William recognizes in this entry that he started to feel shame and was given growing responsibility for siblings, making him a caregiver. One can see in the way he defines himself how the relationship with his father especially, has left him with the idea that he is less than he should be. The barriers between childhood and adulthood are breaking down for William at this point and he is starting to feel responsible for making sure others felt good emotionally while he felt terrible himself and about himself. William is starting on the road to become a loner and isolate himself from his family, an act of emotional protection.
I remember the first day we moved into our new house. I was five and the day being stressful for them meant that their usual discipline methods were at play. I was spanked by my father for wanting something, probably something innocent, and told to shut up by my mother. This day summed up how they dealt with stressful events generally. We were taught not to feel or to have any needs apart from the ones they thought we should have. We moved to a small town about 10 miles from the big house and I remember nothing except the being told to take my younger sibling to the local play park and look after him.
I was five, he was barely four. I already felt a sense of responsibility for him at that age and that was consolidated by warnings from my parents. I remember us being there for a long time and it was only made somewhat pleasant by meeting some of the other children in the town. We weren’t allowed back until they came to get us. Looking back, I cringe at the irresponsibility of it all but of course at that age, what they tell you goes and you believe it.
I dont remember moving in to that house, just my parents arguing and my father disappearing for three days (we later went to collect him from his mother by taxi, the first of many such escapades). God, I felt so insecure in those days and often wondered whether I would survive. I remember wanting to die a number of times out of frustration but internalized this and became sullen and quiet to the extent my father kept saying openly that there must be something wrong with me. This is the first time I felt toxic shame, I believe. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking at five years old how disgusting I was and how I wish I could be someone else, anyone else. I hated my hair, face and body and compared myself to everyone. At this time, that is all I can remember. I was weird, abnormal, something wrong with me. I used to hear my father telling my mother that I needed “sorting out”, sending away or adopted by another family. I really didn’t understand why he said this or what I needed to do to make it better. I never really knew what to say to him or how to be around him. He was a mystery to me but the overall feeling was one of fear. He would beat me hard and not just one slap but continued when I made the slightest mistake. He never did this with my siblings, just me. My mother never stood up to him but comforted me when he was not around, making this very confusing for a young mind.
I remember vividly my first day at the local school. I spent the day before screaming and crying saying I don’t want to go. I was petrified of what I might find there. Nobody prepared me for this. My father called me a pansy and my mother was so panicked (I felt) that she didn’t seem herself. She took me there on the first day and I felt a sense of dread as I saw her leave. I felt like crying but instead held it back and soiled myself as I sat with all the other kids on the floor listening to our new teacher. I remember the warm feeling as it happened and the pool of liquid moving slowly away from me. I sat there until it was noticed by another teacher and she picked me up and took me home (which was across the road). I was immediately sent to my room and made to stay there while I heard my father saying he cannot believe I am his son and I need “toughening up”. Looking back, I was the Lost Child of the family, the scapegoat who was different. My brother was the Golden Child who got all my father’s attention. He lived his life again through him and I was not wanted. I guess I was the reason they had to marry. The dates of everything (their marriage in connection with my date of birth has always been sketchy). I’m sure he had a lot of resentment for me.
After the first day disaster at school, I actually started to enjoy going to school. It was a small place and the only children there were the ones I played with outside school so it was easier and easier to feel comfortable. However, given all that was going on at home, I never felt safe and doubted my ability to do anything. I lived in the shadow of my younger brother who was the star of everything he did and often used as a comparison tool by my father. I felt shame and anguish that I had to do more to get less and about the same time, my parents tried (again) to revive their marriage by focusing on each other. That meant a new role for me… that of caregiver to my siblings when they went out. I was eight, they were seven and five. Our younger sister, went everywhere with them. This role consolidated what was later to become my codependency that I transferred into every relationship I was in.
Later in his life, my father confessed to me that he had cheated on my mother “hundreds” of times, giving me details of his conquests that included friends of the family, neighbours and work colleagues. Today, he would be classed as a sex addict of some kind but he essentially saw nothing wrong with it stating “your mother forgave me”. Something she denied on her deathbed, sending him into an emotional spiral for a number of years. I was horrified and ashamed that he was my father and angry that he left me carrying this knowledge but it summed him up perfectly. Nothing he did was without some benefit for him. Today, they would be calling him a covert, vulnerable narcissist.
He had the ability to make everyone around him feel sorry for him in some way but especially my mother who never left him but turned into a cold, bitter woman who could not show her feelings to anyone except her three small dogs. Six months before she died horribly of cancer, we had our final conversation where she told me she loved me for the first ever time. I am still not sure if she meant it or was even capable of love. My father never recovered from her death and spent the last eight years of his life being cared for by the family until he died suddenly of a massive heartache while eating lunch. I had talked to him three years earlier for the last time when he tried to tell me that he had always been there for me as a father. I told him that I felt I didn’t even know him and had come to the conclusion early on that he was never going to be part of my life. He put the phone down and that was that.
To be continued.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com