I had a father who was very domineering in a quiet, controlled sort of way. He never hit us and very rarely yelled, but he would sit us down for lectures for hours during which we weren’t allowed to speak, cry, or move a muscle. I learned early on how to turn myself off and wait it out because there wasn’t any chance of changing anything.
A lot of times he would have it wrong, or what he thought happened really didn’t, but it didn’t matter; we could never defend or explain, only sit and listen. It was also well known that you never disagreed with him about anything—even a simple opinion. If he thought someone was mean, you darn well better agree, because if you said you didn’t know they were that bad, you were in trouble.
My father was often quiet, but a stern look or gesture from him conveyed so much danger to me. I was always afraid of setting him off — even though he never hit us or anything like that. It seems difficult to understand how someone can rule with fear without actually doing anything. But I lived in fear of him.
My mother always deferred to his way. She never had her own opinion about anything—she’d learned not to. Dad’s word was absolute law. And I pretty much always felt on the wrong side of the law, even though I was the “good child.”
I was the oldest, so I took the role of doing whatever I can to make Dad happy. I had to be hyper-vigilant. I would carefully examine his body language, the feeling in the room—everything—and choose my every word and gesture and facial tic so that Dad would like what I said. If I used the wrong word, I’d hear about it for the next several hours. I got good at reading him. I knew the topics that he liked to discuss, and what tone of voice to use and everything. It became a survival mechanism for life in my home.
My sister went with a different approach. She gave up. She rebelled and did everything consciously opposite to what was expected (I guess she partly did this because I’d already claimed the “good girl” role of the family). She is still doing this well into her adult life and has no idea why.
The problem for me came in that I had no idea at the time that this wasn’t normal. I thought that what I experienced was in the scope of normal family relations, and never once thought of it as dysfunctional. So that made it harder for me to fix. My sister now has this problem because she doesn’t remember it as damaging.
After I got married and we had a disagreement, I’d immediately shut down and tried to “wait it out” like I always did with Dad. It was a physical thing. I could not make myself talk to my husband and sort out a disagreement in a calm way. In my experience, you didn’t disagree; you kept it inside and waited until it was over.
For the first year of marriage, our disagreements were over small things, but they became long, drawn-out affairs in which my husband tried for hours to get me to talk.
Lisa is a great example of someone who applied the truths in my book. FOR THE REST OF HER STORY, (AND THERE’S MUCH MORE) GET A COPY OF MY BOOK ON AMAZON HERE