Tuesday, July 6, 2010

letting go

When I was a kid, my parents kinda treated me like a prison guard would. During most times, when I was behaving myself, we barely interacted at all. But when they caught me breaking one of the millions of rules...then there was drama, fighting, being grounded for months at a time.

When I was 15 my parents caught me breaking the rule of "no boyfriend before you are ready to get married," one of the myriad rules that I think they thought I would take for granted, but that I didn't. See, my parents grew up yeshivish, so they took a lot of things for granted, like dating for tachlis. Then they moved to a more modern orthodox community. For a while, when I was very young, they were more liberal and truly *modern* orthodox- my mom didn't cover her hair, and she and I wore pants. Then when I was around 10-14 years old, my parents gradually became more religious again, as did most of the town I grew up in. The town gradually became more yeshivish, and now is a mix of right wing modern orthodox and black hatters. My mom stopped wearing pants and started covering her hair, and all my pairs of pants mysteriously disappeared.

Meanwhile, I didn't know all these community rules that my parents took for granted from their childhood, and I frequently got punished for breaking rules I wasn't really clear on. Like the first night I went out with friends on a saturday night, my dad came driving up in a fury at 10pm because I had "stayed out too late." Only no one had ever told me I had a curfew, or what time it was. Not dating boys before I was 'ready to get married' was another one of these unspoken rules that I broke.

You could see why I would be confused...we lived in a mixed community of modern and less modern MO jews, and while I was friends with many of the more modern folks, who COULD do things like date and stay out past 10pm, my parents wanted me to follow a stricter set of rules- but never directly communicated that to me, because we never really talked and had normal conversations with each other. Something I only recently realized, having hung out with B's family and actually having normal conversations with them...that kind of talk just never happens with me and my parents- we just never sat around and chatted with each other the way B and his parents do.

So my parents once again took on their position as prison guard, and grounded me for 4 months. No tv, no computer, no phone no going out with friends, no going out at all- only going to school and going home and sitting in my room. Only I didn't know it was for 4 months, as far as I knew it was indefinite- cause that's what my dad basically said at the beginning, when he found out about my secret boyfriend, and he didn't relent on this until 4 months had passed.

During these 4 months I tried to kill myself once by eating a bunch of pills (I didn't take enough and just ended up falling asleep for 2 days) and I also started cutting shapes into the back of my hands with safety pins. My parents never even noticed.

Looking back, I see a pattern of mild neglect except in times of crisis. When we were kids, my brother was always getting in trouble at school, and there was always some kind of drama going on with him, so he was always getting lots of attention. My other brother had drama when his school said he might be autistic and my parents sent him to like 20 different specialists to prove to themselves that he wasn't (I think if this had happened 10 years later he might have been diagnosed as on the spectrum). While I guess my parents figured I could fend for myself since I wasn't getting in trouble. Mostly I was just an extra pair of hands to help out with chores- which my brothers were never asked to help with for some reason probably related to gender expectations.

It's probably why I read so many books as a child..I just spent a lot of my childhood alone, until i made some friends in high school. Whenever I did have friends, my parents seemed to take a hostile stance towards them, and had the attitude that my friends were bad influences leading me to be less religious. I hardly ever had people over at my house as a result.

As I got a little older I noticed when I could get attention from anyone in my family- which was when I was arguing with them. Arguments got attention. Throughout my college years my parents forced me to come home every shabbas, otherwise they would stop paying my tuition- they wanted to make sure I was keeping shabbas, and they never gave me any kind of financial help without some kind of religious string attached to it. So I would come home- at that point I was completely OTD and my parents knew it- and we would spend shabbas meals arguing. Arguing about religion mostly. For the first time, I felt like I actually had a relationship with my dad- cause we actually had conversations with each other, involving arguing about religion. My mom took all the arguing about religion very personally and whatever small relationship we had fell apart at that point.

Is it any wonder that I am now an intensely argumentative person? Me and B argue pretty frequently- not in a bad way, but we're both very argumentative, and very opinionated, and we have like these little debates about things all the time, and sometimes they get heated. We probably have several arguments every week. How much is that due to my parents teaching me that the only way to have a relationship with someone close to you is via arguing? I don't want to be like that...

