Punishment as a Control Tactic in Abusive Family SystemsBy
Happy New Year! Welcome to a new year Emerging from Broken!
I talk about the belief system and how it is developed and how we are brainwashed into believing that the problem is us in the first place. There are specific abuse tactics that are used to cement this brainwashing which cause the ‘fear of consequences’ for going against the controller in a dysfunctional relationship. One of these tactics is ‘punishment’ or ‘fear of punishment’ and like so many other abuse tactics it is very often issued in a way that is hard for the receiver of that punishment to put a finger on it. Remember that the foundation is laid very carefully to discredit a child in an abusive or dysfunctional family and to make sure the child is always looking at themselves when it comes to where the problem originated or who it originated with. This part of the grooming process is usually rooted in psychological abuse although it is often cemented via other types of abuse.
There are many ways to punish people without physically hitting them or calling them names. There are tactics such as “the silent treatment” “withdrawal of attention” or “withdrawal of interest”, in other words “rejection” and those abuse tactics communicate a message very clearly, even if we are not consciously aware of that message. When we are kids and an adult uses psychologically abusive methods to ‘punish’, most kids understand the consequence of their action (rejection) but don’t always recognize the actual message with any clarity or consciousness. Then, the way that we learn this acceptance of the message without questioning it very deeply (out of fear of the consequences), is carried into adulthood with us, therefore as adults we don’t see the tactics we have already been successfully groomed to accept without question. But the fear of the consequences may be very much still in control of the now adult victim.
For example, the time my father-in-law took my 2 year old son out of the farm yard without telling me he was taking him. I freaked, thinking my baby crawled under the fence and was lost in one of the many fields or had been mauled by a cow or had been cornered by a coyote. We have literally miles of land. I jumped in my car to go get my husband and there was my father in law, with my husband in one of our hayfields with our 2 year old son. Without thinking (normally I would never have stood up to him) I told him to never take our child out of the yard again without letting me know. He got angry with me! He was so angry that he spat out that he would never take him again.
There was something about the way he said it though that gave me an erie feeling as though I was the one that had done something wrong. I agonized over that whole thing, justifying to myself that I was right, that I HAD to know where my son was, that I could not actually be expected to just “wonder” where he might be at any given time. But I was really scared too because I had dared to talk back to my father-in-law. I ‘knew’ that I was going to pay for my actions.
He came over later that day saying ‘gramma’ (my mother in law) had told him he was out of line, but instead of apologizing, he told me off, saying that I was going to turn my son into a ‘panty’ if I continued to be over protective of him in this way. I call this the old “I’m sorry but……” and “sorry with a but” is not sorry at all.
But guess what? I didn’t argue with my father in laws lecture. I somehow just swallowed it. I sat there and took it. I accepted his words. I let him be angry. My silence very likely communicated to him that I accepted that *I had been out of line with my expectations* and that ‘grandpa’ should NOT have to tell me when he is taking my son somewhere.
‘Grandpa’ never took my son or any of my kids without informing me after that day. And he never took my kids anywhere with permission either. Looking back on it and in my opinion, he totally lost interest as a grandfather as of that day. My in-laws never took the kids to the amusement park or to the zoo. They didn’t babysit and they didn’t have the kids for sleepovers until they moved and could have the kids for a few days without (my) supervision. My father in law was not interested in watching dance performances, music concerts, hockey games, or any of the other things that I always thought grandparents were interested in being a part of when it came to their grandchildren. At some level I suspected that it all started that day when I dared to speak up to him. It was ‘the punishment’ that I had been groomed all my life to avoid and then that one time I just burst out with mama bear fear.
Later when I was coming out of the fog of how abusive and dysfunctional the relationship I had with my father in law was, it became very clear that he had punished me (or he thought he was punishing me) by withdrawing his interest and involvement as a grandfather. I think this was especially true if he thought that his involvement would give me a break or do me a favor such as through babysitting or taking the kids out somewhere.
‘Punishment’ (consequences for going against the one in control) as an abuse or control tactic is for any kind of stepping out of line. Children and adult children are ‘punished’ for going against the wishes of the one who in ‘in control’ of the one who is ‘boss’. Sometimes I have to think about what really happened when I realize that I am the one without family. Sometimes I have to remind myself WHY I finally stood up for myself and my kids. Sometimes I really wonder if I made a mistake in my choice to stand up to the dysfunctional family relationship stuff and I have to remind myself just what my requests were that ended up with my kids not having grandparents anymore and with my husband and I not having any extended family.
My requests were for equal value and equal respect. I asked for some of the things that they demanded from me with one difference; I was still willing to respect and value them. They however, were not willing to respect or value me.
I asked to be heard. I asked for my mother to stop talking about me and lying about me to other people and to stop inferring that the sexual abuse was my fault.
I asked my father to listen to me, to actually show in some small way that he was interested in me. Talking to my father was exhausting because each time he cut me off and changed the subject (about anything including what my kids were doing or an accomplishment of mine) it was a painful reminder that he didn’t care. And even these small requests were too much.
I asked my father-in-law to let me know if he was taking my child away from the farm yard. Just let me know so I don’t worry. And that request was grounds for punishment that went on for years. (Or so he thought; the truth as I know it today is that he did me and my kids a favor. Nothing good could have possibly come from my kids spending a lot of time with such a toxic and mean spirited man.)
So today when I feel bad that my kids don’t have grandparents on birthdays, holidays and other special occasions, I think about the alternative and what I had to do in the past in order for any of us to have a relationship with those so called grandparents. The alternative was to jump through all those crazy hoops. The alternative was to love (in the false definition of love which is obedience and compliance to their unreasonable wishes) and then not be loved in return by the same rules they taught me to love them. The alternative was to be treated like ‘nothing’ in front of my kids which only taught them that;
a) I can be treated like this and I won’t do anything about it
b) That I actually agree that this treatment is right. (compliance is consent)
c) That this type of treatment is how we show love and respect for your elders
d) That certain adults have more rights and more value and should be excused from respecting or considering other people.
e) That power and control is the most important thing to have in any relationship. Without it, you get treated like crap.
Today I am grateful that I decided NOT to teach those destructive ‘false normals’ but rather to take a stand against them. I am grateful that know what real love is. I am grateful that my husband and I have broken the cycle of abuse and dysfunctional family systems in our family with our own kids. I am grateful that I model and teach by example, love, respect and equal value and that my husband and I are a great example of mutual love and respect for each other in our marriage. I am grateful that although our family gatherings are often small, they are so much fun! I am grateful that I learned a new way to have relationship based on equal value and that we use our power to empower and not to tear down and disempower for the purpose of control. I am thrilled to have found the truth and to have found freedom and wholeness through that truth.
Today I reject being treated with disregard and disrespect. I am not afraid of their ‘punishments’. I am no longer a victim to a dysfunctional family system. I no longer bow down to the dysfunctional pecking order. I embrace equal value for all!
I had to look at the FEAR of the consequences as an adult and through the grid of the truth. If my fear was basically the fear of being rejected by them, the truth about that is that I already was rejected by them. I had never been accepted; I had never been heard or even seen. My wishes and needs were not important to them. That is rejection. And the truth is that my children were also being taught this same dysfunctional family system; compliance and obedience. They were being taught that they didn’t matter much either. So the truth is that I had nothing to fear and I had everything to gain.
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