Posted by: Marie | October 22, 2011

(606) Hitting back – Part 2 of 5

Post #606
[Private journal entry written on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 about a conversation between my therapist and me – continued from previous post]


Edward: Okay . . . would it be okay if we moved to another topic in your email . . . the topic about labeling your dad as a good man or a bad man . . . ??

Me: Sure!

Edward: I don’t remember the details of the conversation . . . I remember the gist of the conversation but not the specific words. So, I’ll take your word on how the conversation unfolded and what words were used. I believe I can tell you my intent behind those words . . . the message I meant to relay. Is it okay if we discuss it in the context of intent rather than of specific words?

Me: Of course! I’m most interested in what you meant. I’m not hung up on the specific words.

Photo by Martin Chen

Edward: Would you be willing to tell me what you remember of our conversation?

Me: Sure . . . I said that I was having trouble being angry with my dad for the things he did. I believe he was doing the best he knew to do and that he was a good man. I don’t think his intent was ever to hurt us kids, I think his intent was to do right thing.

After I said that, you said he was a bad man, then I responded that I disagreed, that I think he was a good man fighting his own demons. We went back and forth a bit then you said that you didn’t want to villain-ize him but that you wanted me to understand what he did was very wrong.

I know that what he did was very wrong, but I don’t think we have to label him as a bad man. He can be a good man who did bad things.

Edward: Okay, that helps me. I’m remembering more of the conversation now.

I definitely was not trying to push you into seeing your dad as bad. I apologize if my choice of words made it seem that way to you. That was not my intent at all.

Often, when children are raised in abusive environments, they see the adults as good and infallible. So, when the abuse occurs, the only conclusion that makes sense to the children is that they, themselves, are the bad ones. This causes the children to hold themselves responsible for what happens rather than holding the adults responsible, as should be the case.

I’m seeing evidence in your language that this is the case with you – that you hold yourself responsible rather than your dad. My intent was to help you shift that responsibility to your dad, where it belongs. I was concerned that seeing your dad as “good” was standing in the way of you being able to make that shift.

Me: Okay . . . that makes sense. I figured it was something along those lines. I’m okay with that.

Here’s how I’d like to leave this, if it okay with you . . . I think the labels of “good” and “bad” are not effective because it is hard to define what they mean . . . and most people and situations are not one or the other, including my dad. I make a point of not using those terms in my life, in general, for those same reasons – it feeds into black and white thinking.

I’d like to leave it that my dad was a person with loving intentions who made some healthy choices and some hurtful choices – and the same can be said about me – and about everyone. I’m not willing to say that his hurtful choices were more hurtful than my choices have been because I’m not sure that is the case . . . I’ve done some pretty awful things in my life. And, who has the tools, really, to judge that?

I acknowledge that the abuse he delivered upon me was very wrong. He made the choices to be abusive and I am not at all responsible for the abuse.

How do you feel about all of that?

Edward: I feel good about that . . . it works for me.

Me: Okay, good.

Edward: If I remember correctly, the third item in your email touched on the topic of using your adult voice to stand up for yourself . . . ??

Me: Yes.

Edward: Could you tell me more about that?

Me: Sure!

My dad handed to me a very clear picture of what he expected me to be. I was not able to live up to expectations, although I think I did a good job of hiding that from him. I have spent my life being terrorized by the fear my dad – and men I wanted to love me – might discover I don’t measure up to that standard.

I think it would be healthy for me to set aside the standard established by my dad and create my own standard of who I want to be . . . to create my own picture of who I am . . . and to let who I am now be enough. I am clear that the act of defining who I really am has nothing to do with my dad. It is a conversation I would have with myself, not with him. I’m not sure standing up to him with my adult voice has any part of that.

Edward: Well . . . I think it is true you could define who you are in a way that is of your own creating . . . but I don’t necessarily agree that a conversation with your dad wouldn’t be part of that.

Me: Let me put it this way . . .

When I think about having a conversation with my dad, I am very unclear about what that would look like. I don’t know how to go about having a conversation like that.

My first thought was that I would ask you to tell me what that would look like. Then, I realized that I probably already know the answer to that question better than you do because the answer is that I need to say whatever it is I am afraid to say.

For example, when I think about saying to him, “I’m a piano teacher now,” I feel no terror. But, there seems to be other stuff that I am terrified to say – and I haven’t been able to yet identify what those things are. I know it has something to do with who I am now.

So, it seems logical to me that the next step would be to define who I am, then turn around and describe to my dad who I am as a way to ceremoniously break away from his influence. While the idea of having that conversation really scares me, I’m feeling pretty brave today and feel I could take a few steps in that direction.

But, I don’t think the “who I am now” has anything to do with who he insisted I be back then. I think it is time to create my own definition of who I am independently of his influence. But, I don’t know how to do that – I need your help with creating that definition.

Edward: Okay . . . what you are describing could be part of the process . . .

(I could see we were not at all on the same page and that he was very gently trying to disagree with me and point me in a different direction.)

[Continued in the next post . . . ]


  1. I’ll be interested to see where this conversation goes. I think I understand where Edward was coming from.

    • I think I was trying to move forward without fully processing the past . . . he was trying to get me to come back to the work that still needed to be done . . .

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