Many victims of domestic violence have been able to recover from their early lives when they received abuse to live a fulfilling and productive life, others carry on the abusive behavior in different ways, while others have been scarred so badly that they are not able to care for themselves.
Below are two stories from people who have experienced being hurt by someone close to them. The first is from a man who lived with physical abuse from 5 or 6 years of age until he got out of the house. The second is from a woman whose boyfriend abused her psychologically, then physically, before she left.
[Click on the headings below to expand or contract the stories.]
We didn’t think about the concept of “Spare the Rod and Spoil the child” as being the slogan for abusive parenting back in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. But that is exactly what it was and what it meant. I know because I lived it.
I was fortunate in the sense that my childhood formative years, from birth till 5 or 6 years of age, was in the loving arms of my maternal grandfather and grandmother. I was essentially raised by them after my mother divorced my birth father and we moved back to her parent’s home in Detroit, Michigan, until my mother remarried and Mom and I moved in with a new Dad and 2 step-brothers.
However, my step-brothers were less fortunate, their Dad (now my Dad) carried the brunt of his fathers child-rearing philosophy to not raise a spoiled child. My step-brothers formative years were in that strict, no frills, environment. They suffered for it, as you will see.
Ours was, in all appearances, a very normal, middle-class household. Tidy and clean, 3 boys and Mom and Dad. We frequently went to church, 2 of 3 got through school effectively, and my folks drove 2 nice cars. But behind that façade was turmoil. We 3 brothers walked on egg shells when ever Dad was around, and we were not much more relaxed around Mom either. Usually, out of what ever frustrations went on in her mind, Mom would rat us out to Dad for the most minor of infractions, just when he walked in the door and the explosions began, immediately. It got to the point that I became nervous at simply the sound of his car pulling in the drive way.
Sometimes our behavior issues were nothing more than childhood exuberance. I mean, 3 brothers from 5 to 8 years old have a bit of energy, to say the least. To expel the energy, we played, and often played hard, much to my Mom’s exasperation. Mom was a “Neat-Freak”, and couldn’t stand things messy, and well, boys are messy, Right? The results, when Dad walked in would always be extreme; usually a spanking, with a leather belt on bare bottoms. Many times, I skipped gym classes the next day after a whipping, simply because I didn’t want my friends to see the blisters and bruises on my legs and butt.
Ours was a set of arbitrary rules, as well. This led to the tension in us kids because we often were not aware of the rule we had just violated. Like the time I asked my Mom if I could go to the local pool and swim with some local friends, Mom said to ask Dad (going to the pool meant one of them had to drive me there). So I go to Dad and asked him the same question, his response (because he didn’t want to drive me either) was “Ask Mom.” My response was; “I did ask her and SHE said to ask you!” And I never saw it coming, WHACK, a right palm right across my face, busting my ear drum. “Don’t you ever call your Mom SHE again.” This was his demand, but it was a rule I had never heard before. Out of guilt, they finally let me go swim, but they had to turn around and get me because when I jumped into the pool and the water rushed into to my busted ear drum, I started screaming and fainted, the life-guards had to drag me to shore and called Dad to come and get me, which he was not happy about. And there are many other stories just like this one, but you all know what I mean by violent parenting.
Going back to my step-brothers, they suffered the same punitive punishments as I did, but their turmoil started much earlier than mine and they never knew anything different, Dad was not going to let them be spoiled from birth. This made a big difference in the way they, and I, handled the stress of our daily lives. Of course, as a young boy, I didn’t recognize this so I cannot point to examples from our childhood. But as young men the personality traits began to express themselves in each of us. I, for the most part, did everything I could to be away from the house. I got a job at 13 shinning shoes at a local barbershop, went camping with friends, and generally stayed away. I knew instinctively that this was wrong and was no way to raise kids, because my formative years were in such a loving and nurturing home, I could recognize the difference.
But my brothers did not have the same perspective as me. They looked at this strict, violent upbringing, as normal. Their self-esteem was destroyed. My youngest brother was the most affected, he struggled through school, became addicted to drugs and alcohol, could never have a successful, intimate relationship or hold down a job. Today he is living in a assisted living home for the downtrodden, living off society and wasted, drunk daily, he just turned 62, toothless and emaciated.
