by Patty Hite
Everything I did was for my husband. Any ideas or suggestions on my part would end in Bill physically or emotionally abusing me. I always felt my life depended on making a perfect meal. When he didn’t like it, he would knock me out of my chair and force me to eat “that crap” off the floor. There was never a choice in how I wanted to style my hair. My choice gave him the excuse to take the scissors to my hair and cut it the way he wanted. Choosing my own eye shadow was disastrous. Bill rubbed it all over my face and forced me to wear it out in public.
I was never allowed to go to the doctor by myself (he had to be able to give false reasons for my bruises and scars) and especially when I was pregnant. While the doctor was giving me a pelvic exam, Bill would watch my face and make sure I wasn’t enjoying it.
When I finally got the nerve to leave my abusive ex-husband, one of the many questions I kept asking myself was, “Why did I submit to so much abuse?” I couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t walk away from it the first time he slapped me across the face, dragged me by my hair to the bedroom and raped me. Why didn’t I call the police and why didn’t I run away? Why did I take it, day after day, year after year?
Dr. Heyward Ewart author of “Am I Bad?” explained it so well for me:
“All people cross the line from childhood to adulthood with a secondhand opinion of who they are. Without any questioning, we take as truth whatever our parents and other influentials have said about us during our childhood, whether these messages are communicated verbally, physically, or silently.”
As I started to re-visit my childhood and my past, I was able to take a long, hard look at the child I used to be—the little girl who still lives inside of me. I began to know what she thought, what she saw, what she heard. By seeing those things, I was able to understand her decisions to submit to abuse rather than stand against it.
When I was a child, I learned the rule, “Speak when spoken to.” In other words, shut up unless you have broken a bone or are bleeding to death. My parents entertained friends and relatives all the time. There were always adults in our house. When the adults were gathered around the kitchen table, I was sent outside to play. They were always talking about adult stuff so I was not allowed to hear such things. The rule was, “Stay outside until we call for you. Don’t talk to us unless we talk to you.”
Interrupting the adults with, “So-and-so called me a bad name” was not allowed and I was told, “Stop acting like a baby”. “I fell off my bicycle and scratched my knee” would only receive a glance at the scrape and told, “Stop crying over such a small cut and tough it out.” I got a harsh stare from my dad and warned I’d better have a good reason for coming into the house. I never really knew what a “good reason” was and what would “allow” me the right to speak, so I submitted to the rule and remained the good little girl.
When my uncle started to molest me, when I went inside the house to use the restroom, I didn’t speak. The fear of being told that I wasn’t important enough to break the rule and the fear of rejection and not being believed, spoke louder than the abuse. I found a secluded spot outside, crawled into a ball and cried while I waited to be told I could come back into the house.
Another rule I learned was “Obey your mother and father.” I knew that meant, “Do what I say or else”. The “or else” meant beatings with a belt, a slap against the head or the most horrid of all, finding your own stick off the tree to be hit with. I didn’t endure much physical punishment, but my brothers did. I saw the whippings because they were done in front of all of us, and I heard their stifled cries of pain because they were told, “You’d better not cry or I will give you something to cry about.” Looking up at an adult with a weapon in his hand was a scary sight. I chose to be the good child and to obey my parents.
When I saw my dad molesting my sister, I obeyed him. He told me not to tell my mother so I did what he said. This was so traumatic for me that I dissociated it for twenty years. I always thought I hid within myself because I saw what he did, but it was being told to “obey” and the fear of not obeying that caused me to protect myself with dissociation.
I was also taught, “Respect your elders.” But what happens when an adult doesn’t respect a child? My first day of kindergarten, the teacher was calling out our names and we were told to raise our hand and say, “Here!” The teacher called out the name Patricia. I didn’t know my name was Patricia because I was always called Patty Jane. She moved closer to my desk and kept calling out “Patricia” and I could tell she was getting louder and more irritated. She stopped at my desk, grabbed my ear and pulled me out of my seat, demanding to know why I didn’t respond. I was terrified, in shock and crying, explaining that my name is Patty Jane. She slapped me in the face and told me to respect my elders and warned me that the next time she said my name, I’d better answer or else.
I was sent home with a note pinned on my dress. I don’t know what the note said, but I remember trying to explain myself to my dad. I told him how my teacher pulled my ear, yanked me out of the chair and smacked me. He looked at my face, told me there were no marks, and that I needed to respect my elders and stop embarrassing my family. I got a smack to my butt and told to go outside and play.
As I grew older, there were many adults in my life who harmed me and molested me. I was afraid to tell my parents. I was afraid to tell anyone. I didn’t want to embarrass them. Would I be told again that I deserved the abuse and there was no excuse for not obeying my elders? I felt my pain would not be validated and I would be sent “outside” again.
By the time I was physically abused by my first husband, I’d already spent my entire childhood being a “good girl” following the rules of not resisting and not complaining. I never knew how much pain I was suppose to endure because none of my pain was important enough for anyone to pay attention to. What was the limit?
Bill’s rejection was just as painful as the fear of being rejected by my parents. The fear of embarrassing him in front of others, like family, friends or even the police, was a rule I had to obey. Making him look bad in front of others meant I would be spanked, invalidated and abandoned.
Children learn from birth to cry and scream when they are hungry or in pain or fear. Healthy parents stop the crying by taking care of their child’s needs. I learned how to stop crying through fear and submission. My pain didn’t matter and I didn’t have a voice.
Teaching a child rules to live by should be for the child’s good, not just to make the child less of a hassle. The rules I learned taught me to be a submissive person—an adult with no personal boundaries, no limits to what people could do to me. I was in fear of being rejected and not able to protect myself because I was an adult still thinking like the child I was.
I am not a piece of property. I am a human being with feelings, emotions and thoughts. I feel pain and rejection and abandonment. But, I didn’t believe this until after I started to see the reason I believed these lies. I am no longer the submissive child/adult I used to be. Now I know I’m a valuable person, worthy of a life free of abuse. I’m able to recognize the false beliefs and lies from my childhood, live in the truth of who I was meant to be.
Now that you’ve heard my experience and thoughts about this, I’d love to hear yours. Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to participate in the discussion. If you would like to protect your privacy, you don’t have to use your real name. Email addresses are never made public.
As a survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Patty Hite has been tenaciously pursuing her healing for over thirty years. She’s a passionate advocate for all survivors and dedicates her life to inspiring emotional wholeness in others. As a former victim of spousal abuse, she’s delighted to have found the meaning of true love, a respectful relationship, and support with her late husband, Lonnie. She’s blessed with four children and six grandchildren.