Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Early Childhood Sexual Assault, Anger, and Parenting

Another one found me. My tribe. She asked a bunch of questions and I don't want to directly lift her message because I didn't ask permission first and she was all polite and stuff.

How do we deal with this anger? How do we teach something different? Are we doomed to teaching our daughters to be screaming harpies just like us? How do we get out of bed in the morning and manage to not kill them all? Yes, yes they are the reason we keep living so of course we don't really want to kill them.

First and foremost if you are a survivor of ECSA you should almost certainly be in therapy for the entire time you have children living at home and maybe for the rest of your life. You were taught bad things for your brain and body during the formative period of your existence. Overcoming that is a conscious choice every fucking day for the rest of your life. Sorry.

Ok, maybe someday it will be unconscious but I kind of doubt it.

What do we do with the anger? In my opinion step one is examining your anger. Why are you angry? Anger is a signal that something is crossing one of your boundaries? How does that work for you?

I've done a lot of work on my anger. I've written a lot here about that over time. What I mean by "done a lot of work on my anger" what I mean is I understand when I am getting angry because I feel trapped and helpless because in the past I was trapped and helpless. I have learned that I get to say, "I don't like how you are touching me, please stop." I have learned that I get to say, "When you speak to me in that tone of voice it sounds to me like you are angry--am I hearing you correctly or am I over reacting?" And "Right now I'm having a lot of big feelings and I need to go feel them for a few minutes before I can talk to you."

I get mad at my kids. I yell at my kids. I do more of it than I want to and I feel fear about the future when they you know... actually talk back. Parents yell at kids because parents feel out of control. I have a lot of control issues. The primary reason that I am making a lot of the parenting decisions I am making is because I am doing my best to lower the number of places in our lives where I feel like I "have to" make my kids do something. I don't have to make them get up at a certain time. I don't have to make them eat. I don't have to make them do their homework. I don't have to make them... whatever.

When I yell at my kids I try to cut myself off in mid-screech and apologize and leave the room. Me yelling is not about them. That's the first step.

If you are yelling at your kids because they are doing something you don't like it is your fucking problem as the adult to apologize for losing your temper and being an asshole.

Seriously. Yelling won't solve a fucking thing and it just makes you an asshole.

Should I say that again? I'm an asshole. Sometimes I yell at my kids because I'm an asshole. I don't yell at them because they are bad. I yell at them because sometimes I am an asshole.

Ok. Now that I'm clear on that part. In any situation where a child has done something that bothers me I need to first examine why I'm so pissed off. What boundaries feel intruded upon? Why do I feel the need to scream? Am I inconvenienced because I don't want to clean up a mess? Am I upset because I feel they wasted something (like throwing food all over the floor or if they cut up expensive clothing [it happened]) I need to first think, "Do they have any schema in their brain for understanding why I would care about this?"

Most of the time... maybe? Not really? But my kids are little. They are two and four. As they get older this will be different and more of a struggle.

Once I figure out why I'm freaked out I need to figure out how to fix it. Usually I need to be in a room by myself for a few minutes to calm down once I've started screeching. Then I come back and talk it out.

"I'm sorry I screamed. I felt surprised and overwhelmed by how much work I anticipate having to do. Yelling wasn't the right answer. Were you doing an experiment? How did this come to be? Ok. We do need to clean this up. Will you please fetch _____?"

I try to have a calm conversation as we are going about the clean up process. I HAVE BIG CONTROL ISSUES AROUND MESSES. I said that in capitol letters because I understand that it is my issue and not everyone shares it. I'm kind of standing on the table and reminding myself that my issues are not anyone else's problem and I get to do that in my journal. So there.

But my kids have to live with me. So I have to teach them how to be respectful about public spaces. I also have to calmly, politely, and with great fucking patience teach them step by step how to clean up after themselves. If I huff and do it myself then they are not capable of doing it in the future. That's just plain bad planning. If I'm all nice and shit to my kids while they are little I hear it pays off.

Kids fighting. This is something we are just starting to get to. I confess that I am going to have a very hard journey through sibling rivalry. You know that expression, "I hope you die in a fire" as a way of expressing that you hate someone and want them to suffer? Well, that's how my brother died. He covered himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire because I prosecuted my dad for raping me. Ok, not because. But it was in the five month period between when I pressed charges and when my dad killed himself the morning the trial was to start. I found out about both deaths through a screaming hysterical phone call from my oldest brother as he told me both deaths were all my fault and he hated me. My sister encouraged me to be a whore, take drugs, and submit quietly to being raped by the guys in my family.

