Those who know the more intricate and ugly parts of the incestuous relationship between my father and me have often asked how come I didn’t kill him. They don’t understand how I can even talk about him now without going off the rails etc etc. Or sometimes, they just look at me funny and you know they are thinking “well it mustn’t have been as bad as you say … “
What little they know. And yet, I have asked myself the same questions over and over again and come up with no answers. Part of me always loved him even when I hated him. When he died of cancer in 1980, already a skeleton before he took his last breath, while I could not bring myself to cry, not then, not later, nonetheless I took his cold, already dead bony hand in mine and asked him sadly, almost lovingly, why he could never have been just a father to me. I had loved the father. I loathed the lover.
Today, as I read through another incest survivor’s pain–filled blog, she several times mentioned “Stockholm Syndrome”. She wondered if she had it. Where she had shared some last letters she had exchanged with her father, she signed off with
Love you always,
He had signed off similarly. And yet, he had molested her for years, physically abused his wife and the writer’s brother most of their lives together, and all up, was one horrid person. Yet she said “Love you always”. Does she have Stockholm Syndrome? You bet! Do I? Well now I know I do.
What is Stockholm Syndrome? Dr. Joseph M Carver who has written the 4-page article I found, does a far better and more comprehensive job of explaining it than I can … and I also cannot condense 4 pages into a few sentences in a blog. Perhaps the shortest explanation is what he says in this paragraph:
In clinical practice, some of the most surprised and shocked individuals are those who have been involved in controlling and abusive relationships. When the relationship ends, they offer comments such as “I know what he’s done to me, but I still love him”
That’s the situation I found myself in, before, during and after the incestuous abuse ended when I was around 23. The abuse had started somewhere around the age of 11 – 12, slowly at first, then intensifying over the period of about a year. Because my father was so physically violent, I was terrified of him, as was my mother. Even as an infant, I was afraid of him. His big leather strap had left welts on my bare backside many times by the age of 10. My face had been smashed into the hard kitchen table when I couldn’t get my math questions right. My ears had been boxed till I could barely hear. I had been called “stupid” too many times to count. All my life with him, even at 23, I walked on eggshells around him all the time ever fearful of inciting his rage. And yet, part of me loved him. What’s up with that? It made no sense. But now I see it was, without question, Stockholm Syndrome.
So how can this be? How can someone who brutalizes you mentally, physically, and sexually still have your love? Well there are many reasons and scenarios cited in that article above. You’ll have to read it to see which applies to your situation. For me it was that he wasn’t always horrible. In fact, many times he was downright nice, even nicer to me than my mom was. While he was doing the dirty, so to speak, he was also working hard to provide me with all my basic needs: food, clothing etc. If I got hurt, it was he who took care of the cuts and scrapes. If I was ill, he nursed me back to health. If I needed protection, he provided it. I knew I could count on him if I were in danger. All of this made it difficult to fully hate him. When he did these things for me, he was acting as my father. I loved the father in him.
Also, somewhere along the way, he confided in me about his own past: the heartbreak he felt losing his mother to TB when he was only 10; the beatings he suffered from his own abusive father; the agonies of living in war camps during WW2 when you didn’t know if you’d be alive tomorrow and you were starving while doing hard labour. And then there was his disappointment and anguish when he had gone to Australia, ahead of my mother and me, to set up a home for us after the war and word came to him that my mom was having an affair back in Germany. For the second time, a woman had broken his heart.
All this obviously created an empathy within me for the person I knew he was or could be when he wasn’t being a predator and child molester. According to Dr. Carver, this is what is known as the “Small Kindness” shown to the victim by the abuser. When the abuser shows the victim small kindnesses, it gives the victim hope that things might improve and makes the victim feel the abuser is not “all bad”. When the abuser shares details of his/her own difficult past, revealing their own “soft side”, the victim feels sorry for them and even wants to help them, believing that things might just change for the better over time. Of course, all the while the abuser is sharing these things, he/she is also, consciously or unconsciously manipulating the victim, exxonerating himself or herself of all the blame for the situation. After all, he/she has been a victim too, right?
But all that said, now, years after his death, as I finally drum up the courage to share my story, I cannot and do not forgive him for what he did to me. I see no reason to excuse his actions. I have been horribly abused but that doesn’t give me the right to abuse my own children. And he had no right to do what he did, regardless of his own story. Sadly, all I ever wanted from him was a father. He became more than that and I hated it. I realize that to this day I still suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Do you? I’d love to hear your story and hope that by telling you mine bit by bit in this blog, you’ll find the courage to tell me yours. The freedom that comes with sharing your story is worth the pain of telling it.