I was raised in a home with Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). And I am not alone. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “In 2010, 1 in 15 children in the United States were exposed to intimate partner violence for a total of more than 5 million children… In 43% of domestic violence incidents with female victims, children are residents of the household where the incident occurred.”
IPV creates a long list of damaging consequences. Many are commonly known (e.g., hypervigilance, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)). But in this article I am exploring the hidden behaviors which took decades for me to uncover, along with my “new stories” and affirmations which have been powerful tools in healing.
Anger is not my personality.
It might seem obvious that growing up with violence would create angry responses. But I was convinced that my anger was an immutable personality trait. It never occurred to me that it could be a side effect of growing up with IPV.
I even made decisions based on this erroneous notion, such as choosing not to go to law school, although being an attorney would have been a good career choice for me. But at the time, I felt that the kind of legal work I wanted to pursue, in conjunction with what I believed was my angry personality, would make me an impossibly difficult person to live with.
It took a long time to realize that a great deal of my outrage was a reaction to IPV — the injustice of witnessing violence against my mother while my father escaped punishment, my father’s pervasive control, living in almost continuous fear, and a loss of power in every significant area of my life.
Affirmations: I am loving. I am at peace.
It is safe to have personal power.
I have long been uncomfortable with the idea of my personal power, but only recently did I understand why. I equated my personal power with the malicious power that I grew up with, and I was unable to make the distinction between positive and negative power.
In addition, when personal power took the form of resisting, it resulted in retaliation by my father. Even relatives living outside our home tried not to “provoke” him. I remember seeing my mother fight back only once, and it was only recently that she revealed her decision to avoid standing up to my father because she feared he would kill her.
Affirmations: I don’t censor myself out of fear of what others will think of me. I let people see the real me. I am safe to be who I am.
I have power over my food and eating behaviors.
Some of my struggles with food (eating too little) have their origin in hearing my father tell my mother, “You’re not getting food until this argument is over.” His tactic was particularly abusive because my mother has hypoglycemia and must eat throughout the day in order to maintain sugar levels and energy.
It took a long time for me to realize that I was learning the toxic lessons that (1) I don’t have control over food and (2) I need to “earn” the right to eat.
Affirmations: I enjoy food whenever I desire it. I deserve nourishment.
Embrace being a woman.
My father’s misogyny manifested itself as abuse of the women in our home, especially my mother. I internalized his fear of, and hatred for, women. I unknowingly took on his aversion to such an extent that I had a strong resistance even to saying the word “woman” to describe myself.
Affirmation: I am a loving and positive woman.
My mother loved me, even though she couldn’t protect me or be available for me.
For most of my life, I suspected that my mother didn’t love me because she didn’t protect me (and my siblings) from the effects of our father’s violence. As my father’s mental health deteriorated and his violence escalated, my mother became increasingly unavailable to us because she was preoccupied with either fighting with my father or trying to manage his instability.
Following decades of personal growth work, I came to understand that her lack of availability was not the same as a lack of love. But until I had this insight, I interpreted my partners’ unavailability (or inability to protect me) as proof that they did not love me.
Affirmation: Another person cannot fill the void or fix the pain from my childhood.
I deserve love.
My long-held impression that my parents didn’t love me grew into the belief that I don’t deserve love. I didn’t begin to comprehend this fully until I texted my boyfriend on Christmas Eve to let him know that I struggled with his absence at the holiday due to his out-of-town commitment. He responded, “I love you. Nothing can change that.” Yet I had trouble absorbing what should have been a reassuring statement.
The following day, on Christmas morning, I repeated his response several times as if it were an affirmation, in an attempt to fully embrace this loving sentiment. When I continued to feel resistance, it became clear to me that I was unable to accept that I deserved his love.
Affirmations: I deserve love. I reassure myself about feeling lovable and don’t rely on others to do this for me.
I give myself permission to ask for what I want.
Growing up with a father who was a controlling rageaholic created an environment where expressing wants or needs could produce a response ranging from verbal abuse to threats of physical harm to my mother. Even when I no longer lived with my parents, I was afraid to ask for what I wanted from anyone, borne of a deeply-rooted dread of repercussions, the fear of being a burden to others, and the belief that I was not deserving.
Affirmations: I deserve to have desires and needs. My needs do not make me too demanding or undeserving of love. I don’t ignore my wants and needs.
I am irreplaceable.
Not that long ago, I learned that my younger brother, when he was only 4 years old, told our mother that he can simply get rid of his wife if he doesn’t like her. The same environment which modeled relationships in this unimaginable way also had me believing the converse — that I was disposable as a wife/girlfriend.
Affirmations: I am awesome. I feel secure, in or out of a relationship.
For many years, I made decisions without realizing how they were driven by the insidious and pervasive effects of IPV. But as I gain further insight into how violence and control have influenced my thoughts and behaviors, most notably in relationships, I am able to re-frame these toxic mindsets.
While I continue to make use of varied forms of guidance (therapy, support and discussion groups, readings, workshops, 12-step programs, telephone calls, writing, and affirmations), I am confident that I will thrive as a happier and healthier woman.