Powerful, Emotional Writings: An Aid to Adult Child Abuse Survivors

I Try So Hard

I am not always like this, of course.  However, in the course of my life, I continue to cycle in and out of my issues to gain mastery over them.

I try so hard to be good. I try so hard, that sometimes, it consumes me. I allow myself no wiggle room, no permission to just be human. Sometimes, I try to anticipate my wife’s bad moods, watching what I say and do, and how I say and do. Maybe I do her thinking for her, so that she doesn’t have those moods, or I might help her do her thinking to get her out of those moods. Sometimes if someone is angry, or going to be angry at me, I do everything in my power to keep that from happening. I am rewarded for this, by others seeing me as “strong” or “together”. I am smart. I am kind. I am respectful. I am attentive. I am empathic, and I am dead tired. Sometimes I am so busy doing all this, and being responsible for everyone else, and everything else, that there is no room for me, inside me. I know why I do this.

In 1955, when I was 4 ½ years old or so, I followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of neighborhood kids down Circle Drive, in our little town of Trooper. We ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand. After an hour or so, when they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up. Now, a 4 ½ year old kid takes something like that seriously! Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. I was terrified! I thought I was going to die there, all alone, that no one would ever find me. I distinctly remember that being my fear.

Eventually, my mother came looking for me, and “beat the crap” out of me as soon as she found me. I could make a hundred excuses for her –  she was scared because she hadn’t known where I was, or she was scared that she could be in trouble, or be seen as a bad mother, or any number of other excuses. But the fact remains that at that moment she remained focused on herself, and had no empathy for a 4 year old child’s distress! She put responsibility on me, not herself! She should never have allowed me to be in that situation. Her responsibility was to keep an eye on me, not allow me to wander off with older children for hours at a time! That was her responsibility! This is the earliest memory I have of her beating me. There would be hundreds, if not thousands of more times that her beatings would occur, their force, her rage, my fear, her contempt, and her lack of taking responsibility growing each time.

At 4 years old, I was a needy, gentle, naive, deeply feeling, intuitive, impulsive child “ just the way I was meant to be. I looked to others for their definition of me. Let me say that again: I looked to others for their definition of me. I looked to others for their definition of me, their acknowledgement, love, attention, and reasoning. I looked to others to show me how to fit in, how to express my thoughts and my feelings, to learn what was right and what was wrong. I trusted that what my mother told me was true, and that how she acted was right. There was no argument about that in my little 4 year old mind. I would have to try harder to be good.

My mother’s violence towards me, taught me that I was worthless and defective. Her demeaning words of contempt would eventually solidify my view of myself.

A child has no grasp on their own impulsiveness. They are a cauldron of churning, boiling feelings. Their impulses are fueled by those feelings. How ferociously this cauldron boils is dependent upon their experiences. When they are met constantly with craziness and terror; when their caregivers are dishonest, violent, and impulsive themselves, the “cauldron” often boils over. They are seen as “bad”, defective, or worse, by adults who themselves do not understand either their own or a child’s impulsiveness. They do not understand that children operate by impulse, those impulses fueled by feelings that the children have because of how they are treated and seen by these very adults! How is a child to untangle themselves from such a “catch 22″ situation? They cannot. Often they never will, even as they get older. They mature in years, seeing themselves as these adults have seen them, never understanding the nature of their impulsiveness, seeing themselves as “bad”, defective or worse. Escalation is an integral part of this mechanism. As the adults continue to see these children acting on their impulses, their misguided view of the children is solidified. Their reactions and judgment continue in themselves, and reactions in their children continue to escalate. Often other more favored children are brought into this drama, seeing their brother or sister as the parent sees them. The child singled out for this drama, is completely alone, “knows” that they are different from everyone else, because they see every member of their family treating them that way. Isolated from those who see the child this way, the child is left to their own devices in dealing with the violence and craziness, and more importantly, the feelings they are left with because of it.

All through my childhood, I could never seem to do anything right. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt growing up with this. I remember feeling listlessness, loneliness, and a tightness in my chest, that seemed to contain something unknown and hungry, something that needed to be filled or satisfied, but never could be. Rather than soft, gentle, warm, fuzzy, happy, content hopeful feelings, I had internalized the TERROR and DESPAIR of being raised by someone who more often than not was out of control. I never knew what to expect from my mother. Sometimes she was childlike and “nice”, while other times, she was like a wild animal, ready to devour me if I said or did the “wrong” thing. It would have been less crazy, if she had been wild all the time.

Over time, I learned to read her moods, in order to avoid her during her worst times, but my own impulsiveness set me up to do things that got me in trouble anyhow. My language skills grew as I tried to talk myself out of trouble. Nothing I said (or did) made any difference with her. I found better more precise ways of saying things so I wouldn’t be in trouble, all to no avail. I tried so hard to be “good”, but my own impulsiveness would get me in trouble. No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I was never good enough. Nothing I did or said was good enough for her, or later, for me! If only I could just get it right! But always the axe would fall, and I would find myself dealing with an enraged, out of control woman, ready to hurt me. The fact that she could so easily rationalize her own behavior, made her exceedingly dangerous. At any time, she might have killed me. Over and over and over, I was terrified of her, and terrified that she would kill me. Unless you experienced this, you cannot know what it is like. But I am asking you to try.

As a society, we have grown enough to recognize that it is wrong for an enraged husband to beat his wife. “Just a little hitting” is not OK. We even understand the mechanisms in him that allow him to do this. We understand how his abuse affects her. We understand that he is teaching her that he “owns” her, that she is powerless, in fact even defective and worthless! A mother who beats her children because of her own out of control rage teaches these same terrible lessons to her children. She fills their hearts with terror, rather than love, despair rather than hope, worthlessness, rather than integrity and value.

As a society, we must stop making excuses for parents who beat their children. I am tired of all the excuses. The Law looks for marks on the outside, but we must learn to see the marks it causes on the inside! We must stop automatically defending the right of a parent to beat their children by calling it child rearing, or shifting responsibility to the child by seeing them as “difficult” and the parents as blameless. “Just a little hitting” is not OK!

As a society, when we have grown enough to value our children enough to truly protect them, then perhaps, we can turn our attention toward helping so many others, child and adult alike, who have already been injured. That is the one right place to “try so hard”!

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