The reaction to my recent article, What My Violent, Abusive, Neglectful Parents Taught Me About Being A Man HERE was extraordinary. Apart from the comments on the post itself, I had various emails and comments on other sites from people who had shared similar experiences and had moved forward. Some felt a sense of hope that they may too, one day reach the point that I have in my life. Some praised the choice I made to be different and be something different. As always in this world, there were of course some who had strong opinions about my post. On two occasions, I was accused of portraying myself as a “victim” and being a “pussy”. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The important thing for me is that I do not feel a victim and so chose not to portray myself as such. I also chose not to disclose other events that occurred that I will never make public but I also feel that I am not finished with this story in a more general sense.
Just recently, I have been having vivid flashbacks to events I know with certainty took place in my life before the age of three. Just this morning, I awoke with a flashback of an event that I haven’t thought about for many years. I know this took place when I was about a year old and it pertained to me falling from an old-fashioned pram into a bush of stinging nettles. I remember my mother being distraught and I believe we hit a pothole in the road which caused this. The event and the flashbacks are not the subject of this post and I have my own method of dealing with these but it did make me reflect on how my perception of my parents changed as I got older. This is something we all go through and the realism that finally hits us that these people are imperfect can have a marked, devastating effect on how we see ourselves and the world. This is the case even if abuse and neglect are not present. It hits us all to a greater or lesser degree.
Why these flashbacks are relevant is because they transport me back to my Garden of Eden with my parents being the equivalent of Adam and Eve in my then child’s mind. For the first three to four years of my life (dependency), I thought they were the most pure God-like figures that walked the Earth. There was no other point of reference to counter this. They were my world and I could not reason enough to suggest that they weren’t. I saw my mother as the most beautiful woman in the world with her sixties proper bouffant hairstyle, her tidiness and I went to her when I had problems. I went to her when I fell over, when I was hungry, tired or just when the world was getting too much as it often does at that age. In true Freudian style, she was my first love! Looking back now, I can remember the rejection and my attempts to gain attention which were labelled “bad behavior”. At that time, it didn’t matter. My father was, for me, the adventurer. He was the one who daringly (in my innocent eyes), went out into the big bad world every day and came back safely at night. I remember having anxiety at times until he walked through the door and asking my mother when he would be back. (I recognize it now as maybe the first signs of my anxious, insecure attachment to them). He was, for my four-year-old self the original “Boys Own” hero who was conquering the world one day at a time. (For context Boys Own). I saw him as Dan Dare, Booby Moore and in all the “heroes” then. I even compared him to James T Kirk on the original Star Trek, thinking “My Dad is better than you!”. Looking back now, I realize that these thoughts were without basis or reason but we are talking here about the workings and thoughts of a four-year old mind.
Even though some might say that in the comments above, there was some reasoning going on, I would like to describe it as more fantasy. That fantasy for all of us is shattered as soon as we gain the cognitive skills to reason in a realistic way. This happened to me at about 7, just about the time, the abuse started. Even without that, there would have been a natural tendency to break down that baby/child fantasy as we finally see how parents as imperfect and not as we believed they were and are. This is a natural process and with “ok” parenting, we can move through the disappointment that might bring for us or the guilt and shame that might be associated with that fantasy. However, if not handled correctly, children can continue to live with the fanatical feelings they have. They might start to blame themselves that these “perfect” people are suddenly “imperfect” and will live their lives with “should” and “must” thinking”. They will be intimidated if they disturb the fantasy further and tread on eggshells around them in terms of communication and expressing needs. You might be able to see the implications for adult relationships.
In my case, my fantasy was very quickly smashed as admiration and hero-worship turned to abject fear and hyper vigilance. I was still conscious of where my parents were and what they were doing but not in a healthy, curious sense but in terms of danger and potential risk. They had become the enemy. Dan Dare became Lex Luthor and Satan himself. James T Kirk and The USS Enterprise were my escape (still are!). My mother became a flawed beauty in my eyes.
Looking back now from a position of strength and with my parents long gone, I can look at the situation with a sense of realism and compassion. While, I see no excuse for the abuse or the enabling of that, I have used the reasons to forgive, see it as more about them and nothing about me. I was not the reason they chose to abuse and neglect me. It was their choice and their choice alone. They have my pity for the choices they made. They missed out on being part of the wonderful journey I have taken that they, themselves started.