Parental Bullying (A Personal Story)


It is interesting in that I got two stories in a row from women that were about them dealing with parents as bullies. While their stories are vastly different, the themes are similar. It makes me wonder how many people were bullied by their parents and does that lead to further pass down bullying to the next generation. ~Alan Eisenberg


Parental Bullying

I am a 60 year old woman and was severely bullied as a child.

I was (I think) bullied for three reasons: one, I had a dreadful scar on my hand from a terrible accident when I was barely 5; two, my parents divorced and in those days (the 1950’s) this was a fast track to social ostracism in middle-class American society; and three, I had an awful name which lent itself well to being twisted and thrown in my face. When I moved and changed schools at 12, I began using my other name, and never ever disclose the first one.

I can tell you that adults supported the bullying, including a teacher’s assistant and the principal of the grade school. I have never forgotten the incidents nor have I ever forgotten those people’s faces OR names. And it has been, what – half a century.

The worst bullies were my own parents: a father who continually taunted me – “whatsa matta can’t you fight your own battles” was just one of his many and repeated sneers even when I came home bloody and in shock from being repeatedly struck and kicked including in the face by a little boy, a classmate who himself was bullied by other little boys because “his daddy owns a tavern” – another cause for social ostracism. It was just that I was a step below on the social rungs, being a child of a split family, you see, and with a scarred hand at that – my “evil thumb that could put witch spells on people” – that was a popular thing to yell at me, and this little boy thought he was going to “kill the witch.”

My father, who wanted a boy so badly (he only got female me) that he cut me out of his Will for “disobeying him” (continuing a relationship with my mother, arguably the less abusive of the two) and promptly legally adopted the adult (age 39) son of his new wife so said son could more easily inherit my father’s very large estate. And when he passed, that is exactly what happened, and I was left with nothing from my father while my adopted brother was left everything. I still live as I did then, at the edge of the lower middle class.

My mother, who was verbally abusive and considered her child to be no more than her handmaiden and if the ridiculous and overwhelming demands were not met, well, there was the short and skinny horse-riding crop employed quite skillfully. I made Cinderella look like a child of extremely spoiled and indulgent privilege. I wish I were exaggerating because this looks rather like I’m just wallowing in self-pity. I am not, however, exaggerating.

I can relate to the story of being beaten in the school gym while a teacher looked on in disgust. In poker terms: I’ll see you that story and raise you one of an adult who was gloating. Yes. Gloating.

You might think given what I do for a living that I actually succeeded as an adult. Well perhaps if you look the outward appearances: at less education than I would have had, had I not been bullied into submission by a teacher and high school counselor, and using my brains and work ethic to work my way up from entry level secretary to paralegal (by way of too many employers to list).

But you would be wrong if you looked underneath that glossy “paralegal” label at the real story.

With an IQ well into the hundred and a half range and as a straight-A high school student – which latter achievement was because I studiously avoided bullies who populated the extracurricular activities and stuck to the books – I was up for a National Merit Scholarship. The teacher who was a parent of one of the bullies, and the high school counselor who bullied girls in general, both voted me down for the scholarship because they said (and even told me directly) that I “was a snob who did not care to participate with the other kids in extracurricular programs.”

So what does a high school graduate with no job skills do when the beatings at home and taunts of worthlessness and continual abusive criticism make it impossible to stay? Take a couple of community college classes and learn to type, and then look for the best paying job they can get, just to survive.

That was in a law firm looking for an entry level typist.

This turned out to be quite a “gotcha.” Do you know what lawyers mostly are?

Like most cops – they are BORN BULLIES. The profession attracts vicious, power-hungry, abusive people who love nothing more than making others’ lives miserable. Including their staff’s lives!

So after a number of years I gathered my courage and stepped out into an even lower paying world, academic administration. Just to see, you know, if there weren’t as many bullies there.

