Carl: Smaller? How old were you when your dad started hitting you?
Me: He said children are old enough to be spanked when they are around six months old—so I’m assuming that is when he started spanking all of us.
Carl: Six months!!?!?!!?!?? Children don’t even know right from wrong until age two!
(He seemed genuinely angry about this—I just stared at him because I’ve never seen someone get upset about this before. The thought has never crossed my mind that me getting hit at six months of age is something that ought to be upsetting.)
Carl: So you were maybe 15 pounds (7 kg) when your dad started hitting you?
Me: Yeah, I guess so.
Carl: A 180-pound man and a 15-pound baby . . .
(I don’t remember the rest of what he said)
Me: I actually wrote something about this in a later paragraph. Do you want me to jump down to that paragraph?
Carl: Sure . . .
“I watched my niece get spanked when she was 18 months old. You had to hold her upright by one arm while you spanked her with your other hand because she couldn’t stay balanced while you were hitting her. I remember the look of shock on her face. I was 10 years old, that was 32 years ago, but I remember it clearly.”
Carl: Do you know that holding a child’s arm while spanking her can break her arm?
Me: I imagine so . . .
Carl: Your dad had to hold her while he spanked her because she was not big enough to stay balanced . . .
(I don’t remember the rest of what he said)
At this point in the conversation, I began zoning out. I don’t remember much about the next 10-15 minutes of the session. I don’t remember what Carl said and I only have a general idea of what parts of the letter I read out loud—but I don’t actually remember reading those parts of the letter. Here is what I believe I read out loud:
“You explained that other people said kids that young couldn’t understand right from wrong and couldn’t understand punishment. But, you assured me they did. You said you had started spanking all of us as soon as we could make eye contact and become defiant, which was at about six months old, you said. You said that, if you spank a kid that young, they learn early to not misbehave because they understand pain as a consequence . . . you can’t talk to them, so you have to use pain. I believed you and I spewed that same gospel until I reached adulthood and started questioning what I had been taught about many things.
“Did you ever question your philosophy? When you hit me/us when we were that young and we got a look of terror on our face, did that not ever trigger your sense of protectiveness?”
I’m sure there was some discussion about that, but I don’t remember what was said. Then, I believe I read this part of the letter out loud:
“When I peed my pants, when my legs buckled under me, did you not have even the briefest moment where you thought, ‘This is not right’? How could you not? I know for a fact you know what it is like to be in my shoes. In your childhood, you were beat by your own drunken father, you protected your mom and your younger siblings from him. I know you could not have forgotten what that was like. Did you think it was okay to do it to me because you weren’t drunk and out-of-control? But, you weren’t always in control, were you? Not when you slapped me in the face when I was 16.
“I am grateful that you worked so hard and provided a home for me.”
I remember making a comment about that last sentence . . . that I had included it in the letter because I was feeling guilty about complaining so much—I had inserted that solitary sentence smack dab in the middle of my complaining to mitigate my guilt.
I think I read this part of the letter next:
“Could you not have found a better way? Could you not have at least investigated other ways? Was that too much work? I know you worked very hard and that you always felt like you were barely making it, barely able to provide for your family. But, could you have maybe not gone to church 3-4 times a week for a few weeks and taken that time to consider other possibilities? Could you maybe have taken that time to have tea parties with me?”
Then, I remember Carl saying something along the lines of, “You were her father! She wanted protection from you! You could have put your arms around her . . .” I don’t remember what else he was saying, but I remember being very focused on the words, “. . . put your arms around her . . .” At the same time, Carl happened to move around in his chair and stretch his legs out in front of him. His feet ended up a little bit closer than they had been to where I was sitting.
I got triggered.
A silent voice inside of me starting screaming, “He’s gonna come over here and put his arm around you to show you what your dad could have done. Don’t let him! Don’t let him! Tell him to stop!!!”
Logically, I knew Carl was not going to come anywhere near me. He has never touched me—he didn’t even shake my hand on the first day we met. We have had zero physical contact and I know he is making sure that remains the case for at least the foreseeable future. But, the silently screaming voice was not comforted by this logic—not one bit.
I sat frozen in a panic for about 30 seconds. Then, I talked myself into saying something as a way to re-establish a sense of safety . . . I interrupted Carl mid-thought (I wasn’t absorbing what he was saying, anyway, because I was staring at his feet) . . .
[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
- Part 17: How Can I Fault My Parents for Doing the Best They Could?
- Part 18: I Knew My Dad Was Going to Die
- Part 19: Is It Okay to Complain in Therapy?
- Part 20: Carl Helps Me Connect With My Emotions