by AJ cross posted from her blog I am Phoenix
I have had this huge epiphany in the last couple of weeks. My discovery:
-It is OK to express anger in healthy ways, even if this means yelling.
-Forced female to male submission is abusive. When a man yells at a woman and doesn’t “allow” her to defend herself or yell back, that is abuse.
I am realizing for the first time in my life that my lifelong habit of never raising my voice in anger, even when someone is screaming at me and being abusive…possibly isn’t as healthy as I thought it was.
It was my mother flipping out on me over the phone and email this past month that triggered this epiphany.
My mother has been my hero for as long as I can remember. I used to believe that she was 99% angel and 1% human. While my dad was extremely angry and abusive, punching holes in walls, slamming cupboards, screaming, then pausing to quote a Bible verse, my mother remained calm and silent. Whereas we were terrified of our father, our mother by contrast was the safe harbor, and she knew it. In retrospect, she would have been “safer” if she had rescued herself and us from him, but she didn’t. When I was young, I adored her because I knew I could hide my face in her skirts and know she would speak in a calm, quiet voice. I knew that when he was away, I was safe and she would always remain steady and kind. And quiet.
Even when my dad was verbally abusing her, she did not speak. I remember it like it was yesterday. His voice roaring, rising, falling, things crashing. My mother didn’t look at him. I can see her calmly unloading the dishwasher, putting the dishes away. Pretending like she didn’t hear. It would go on for hours, several times a week randomly, month after month, year after year. She was washing the dishes as he raged, she was quietly serving the meal, quietly stirring the meat and potatoes in the pot, quietly gathering the dinner plates from the table, sweeping the floor. Going on as if she didn’t hear, not saying a word.
Then he would eventually wear himself out and leave, slamming a door behind him. Only then would my mom speak. She would go on as if nothing had happened though. She would ask me if I had enough at dinner, or she would remind us that we only had a few more hours to ride our bikes before dark. It was as if he had never done anything to her, and it just wasn’t discussed.
As my older sisters grew up and realized what was happening, they sometimes tried to come to my mother’s rescue by sticking up for her. Even then, he continued to bully her as well as my sisters, making them cry, too. I remember my mom’s silent tears sometimes as she put the dishes away.
When my brothers became rambunctious and started wrestling or getting too loud, my mom wouldn’t raise her voice. She would come up the steps and quietly say, “Now, boys. Let’s keep it down.” And they listened. We all listened to her, well, usually. She didn’t need to raise her voice to us. I think we knew on a subconscious level why she wouldn’t raise her voice to us. We felt bad for our mother, and we respected her gentle tone.
I adored my mother. She was the only safe adult in the house. I was perplexed how my father could manage to rage at this meek person who didn’t speak back to him.
I grew up being extremely afraid of anger. When I left home in my 20’s, I gravitated towards people who were mellow, gentle, slow moving, phlegmatic even. I felt safe around them.
Knowing how destructive anger is, I knew from a young age that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and become just as safe and gentle a person she was. My relatives and sisters often told me that I was my mom’s mini-me, and that I acted like her more than my other sisters.
I took this as a compliment. I guess it was. Being calm and gentle is fine. But I also perfectly imitated my mom’s submissiveness and lack of boundaries. Boundaries were sinful, you see. It’s like I had an invisible sign on my back that said, “Abusive men! Pick me!”
I got myself in and out of a few scrapes in life with various boyfriends. But I had my degree, career, and independence. Because of this I never had to depend on a man, and didn’t end up trapped by one. I wouldn’t let a guy move in with me unless the apartment was mine. If I broke up with the guy, he would leave, and I would continue on my merry way, still in my own apartment. I skated in and out of various situations where I mildly felt the heat a few times, but never stayed around a guy long enough to get even the hint of a burn. I was ahead of each guy by 10 steps and dropped men like hotcakes the second I suspected even the slightest hint that he might start to resemble that man who yelled at my mother.
Until I got married to K. Having a chronic illness that doesn’t allow me the ability to work or be independent has put a cramp in my style. I don’t have the ability to just walk out the door like I used to. And K is abusive. He has been for two years.
Each time K goes off on me, I revert to autopilot, and I am my mother. I hold my tongue. I put the dishes away. I wipe the table, I sweep the floor, or I just stand there. A few times out of experimentation, I actually spoke, but that turned out incredibly bad. So then I stopped doing that. But anger feels like knives in my skin, and I can’t just be in the same room as it. So I started to walk away. K wouldn’t let me. He would scream and follow me. I would have to run to a room and lock the door, but even after an hour or so when I came out, it would start all over again.
