I received several private messages about my blog on screaming. Clearly, we can all relate to the experience of being screamed at or bullied. This morning I heard a person yelling at her dog and for some reason that made me think about a conversation I was in this week. Someone was stating how important physical discipline (getting one’s a$$ whooped) is for teaching discipline to children. I emphatically disagree!
First let me state upfront that anything at all I share about my experience growing up is my experience only. It reflects my reality. Nothing is meant to demean, embarrass, shame, guilt, or blame anyone. The stories of our past are the same stories of today. They just play out differently – different person, different circumstance, different time, same old story! And when it comes to family, every person (even among siblings raised by the same parents in the same house) will share different perspectives of what life was like while living together.
I don’t remember how old I was. I know I was a teenager. The scene is vivid through my mind’s eye. I said or did something my Mother didn’t like and she slapped my left arm until it was fire red. My Dad walked in and stood next to me. I guess he wondered what all the commotion was about. He stood there and looked at my arm, cigarette hanging from his lip and said, “What are you crying about?” Tears were streaming down my face, my body felt like it was going to collapse beneath me, my mind was exploding with questions all at the same time, “Are you kidding me? Did you see her? Are you an idiot? Why did she do this? Why don’t you stop her? Don’t you love me?”
I’m sure that whatever my Mother wanted me to stop doing, I stopped. So yes, she saw immediate results, but did that teach me discipline? No. It taught me fear – to fear the people who love me the most. It taught me mistrust – don’t trust anyone, not even those who love me. And above all, it taught me that love hurts – People who love me will hurt me.
My parents suffered many hardships as children and both grew up in strict homes. I do not know this as fact, but I presume corporal punishment was the discipline model in their homes while growing up. My Mother shared with me many times, how emotionally withdrawn and at the same time cruel, her own Mother was. She never spoke of physical abuse, but clearly suffered emotional trauma from her Mother’s inability to love her the way she wanted – needed – to be loved. My Mother was taught that people who love her, will hurt her. And she spent her life building a life of unconditional love for her children and the nieces and nephew she raised. Still, she never healed her own wounds, and was blind to what her outrage did to me.
I grew up a rebellious youth. The best motivation you could give me was to tell me that I couldn’t do something. This was especially beneficial during my career when I took every “you can’t” as a direct challenge to say, “Oh yes I can!” I would feel great satisfaction when ultimately I could declare, “And I did!” I didn’t realize it then, but years ago I realized that I spent much of my life showing my Mother that I could do whatever I wanted – no matter what the emotional or physical abuse I had to go through to achieve my goal. I accepted the abuse because I was taught that people who love me hurt me. Even in my relationships with men, I never dreamed of a life with someone that didn’t involve pain. And since most people are afraid to go into that pain, my only form of escape was two divorces and individual therapy. When I look back on those divorces I know that every time I left, I was starring in the same movie with a different cast of characters – I was leaving my parent’s home all over again.
Debbie Ford taught me how to honor and embrace my shadow side (distorted beliefs I have about myself) with her bestselling book, Dark Side of the Light Chasers.” In her workshop she stood up and said something like, “You might think that I’m a bitch. Yes, I can be. And let me tell you a story about when being a bitch has helped me in my life…”
As Debbie guided me through the shadow process I was able to identify shadow beliefs like the one’s I’ve described here. I was also able to separate myself from the judgment of those beliefs and clearly see exactly where those beliefs have served me – positively and negatively, throughout my life. I continue to do the work. I’ve established clear boundaries in my relationships and I’ve learned to observe my own behavior when going after something I want – am I allowing it to flow into my life, or am I proving to my Mother that I can have or do whatever I want at any cost?
No one can change my belief that spanking a child does not instill discipline. It instills shame, embarrassment, guilt, and fear. And we carry that with us until we don’t. I was blessed with many opportunities to face my fears with love and compassion for my parents and ultimately, for myself. They moved from this world to the next with only my love and appreciation – they were the perfect parents for me. And when I witness parents who lose their cool and scream or spank their child, I understand…I do not judge them as bad parents but rather observe them as loving parents who are doing the best they can right now. (I am not talking about child abuse or neglect.)
I’ve been blessed with a deep desire to know who I am. I used to mask the ugliness and darkness with drugs and alcohol but I’ve learned to accept everything I find within, because I’ve learned with no doubt that beneath all that darkness resides beauty and light. I wonder, is the emotional pain of growing up just the natural process of being human? Is it a required experience or is it possible for us to evolve to a species where unconditional love truly exist? What kind of world would we live in if loving kindness and compassion guided us from the first moment of our existence? Can we live in a world where people do not scream or hit? Would we in fact be more disciplined if we learned life’s lessons through unconditional love rather than fear?