I think back on stuff like this and wonder how much this has affected my life now. Yes, being argumentative has actually helped my career, but on a personal level being super argumentative is not very advantageous- I can definitely look back and see some past relationships that ended because I was just too argumentative all the time. Meanwhile, stuff like this makes me even more worried about the possibility of having kids, cause I'm sure my parents didn't think they were doing anything wrong, and yet I turned out all argumentative because of how they interacted with me...so what things am I going to do unconsciously that will fuck with my future kids? I read Tikunolam's tips on not fucking up your kids, and there are so many bad behaviors she points towards that I would never even have thought of...and that my parents always did to me.

I try not to be too angry at my parents for how they treated me throughout my life, but it's hard. I know the anger only really affects me (they don't even know about it) but this blog exists because the past still affects me, and I feel angry about it nearly every single day. How do I stop that?


  1. You fell asleep for two days and your parents did not notice?

  2. "Yes, being argumentative has actually helped my career, but on a personal level being super argumentative is not very advantageous"

    I can relate to that.

    I was raised to argue. Not in the same way as you, in order to get attention. Arguing was the way of life my parents, especially my father, believed in, and my mother admired everything he did, so I suppose she also liked the arguing lifestyle.

    I became an argumentative person, it helped me in my professional career, but is counterproductive in social life.

    In the end, I started arguing with my parents and they blamed me for being so argumentative. Hallo? That's what you taught me all my life and now that I am stronger than you it is not good any more? Basically, said father does not want to have anything to do with me because he's afraid of loosing an argument...

    That's how stupid people can be.

    As far as changing: I had to see that every positive change goes along with loosing something positive.

    In the end, you cannot please everyone...

  3. anonymous- i was severely depressed for several weeks before the suicide attempt, so I had been spending a lot of time in bed in general (this was also during the summer, so didn't have to go to school). If my parents noticed they never said anything to me.

  4. The first thing to realize is that your parent suck. They suck penis. Quite terrible parents. Sorry if that bothers you, but you need to come to that realization.

    The second thing to realize is that your parents are quite stupid. Seriously, what are they thinking if they imagine they can change your personality by punishment? Punishments never changes children, it just makes them afraid. (This is why I am against spanking but now I am getting off topic). This is exactly what happened in your case, as you wrote about. If they had some reasonable intellect they would realize the problem with the method of punishment.

    The point of all of this is for you to realize that your life was not your fault. It was the fault of your parents who are stupid and are bad parents. So the first step is not to put main blame on yourself but on the people who caused the problem in the beginning. So stop condemning yourself if that is how you feel.

    Next you ask about how you can let this go. My question is why do you want to let this go? You must embrace it. It is not pleasant, I understand, but life is about psychological damage. You need to embrace the damage that was done to you to make yourself strong. What does not kill you only makes you stronger.

  5. I am so sorry that you went through a very difficult childhood. :( I was also very angry at my parents, who were controlling and very abusive to me. But as time passed and I had my own children and the years went by, the anger has abated. I should add that I did go for therapy as an adult, and that helped me. I have come to realize that parents are not perfect and they make mistakes (I know I have) and I am glad that I came to forgive them instead of all that anger that I used to feel. Good luck to you and thanks for writing a great blog.

  6. @anonymous 12:35

    Does it really help to let go?

    I went to a therapist and she said just this, but I did not find it helpful at that moment.

    I wanted the therapist to understand my pain and to relate to it, not to tell me "if you don't think about it, the problem goes away".

    Now, I am able to let go, but not in peace.

    I just severed all contact (after they did), and three years later, the pain left and I can live without them. But it took a bloody long time...

  7. "How much is that due to my parents teaching me that the only way to have a relationship with someone close to you is via arguing"

    have you tried not arguing with people so much?

    if you dont like whats going on, change! is that impossible?

  8. yeah i know my parents suck...although I don't know, they never beat me or anything, they were just very very controlling and trying with every method they knew how to keep me religious. I don't know if any particular thing they did would be considered abusive or anything, which sometimes makes me wonder if maybe I'm just too whiney about the whole thing.

    I want to move past it...well cause I don't think it's healthy that nearly every day I find myself angry about people who I haven't even talked to in months and about events that happened over a decade ago. By spending my time being angry at them, and thinking about them, I feel like they are still having control over my life and making it a little more negative, if that makes sense...

