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During your childhood, how much would the following affect you as an adult?

(83 Posts)
lauren42 Thu 11-Dec-14 14:53:03

Hi everyone,

I posted the other day about a current issue with my P, and after the really helpful advice, I am being abit cheeky and seeking further opinion on a bit of a different, broader topic - though still connected to the mother!!!

How much do you think the following, if at all, would affect an only child:

- in years leading up to divorce, mother tells son regularly that she wants to leave father
- father and mother seen fighting on the kitchen floor with each other with utensils (not sure if this was a one off or regular occurance)
- son sees father hiting his mother
- at age 7, he forgets mum's birthday, and in the morning sees dad giving mum a present. he goes to bedroom and finds a new pen in a drawer to wrap up for mother, and takes it to her. she screams and shouts at son and husband because son had forgotten her birthday - apparently son should have remembered and father should have bought present on son's behalf.
- parents divorce - he is age 14 and goes to live with mother
- when father comes to pick son up for days out, mother leaves the property 15 mins beforehand and tells son not to allow father to see the family dog (the dog went to live with mother after divorce)
- mother calls father on regular basis and shouts at him abotu money and obligations he is not fulfilling
- mother tells son his father won't pay for a school trip so he cannot go (a day before they are due to leave)
- age 17, son stops seeing dad for 2 years. he has never told me why.
- age 18, son goes home to see mother, and mother disappears all night drinking and son ends up calling police because she doesn't answer her phone 2 hours after expeting her home - mother thinks this is hilarious
- at son's graduation, mother creates a huge row with father, and leaves son in tears - they both leave.

There are plenty more things in adulthood I could reference, but I am specifically interested in your thoughts on what this can do to someone as a child.

If I am honest, I am skeptical that any of the above can have any effect...I am lucky and came from a very stable background and yes I saw my paretns argue, but essentially I was very well looked after and felt like the centre of my parents' universe. My mum has told me I should be careful with my partner because 'i cant know what damage was done to him.' Is she right? are the above events all that damaging? Obviously I know they are not 'right' - just to clarify!

Parther speaks to both parents now, though he seems more like his mother's carer, and his dad's friend - not the typical parental relationship I have been used to.

Ohfourfoxache Thu 11-Dec-14 15:10:54

If these are the things he has told you/these are the things you know about, I'd bet my life that there is all sorts that went on that you don't (either because he has forgotten or has consciously decided to keep quiet for whatever reason).

Like you, I had a pretty stable upbringing. But I would imagine that any childhood like the one you describe would fuck someone up at least a bit sad

yongnian Thu 11-Dec-14 15:31:28

I think it's worth bearing in mind that it's not just the incident (s) themselves that affect's how they and those around them responded to them...there's no real hard and fast rule like 'X' event would definitely affect someone but 'Y' event wouldn't...different people respond to the same things differently...if your partner is saying that these things affected him then it's reasonable to assume that's true for him...even though they may not seem that severe to you.
Or is it that it's not your partner saying these things affect him, but your Mother? Sorry, not quite clear from your OP.
Either way, past experiences don't have to score on some kind of universal tick list to be traumatic/affective to someone.
Are you sceptical because you feel your partner is using these experiences to excuse behaviour as an adult? Or do you really find it hard to empathise given that you were lucky to have a stable background yourself. Just having a stable background doesn't mean you can't empathise though.
Sorry to give your more questions than answers but it is very difficult to measure how much someone is affected by things by the original experience, only by much they feel it is affecting their current behaviour.

ouryve Thu 11-Dec-14 15:35:12

I'd be sceptical that those sorts of events could have no effect whatsoever.

Lottapianos Thu 11-Dec-14 15:40:34

I had a very emotionally unstable childhood. Everything you describe is potentially hugely damaging. That doesn't mean that he is a lost cause or anything, but all of this will have had an impact on him.

His childhood home sounded chaotic, uncertain, unstable - this means that your partner spent a lot of time feeling scared as a child. This doesn't magically get switched off when you reach adulthood. Your partner is likely to have difficulty trusting his own feelings, trusting himself to make good decisions and trusting other people.

'in years leading up to divorce, mother tells son regularly that she wants to leave father'

My mother used to do similar - used my sister and myself as therapists from about age 11, confiding in us about all the dreadful stuff in her marriage. Its an example of something that has been referred to as 'emotional incest' - adult uses child in highly inappropriate ways to fulfill an emotional need, without any thought to the impact on the child. It left me feeling confused and upset, and also responsible for my mother's happiness. I'm 35 now, and still working through psychotherapy sessions to be free of this feeling of responsibility. Of course, there was loads of other messed up stuff going on too, but I do feel this example was hugely damaging.

Your partner has undoubtedly been damaged by his parents' behaviour. However, this does not mean that he has any right to take it out on you, or to make you suffer because of how he feels. Just in case that's what's going on for you.

museumum Thu 11-Dec-14 15:42:46

I would be surprised if a child who grew up in that environment could have a healthy relationship without a lot of hard work and/or counselling.


If this is your partner then this is HIS problem and something he needs to address. you should not suffer because of it. It may explain some bad behaviour but it does not excuse it or mean you should live with it. (Sorry I don't know your issues and haven't seen your other thread).

lauren42 Thu 11-Dec-14 15:43:23

Thanks for your responses.

yongnian - my partner has never stated 'this affected me and this is why i do x, y or z.'

