea of raising children in a gentler and more loving manner was gaining popularity thanks to experts like Dr. Spock. This information was readily available via books and radio. Your parents had access to these resources. They could have taken it upon themselves to investigate other options.
Me: Hmmm . . . yeah, I guess that is true. I hadn’t thought of that before. My dad was always reading and studying about things like photography, woodworking and solar energy . . . he had an insatiable appetite for learning. I guess he could have used some of that time and money to learn about kinder ways to raise his kids. That’s an interesting point . . .
So, do I have to be angry with them? Can I instead be angry with the circumstances? With the church? Maybe with God?
I’m feeling like I’m “supposed to” feel anger and I don’t—that frustrates me because I feel like I’m not doing it right . . that I’m holding myself back from healing because I haven’t yet felt anger.
What if I never developed anger as a child? Maybe there is no repressed anger to dig up.
Carl: It would be easy for you to have never developed anger as a child because you could not allow yourself to have anger. You weren’t allowed to say, “Mom, I don’t like it when you hit me, stop it!” You weren’t allowed to say, “Dad, when you are angry, you scare me. Stop it!”
You learned that, if you expressed your preferences and your emotions, you got hurt. So, you withdrew your real self and left just a shell of you—a compliant shadow of you. You justified your parents’ behavior because your survival depended on believing their behavior was appropriate. If you had allowed yourself to see reality, it would have been so intolerable you would not have survived.
And now, you have not yet felt safe enough to come out of that shell. But, you are taking steps towards coming out and being the real you with other people.
Me: What if I never develop anger as an adult? What if there is no anger for me to feel? Is my healing stunted because I don’t have repressed anger or current/future anger?
Carl: No . . . if you don’t have any anger to deal with, then you don’t have anger to deal with. That is a real possibility. In that case, we can deal with the loss and the grief and the sadness.
Me: There is plenty of that . . .
I like that idea . . . it feels like a good way to move forward.
Carl: Would it be okay if I’m angry because of what happened to you? Would it be okay if I expressed that anger?
Me: Yes, I’m fine with you being angry and expressing anger about my history. I just don’t want to be pressured to feel anger when I don’t feel anger.
Carl: Okay. That’s fair.
Me: I just feel stuck. I want to feel emotions around what happened with my parents. I want to be able to express emotions around it. But, I feel stuck.
Carl: In what ways might you express your emotions, if you were able to feel them and if you were to feel free enough to express them?
Me: I don’t know . . . maybe I’d get up and walk around or hit something.
Carl: If you could move around here in the office, right now, where would you go?
Me: Right now, I’m fine right here on the couch. But, last session, during the anger exercise, I wanted to hide.
Carl: Where did you want to hide?
Me: In that (pointing) corner.
Carl: Do you want to go there now?
(I got triggered . . . tears . . . gasps . . . but not as badly as the last time he suggested I move my body in a certain way. Carl waited patiently until my breathing returned to normal.)
Me: This is what frustrates me . . . logically, I know nothing bad is going to happen if I were to climb into the corner. But, I am terrified to do so. I want to stop being this afraid. I want to be able to move my body.
(We sat in silence for a few moments)
Me: So, what do we do about all of this?
Carl: I have some ideas about some things we can do that might help you get in touch with some of those feelings. Are you willing to try something?
Me: Sure . . .
Carl: Are you willing to close your eyes while I ask you some questions?
(First thought . . . hell, no! But then, I checked in with myself . . . and my anxiety around closing my eyes was about a 1 or 2 on a scale of 10 . . . big surprise! So, closing my eyes seemed do-able.)
Me: Okay. I can do that.
Carl: Good! Go ahead and close your eyes . . . know that you are safe . . . I’ve got you covered.
I would like for you to think back over your childhood experiences with your parents. Is there any one that stands out for you?
Me: There are several scenarios that keep coming up . . . I’m having trouble latching onto any one in particular.
Carl: Pick any one—it doesn’t matter which one . . .
Carl: Can you tell me about it?
Me: It’s from when I was 16 yrs old. I wanted the freedom to participate in social events with my friends. My dad had such strict rules that I wasn’t allowed to do much.
That pissed me off because I was really a well-behaved kid. I deserved some freedom to choose which activities to participate in—within reason—but, he didn’t agree. He told me no daughter of his was going to behave in an unbecoming way.
I thought his restrictions were ridiculous. I could understand rules like no drinking or no smoking or be home and in bed by curfew. But, he was trying to control every little aspect of my life. He wouldn’t let me have non-Christian music—not even very mild music. He wouldn’t let me be in the school lobby during basketball games, he wouldn’t let me date anyone.
When I was 17, I stood up to him. When he threatened to kick me out, I told him I was ready to go. I already had a place to live and a job—I already had some furniture of my own and some dishes and linens. I was just waiting for him to throw me out. I no longer was intimidated with his threats to disown me—I just wanted out.
When I told him I was ready to leave, he backed down. He said I had to stay. I told him that, if I had to stay, there were going to be some changes in the rules. He had to let me have a bit more freedom.
When he agreed, his shoulders slumped. I could tell his will to fight had just left him. I could feel our conversation broke his spirit.
That was a really rough time for him. All he wanted in life was to have a farm—to live out his last days cruising around on his tractor in the fields. He had bought the farm nine years before in order to fulfill that dream. He sunk their entire life savings into the farm as a down payment, plus he took out a huge mortgage on the farm and on a house in town.
That was during the 80’s when so many farms went under. We lost our farm. And, at the time Dad and I had that conversation, he was in the process of walking away from his lifelong dream. There was no money to pay current bills. I’m sure he felt like a failure as a breadwinner.
On top of that, he was $40,000 in debt at age 57 with nothing put aside for retirement. I’m sure he was devastated and feeling very hopeless. He moved us to a bigger town where he could find work and start over. But, he died a few years later. His spirit was broken and he just quit living.
[Continued in the next post . . . ]
Other posts in Marie’s series:
- Part 1: My Therapist Stinks… I’m Searching for a New One
- Part 2: Choosing A Therapist… and Breathing Again
- Part 3: I Have Always Had to Keep the “Real Me” In Hiding…
- Part 4: My First Therapy Session with Carl
- Part 5: An Email I Sent to Carl After Our First Session
- Part 6: Dad Threatened to Kick Me Out, So I Planned Accordingly…
- Part 7: Do You Feel You Have Intrinsic Value as a Person?
- Part 8: I Am Learning Not to Fight the Tears
- Part 9: It’s About How I Have Violent Fantasies
- Part 10: He Is Providing That Validation That I So Desperately Needed
- Part 11: Relief, and Carl Assures Me He Does Know How to Help Me
- Part 12: I Feel Like I Can Relax Into His Leadership and Expertise
- Part 13: Remembering Child Abuse
- Part 14: Anger Feels Like a Deadly Emotion for Me Because, if I Was Angry, I Got Hit
- Part 15: Relief, Terror and Shame
- Part 16: I Talk About My Relationship with My Dad