It wasn’t until I began diving deep into my past that I came to realize exactly what happened in my childhood home regarding discipline and the expression of emotions.
One theme that I noticed was isolation. Whenever I did something that was punishable, I would be sent away to my room to await a spanking. To me, the waiting, all alone, was worse than the spanking itself. My dad would purposely make me wait for long periods of time, I assume so that I could really “think about what I did wrong.” His tactic worked. I definitely thought about what I did wrong. I waited in fear, in shame, in guilt, in sadness, even in self-hatred at times. I learned very quickly to do things exactly as he wished to avoid this punishment and the isolation that came with it. However, I could never measure up and do everything just right, no matter how hard I tried. If I brought home a report card with one B and the rest A’s, he would first ask me what happened in the class in which I received the B and what did I plan to do to raise it to an A before the end of the school year. He’d then congratulate me on a job well done, but his focus was always on where I’d fallen short. I understand that he wanted me to do well and become a productive member of society. He reminded me of that very often. He had high standards of excellence, and I nearly reached those, every time— nearly, anyway.
Isolation wasn’t only used in my upbringing as a disciplinary action. It was also my parents’ way of coping with my emotions. Anytime I’d be having big feelings, I would be sent to my room. If I tried to talk to my parents about my negative feelings, voice an opinion, or speak up about something I felt was unfair, I was sent to my room.
When I was about 13, my parents had divorced, and my dad began using isolation in an abusive way. He was dating a woman who lived in town, whereas he and I lived about 7 miles into the country. He would leave me home alone for days while he visited her. I would ride the bus to and from school. I would come home to an empty house. When I’d step out of line or commit a punishable offense, he took the isolation even further and would take away the cords to every electronic device in the house: TV’s, radios, phones, and computers, leaving me with no contact with the outside world.
Other methods of punishment were used also. I was yelled at, lectured, and given extra responsibilities. He took away trips that were planned, he made me sit out of extracurricular activities. At one point, he backhanded me, giving me a fat lip. Some teachers at school noticed and reported it, he was ordered to mandatory counselling. I was punished after that incident because I told the truth when asked about my fat lip. Nothing ever hurt me more, though, than being left alone, isolated. I felt unimportant, and completely unworthy of love.
The people around me knew he was too hard on me. Even his girlfriend tried to help me by allowing me to “get away” with things that he would normally punish me for. Teachers at school wanted to adopt me. I was always told by outsiders that I was an amazing girl with great potential and that I had been through so much but remained kind and optimistic. I could never understand why my dad couldn’t see goodness in me. It broke my spirit. In fact, when I met his work colleagues for the first time at a company Christmas party, I was shocked when someone told me that my dad talked about me often and that he was proud of me. I honestly still can’t remember a time when he said those words to me himself.
I decided from a very young age that I was going to do things differently when I became an adult. I moved out of my dad’s house the day that I turned 18 years old, the summer before my senior year of high school. I worked a full-time job to support myself while finishing up school. When I was 19, I began to study the subconscious mind and learned about negative self-talk, and that most of us develop negative thought patterns in our childhoods. I had a lot of healing to do. And that is where my peaceful parenting journey began.