Daddy-daughter “things” have always been a two-edged sword. I love watching father-daughter dances, and the #myrealfirstlove social media posts are sweet. But at the same time, my soul mourns because I never had those feelings towards my own dad. When I walked down the aisle, I wasn’t just walking towards my future; I was walking away from my past. While some women marry men like their fathers, I married the total opposite.
You see, my father was an abusive man — mostly verbally, but he wasn’t afraid to use his hands when he really needed us to listen. He was also unpredictable. What bothered him one day would go unnoticed the next. There was no anticipating what would send him flying off the handle. And when he went on a spiral, which happened often, there was no bringing him back down. The rage had to run its course, like a tornado sent to do the most damage in the quickest time.
When the time came to choose a mate for myself, I was careful to look for an even-keeled person. When I found the right one, I pushed and pulled him more than he expected because I needed to know he was safe. I knew diluting my lineage of hotheads with a level-headed thinker was my best bet. I needed my offspring to grow up with at least one reliable parent.
A funny thing about growing up with angry, explosive parents: That rage imprints on your brain and sticks with you throughout life. My therapist calls this developmental trauma. The imprinting responds to frustrations the way you saw it in the adults who raised you. Instead of thinking through frustrating situations with logic (a.k.a. the grown-up way), people with developmental trauma respond in unhealthy ways. For me, my brain gets fuzzy while my anger goes from zero-to-60 without warning. By the time I’ve cycled through the rage, I’m dumbfounded about how I got to that level. This response is deeply rooted in the fear related to living with a ticking time bomb.
I will always love my dad, and I have no doubt he loved me the best he knew how, being a product of abuse himself. But there was still a lot of unintentional damage done in my childhood and adolescence. As an adult, I have come to realize that not only was a lot of my childhood dangerous, but also a lot of my outbursts now stem from that experience.
If your dad wasn’t your first love or your house was unsafe, you’re not alone. And choosing a spouse or partner the total opposite of your toxic parent(s) was a wise decision. You CAN be the end of the line of angry people. Their story doesn’t have to be yours, and your story doesn’t have to be your child’s. You don’t have to carry your parents’ baggage anymore.
If you would like to learn better coping skills, reach out to a therapist who is trained in developmental trauma. He or she can walk you through things like dialectical behavior therapy and attachment mapping to help you identify past trauma, potential triggers, and healthy coping mechanisms. You are not responsible for what was done to you then, but you are responsible for what happens next. Reach out and get help. You’re not too far gone.