Growing Up with Verbal and Physical Abuse

Credit: Unprofound

During my youth, from as early as I can remember until I finished high school, my dad (I hesitate using the word father) made my life — and the rest of my family’s — a living hell.

He was angry a lot of the time. My grandfather was worse, and my great-grandfather was the devil incarnate from what I was told. The times when my dad was happy not angry were the worst because he was like a landmine field. My mother, sister and I had to tread carefully during those times; in the blink of an eye, my dad would transform into a raging monster. I would compare it to The Incredible Hulk, but at least people could see the transformation of David Banner into The Hulk and run away. With my dad, one minute we would be at the dinner table having a normal meal, and the next minute he would be screaming at my mother, berating her and, depending on his mood, slapping, hitting, or choking her.

It made for an excruciating childhood. I have a younger sister and brother, so I’m not sure if being the oldest child mattered, but I seemed to be the one who got the full brunt of my dad’s temper. I won’t go into great detail here — I wrote about a particular experience that I can post at a later time — except to say that I was verbally and physically treated the same as my mother.

The verbal abuse was constant: I was a “retard” because I wasn’t athletic (even though I excelled academically); I was a “mush mouth” because I wore orthodontic retainers for a number of years that hindered my pronunciation; I was a “worthless piece of #!$&” because, well, because I existed; and lastly, I was a “faggot” because I was shy and never had a girlfriend during my high school years.

The degrading names weren’t limited to the above four, but those were the main ones. I was told by my aunts and grandparents that, when I was a toddler, my dad would set his glass of Coca-Cola on the very edge of the living room table while he and my mom watched TV. Whenever I knocked over his glass, he would scream at me and lock me in my bedroom. It was as if he would create situations in order to pounce on me.

To this day, I can hear my dad yelling at and berating me whenever I make a mistake. When someone is approaching behind me, I have flashbacks to when my dad would sneak up behind me and give me a hard shove. And, worst of all, when my wife gets angry at me for not taking out the trash or not helping her around the house, it’s not my wife yelling at me; it’s HIM. As a result, I immediately get defensive and escalate things to full-blown arguments. My wife ends up in tears because I’m so difficult to deal with at those times.

The arguments with my wife don’t happen as much these days, but for the longest time, I really didn’t know why I was so defensive; on occasion, I would lie or pass blame on our kids — anything to get out of the hot seat. My marriage was not a marriage: It was a return to my youth, the cycle of hell repeating itself all over again. I still walk on egg shells most of the time when I’m with my wife.

It wasn’t until I was hospitalized after my suicide attempt that I learned about PTSD. I always assumed it was only related to war veterans. Little did I know that I was suffering from it.

I have to deal with PTSD in all areas of my life, even my career. I used to have a primary care physician who I quickly got rid of; I now see a PCP in the same building. As with all things, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Well, the first doctor was the latter two.

Soon after moving back to the U.S., I went to see if he could prescribe Xanax to me. Not only did he refuse, but he blurted out, “You have anxiety and social phobias? Why the h*** did you become a teacher?!” A valid point, but there’s no way that I’m going to pay toward his country club membership and tolerate that kind of attitude. (I would expect it from a shrink because they’re not exactly “normal.”)

Anxiety sometimes gets the best of me when I’m in front of my students. I had some horrible experiences straight out of graduate school because of my insecurity. I was hired by a university as soon as I finished school, and I wasn’t ready to be in the trenches. College students can be as bad as public school kids sometimes.

I may think that a particular student is smirking at me because I’m inept, or I might believe the whole class is masking their contempt of me because I’m not as good as previous teachers who they’ve had.

The doctors say that the verbal and physical abuse was a big cause of my various mental health issues.ย  I know that I can’t blame it all on my dad; that would be the easy way out. I’m sure it also has to do with my illness and with my own character. It seems like the boundary between all three of these is blurred. I have no idea what I can change and what I cannot change (Yes, I’m familiar with the Serenity Prayer).

Even though I am free of suicidal ideation and depression for the most part, that darn PTSD still rears its ugly head regularly. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never dealt with it. This week I have an appointment with my therapist, so I’ll bring it up. Maybe it can explain my abnormal marriage.

When I write a blog post, I try to end everything on a positive, spiritual note. Today, though, I find that difficult. So, I’ll just share that Serenity Prayer with you:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.


About Topaz

I'm a college teacher, writer, and faithful Catholic. I do my best to juggle all of these while dealing with my mental illness -- a constant thorn in my flesh. View all posts by Topaz

24 responses to “Growing Up with Verbal and Physical Abuse

  • gatito2

    People’s childhood definitely effect their adult lives, though some with idyllic childhoods can still have problems. I’m so sorry that you had to suffer through this. I suffered from bullies in school but not at home.

