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I Don't Mean To Be Mean

by Jim
(Austin TX)

My dad was a good father, but he wasn't a good husband to my mom. I recall as a very young child being the buffer between them in an argument. It was my job to distract him, to make him laugh, to move his attention to me. I was his favorite, it was easy to do.

My dad was a drinker, and he was verbally abusive to my mother. For the most part they both sheltered me from witnessing their fights, but sometimes it couldn't be helped.

One day, I attempted to be that buffer, and for the first time it didn't work. He struck me. It's like suddenly I felt that I never had that control over him, that he was just letting me win, like a game. It was shocking. I felt so helpless. I couldn't REALLY keep my mother safe. I didn't REALLY control anything.

I doubt that my experience is enough to be considered post traumatic stress, however I feel like it has definitely shaped me and how I deal with my need for control. I'm one of those textbook people who walk around complaining because nothing is right, and people are awful. Even if they are, I let them get to me while my partner does not. I don't know what that is. I don't know how to stop it.

I've tried counseling, medication, meetings...but I am still so very angry. It's obvious to anyone.

Don't get me wrong--I haven't given up. I make a conscious effort every day to "be sweet" and to "try harder," two things my mom always lovingly reiterated. Every day that I fail at being good, is another reason to try harder, to keep looking for answers on the Internet, in conversations with friends, in books.

It is so exhausting, it's affecting my current relationship as it always does, and I worry that it's just the way I am - I read on this site that some people are just born irritable. That's me. I was an awful baby, an awful kid, a broody naughty teen and now here I am. Mid thirties with no children because I know better, starting over on a new career because that last one just wasn't right. I road rage, I talk shit, I don't let anyone get away with anything. I'm miserable, but I'm working on it.

I keep hoping that one day I will just be too tired to keep it up, that I'll grow out of it, that stress will somehow become a non issue, that the neighbors will move away and take their heaps of garbage and poor parenting skills with them. I wish that I could turn a blind eye. I wish I'd just learn to get along.

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Jim, and thanks for telling your story here. Good for you, for hanging in there in spite of all of the anger and frustration you are feeling. Many people can relate to what you've written here, so I think this will be helpful to a lot of folks.

Take a look at the image above, and see if that cycle looks familiar to you.

I feel that you can definitely overcome your patterns of thought and emotion, with some focused work on your part. I recommend that you follow all of the guidelines on this FAQ page. That will include the following activities:

1) First, you will write out a detailed account of your "story." That is, your experiences growing up as the "buffer" between your parents. This has been found to be helpful to many people, as evidenced in the work of Dr. James Pennebaker, among others.

2) Also, you will begin keeping an anger journal on a daily basis, to give yourself a safe, healthy outlet for your anger.

3) I also highly recommend that you use the imagery processes described, to "go back" to your traumatic memories and get that younger you out of the untenable position as buffer between his parents. You can also use that exercise to heal the trauma from the time your father struck you.

4) It is also essential that you begin to train your mind to focus on the bigger picture of what is going on in your world. All of the things you don't like are real, and I'm sure extremely frustrating to you. The positive journaling process is designed to help you shift your focus to those things in your life that will help you be more of the person you really want to be.

If this is not enough for you, or if you feel you need further support, feel free to call for a free consultation, or to schedule a counseling session using our contact form.

I have a strong feeling that you are ready to break the cycle you're caught in, Jim.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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