And discovered the worst thing of all which is this: that there are bullies everywhere looking for victims and if you do not know how to protect yourself you will fail miserably. Some fail by taking their own lives. I didn’t but I sure thought about it. I count myself lucky to have survived four decades of such misery. Survive, I say, not “thrive.”

So in summary: parents who bully their children leave their children helpless and hopeless with no skills for surviving the adult world and often emotionally crippled to an intense, extreme degree.

School authorities who allow bullying – look the other way or encourage it – create young adults who are often either paralyzed by anything and everything that is a physical, mental or emotional threat, or act out in rage. The media is full of reports of both results.

Most of us, we just shut up and go away. We go away physically, and we shut down emotionally.

It is called survival.

I am within shouting distance of retirement now. I can look back over the decades and while I can see an overview and even understand a lot of this objectively and intellectually (at least) begin to understand how the whole thing worked.

But I can tell you this. The devastating hurt especially that caused by adults who do not protect the child they were obligated to protect never ever goes way. That hurt is with you day and night. It prevents you from living your life or even sometimes understanding that it is preventing you from living your life.

And it makes you afraid of everything – all the time.

That’s my story and I’d give anything to “not stick to it.” But like other bullying victims, I have no idea how.

~ Alexis

11 thoughts on “Parental Bullying (A Personal Story)

  1. Hi Alexis,

    These sentences capture my experience: “… young adults who are often either paralyzed by anything and everything that is a physical, mental or emotional threat, or act out in rage. The media is full of reports of both results. … Most of us, we just shut up and go away. We go away physically, and we shut down emotionally. … It is called survival.”

    I was so disliked growing up that my parents might as well have called me a hostile witness. The hostility from my father and the rages of my mother left me
    paralyzed for decades — pathologically shy, socially awkward, and heartbreakingly lonely.

    Both of them had gone to college, and I knew that college would be my escape. But, like you, I just studied in college. I didn’t make friends, I didn’t participate in activities, and I didn’t bond with professors who could have been my mentors or at least have given me recommendations. I was isolated.

    After college I knew that I had to get some social skills (the thing that I wanted more than anything else in the world was friends — especially old friends) and went into teaching in order to acquire social skills. I have spent the last 25 years in and out of teaching — and while the classroom has been the place where I have acquired most of my social skills, it has not exactly been a good fit for me professionally. I am now nearly 52, and I have no career, not even a job, an extremely bleak retirement to look forward to. I am what I have heard referred to as “a woman of a certain age with no particular skill set.” And I am single — I had been attracted to men when I was young, but, as you can imagine, I was terrified, absolutely terrified, of dating let alone of being in a relationship.

    But I can say this: I do now have friends. I have put thousands of miles between me and my mother, and I have managed to acquire people who cannot be surpassed in the quality of the friendship they give me. And a few of them can even be classified as old friends (I’m dining with one of them tonight!)

    But I remain tremendously sad about my losses. At this point, I can hope for two things: 1) validation of my experiences; and 2) the public exposure of my mother. (My father, at 80, admits that he was a terrible father.) My mother is accomplished and connected. In the 1980s and 1990s, the thing she feared more than anything else — and that I am sure she still fears — is public exposure of her misdeeds towards her children. (And I’m not talking about just a little bit of stress that may have been taken out on us once-in-a-while.) I have kept the evidence of her abuse over the years and some day I would like to reveal it to the world. She will still NEVER admit how horribly she treated me (she is a sociopath) — but it might give other abusive parents pause and it might give courage to children (even adult children) who are being abused to stand up to them and take their lives back as best they can.

    I am fortunate that there are many wonderful people in my extended family who can validate my experiences. Why didn’t they protect me and my sisters when we were growing up? Geographical distance and culture — you know, my parents were college educated white people. Their ability to parent went unquestioned, and people just didn’t interfere in those days. It was all in the family. But ‘all in the family’ needs to be rendered obsolete — in fact, against the law.