    • Topaz

      I’m sorry to hear about your suffering from bullies. I went through that, too.

      True, some idyllic childhoods can still have problems. A classmate in fifth grade was rich and spoiled, and he is now in and out of jail. Such a shame.

  • farfetchedfriends

    Excellent as always, Topaz!
    Hits home for me, too.

  • latelywonders

    I am so sorry you had to go through that. I too had an alcoholic abusive father, although most of his physical abuse was directed at my mother. I know what that type of childhood is like and I would never wish it on anyone. would your wife go to therapy with you to understand more about ptsd? I hope you get help and things start looking up ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Topaz

      I appreciate your comment! Thank you.

      I didn’t mention this, but my mother stepped in to take a lot of the beatings in order to protect me and my sister. My mother didn’t tell me that until I was in college. She is my hero.

      My wife might go with me to therapy. She went once but was turned off when the therapist started harping on sex. But maybe for my PTSD she would go with me.

      I hope you are doing well now!

      • latelywonders

        I am doing okay, thanks! I have issues with my mother, but that’s another post, lol. I would think a good therapist would try to help your wife understand you better before bringing sex into the mix, in my opinion. whether or not your wife goes with you, I hope you have success at therapy. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Topaz

        Thank you! The former therapist was a male and a former interrogator for the Army. His tactics with me were fine at first because I needed someone to get in my face.

        However, as I stated in one of my posts, he would spend half of every session yelling at me for not being intimate with my wife. My wife is stubborn and will not budge at all. I have surrendered to all of it. I am tired of fighting the losing battle with her.

        When the former therapist brought up sex when my wife attended with me, it totally turned her off just like it did with me.

        My new therapist is good to talk with, but I don’t feel that she is delving into my life too much. I’ll hold out a little longer and then find another one perhaps.

      • latelywonders

        it is hard to find a good therapist who you can be open with and trust. I must encourage you to stand up for yourself. I too am very stubborn, and until my husband stood up to me and for himself on a few things, I didn’t change. when he did stick up for himself, I took notice. I changed because I wanted to and I knew we wouldn’t last if I didn’t.
        please don’t be afraid to put yourself first in this situation. you need to heal.
        as for the therapist yelling at you for not being intimate with your wife, what were you supposed to do? go home and order her to be intimate? geez! gimme a break.
        my blog has helped me get things out that I have kept secret for years. I was just tired of holding it all in.

      • Topaz

        Thank you for the advice. I’ve been working on being more assertive at home, but I end up falling into the same pattern. I won’t give up, though.

        I suppose it’s because I don’t like conflict. When my wife and I don’t agree, we end up arguing. In the past, we said things that were really hurtful. Afterwards we wouldn’t speak or look at each other for days. It was too tormenting for me (and for her).

        I am learning to confront her and be tactful at the same time. It’s not my character to do this, but hopefully it can become part of me.

      • latelywonders

        I had the problem of when my husband and I argued, I would verbally go after him to hurt him as much as I could. I learned that lovely tactic from my father. it got to the point where he didn’t even want to go places with me because even in fun, I would make fun of him and call him names. I remember one day I wanted to go somewhere and I wanted him to come with me and he said no. we started to argue and I asked him if he was embarrassed of how I look. he said NO. he said he was embarrassed of how I treat him. you could have knocked me over with a feather! I truly had no idea I was doing this. We had a long talk and I apologized to him and told him I would stop. we even made up a “signal” between us, so that if I started to do this he could let me know.
        I also promised him I wouldn’t tear him down verbally when we fought.
        I never wanted to be a person who did those things, but I would just want to “win” so badly that I resorted to verbally hurting him. I truly didn’t realize it until he told me.
        I have worked very, very hard not to do this any more. and I have done pretty well. we don’t use the “signal” any more, and to be honest, I don’t even remember what it was. but I have learned to read my husband a lot better and I know when he is becoming uncomfortable.
        sometimes I still slip up in an argument at home, and he’ll just say – hey don’t call me names!
        I have become much better at staying on topic when we argue, which now is rare.
        I have some great tips we came up with. I am wiling to share them with you, if you are interested.

      • Topaz

        I am definitely interested! At your convenience of course; I’m sure you’re quite busy.

        My wife’s tactics are/were very similar to yours. I am emotionally fragile and words tend to make or break me. I am working on that, and prayerfully I am making progress.

        We don’t have those knock-down-drag-out arguments like we used to. Mostly because I’ve learned how to keep things from escalating to that point. I have to say, though, that I’m not innocent of using these tactics: I used to fight fire with fire.

        Things that have helped me (and both of us) are: 1) I am more proactive with household responsibilities and not constantly asking for my wife’s help in matters; and 2) I’ve learned to be humble and nip arguments in the bud.