    Actually, my parents hardly talking to me anymore cause I married B...it's been quite nice. :) Which is why I'm in no rush to mend fences with them or anything.

    I've been to a couple of therapists over the years for various lengths of time, but generally I've found blogging about my issues and laying out my personal life for all the internet to comment on seems to help my mental health a lot more than seeing a therapist... :)

    I do like the what doesn't kill you makes you stronger idea..one of the therapists I saw once was a 'positivist' therapist (or something like that?) and we talked about all the crap I've lived through and how I can basically survive anything at this point and therefore I kick ass...that one session with her definitely helped me out in some tough times. :)

  9. ksil- believe me, I'm trying, but i find it really hard not to pick apart everything that anyone says to me and look for flaws...it's like an instinct at this point. And once I find flaws it's really hard for me to keep my mouth shut about them too, even if they are stupid things that shouldn't matter.

  10. toutou...I don't think that I said that I just "let it go". It took me many years to get over those feelings of anger that I had. I had to talk about it in therapy and work it all out. It's not like it's a switch that you can just flick off and "let it go".
    It takes time and may I add that I worked very hard in therapy to work out my feelings.
    Thank G-d I did not cut off my parents and I was very surprised that they were great grandparents to my children.
    AE, it is nice that you have a blog that can give you support. I hope that in time you will find peace. Just be patient, very patient. In the meantime, I am sure that deep down your parents are proud of you and your accomplishments, even though it's hard for them to show it.

  11. The idea of Karma may be of help for you. No matter how bad you think your parents were, they are part of a natural process that has been going on since the beginning of time. Who is to say their parents/community didn't cause them to be exactly how they turned out. Every cause can point to another previous cause. The point is that the blame game doesn't really get you any where. you just have to accept things the way they are and not live in the past

  12. @anonymous2:30

    I did have a quite happy childhood. The problems started later on, when I was about 22.

    I started on a direction of life that they could not approve of.

    I kind of had a feeling that they did not want me to become independent, have my own opinions, be different than them.

    I feel that every time I run after them they take advantage to make me feel dependent.

    Now, I learned the "independent" part, but I do not know how to square it with contact with them...

    They cannot make me suffer any more, I took some distance from them. But on the other hand this means: indifference.

    But I feel I have no choice. Anything but indifference would mean suffering for me...

  13. I think the sad part is your parents tried to do the best they could...And that was the best they thought they could do.

    Our parents put a condition our their love for us: be Jewish and marry Jewish or face excommunication. Shame on them.

    Well, I guess it's better than honor killings.

  14. Moving post. :-( I'm sorry your parents sucked so bad and I'm glad you were able to ultimately thrive. Kudos to you!

  15. It sounds like your parents wanted to control you and use religion as a tool. Abuse is not always physical or the "typical" types.

    You always seemed so happy in camp, I'm sorry that wasn't your home life. (or was that just a show?)

    I have 2 kids right now and I am so worried about screwing them up. But I have a great role model in my mother, so I'm hoping to model her. Lots fo communication, clear guidelines and love. Love is so important.

    Good luck letting go.

  16. Shira- of course I was happy, I was away from my house for like 6 weeks! :) Did I ever tell you I got kicked out of that camp? :)

    Honestly though, most of my issues with my parents happened later on in high school/college/grad school/right now- when we went to camp together that was the summer between 6th and 7th grade I think, back then I was mostly a super shy kid who buried my face in a book 24/7.

  17. You got kicked out of camp? For what? I remember you walking around with a mystery book with some paw prints on it. What was that book?

    You also introduced me to Goosebumps! (I think LOL - or was that Tzippi?)

    I can understand the later years being harder - it usually is for all kids. That's when you are fully developing into a person

  18. Sorry to hear about this, AE. I was going to suggest therapy, but I see you would rather not. I think that it does take time. I have two wonderful parents, so I cannot relate on that front, but I have had a few toxic relationships in the past. I find that a combination of venting and just letting time make it less painful works. I think that as time goes on, you will think back to your childhood with less pain and anger. If you don't in a few years, then you might want to think about talking to someone. I'm glad you have B and the Internet as confidantes for now.