  2. Alexis, your story is similar to my own. Most of the bullying and abuse was within my own family, although I was physically bullied in grade school and subject to heavy relational aggression later in life. It’s incredibly hard to live with having been physically and emotionally abused, unprotected, scorned, abandoned, and, ultimately, disinherited. Yes, just getting physically away from them is a relief, even if it means loneliness. Like Sue, I eventually made a few good “old friends” who made my adult life much warmer for awhle, but three of them passed away over an 11 year period, and the last one is in a relationship that excludes me, so I’m back to square one and don’t know if I’ll ever have friends like that again.

    A couple of things: therapy can be helpful if you get the right therapist and the correct diagnosis. I have been diagnosed, correctly I believe, with Complex PTSD and dissociation (DDNOS) — a direct result of the abuse. The therapy I have received for this has helped in many ways. Frozen parts of me seem to be coming back to life.

    Try to stick it out to retirement, as it’s a huge relief to have material security and no further need to report to unfriendly environments for any reason. I do volunteer work now, which keeps me “in touch” and is appreciated — and I can always leave if it ever gets ugly. Or maybe, maybe, I can defend myself.

    At present, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I will probably never achieve my potential in most areas of life. I’ve learned to be grateful for the simple good things — sunlight, nature, pets, books — and this helps. I also believe in and have a pretty good relationship with God, which has been a great source of comfort.

    Good luck and God bless to all who have been damaged by bullying. Sending love to you all.

  3. Sue A I sure hope you “expose” your mother for the bullying sociopath she is as relayed in your reply to my own story. Not that it will make a difference to anyone but you. I did and continued to flat out state categorically to people who “supported” my mother that she was sociopathic with psychopathic tendencies, physically,mentally and emotionally violent, and as well was what I would call an “X-treme Hoarder”. I did feel better when I would simply calmly state these facts to people and then when I would get told stupid things like “but she’s your MOTHER” I would make a calm and matter of fact reply: “Yes, the prisons are full of women who are biological mothers. Diane Downs, for example.” You know that never ever failed to shut off the “but she’s your MOTHER” remarks! The other thing I did when others would still deny my bullying parents’ behavior – well, I would just look at them directly and very, very coldly. Not saying anything. Then simply turn around and walk away. That routine DOES give you some personal power because YOU are controlling the situation by not feeding into the other person’s power trip. Sue A, I did try counseling, the counselor called me a liar! I was married at the time, and this was marriage counseling, I predictably had married an abusive alcoholic. But on this occasion, and maybe only this one occasion, he stepped in and stuck up for ME! He looked the counselor right in the eye and furiously stated SHE IS NOT LYING I HAVE SEEN THE ABUSE FIRST HAND AND YOU SIR ARE AN IDIOT. yes! Oh, to savor that rare occasion when someone actually defended me! I can tell you, it was heaven! (we did divorce, I’m still poor, but he eventually achieved a good quality of sobriety through AA and remarried happily – and I don’t ever intend to take any “remarriage” chances). I can tell you this: if you have an avocation that you are good at you will have all kinds of positive feedback/friends/self-affirmation, so that is the only thing that has kept me going, I’m quite good at the horse and dog thing.

  4. Alexis, it’s fortunate that you’ve found something you love to do and are good at. That really helps.

    With therapy, it’s important to find someone who specializes in child abuse and long-term (complex) ptsd. I had seen therapists in the past for my depressions, and they always went on the assumption that the problem was me and how I react to things. Some were even sharply critical, which just made me freeze up even worse. NOT helpful, because square one is learning to admit and accept what was actually done TO you, and to KNOW that you didn’t deserve ANY of it. That affirmation of your intrinsic worth and your basic innocence as a child is the foundation on which healing can begin.

    It’s great that your husband stood up for you. My ex is the only person in my current life who knows first hand what my family is like. He told me not too long ago that they’re never going to admit that what they did was wrong. And I know it’s true. I too have had people criticize me for staying away from my birth family, and, yes, it hurts. I haven’t found a good rebuttal yet.