      • latelywonders

        my husband hates scenes being made in public. so one thing we do, if we know it’s a topic we are going to argue about, is go out for coffee. we do this because we know either one of us will make a scene in public. and we then can usually remain calm and talk it over.
        another thing we do is, if we are fighting, one of us leaves and calls the other on the phone. this is helpful because, you can’t see the person’s expressions. so if I roll my eyes, which I tend to do, he can’t see me. and if he makes a face or whatever, I can’t see him, so usually then it doesn’t escalate.
        humility is good, but you have to remember that you are entitled to your feelings and opinions. no one should rule the house with an iron fist. you need to have equal footing. this is where my husband and I struggled. we were always in what seemed to be in competition. we were always arguing about who did more or who did what. once we stopped competing and being in a power struggle( mainly me), then life became much easier.
        your wife should help you if you need it. that is part of what a spouse is supposed to do. the bible calls the wife specifically, a “helpmate”.
        we have had to learn to let the past go and start out on a level playing field, if you will. this has made it much easier.
        also another thing we don’t do is talk to each other about the sex life we had before we got together. we feel this only leads to questions that maybe hurtful to answer and undo jealousy. that has actually worked quite well.
        I hope some of this helps and I hope your wife becomes a little more soft hearted where you ae concerned.

      • Topaz

        Thank you for your suggestions. One thing that we’ve done is stop arguing in front of the kids. If we feel an argument coming on, we go in the other room and keep our voices down, or else we hold it until a later time.

        Due to my wife’s culture and upbringing, she has everything on a strict schedule. I have learned that it’s okay to “break out” of her rigid structure when I need to, even if it upsets her.

        I have to admit, I have been irresponsible in the past and either refused to see her point or pretended nothing was wrong.

        About previous sex lives, that is something that we have never touched on. We both know not to go there because, well, that’s something I’d rather not know. She feels the same as well.

      • latelywonders

        can I ask how long you have been married and what culture your wife comes from?

      • Topaz

        No problem. We have been married for 11 years. We met in Tokyo, my wife’s hometown. We were married there, and both of our sons were born in Tokyo.

        Our kids’ first language is actually Japanese. However, now that they’re both in elementary school, English is quickly becoming their first language.

      • latelywonders

        I can see how there would be some rigidness in her. I hear that culture is very disciplined. she does however need to realize she married an American, and a good, healthy, working relationship takes 2 people communicating effectively.

      • Topaz

        Yes. Little by little she is realizing that we need to compromise. Plus our kids are growing up American, so she sees firsthand how our cultures are different.

  • Jolene

    I know that blaming our parents is an easy way out but I remember when I went to my first therapist and she dug and dug into my whole being until she finally got to the root of my issue ….. I remember what she told me like it just happened yesterday “Jolene, you really don’t need to be here the one that needs to be seen is your mother. She is a very manipulative person who has caused you such grief”…… now, she wasn’t the last therapist that I saw that told me my mother was crazy and that her way about going though life was just “not normal”……a few years ago, when I was with Mr.Crazy and we attended counseling, the therapist looked at me and with a couple words she finally made me comes to terms with things with my parents. “Jolene you’re an orphan…you have never been loved like your sister was, you will NEVER have the parents she has….you will never have their approval ….Jolene you need to mourn them like they are dead, because when your sister was born that’s when you “lost” your parents….they were unable to love both of you therefore they choose your sister over you. Once you look at them as Jack and Teri and not your parents then you will be able to heal and finally come to terms with yourself.” …………….. it worked. That’s what I needed to hear…..and of course read the book that she assigned me…..but it’s true, I will never have the parents my sister has.

    but that’s fine ………. now

    • Topaz

      Thank you for sharing those experiences with me, Jolene. I’m sure it was very hard to hear those words about being an orphan.

      Several years ago, after my mother finally left my dad, I was talking to him on the phone. He offered a half-hearted apology for all those years. To me it wasn’t enough; he didn’t sound very sincere.

      I know that I need to deal with these issues and move on. Again, I am so glad that you shared your experiences with me. It helps a lot.

      • Jolene

        You’re welcome…..for some reason I find myself just opening up the flood gates and just letting everything out …hahaha…’s just crazy how my father has now morphed into my mother, i guess that’s what happens when you have been married for over 40 years. He denies anything that he has done…..and she well, simply thinks I’m making it all up………OKAY!!

      • Topaz

        Keep the floodgates open! It helps to let everything out, especially with someone who can listen (or read!) and offer advice and a sympathetic ear.

        Sorry for not checking my email lately. I enjoy our communication, so please don’t take it personally! ๐Ÿ™‚

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