I'm going to have an awkward journey through sibling rivalry with my kids. I'm just saying.

Lately my oldest has been in a phase where she constantly wants to play "let's race" then she will circle the other player for a while chanting, "I'm the winner and you're the loser." Of course this is in a sing song voice.

My youngest responds to this by hitting her older sister and saying, "You so mean." Good for her.

Ok, that's not what I say in the moment. But it's what I'll say in my damn journal.

In practice I talked to my oldest about the kid up the block who is just a little motor cross champ in training. This girl is a year older but she rides her bike really well and can take jumps off a ramp and she practices all kinds of stunts. She's going to be quite the bad ass in a few years.

I asked my oldest daughter if she would like it if her friend did the same thing to her about bicycle racing. Obviously the neighbor is going to win every single time they have a bike contest given that my kid can't even ride a bicycle properly. I asked if she wanted to be taunted and called a loser. She looked horrified. I asked her why she thought it was ok to do to her sister. She apologized and offered a hug.

I talk to my therapist about losing my temper. Her response is her most fucked up clients are people who had parents who always controlled their anger. It's normal and healthy to get mad. What matters is how you handle getting mad. Do you blame your kids? Do you tell them that you wouldn't get mad if they ________. Whoa. What an inappropriate amount of responsibility to put on a kid. Really on anyone.

I have issues with being lied to. If someone habitually lies to me I tend to get angry to the point where I kick holes in the wall and then I stop dealing with that person any more. This has been a frequent pattern for me. I can't do that with my children and all children lie.

I'll tell you the truth and say that one worries the shit out of me. I don't have a good plan yet. We'll see how things go.

Will you ever have peace? Well... what does peace mean for you? It means something different to everyone. Yesterday I had a moment of Zen.

I was out in the garage in the morning before anyone woke up and I was feeling panicked and scared and like I will never be worth anything at all--my husband really wants me to work on that word "worth" and deal with what it means to me--and I will never be able to accomplish anything and I will never be good enough and I will never do anything that makes the world a better place. I am just a fucking waste of oxygen.

Doesn't sound like a moment of Zen does it?

Then I stopped the whole cycle of suck for one moment.

My father was a severe repeat offender. He raped many children. He is dead because of me. He stopped because of me. Because of me my father was not able to pass his warped values down to my brother's children. My still-living brother hates me for taking his daddy away.

I had a moment of complete calm. I did make the world a better place. It was hard and it was scary and it involved a great deal of pain and making a lot of people hate my guts. It involved having to break the bonds of family. But I did it. I made the world better and safer.

It's not hyperbole. It is simply and literally true. How my father and brother chose to die was not my fault. I hold no responsibility there. But I stood up and told the truth and I said I wouldn't be raped any more.

I am an angry person partially because it took sixteen years before I could get my father to stop raping me. Over twenty-three years I was raped by twelve people. Because I was taught to go find people who would treat me that way. And they can smell blood in the water. They know I am not good at stopping people from hurting me.

I believe I should be in pain. It is one of the basic under pinnings of my world view. I don't truly believe that consciously but if you look at my life it is clearly true. At every stage, at every age I have hunted hard for ways to hurt myself. I have cut myself, burned myself, found friends who believe that whores don't get to say no, and boyfriends who like to hit their girlfriends. I made sure it was "bdsm" and I "consented" because do you know what happens when I say "no"?

Someone holds a taser to my vulva. True fucking story. That's what god damn happens when I say, "I don't want someone to use a cattle prod on me." The response is "Well this is a taser. Here you go!"

Do people like me ever heal?

What the fuck does that mean?

I haven't been raped in years. I've told my husband that if he ever rapes me again I will not only divorce him I will make sure he rots in jail. Not because I think he has plans to do so. But because that is something that I have to be prepared to do in defense of myself.

I have to believe that I do not deserve to be raped. I have to believe that I do not deserve to be in pain. It's the only way I can teach my children to not believe that they should be raped or in pain.

It's complicated.

Do you know how you teach your children? The vast majority is unconscious. They just watch you. They watch how you are an adult taking up space in the world. They watch how you let people talk to you. They watch how you talk to people. They watch what you tolerate and when you say, "Hey I deserve better."

They watch if you think the way to handle a disagreement is to fly off the handle and scream.

