Editor’s note: This is part 30 of Marie’s story. It picks up where we left off in the previous post: It Would Have Been Better if Dad Was a Source of Protection.
Carl: If your dad didn’t protect you, who did?
Me: No one, I guess. I had to learn to protect myself.
When the neighborhood bullies bothered me, my dad taught me to fight with my fists. He taught me self-defense moves. I used them too. If someone bothered me, or if they bothered one of my friends, I had no issue punching them in the jaw or the nose.
One time, in seventh grade, one of the boys came up behind me and grabbed me from behind, around my shoulders. He pinned my arms. So, I quickly squatted and leaned forward—he flipped over my head and landed hard on his back. It knocked the wind out of him. So, I used what my dad taught me. I guess it was good for me to learn how to take care of myself.
And I used to lock horns with various teachers. It happened quite a bit, starting in fourth grade. My dad said if I was going to create conflict all the time, I had to learn how to resolve conflict. He said I had to fight my own battles with those teachers.
But my complaints were valid. I would get upset because a test would cover material we had not learned and the entire class would fail. Or a teacher would give us only one day to do a huge homework assignment. They were valid complaints.
I grew up in a small town so all the kids in our class—all 18 of them—knew each other well. We grew up together. The kids in my class knew I would talk to a teacher about an unreasonable situation on behalf of the entire class. So, they would come to me for that purpose. I was good at it—I usually got the situation resolved. So, again, I can see benefit in my dad telling me I had to handle my own conflicts. I learned some great negotiation skills that have served me well in my life.
Carl: But wouldn’t it have been nice to know your dad would have protected you, if you had needed him to? Wouldn’t it have been preferable for him to be a source of protection and support rather than a source of violence and terror?
Me: Yes, that is true…
People—adults—have always described him as a big, soft-hearted teddy bear. He was easily moved—he would become emotional and tears would fill his eyes while watching a movie or while hearing an emotional sermon at church. I remember that about him as well. He was very willing—very quick—to help people who were in a tight spot.
So, he could be gentle and kind… all the little kids in the church loved him, they climbed all over him and hugged him. He often was gentle and kind…
Carl: But not with you, his own daughter, correct… ??
Me: Nope—not with me. He believed he had to tame and control me—he believed he had to break my spirit. He even told me that, straight up. He did what he felt was necessary to get that done, which included violence. I guess he thought I was so bad and sinful at my core that the “real me” had to be destroyed.
Carl: Maybe he couldn’t allow the natural expression of the real you because he was afraid of the natural expression of his real self.
Me: Hmmmmm… you are probably right.
Carl: (After a respectful pause… ) Shall I continue reading?
“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?”
Carl: Do you feel you were a priority for your dad?
Me: No. I felt I was a bother… just one more thing he had to deal with on top of an already impossible load.
Carl: Ouch… ouch!
I’m sad your dad didn’t realize the pleasure he would have experienced—and the gift he would have given you—had he taken the time to learn about you—to learn who you are and to learn about and honor your preferences and your desires and your talents and your dreams.
You are an amazing person… a creative and multi-talented human being. You have so much to offer. It is a blessing to get to know you. I am blessed by your presence in my office. You are a joy to be with.
I am so sad that your dad never figured that out about you. I am sad you didn’t have the experience of being appreciated by your father as you were growing up.
I trust you will now learn the truth about yourself through your healing journey.
Me: (With tears in my eyes… ) Thank you… I am learning the truth… that is happening, and you are playing a huge role in that healing journey. Thank you for that.
Carl: It is my pleasure, Marie.
Me: Thank you . . .
So… let me ask you about something . . .
I’m struggling with what I am supposed to be feeling about the abuse by my parents… should I be feeling anger or should I be feeling compassion? If they didn’t know better or if were doing the best they knew, I should have compassion for them. If they did know better, I should feel anger for that.
I don’t know which is true. I don’t know which way I should respond.
Carl: Let me answer by asking you a question…
What do you want the answer to be?
Me: I don’t know. If they didn’t know better, then I can see them as good people who were just doing the best they knew to do—which is the way I want to see them. If they did know better but chose not to, then my anger towards them would be justified and reasonable and appropriate—and I want to feel justified for feeling anger and sadness about how I was raised. I don’t know which I want more.
Carl: Would you like to hear my opinion?
Carl: I think both cases are true. I think in some ways they didn’t know better and in some ways they did. And, I think both responsive emotions are appropriate and reasonable.
Me: Oh, so I don’t really have to choose between the emotions… ?? And, I can allow both “stories” about my parents to stand as true?
Carl: There are no “right feelings” that you are supposed to be having about this. Every emotion you have is “right.” Whatever emotions you experience are right and valid. You don’t have to filter or suppress or change them. They are perfectly acceptable, whatever they are. If you have simultaneous, conflicting emotions—or, more accurately, if your emotions appear to be conflicting—it is okay.
Me: Hmmmmmm… I’ll have to think on that some more…
I think we are about out of time… thank you for being willing to read on my behalf today. I found it to be very beneficial to not have to struggle with vocabulary. I was able to hang out in the “feeling” space and just observe what was going on inside of me. It was much easier for me to stay present. So, thank you.
Carl: You are most welcome!
(I started picking up my stuff… )
Carl: Do you need help with folding up your blanket?
Me: No… I’ll just wad it up and put in the bag. I can fold it later.
Carl: Okay… but I’d be happy to help you…
Me: No, but thanks!
Carl: Okay… I’ll walk you downstairs…