  19. My general philosophy for letting go of anger at people is to try to understand them as the flawed creatures they are; as people who act for reasons that they themselves often are blind to or fail to recognize. With parents it becomes easier when you have your own kids. It's not that you suddenly realize how hard it is to raise kids; rather, having reached that stage in life you begin to see them objectively as people and not just as your Parents.

    Your blog is great as far as exploring your own thoughts and feelings in response to their parenting that led you "OTD", perhaps devote some more posts to trying to understanding how they so thoroughly did not get what you were going through as a teenager. Not to make any excuses, but it looks like they might have been dealing with uncertainty over how to react to changing religio-social mores in the community. Somehow they failed to see that having moved back toward a more strict level of observance they were already privy to sets of expectations that you were not aware of. Their move to the right may have been been motivated by various other factors and identity issues that you were not aware of, especially since they are less than adequate communicators.

    We need to realize that Parents are just people - often confused, insecure, and clueless.

    Look if you could email your blog posts into the past so they could read this when you were 1, would they have done things differently? Probably yes. But that just goes to show that they really did lack the insight and perhaps courage to do things differently back then. I hope that once you realize that you will be a step closer to forgiving them. Not because they are blameless, but because they are human.

  20. Typo: Send your blog posts back to them when you were 15.

  21. I have the impression that in this case, the main problem is their present behavious: if they would behave more adequately now, AE would have less issues about the past.

    I think we children judge parents also according their own level of tolerance. If they themselves are tolerant and do not seem to expect from their children to be perfect, we will excuse their errors, especially if they lie in the past and their present behaviour is loving, nurturing, adequate.

    However, if they themselves do not excuse what they deem our "errors", why would we excuse them? If now they have an oppressive, untolerant behaviour
    towards us, why would we view them as good parents, in the past or in the present?

    So I strongly believe AE's parents could avoid negative judgement by just changing their own PRESENT behaviour.

    It is very difficult to be ostracised by one's own parents, for whatever reason, and I think it is quite natural that the list of reproaches going into the past becomes longer and longer the longer the ostracising goes on. It does not seem to be human nature to say "Oh, they do not speak with me any more, but they were such examplary, good parents and I love them dearly"

  22. I can say that therapy has helped me, AE, learning to live with the hurt that my parents are disappointed in my choices and that in some ways they cared more about getting me to fit some box than about getting to know the real me. Starting to see them as just flawed human beings lets some of the anger go away.

  23. Let me add a little bit more. When our parents do things that hurt us, we get hurt and angry. Neither one feels great, but you can feel stronger with anger than you can with hurt. So we tend to ignore the hurt by living in the anger. Unfortunately, until we actually feel the hurt and live with it and grieve for not having the parents we wish we had, it's not going to go away, no matter what we do with the anger. So whenever you start to feel the anger, think about the hurt underneath it and try to be with that hurt for a while. And eventually, it'll get better.

  24. Just a random question--sometimes autistic traits can run in families. My son has Asbergers, and my father in law has some pretty distinct tendencies, even though he was never diagnosed.

    Although I am very affectionate to my son and daughter both, I sometimes wonder that that will not be enough for my son, who can often times come off as aloof and emotionally distant.

    It makes me wonder what kind of a parent he might be someday. Do you think that either of your parents have difficulties relating to others emotionally, due to some "on the spectrum" traits, or do you think its just more run of the mill poor parenting?

  25. neither of my parents, no, but I have a maternal first cousin and my mom also has a first cousin, both of whom are very similar to my brother and seem to have 'tendencies' as you put it. But yeah, my parents have no excuse like that- my dad is actually a therapist.

  26. I can relate to so much of what you said but I had it somewhat different. My mother was chronically depressed (like could barely function and was suicidal most of the time). My father, a good nurturing man, was hardly home and ignored my mother's complete inability to love or connect with her children. Of course both my parents came from awful parents (not ppl, but parents) so they too did what they thought was best.

    However, nothing moved my mother. My siblings and I were all invisible. My sister and I raised out significantlay younger brother and will always be his mothers. Anyway. I can relate. What you went through is emotional neglect. I am so glad you have good relationships with B's family.

    As a clinical psychologist who has been on the other the side of the couch, I can tell you that therapy potentially saved my future as a mother and wife. Just as you are clear that it wasn't you, it was then, it took me a long time trying to stop people pleasing and trying how to figure out how to obtain love that couldn't exist bec of the other's limitation.