But I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of forcing me to yell back at him. I won’t become a monster towards him just because he was being a monster towards me. I was not about to allow him to force me to change my personality and I wasn’t going to let him turn me into a loud, angry person. Because if I yelled back at him, and got used to it, I might start yelling for no reason like he did, and I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want to start acting like my dad.
So for over two years, I’ve been simply “taking it.”
But then after I spilled the beans in my family and told them my dad sexually abused me, the family dynamic shifted quickly. Since then, I’ve talked to my mom a few times on the phone. At first, my mom cried a lot. Then she started getting angry. By the fourth phone call, she was livid and that’s when she screamed at me. My gentle mother, who never raised her voice, screaming at me? Telling me I was an embarrassment? Telling me I was a liar, a sinner, that I should never contact her again, that I deserved to be abandoned by K with nowhere to go, that I deserved to be sick? What made my mother turn on me like this?
So when push came to shove, she chose to automatically believe my dad’s innocence and blame me. But on some subconscious level, it made her furious that she had to side with this man who she doesn’t trust, over me. So in an effort to protect him in a holy, angry way, she let forth her tirade of wrath on me. Wrath built up over the years towards him… it all falls on my lap. I’m her scapegoat.
My reaction to my mom’s screaming fit:
1. I felt like I was punched in the stomach and had no air to breath. I was betrayed by my own mother. My life hero, my safe person… had turned on me.
2. I was impressed that she had that much anger and for the first time in her life stuck up for herself/him (they are one identity, not two). For the first time in her life, she was not a push over.
It took me awhile to process the aftermath of this incident. I went on many long walks in an effort to sort out my feelings. Here I was hoping that this didn’t mean I would be completely cut off from my family. I knew that on some level, a bridge had been crossed and there was no going back. My parents did not have my back.
Some two days after my mom blew up on me, K decided to do the same. Something crossed his line of vision that caused him to flip, and suddenly I was in the cross hairs. As he geared up louder and louder and started becoming verbally abusive, I looked at him.
He said something like, “I don’t think you should be __,” in a pouty, rude manner.
And in an instant, a switch inside me flipped. My mother did not have my back anymore. My mother, my hero, is a person who screams. I am her daughter. She no longer has to bite her tongue, so neither do I.
I suddenly hear myself echoing back to him, “I don’t think you should be ____.” I used the same pouty, rude tone.
He looked at me, shocked.
I had never echoed him in his rudeness, never echoed his tone.
I raised my eyebrow. I told him, “If you can say that to me, I will say it right back to you.”
Gunpowder. Explosion. After this followed one of the worst arguments we ever had, and for the first time, I yelled back at him, allowing myself to be angry, allowing myself to show him exactly how it felt each time he took another jab. I echoed it back.<
He actually had to leave the room. A first. He actually cried. A first. He threatened to leave. For the first time I told him I had plans to go live somewhere else, and I had a location and a support network who was ready to take me in.
He didn’t think I had that power. He thought I was too sick, and too friendless, and too scared to go. He found out that was not the case.
He has Asperger’s Syndrome. He isn’t able to feel or comprehend another person’s feelings very well. He doesn’t read social cues easily. He has a difficult time understanding how other people are feeling, even if you clearly tell him you feel a certain way. The part of his brain capable of having the imagination to step inside someone else’s shoes doesn’t function like a neurotypical brain does.
In any case, combining a loud, angry man like him who has Asperger’s with a female like me trained out of fear to be quiet and submissive has been a recipe for disaster.
I see now that he really didn’t understand how bad it was for me until I started acting like him and actually dished it back to him 100% what he was giving me. Afterwards, my throat was hoarse and scratchy. I had never yelled for three plus hours like that before.
But afterwards, he looked at me with a new respect in his eyes. And afterwards, I wasn’t angry anymore. After two years of hiding my anger, it was finally out. And I’m glad.
I am submissive no more. Thank you mom, for blowing up at me. In a way, you still are my hero. I finally have permission to yell, and God, it feels great.
AJ was raised in a spiritually abusive cult based on the teachings of ATI’s Bill Gothard. She has five siblings. After enough time AJ developed Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Burnout and PTSD from the stress of her childhood. Her parents refused to help her in her ongoing health battle. She is married to a man that has recently emerged from spiritually abusive religion and together they are healing and moving towards daily joy! She blogs at I Am Phoenix