Trigger warning: spanking.

There are two things I’m afraid to write about, for myself. The first is music, and my relationship to it. The second is anger and my fear of myself when angry.

SGM taught that anger is a sin. I remember my mom coming home from care group and telling me that it made so much sense now that she had been enlightened to see it: anger is a sin and it grieves God.

And so I fought my anger for years, like I fought against desire. It’s absurdly obvious, now, how interrelated those two were with the levels of stress in my life at the time. I was angry a lot. I was horny and masturbated a lot. And I really, really hated myself. I was so afraid of who I was becoming and I didn’t know what I could do to change. I prayed all the time, I only listened to Christian music and sang worship songs, I read my Bible every day, I journaled. And I cut out reading any mystery or fantasy, in hopes that I would get my spiritual life in order so I could overcome my two deadly vices.

I still don’t quite know what to make of anger. I’m reading a book that talks about how some kinds of anger are healthy and good, piercing facades to motivate change and wholeness. How some, bad forms of anger are only out to consume and devour. I’m not sure what to think of this.

Anger is really lonely. Anger, for me, was/is usually driven by fear — of not being good enough, of being misunderstood and thus rejected, of being abandoned or neglected.

Today I read two articles. One was a HuffPo piece on Post-Partum Depression and how it causes rage. And I read it and I suddenly was back to last year, when I was on a BC that didn’t work well with my body, which caused mood swings and made me so afraid of being alone. Something would trigger it, and I’d get intensely afraid, and my ex wouldn’t hear my fear, but only anger, and he’d need space and walk out the front door, and then it would become anger. And I’d angry cry myself to sleep and have nightmares of being abandoned.

And I’d remember, when I was crying that when I was a kid, I only every cried when I was angry. I remember telling people this as a sleepover trivia game piece. “I never cry. Only when I’m angry because they don’t understand.”

You have no idea how fearful it is in a legalistic home, with an authority who practices that smoldering, quiet anger, to be misunderstood as the one at fault. You’re brought into the bathroom and you plead and beg and say that there was a mistake, you were loud because the other sibling did x, it wasn’t you’re fault, and you get told to pull your pants down.

And you take it. Because you’re the kid who plays at being orphans, and you read The Whipping Boy and Anne and Little House and you want to be bold and brave and so you don’t cry or wince. Five or six smacks with a strip of tarred conveyor belt, and it’s over. Your face is hot and you look the parent in the eye, and they lean in and put their hands on your shoulders. And oh, they have bad breath from lunch. And they look at you and tell you they love you, but you need to learn x, and you maybe fuss back a little, but in the end you’re apologizing and they’re prompting your apology speech for the sibling who’s waiting outside the bathroom door with a smug look of the one who got away with it.

When it’s over, you carry on like nothing happened, because you don’t want to make a scene and you have to set an example for the younger kids, because if you fought a spanking and they saw, all hell would break loose.

You live like that because it’s right, it keeps order, and avoiding crisis is what surviving in a big family looks like.

But there’s another part of it, too. I read Elizabeth Esther’s post about being spanked and spanking and turning off emotions to break someone, and oh. Her story, her talk about the anger and the cold and the spanking–that is why I am afraid to have kids. My ex would tell me he wanted 10 kids and it’d be great and he’d be a stay-at-home dad and homeschool and I could still work…and I would know, yes, he’d be a great father. Yes, that could work. But I couldn’t escape the chill in my soul at the thought of being a mom.

My parents didn’t use the Pearls’ methods. My mom was a bad authoritarian, thankfully. My dad was a very businesslike authoritarian.

But I still learned to turn off my emotions when I was in a fight with someone “below” me in the family pecking order. If I was an authority, I could become a sociopath to get my way. And I ended up babysitting my siblings a lot. When that happened, they’d push my buttons and I’d snap. I could feel it. I suddenly stopped empathizing. Controlling the situation was all that mattered.

And what made it worse, is that I’d babysit for other people also, all the time. When I did, I’d be fine. All feeling and kindness and firm structure. I could do it. I really enjoyed it, actually. But with my siblings, the boundaries were set differently, and I would be so frightened of myself when I got cold. It’d be an out-of-body experience, watching myself get angry from a distance. We’d get into full-out wrestling matches over who had the ability to phone mom and dad, who had to do the dishes, who had to change the baby. It was ugly. Those evenings, when I was babysitting and things would get out of control and I couldn’t fix it and I got angry? Those are the worst memories of my childhood. It was so wrong. And I’m so appalled by it — even then, I was horrified by it. I didn’t know how to be different. And it scared me.

Just some late-night ramblings on the memories stirred up by those articles, but also: I don’t plan to spank my kids, if I ever have kids. And this is why. This is why I try the best I can to be thoughtful about respecting other people’s bodies, comfort zones, rights. Because I know who I can be. It’s ugly shit. I can be better than that.

(And I don’t think it was just total depravity that made me capable of that.)


