HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on October 8, 2014.
Trigger warning: physical abuse, self-harm
“We are thrown away in the house you made of every stolen moment.
Don’t pretend, I know how this ends, and who you are in secret.” –Blue Stahli
When I read Libby Anne’s article, “Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?” it resonated with me. My parents had been doing the exact same thing with me for years.
“I want you to know that I never believed everything in Created to be His Help Meet.” My mom told me recently, after having taught Bible studies from it for years.
I was 18, and in my super-senior year of high school for another season of debate. Throughout my teens, I wasn’t allowed to read the Harry Potter books. I was okay with that, though, because I knew why. I argued with everybody because I’d done my research: Harry Potter had real spells in it and kids had gotten into witchcraft because it made devil worship attractive.
One of my friends said I should read the books for myself. I thought that was a reasonable request, so I went to my parents for permission. I was careful in presenting my case: I was just going to read the series critically, so I could tell my friends that I’d read them when I had arguments.
When I’d finished, my dad said, “Harry Potter was never not allowed.”
I replied, “Oh. I thought it was.”
My parents were both offended. “We would never be so controlling as SOME parents!”
I felt guilty for assuming, so I quickly apologized for my oversight. My parents were forgiving, and I went on to read and enjoy the series of children’s books, and my mom and siblings also read and enjoyed Harry Potter. It wasn’t a set of instruction books for devil worship; it was an intriguing, well-written, and powerful story.
The problem is, I remember the books being prohibited. My older sister read the first Harry Potter book in the early 2000s, and my mom read an article talking about how evil they were. She proceeded to tell us countless stories of people who’d gotten into the occult through Harry Potter. We had friends who hosted book burnings at their churches for anyone who, as my mom put it, wanted to repent of their sin: reading Harry Potter.
It would take me a few more years to realize that my parents made a habit of denying any unfavorable memories I had of them. They also denied anything that made them look uncool by the standards of whatever crowd they wanted to blend with.
I have a good memory. I was only four when Michael and Debi Pearl stayed at our house, but I remember what changed.
The Pearls were treated like royalty. My mom was pregnant with her fifth child, and all the kids believed, because our parents taught us to, that the Pearls were magnificent people.
My older sister, perhaps ten at the time, was terribly afraid of hell. She told Debi that she wanted to make sure she was saved, and Debi prayed the sinner’s prayer with her to make sure.
When my parents found out, they did two things: they forced my ten-year-old sister to write an apology letter to the Pearls, saying she’d lied about her salvation.
Then they started beating her with a belt every day, no matter what she did. She got additional “spankings” if she did something wrong.
This physical punishment was never predictable. Sometimes she’d endure five swats, other times forty. Sometimes she was allowed to keep her pants on, other times she was not. I was also spanked, but not with a belt, and I could expect punishment for specific disobedience. It frightened me to see my big sister suffering, but I didn’t have the words to identify my own emotional reaction at the time.
If any of us had known what anxiety attacks and survivor’s guilt were, it might have partially explained why my sister jumped and lost her breath every time my parents called her name, and why I started self-harming at age four.
Five years ago, while my sister was living in another country, she tried to ask my parents why they beat her every day for some part of her childhood. They said it had never happened. She thought it was a problem with her own memory until I mentioned that I remembered it, too.
Abusers deny and minimize what they’ve done, and if they can’t deny it, they’re so sorry, and once you’ve expressed forgiveness, you can never bring it up again.
Because bringing it up again is keeping a record of wrongs. That’s not love, according to the Bible, and we’re all about love around here.
Only when I started researching patterns of abusive people, did I recognize this pattern in my parents. They didn’t give explanations at the time, because they could deny it later:
“Your sister was never physically abused.”
“You were always allowed to read whatever you wanted.”
“You’re not being fair to us when you say otherwise.”
So Libby Anne, about your post: “Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?”
For a long time, I didn’t know why our moms never told us that things were different than we remembered them. I think it’s because they didn’t disagree with what we were taught. It’s easier to make your kids believe every new version of the narrative than to see the problem and change it.
Gaslight gaslight gaslight!
I just. Damn.
I wish i could say I don’t relate to this. 😦
“When did that happen?”
“When did I ever say that?”
“I don’t remember that at all.”
Okay Mom. I guess it must not have happened then.
Even writing that, I remember feeling so.. trapped.
I am sorry you had to go through this. Hugs and more Hugs.
Yep. And now my mom wonders why we older kids just aren’t as close to her as she thought we’d be. What can I say? “I think it’s because of the ‘torture = child training’ thing, but you know, meh.”
I completely understand. I was the Dr Dobson and Pearl method guinea pigs in my family, they didn’t discover the methods until my older sisters were too old, and my younger sisters are in public school now, so it’s too difficult to ‘explain’ their parenting to the outside world. They had the same habit of forbidding, then denying they had stopped from anything I ever wanted. Yet they (specifically my mother) don’t understand why I want nothing to do with them.
I know someone’s mother who said, I never hit you. When countered with but the grandparents saw. The grandparents are lying. “But I remember being hit.” “You have been brainwashed into thinking you were hit by your grandparents.”…Denial, denial. No honesty. No decency. And no guilt about their blatant disregard for human rights
My mom pulled that same crap, her own version. She couldn’t hold it all together in the end, though, and was diagnosed with severe mental health conditions. For some people, only a steady supply of money and/or a healthy avoidance of qualified mental health professionals are the only things keeping them in public. Me? I’ve been questioning my memory as long as I can remember. It takes 5 siblings to hammer out an account of our childhood. Good luck, Cynthia. You do not stand alone.
Yes, it happens exactly this way. It is because parents are ASHAMED, so very ashamed, of who they were and what they did. It is also a psychological reaction to try and minimize events to save yourself psychic pain: in this case to minimize how abusive you were because it would destroy your self-image to admit it happened. For victims, they minimize also because it destroys their self-image as worthy of love to admit they were abused. It’s ugly all the way around, though the onus is on the parents to clean this mess up.
As a former home school parent, I fear I am guilty of more than I admit to myself. While I have admitted and repented many abusive actions and just generally being a crazy religious stressed out bitch, I am sure there are things I don’t remember. May I have the strength of character to accept it when I am eventually confronted with things I don’t remember.
Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, as they say. My mom has been denying everything for years. It’s the most frustrating thing, because it revealed to me that all the hell she put me through, she didn’t even really believe in. She was just saying ‘no’ for the sake of saying no, the sake of having control. She was parenting to parent. She didn’t actually care, she just wanted to have control over me.
I admire you for saying something. You have my full support.
Just found this post. Thank you for writing this; I have had the same experience with my parents. The problem is: I have a pretty decent relationship with them now, and I don’t want to screw it up by contradicting their version of events. It sucks.