My older brother is gone now, but he did manage to have a long term marriage, raised 2 children, and was employed by the same company for 37 years. But it was a daily struggle for him to keep his life between the lines, thanks primarily to a very loving and strong wife. But he struggled with drugs and alcohol as well. He would have violent outbursts from time to time, and often would go on drinking binges for weeks at a time. His wonderful wife would pull him back into to normality and he’d go along normal for quite a while.
His major defect was expressed in the way he raised his son, (not the daughter, just the son). He was a tyrant to the boy, verbally abusive for the most part. I don’t believe his wife would have tolerated physical abuse for a second. But his verbal abuse was very profound. Many times I was shocked at how he would talk to his son.
This is remarkable because of the issues then expressed by the son as he grew up. He became abusive to his friends. A big kid to begin with, he was often in trouble for fighting in school. And he bounced from job to job, he finally settled in a job he loved and could handle, that as a PRISON GUARD. I asked him one day, “What do you like about being a prison guard?” His answer spoke volumes, “I love it because when someone messes up I can THUMP them and not get in trouble, I love that.”
If there is anything the reader should carry away from this article, I hope it is the point that a parents actions in the formative years, from birth to about 6, is very critical to the developing, empty-slate, of a child’s mind and personality. My brothers carried their angst, and lack of self-esteem through out their lives. I on the other hand, quite unknowingly, was able to sense this was not right, and had enough self-esteem from a loving family that matched my formative years, that I did not carry away those same defects.
I believe that I have led a loving and productive life (by most standards) and looking back I thank my grandparents for that. And my wife and I raised two loving and productive daughters, and sadly, I did it by (honestly) doing EXACTLY the opposite as I thought my parents would have.
Let me end by saying that I really do not “Blame” my parents for all the bad that occurred in my brother’s (or my) lives. At some point you have to take responsibility for your own life. But I do think the specific circumstances of my early years versus their early years and then our lives being essentially the same until we left home, and then the results of each of our lives 60 years later, all seems to be a fairly reasonable example of how domestically violent parenting can effect the entire lives of the children living under the stress, especially during those formative years.
I had had no exposure to domestic violence/abuse. It was not part of my upbringing. It was not in my family, extended family or talked about with close friends or neighbors. My parents were respectful and kind to each other.
So, I didn't see this coming...
You had been out late with your friends. I was in bed in a deep sleep, but now you are lifting the mattress angrily and in one big swoop I am thrown up against the wall. You are so angry, animal like. What had you seen, what happened that made this other glazed, wild-eyed person rise out of you? The names you called me, “black c***-s****** w****”, where did that come from? Who is this person? My mind was wildly racing...are you drugged? Do you know who I am? I find screams in me I didn't know I had...”David, David it's me D___!” What is going on? Our relationship was newer (maybe 6 months), moved in together, compatible. I thought we were happy, falling in love, never argued.
Now I am so, so, so afraid of you, the you I never met. Do you remember it was another lovely southern California night and the open window had a wonderful breeze, but it also allowed our apartment neighbors to hear my screams. THANK GOD! Somehow I raced around you, out the front door and down the second floor steps... so, so frightened, heart beating so, so fast! A first floor neighbor, a young man, opened his door, said “I heard, come in, you are safe”. I never came back to you and moved my things out when you left for work. Moving out of state and putting many miles between us felt safer.
I think now I can see there were some signs you gave me. You were jealous and you were controlling. Once you came into the shower and grabbed me around the neck when an out-of-state friend came to visit and stayed for a few days. I was so shocked, I did not tell her and I can't remember what you said. Later it almost felt surreal, like it didn't happen. Do you see how abusive and unprovoked this was? I should have left then.
I don't know and I will never understand what happened in your mind that night you threw me in such a rage. But I do know I could not stay where I didn't feel safe and honored. Now I do know firsthand what domestic violence/abuse is. I am different, wary. I hope you are able to understand how violent/abusive you were, how wrong this is and I hope no one else was ever hurt by you. D___