My therapist had this joke , when I started realizing today in therapy how much my dad acts like a toddler. If you’ve ever dealt with a toddler before, you’ll know the answer to this question: you can reason with a terrorist.
The “Me! Mine!” phase is part of healthy development for toddlers, and they eventually move beyond it. (That’s good news for you parents!) And if you know toddler justice, it involves escalating retaliations. Here’s an example from two of my siblings from when they were little: Betsy was dancing around, her arms spread wide, when she accidentally poked Tommy in the eye. Tommy cried and thought she did it on purpose, so he got up and poked her in both eyes. HA! Justice! Then Betsy got mad at him for poking her in the eyes…so she poked him thrice. At that point either my parents, my brother, or I intervened before we ended up with two blind toddlers.
This sort of thinking is not so healthy for adults. We can only speculate at what happened to my father, but something kept him emotionally stunted. He still feels things like a toddler. His rages, his spanking (which is better categorized as hitting), his sudden transformations from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde….they’re all toddler behavior. He’s not stupid though. My T said that the fact he can put on a good public face and hide all his narcissistic wounds is a testament to his intelligence.
It still doesn’t hide the fact that he acts like a toddler. dad was never clear as to exactly why he cut me out of the family. He sort of had a list of grievances, but the reasons still weren’t clear. He just thought that the best way to retaliate to what he perceived as disrespect was to cut me out of the family. All or nothing. Basically, like a toddler.
I tried talking it out with him. Reasoning with him. I didn’t understand why he would disown me when I couldn’t think of anything I had done to wrong him. I racked my brains, and I couldn’t think of anything I’d done. Except, perhaps, he misunderstood something when I got engaged? So I wrote an email back to my dad, trying to reason it out by providing a detailed timeline of the time leading up to the disownment, explained anything that I thought might have been misunderstood, and apologized for any misunderstanding.
The email back simply took my words, twisted them around, and he used them against me as “proof” I was a spoiled brat. I then hoped I could try to figure things out with my mom, but perhaps out of self-preservation, she kept trying to get me to apologize to dad for everything I had done. (What had I done? That was never fully clear. Except I guess I wasn’t good enough at cleaning my room.) On principle, I didn’t want to apologize for something I didn’t do. I’d done that too many times just to “keep the peace” in the family, and I had to confess it each time because it was a lie…just to keep dad’s ego intact. I wanted to stop lying.
But dad simply wasn’t, well, reasonable. I didn’t know it at the time, but yes, he was fully acting like a toddler.
dad may mellow over time, my T said. But some people also get more cantankerous as they get older. It’s hard to tell which way my dad will go, yet–but from what I can tell, he’s not getting more mellow. He’s getting more paranoid. After I was disowned, he disowned other family members. (And it looks like still more may be in the process of getting disowned…) They also greatly reduced the number of activities the little ones were in, ostensibly to reduce stress, but I can read between the lines. He’s afraid that he’ll lose them, too, and is tightening his grasp.
And my brother is still drinking that koolaid. Or as my husband joked, he washed down the blue pill with the koolaid. I was hoping he might be slightly healed by now, but he’s still shunning the people my dad has shunned, even as he and his wife are celebrating the birth of their first child. My nephew. I really wish I could send a small gift card to them to show that I’m still thinking of them. That I still care about them. However, I don’t think they’re ready yet. I’m not sure I am. My T thinks I should become more stable before I can think about reaching out to them.
Speaking of reaching out–I had been avoiding talking with some relatives because I was afraid that dad would disown them if I did. That somehow my relatives might let on that they were talking with me, and dad would turn his Eye on them. Or as my T pointed out…I was trying to protect them. I have been the protector while growing up. I tried to protect my siblings, and when I was disowned, I tried to protect their relationships with my relatives. It’s too much for me to take on, my T said. It’s not my place to be protector–my relatives are adults, and can make their own decisions. One set looks like they’re getting cut off, so I was going to email them more…but I will reach out to another set and see how that goes. Why should I let my fear of my father’s toddler reactions get in the way of what might be a good relationship with relatives?
It was a good therapy session today. There are some weeks where I feel like, “Oh, I’m getting better! It won’t be long before I’m done with therapy.” Then weeks like this week happens, and I realize I still have a long road ahead of me. I am just so glad I found a good therapist who’s a good match for me. I think that’s the biggest hurdle to therapy…finding the right person.
Filed under: Abuse