13 Comments

  1. phenager
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    I realize you don’t know me from Adam, so why take my advice. But, I wonder if you should just give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Without guilt. God made all our emotions – he is described in the Bible as having all kinds of emotions we usually think of as negative — anger & jealousy, for instance. I’m not saying all anger is righteous. But I think you have to start with what is real and true. In my experience, it’s better to be willing to own your feelings and go from there. To feel angry, but NOT to lash out at your children, for instance. Bless you as you heal.

  2. Heather D
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    So I guess I was never ashamed of anger or feeling like a sexual person. My parents were both visibly angry a lot and nobody treated me like I’d ever become a sexual person or mentioned how I should feel about it, so I was in the dark on both topics, with bad examples on each. I’ve read back through my old diaries and I had so much anger and so much love but there generally seemed nowhere for either to go.

    I fought back against the spankings as soon as I felt big enough, around 11 or 12, but I too hit my siblings, perpetuated the abuse, and it seems that this was common in the way we grew up, with a lot of people even made to give their siblings spankings. We were told they better do as I asked or Dad would give them a spanking when he got home and I better tell him if anyone misbehaved or I’d get a spanking. There was no way in hell I was telling Dad so one of them would get hit. Absolutely no way. So if they didn’t listen, I hit them myself. It made sense at the time but was awful really. I didn’t know there was another way. The chaos and the almost cold feelings were exactly as you described and as an adult I finally asked my siblings for forgiveness and just started crying. It was a weight on me. I had been turned into a bully, a tool of my parents’, and I was never meant to be that.

    • Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Right. No one ever meant it to become like that, and it became terrifying. It’s hard realizing that you perpetuated the abuse because you didn’t know there were other ways to live, and didn’t have the real freedom to change anything.

    • Andone
      Posted March 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      The same thing happened in our house. We acted out what we were taught.

  3. Posted March 28, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    holy. crap.

    thanks for opening another door into understanding my childhood because shit…I totally relate to like 99% of this and you being up so many excellent points.

    I always thought one couldn’t have anger in their heart AND love (so, anger ≠ love–I saw it as the opposite of love). but I’ve come to believe you can. Jesus was angry/passionate with those who were misusing the temple for financial gain, but he acted out of love.

    now instead, I believe you can’t have [pure, unadulterated] love with FEAR. It’s as though there are both good and bad kinds of anger, the first motivated by love, and the second rooted in fear.

    the first is altruistic, non-manipulative anger, like activism against moral injustices, speaking out for those who can’t speak for themselves, etc. this is typically fueled by love for others and wanting to help them. it’s a very productive anger that moves to action on behalf of someone else.

    but the second kind is a fear of losing control in a situation, or of losing a loved one, or your reputation, or whatever other demons you fight. so then: anger + fear ≠ love but love + anger = action.

    as triggering as the bible can be for me, one verse never hast: “perfect love casts out fear.” so much of our lives are controlled by fear, and I think it’s because we don’t yet understand the love of Jesus fully.

    thanks for writing, hännah. it’ll keep me thinking for several days, I’m sure.

  4. Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    The spanking in your household sounds so painfully similar to the situation in mine growing up — complete with spankers made from strips of conveyor belt, given to my parents at the Ezzo parenting class they attended. I’m just now beginning to dig into some of it with my counselor, and oh, is it difficult.

    • Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      I need to do the same. I’m curious if she’ll name it as child abuse. What does yours say?

      • Posted March 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        We haven’t used that term at this point. Focusing more in counseling on the spiritual abuse I went through last year as a missionary with a large Baptist org. But my relationship with my parents intersects that pain at the point where they believed what those “spiritual leaders” told them to believe about me and my actions, as opposed to the word of their own daughter.

        There’s so much below the veneer of “we have a wonderful relationship” that I’ve always told myself and others. It’s difficult to admit that they may not be safe people for me right now, given their reaction to any attempts to talk about the pain of their treatment of me.

  5. Posted March 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    thanks for posting this.

    with fear and anger and growth in mind, i was wondering: have you read anything by cloud & townsend?

    • Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Yes! I love “Boundaries.”

  6. Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I used to only cry when angry, too. But I told myself I wasn’t angry. It’s so convoluted. I can’t explain. But I think you’ve helped me find a few words. Thank you.

  7. Andone
    Posted March 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks again for writing this.

    Spanking-by-divine-fiat really is a unique sort of legalism. This unwavering, emotionless, fervent commitment to the belief that a blistering WILL ultimately lead to “repentance”. That’s just not how it works.

    It’s funny; I’ve often heard of people saying “It’s hypocritical to teach your kids not to hit by hitting them.” But that’s really the problem at all. The problem (usually) is the opposite: that hitting is a good motivator for an authority to use on a subordinate.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy
      Posted August 5, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Old Beetle Bailey newspaper comic strip I read as a kid:
      General screams at the Colonel.
      Colonel screams at the Major.
      Major screams at the Captain.
      Captain screams at the Lieutenant.
      Lieutenant screams at Sergeant Snorkel.
      Sergeant Snorkel screams at Private Bailey.
      Private Bailey kicks the barracks’ dog.