I was one of the people who couldn’t understand why a person would stay with an abusive partner. I thought, “Why don’t they just leave?” or “Do they enjoy being battered?” I had no idea that I would ever become “one of them.”
My father was very strict, domineering, military, abusive verbally, emotionally and physically and a sadist. I was taught from the beginning that whatever went on in the family should stay in the family. If I told anything to anyone, he always turned it around so that I was the one who was doing the wrong thing. One example was that if I didn’t want males looking at me, then I shouldn’t wear the colour red.
He demanded total, immediate, unquestioning obedience. Punishment was surely coming otherwise. He had a very thick, wide military belt that he would beat my siblings with. I used to run away so that I couldn’t hear their painful screams. The beating started by him saying something to the effect that “it was for their own good. “ I obeyed out of fear and never got the strap. But this left me with the feeling and thoughts that he didn’t love me enough to bother strapping me “for my own good.” In this way, I came to expect abuse as proof that the person punishing me really loved me.
Talking back, making loud noises, and sometimes “crying for no reason” became excuses to punish us. I remember being made to wash the floors with a rag. He would lecture me on how stupid I was, how fat I was, how lazy I was and this would drag on for hours. He would punch my shoulder and tell me to “knock that chip off your shoulder.” There was also, “you missed a spot…start over again. This paved the way for accepting that I wasn’t to talk back, make loud noises, or show any signs that anything was wrong. One time I was crying in my supervisor’s office and when I left a second later, she couldn’t understand how I could go from tears to looking very happy in the next second. It was easy…I learned how to act while growing up, making it easier for an abuser to get me to act like everything was okay and keeping quiet and not making a fuss over what had happened, after all, as I was brought to believe, “it was all my fault.”
When I was 13 years old, I was in the hospital for a week. It came as a very great shock to me that people were being so kind to me. I didn’t realize that people were normally kind to others. Up until that time, I didn’t know that I was being abused. I thought that my father’s behaviour was normal. That incident had lasting memories as it was the happiest time that I ever had up until then. But it also lead me to want to be in the hospital when I was very stressed out. This was one of the reasons that I stayed with my abuser although I didn’t realize it at the time. I was hoping to get away from him by being in the hospital, even if he was the one who hurt me enough to put me there. I wanted to be where everyone was kind and I was safe.
One time an old man offered me candy to go with him through the trees so that he could find the lake. I did what I had been taught to do. I ran home. When I told my father what had happened he loaded his high-powered hunting rifle and went out with the intention of killing the guy. Boy, that teaches you not to tell in the future. I hated my father but there was still a part of me that loved him as well, and I didn’t want to see him go to jail for murder. And a little spot deep inside me thought, “Gee, isn’t it cool that your father would kill someone for you.”
There were numerous times as a child when I felt like I was abandoned. One time we were on a train moving to another province and my sister woke me up and said that the other family members were no longer on the train. They had gotten off to buy food at a train stop in the train station and had left us as we were still sleeping. I was 7 years old. One time my Mum had to go in hospital and my father brought in a babysitter for us. I thought that he was “replacing” my Mum. I was 4 years old at the time. These experiences made me become terribly afraid of being abandoned again, which helped to keep me in the abusive relationship as, even though he was a bad partner, it was still stressful to see myself as being “abandoned” by him.
My father would tell us stories of when he was a soldier fighting in the Second World War. His favorite one was how he picked up a dead German soldier’s gun and shot and killed his own sergeant with it. Or the time him and his brother were shooting at police who came across them illegally jacking deer. He would threaten to “break our necks” or send us to reform school. When you are 4 years old and witness your father hanging a dog to see how long it would take to die, you are forever convinced that his threats are real. This also makes your partner’s death threats seem real.
Children see their parents as role models and think that they should behave the same way. So, I saw the male in my life as being a dominant man who would make up the rules and I would obey them or be punished by him. I wanted my partner to be strong, powerful and capable of physically protecting me. I saw it as a weakness on his part if he deviated any from my image of what he should be, and I lost respect for him and I would start to see how far I could push him. This went on until I had driven him away. So when I did find the “perfect man for me” I ended up with exactly what I was subconsciously looking for…an abusive male.
I saw my Mum’s role as being the silent, passive woman who let the man make all of the decisions, including being sadistic to their children. I thought that all wives should behave this way.
These childhood experiences really did a lot to set me up to be abused. Sometimes, parents have no clue how much they can harm their children’s lives or how deeply. My Mum thought that they were doing a great job raising us. She just was unaware of what the two of them were mentally putting us through. He never abused her physically but she obeyed the rules as he laid them out. Just like I thought that I had to.