Patterns are everywhere. We can see them in nature with the four seasons. Patterns provide us with a sense of dependability. We can safely guess that in July it’s going to be too hot for our winter coats. And in January you’re probably not going to want to step out in your tankini. Patterns are merely repetitions. And repetition is how we learn. So it is that we can begin to understand our world and the role we are to play in it.
Undoubtedly, we are assigned our roles. The more generalized roles, the social roles we play aren’t so much communicated to us directly. But we look to the media, we look to members of our community and members of our family. And we begin to acquire by mimicking that which we have learned will enhance our chances of survival, whether our survival is physical, social, or emotional. To learn how to play out our specific, individual role unique to us and us alone, we must rely on the people around us who take care of us. What other choice do we have? As a child our minds are still developing as we learn to adapt to this strange environment that makes no sense to us. Who am I? Where do I belong? Why am I here? To answer these questions we look for clues from our family, the people we have come to love and depend on, the people we spend most of our time with, day in and day out. We learn how to feel about ourselves. We learn how to treat other people.
This is how we get stuck in a cycle of seeing ourselves and relating with others a certain way–the two are so closely interconnected. I think it’s quite true that we often “repeat the past as a way of remaining psychologically connected to the past.” (*I totally paraphrased that.) For those of us who grew up in a household that crippled us in some way (which, let’s face it, is all of us), why in the world would we do that?! Why would I want to attempt to create situations that I know are just going to cause old wounds to resurface? Why am I hellbent on being unhappy, unloved and a reject? Because, I now see more clearly,
“we tend to stage the same charged scenarios over and over, as we search for a different ending–for a resolution. But until the issues of the past are truly resolved, the curtain cannot be rung down upon them, so the repetitious efforts to master and resolve them continue.” (*That is a direct quote!)
Some of us just need our lives to fall apart before we can finally figure out how the pieces fit together. Sometimes we have to make the same mistakes over and over before we’re able to learn the lessons we need to learn to finally be happy, to finally love and feel loved.
When it comes to my previous relationships, of course I have chosen partners who would prefer to defer their sense of responsibility because that’s what my own father did. And I, having naturally identified with my mother, took on her role as the “responsible” one; the person in charge of matters pertaining to…pretty much everything. In fact, my dad didn’t do a damn thing to help his family except bring home a paycheck. Oh, and occasionally he’d take me to school if I missed the bus (which I so often did). But he’d be sure to remind me how worthless I was for it. Heaven forbid he be woken from his slumber after staying up late watching TV (porn) in the living room. (My dad slept on the couch, so catching him watching porn was inevitable–not to mention, traumatizing.) Things like cooking, cleaning, child rearing…these are areas that my mother has dominated and now so do I. Because I need to. At least, I do in order to carry out my mother’s role so that I may rectify some aspect of the past. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t want it to be that way. I want a true partnership, something my parents never had.
I spent my childhood screaming at my dad in a whisper, alone, behind my bedroom door, telling him he was a damn idiot; softly yelling that I hated him for being so imperious, so hypocritical, so vicious and cruel as he tried in the highest pitch of his voice to convince my mom and my brother that they were “stupid idiots”. He was determined to persuade us into believing that we were a burden to him in some way when my mother did nothing but bend over backwards to please a man who couldn’t be pleased and couldn’t be proved wrong. Behind that door I begged my mom to leave him, to take us away from him. But she never did. And my resentment of them both simply grew into a quiet rage.
Fast forward. I’m a grown ass woman. I’d like to believe I’m fairly intelligent, intuitive and observant. And yet here I am, constantly pushing the men of my life out of my life because, I finally realize, I am doing what my mom never could–I’m retaliating against the tyranny of my father.
It all seems so obvious, yet we are operating on an unconscious level much of the time in our relationships. So of course I would unconsciously choose partners whose temperament is reminiscent of my dad’s. Because then, rather than address my own anger and admit to having feelings that for so long I was put off by, I have secretly needed my partners to take over those disavowed aspects of myself which I could use against them, becoming angry that they’re angry, making way for pushback. Even though I’m fucking angry in my own right! It’s just that I’ve never seen anger expressed in a healthy, functional way that is followed by a reassurance of one’s unconditional love. In fact, my dad never expressed his love. He expressed hate/hostility/resentment. Never love. Not with an “I love you”, not with a hug or a kiss or even a pat on the back. For all I know my dad thought I had cooties.
And there you are. Feeling angry and unloved…rejected. You think there’s nobody to share it with; no one who would get it; no one who would care. So you grow more angry and isolated. Even when you meet someone who does seem to care, you push their love away. Because all you’ve ever tried to give is love, but all you ever seem to get is renunciation. So you push as a requital. But nothing can erase what’s been done, what’s (not) been said. I can’t change my past. I couldn’t control everything that has happened in my life or the family I was born into. It’s not my fault my dad is an asshole and that his dad was an abusive, drunk asshole. But I can begin taking control of my actions, the way I treat people, the way I perceive things, and the commitments I make. I can learn to express and direct anger appropriately.
My parents went through life pretending nothing was wrong. Smile and nod, smile and nod, and everything will at least seem okay. But things were never okay. My parents did not have a healthy marriage. My dad was some kind of sex crazed maniac who cheated on my mom habitually and made no real attempts to hide it except that he’s never admitted to it–not to his wife and not to his kids. Now it’s just as if there’s an extra member of our family as we try to ignore the pink elephant in the room.
My dad slept on the couch under the assumption that it was because he was a terrible snorer. But I don’t think that was the whole of it. The whole of it is that my mom couldn’t bear to share a bed with him, even though she felt forced to at times. Occasionally my dad would slip into my mom’s room at night (it was never “their” room) and close the door. Now, knowing what I know, I’m sure he was using those moments to have his sexual needs gratified, as if his lady conquests weren’t enough to fill the void within him. It forges a pit in my stomach as I reflect on those times and recall something my mother said to me when I told her I was separating from my ex-husband.
I had just confessed to her in tears my unhappiness with my marriage. I explained the way I felt after once again giving in to having sex with someone who quite frankly repulsed me. The mere thought of having sex with this man made me want to crawl out of my skin. The final straw was laying there vacant with him on top of me, feeling dead inside. He paused, saw me staring off into space as I prayed to be anywhere but underneath him, yet he kept thrusting his penis inside of me as though I was just a body, there for his sexual gratification and nothing more. In that moment I was not a person with thoughts and feelings, he didn’t care about those. I was merely a depository.
After that I decided I couldn’t pretend anymore. I would no longer sacrifice myself or my body for someone capable of treating me that way. I told him I wanted to separate. And the next day I informed my mother. Her response is one I’ll never forget and will never forgive: “That’s just what you do as a woman…you lie there and take it. What woman enjoys sex?” Gee. Thanks, mom. In that moment I promised myself that I would never surrender myself the way my she has or the way she expected me to. What a sad, miserable life she’s led. And for what? Did she really think she was doing us kids a favor? Undoubtedly, there was more to it than that.
So then I suppose my withdrawal from my marriage was, yet again, my attempt to do what my mother never could–stand up for myself. No one should be forced to have sex against their will. No doubt about it, my mother has been raped by her husband over the course of 45 years. Dear Dad: You won’t tell the mother of your children–your wife–you love her but you can tell her what an idiot she is and stick your dick inside of her whenever you feel like it??? Well how ’bout this… GO FUCK YOURSELF.
And THIS is me directing my anger appropriately.
*Quotes from this post and other helpful information can be found in Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage” by Maggie Scarf, 1984. Good luck finding it. 🙂