That part sucks ass. I'm just saying. I feel like a total douchebag sometimes. I apologize.

My children are aware that a long time ago stuff happened to me that changed how my brain works. Once I get into an emotion like anger/sadness/frustration I have to consciously work on changing that because my brain wants to just stay in that rut. It's not because of them it's because of stuff that happened years and years before they were born. They are not the reason I get so mad and I'm really sorry that sometimes it feels that way. Let me excuse myself into time out for a few minutes so I can come back and do this like a nice person.

(For the record I rarely smoke during these time outs because I think modeling Get Stressed = Do Drugs! is a bad idea. Even though I gosh darn want to. That's why I smoke on a schedule so that the kids don't associate outbursts with needing anxiety meds. And I now have a vaporizer! It has been here for twelve hours. Uhm, review later.)

I'll be honest that I tell myself "I lived through twenty years of hell. I can do twenty years of kind of frustrating."

Because really... the kids are frustrating. They aren't bad. They aren't malicious. They aren't evil. They aren't hurting me. But they frustrate the shit out of me sometimes. That's ok. Learning to deal with frustration is probably good for me.

Or something.

When you go find a therapist you have to be hella picky. You need to interview the therapist and decide if this person has an attitude and approach to like. When you pick a therapist you are essentially picking a surrogate parent of sorts. A guide towards more appropriate behaviors. You get to pick which therapist will be able to guide you in a way you want to be guided. You don't have to become a born again Christian just because some shrink tells you that is the answer to your problems.

You are unique. Your attitudes, your beliefs are things I don't share and I don't understand. I don't know what kind of support you need. You have to find a therapist who will be good for you... so I don't know exactly what advice to give.

I tell therapists during the phone screen: "I need you to never flinch. I need you to be a blank wall. You are not allowed to say, "Oh no" or "You poor dear" or any other such commentary or I will leave and not come back. I do not need to be mollycoddled. I need to be able to talk about my traumas so you can help me learn to work around them not so you can minimize or avoid them because they make you uncomfortable."

It weeds out a lot of people, let me tell you.


  1. If you are yelling at your kids because they are doing something you don't like it is your fucking problem as the adult to apologize for losing your temper and being an asshole.

    Seriously. Yelling won't solve a fucking thing and it just makes you an asshole.

    I disagree. I think this is too black-and-white. Sometimes yelling is exactly the right thing to do because the kids need to know that what they've done has pissed you off. They may not exactly know why what they did is wrong, but they need to know that it is wrong. I think that while you can say "This makes me angry because ..." in a calm voice and explain it, if you are hiding the angry so the kids can't actually see it, it has less impact.

    Of course, I'm talking about what's true for me, which doesn't make it true for you. You've said that you're hiding anger most (all?) of the time, so doing it to different degrees (hiding it more in one situation, and less in another) must be a difficult proposition.

    All of that said, I greatly admire your ability to voice the thing that's bothering you, and explain why it bothers you. I have a lot of trouble with that sometimes.

    OK, what I'm really trying to say here is that yelling doesn't necessarily make you an asshole. Sometimes it's OK.

    Am I inconvenienced because I don't want to clean up a mess? Am I upset because I feel they wasted something (like throwing food all over the floor or if they cut up expensive clothing [it happened]) I need to first think, "Do they have any schema in their brain for understanding why I would care about this?"

    But you *are* inconvenienced because they made a mess, and you *are* upset because they wasted something. And those are appropriate responses. They may not be able to understand why, but they still need to be taught that it's wrong. T doesn't understand why it's bad for him to drop my iPhone on the ground. He has no way to conceive of the money it costs, and that he might break it. But I still get angry at him for it, raise my voice at him about it, and punish him (quick timeout) for it. He has no schema for understanding why I care, but I need him to know that I do care, because I need him to stop doing it.

    I think overall, what it really comes down to is - I agree with your therapist. It's normal and healthy to get mad.

    1. I think it is normal and healthy to get mad. I disagree with you fundamentally about whether screaming is necessary for dealing with children. :)

    2. Yeah, OK. Put that way, I agree. I don't think that screaming is necessary. I just don't think it necessarily makes you an asshole either.

      Ironically, this morning, Makoto managed to drop half of the lunch I had packed for him on the floor. I was actually so angry that I didn't yell at him. Just got very very quiet. I think he prefers it when I yell a little.

      Good thing to know about myself though.