“I always knew he was the one to stay away from” my client Karen said, referring to her father.
“He would fly into these rages over what seemed like nothing. I could never tell what would set him off so I tried to be perfect. I remember making myself physically small and wishing I would disappear whenever he was around. Sometimes he was so loving and kind. Other times he was a tyrant, spewing hate and venom my way. I felt crazy all the time as a kid”
Karen came to see me because she realized that her childhood was repeating itself in her adult relationships with men. In fact. her latest boyfriend had just ended things and she was devastated, despite his verbal and emotional abuse. She was in enough pain that she was willing to face the very wounds she’d been running hard and fast from for years.
The very first thing I do with clients is I have them tell me their life story, from as early as they can remember until their current age. Listening to Karen recount the terror she felt when her father’s anger reached a crescendo, I could certainly understand why she would be attracted to men who treated her this same way. After all, her father was supposed to love her. And her tiny mind could not discern that love and anger were two separate things. In her child heart, anger got coupled with love. As a little girl, she understood that if someone screams at me, and tells me I’m a piece of shit, that must mean they love me. That’s what my daddy does and he is supposed to love me. This is how love feels, tastes, and sounds.
We spent a great deal of time speaking of her father, and she began to understand the connection between him and her last boyfriend. She was so relieved to finally be making sense of things that had felt just out of her grasp for so long.
One day, I asked Karen what her mother did while her father was raging. Karen looked at me blankly for a minute. She told me that her mother would go in the other room and hide. or she would implore Karen to be quiet and out of the way so as not to upset her Dad. I gently asked her how her younger self might have felt being left to fend off her father’s rages all alone.
Karen broke down and started sobbing. For the first time, she could see not only the obvious scars her father left her with, but also the hidden wounding from her mother. She realized that there was nobody there to protect her. There was no soft lap to crawl into as her 6 year old body trembled from fright. She learned that she was not worthy of protection from the very person whose job it was to keep her safe. She intuited that she was not deserving of comfort from the very person whose embrace she craved. To make matters worse, Karen had always put her mother on a pedestal because she was a saint compared to her father.
Slowly, Karen began to see the whole picture of her childhood emerge, and it was painful. She began to deeply understand why she picked people who not only mistreated her, but turned around and refused her need for shelter from the storm.
I listen to countless variations of this theme in client sessions. There is typically one parent who is “bad”, as in more obvious in their maltreatment. Then there is the other parent. The one who may not have perpetrated the abuse or neglect, but at the same time, did nothing to stop it. That parent is just as complicit in their child’s wounding to be sure. And very often, once my clients realize this, they are far angrier at that parent than the “bad” one.
I tell my clients all the time that this is not about their parents being evil people. No doubt they had their own shit and did the best they could. But this is about taking an honest, fearless look at how they were impacted by parental deficits beyond their control. If someone steps on your foot, it still hurts, even if they did not mean to.
The same is true for emotional pain. It does not hurt any less simply because it was not inflicted intentionally.
As for Karen? Huge healing happened for her when she came to accept both of her parents’ roles in her adult struggles. She was able to fully feel and express the range of emotions that she’d denied for years. As she did this, she was able to have healthier relationships with everyone in her life, including them. So can you.
If you’re ready to experience deep healing from your own childhood, contact me. It’s what I do best.