    Keep seeking the activities and people that make you happier. You deserve them. Take good care of the hurt child within. You, too, Sue. We can, to some extent, be our own loving parents. We deserve to feel safe and happy.

  5. I find it deeply shocking that there is so much “victim blaming” going on in American society today. From the counselor who criticizes and blames their patient to the thoughtless cruel person who demands of a cancer patient what they did to “catch” the disease, to the parents and teachers who strangely decide that a bullied child must be “asking for it” even to rape victims – yes rape because rape is a crime of abuse of power and seldom has much to do with anything BUT power tripping (per my training as a volunteer in the area of domestic violence) – who are often assured by the authorities that they way they dressed or spoke or talked or where they walked was “inviting” the crime. Victim blaming is so widespread in our society that it should be called the Great American Pastime rather than a team sport be called that! You can see it everywhere and easily identify it. I was reading about something called “mobbing” which is societal bullying of other classes than the one in power and that was a really interesting take on a society which tries (unsuccessfully) to call itself “classless.” The classes in power use bullying (or “mobbing”) to define the victims as the deliberate creators of their own problems and this is often very successful in keeping those strata of society “down.”

  6. Alexis,
    Your story resonates with me. My dad, oldest of four brothers, learned his bullying as a boy and continued to refine his methods and techniques all throughout his life, right up to his death at age 79. I was the only son, he had three daughters, so I got what he’d formerly given to three younger brothers. One of my uncles was severely damaged by my father’s bullying, a pathetic man, cowering and submissive despite his large size and deep, resonate voice. My sisters and my female cousins continually tell me how lucky I was to have “uncle Dave” as a father, and there is no way I can respond, so I say nothing. I had enormous psychological problems until during a bout with severe depression several years back my psychotherapist told me I had lifelong PTS brought about by my bullying parent. I’m rather along in years now, and it’s too late to undo a lot of the bad decisions I made, but at least I now have the comfort in knowing what caused it all.

  7. Alexis, Thank you so much for your bravery in telling your story. I am also a victim of vicious parental bullying. Unfortunately it resulted in me having breakdowns. I am well now and have developed my sense of humour to enable me to get on with my life and survive.
    I have been through dark days where I wished I could end it all but decided never to give credit to anyone who bullied me. I have made up my mind to survive.
    Even though I don’t know you, I can see you need some TLC. I send you all my loving kindness and wish you all the very best on the rest of your journey through life.
    Michele

  8. I experienced bullying from parents and school peers and tended to react aggressively, because at least I would feel I had given them hell back in some way and wasn’t just going to sit there and take it. Most of the time I have to say these people know what they are doing and ultimately get very meek when you tear a strip off them, and to be honest you just have to take the risk of giving them sh*t back and being labelled and gossiped about, otherwise people will think you are a pushover. They try to exploit any weakness they can , it is like the animal kingdom and you need to stand your ground and use any number of tactics to confuse them so it is not too predictable for them .
    I find there seems to be a high correlation between participation in sports and bullying, also any institution that is “part of the system”. I.e.education, religious institutions, police force, law, therapy, medicine etc. People who either work in those areas or hold them in high regard tend to have bullying/ control issues.
    I personally don’t have much patience with people point blank nowdays, and limit my interactions with them to the bare minimum, because I find their general manner so pathetically bitchy and patronizing that I immediately think “I’m outta here”.

  9. Well written and a familar story. Lots of us probably have PTSD. I have had a little therapy (EMDR) for this and it has helped! Just remember you aren’t a victim and you can learn to be assertive in a positive empowering way. I am intensely aware of others moods and behaviors because of the abuse, thereby being able separate their behavior from my self esteem. It is their problem.

  10. Pingback: Bullying Introduction | Alien-Parenting

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