    I was terrified of being my mother as a mom. Therapy was the best thing to happen to me. I am not my mom, neither are you. My son, on Fri, told me that I am nothting like grandma. He told me that I was colorful and my mother is like vanilla with no sprinkles. She is dead inside and my son, at 12, knows it.

    I am a great mother. My kids are thriving and adore their parents and spending time as a family. You will have that too. You and B will be fantastic parents, no doubt in my mind (I do have to plug therapy though, a good therapist, as a psychologist and a once patient, how can I not?.

  27. DM - STOP spamming my journal with your insane spam, I will delete every comment you post here, so you're wasting your time. I can play this game as long as you can.

  28. AE, one thing I'd like to add that I don't think was mentioned in some of the other great points was that it's very clear you have a lot of self insight into your behaviour (by being able to evaluate your arguments with B etc) whilst it's obvious your parents don't have that self awareness at all. This alone should help you believe that you are not going to treat your children the way your parents treated you.

    In general I am very empathetic with your situation; my mother would have greatly preferred a daughter who bore her good Jewish grandkids than an assimilated atheist academic (I thought I'd go alliterative). I'm currently staying with her for 2 weeks and it's pretty suffocating to be back in the ghetto, so a good time to read your post! It sounds like you are surrounded with people now who are on your wavelength and care about you for who you are, so that's the most important thing. And belated congrats btw on your graduation and job!

  29. I haven't visited your blog in quite some time. I commented once or twice, I think, about how the problems with your parents seem to have less do with religion, than they do with a very poor dynamic in general.

    I am sorry you went through what you did as a child. Abuse is not always overt and obvious. I agree with the poster who said religion was simply a tool they used, in an attempt to control you.

    I understand where you are coming from so much better now that you shared this part of yourself. I cannot help wondering what the sudden shift to the right must have felt like to a young girl who was reasonably happy with how thing's were, and what would have been if your parent's had handled it better.

    Just want to add, the punishment routine is one I was also very familiar with. My parent's would use the silent treatment for weeks or more..to the point where I felt invisible. I related that to you sitting in your room for months.

    I am sorry for your experiences, and congratulate you on your accomplishments and perserverance in finding a life that makes sense to you. Best of luck to you.

  30. "my mother would have greatly preferred a daughter who bore her good Jewish grandkids than an assimilated atheist academic"

    ha, mine definitely would too- and I do research on gender and families, including stuff on housework and stay at home moms, and my mother takes that as a personal insult to her lifestyle.

  31. AE, are you grateful for anything your parents have done?

  32. @walter: I am sure that AE's parents did plenty of things that a child could be grateful for.

    However, one of the worst thing parents can do to (adult) children is to "disown" them the way AE's parents are doing presently.

    Therefore, there is little way for AE to express gratitude for anything: the disowning overshadows it all. I am sure: if the parents would revert to normal relationships with AE and her husband, AE would easily find plenty of things to be grateful for. It's the present of AE's parents (and all the way it relates back to the past since this kind of behaviour started) that make it so difficult to think of positive traits.

  33. "With parents it becomes easier when you have your own kids."

    Not always. You're making a big assumption, that everyone who had a bad childhood will have their own kids. I knew by age 18 that I never wanted to have kids. What I wanted was to have a happy childhood, so I started then, as if the years before never existed. At this point they are practically wiped from my mind; the memories are all foggy, as if it happened to someone else. Technically, I have a diagnosis of Dissociative hysteria, but it's not a disease. I'm now raising myself in Take 2 of my childhood. The kid me is being raised by a liberal hippie mom. And that kid is the only one I ever want to have.

  34. Your parents were emotionally neglectful to the point of abuse. They did not give you the emotional care (=love!) that children need. You may want to read "For Your Own Good" by Alice Miller or "People of the Lie" by Scott Peck to get a perspective on these kind of parents and how damaging this can be even though it is characterized by NOT doing things rather than doing awful things that are easily labeled as abuse.

  35. You need to fully feel all the anger and sadness before you can "let go" or "move on". I don't believe you can ever totally get beyond such a serious and formative experience, but both intellectually understanding the wrongness of your parents' behavior and experiencing the emotions you repressed at the time is essential for undoing the damage, both to your own sense of self and to your ideas about relationships between people, particularly with your own children, if you should have any.


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