When I have told my mum about some things my P does that seem a bit odd to me, (ie. lack of ability to communicate fully with me, inability to tell me when something is upsetting him, inability in general to be vulnerable, and often a selfish attitude to his plans and wanting me to fit in around them, saying things but not always acting on them, and recently with xmas here, not being able to fully engage properly with celebrations and family events with my paretns and sister etc - he doesn;t bother to make anything of xmas with his family aside from just standard visiting).

I am not skeptical for any reason other than I feel things that happened as a child you should be able to get over...again the only thign ive had to get over is some kind of embarassment or bullying at school. nothing parent-based.

I am asking really if my mother is right and I should be more forgiving when my partner does the things he does...can it be an excuse? I'm been mainly upset recently as I've been so excited for xmas and he just...well, isnt. he doesnt get too excited or enthusiastic about anything and always seems to take things at a VERY slow pace and cannot for the life of him make decisions in any reasonable time over anything.

lauren42 Thu 11-Dec-14 15:45:06

lottapiaons - the trusting thing is MASSIVE, as his ability to make decisions with any degree of self confidence. it drives me mad.

his mother is still a complete nightmare and doesn support or love him the way she should - it is all about her and her gain, so anything i do to counteract it, she brings him back down. i hate it sad

lauren42 Thu 11-Dec-14 15:47:18

lottapiaons - your experience there sounds similar... and my partner DOES feel responsible for his mothers happiness. we are savig for a house and have very little together yet...and she wants to move closer to us and as the house prices are more expensive, he sugested giving her money towards one?!?

And i dont even know why as she's SO dependant on him and not a mother at all. be there for here, fine, but let's not go overboard on someone who messed up your childhood.

why cant he see that?

MyEmpireOfDirt Thu 11-Dec-14 15:48:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

CogitOIOIO Thu 11-Dec-14 15:49:25

Ultimately, whatever experience or problems someone may have had in their upbringing, it does not give them the right to treat other people badly. Equally, it does not oblige others to be super forgiving.

Set your own boundaries of acceptability OP and be wary of compromising.

SunnySomer Thu 11-Dec-14 15:52:39

Well, you don't mention it, but if his childhood Christmases were as hideous as the rest of his childhood (and I could imagine them being spectacularly awful, especially the reality compared to the expectation, potentially even further heightened emotions etc), then I can't imagine him associating Christmas with any kind of joy or happiness.
Your mother is definitely right.
My childhood was by no means dysfunctional, but there were grim things about my parents' marriage that affected me into my mid thirties.

MyEmpireOfDirt Thu 11-Dec-14 15:53:54

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Lottapianos Thu 11-Dec-14 15:55:47

'I am not skeptical for any reason other than I feel things that happened as a child you should be able to get over'

It just doesn't work that way. The lessons you learn as a child can stay with you forever, unless you work very hard to change them, often with professional support. As a child, you learned that you were loved, and worth loving, and were allowed to be your own person, and so you don't question any of that now you're an adult. Its the same for your DP with his experiences.

It's always easy to look at things from the outside and see what 'should' happen. It's impossible to do this when you've had an abusive upbringing. It sounds like there may be enmeshment going on with your DP and his mother - he wasn't allowed to be his own person growing up, so he may not actually feel like a separate person from his mother, but may not realise this consciously. You clearly had healthy boundaries when it came to your parents - that's because they allowed you to be a separate person with your own feelings and opinions etc. DP didn't have that. Parents like his mum just see their child as an extension of themselves, not a person in their own right. Its very dark and very messed up and doesn't magically change when the child becomes an adult.

Something else to be aware of is FOG - fear, obligation, guilt. Children of abusive parents have TONS of all three and I can't explain how utterly crippling it can be. You are on the outside thinking 'FGS just say no to her, how hard can it be?!' Whereas for him, who was brought up to always consider his mother's needs before his own, that may be unthinkable. Just a few years ago, I was honestly terrified of standing up to my parents and going against their wishes. That has changed but I'm not fully there yet.

I highly recommend 'Toxic Parents' by Susan Forward for more information about parents like this.

Does your DP get irritated by his mother? Does he feel that there is something wrong within their relationship? Does he find her too controlling or intense? Or is he quite content with how things are?

Quitelikely Thu 11-Dec-14 15:55:55

You think that people should be able to get over what happened to them as a child????

What happens as a child is integrated into your personality, your unconscious. So just as your experiences made you his made him.

I feel you are being very unrealistic in not expecting his experiences to affect him.

However it doesn't mean you should accept abuse. But be wary, those people were his role models. He's bound to have elements if their behaviour come through his own.

yongnian Thu 11-Dec-14 15:56:22

Ok that explains where you're coming from a little more..are you able to discuss any of what you think might be driving his behaviour at all with him directly?
As someone else said up thread, it can be very hard living with the consequences of someone else's emotional collateral damage if they are not willing to deal with it but instead are projecting onto those around them.
However...everyone gets to a place of readiness to deal with their stuff at different times. And only your partner can do that for himself, if and when he's ready. Which may be now..maybe never.
But there are definitely some things from childhood that take more than 'just get over it'.

Anonnynonny Thu 11-Dec-14 15:56:45

I think all those things would affect someone enormously, how can you possibly think they wouldn't?

However, people who have been through this sort of upbringing need to recognise how damaging it was and do somehting about it. It's not an excuse for bad behaviour or a Get out of Jail for Free card.

People can recover from traumatic childhoods, but they need to do the work. That means whatever is good for them - reading, counselling, support group - whatever works.

What it doesn't mean, is that you can behave badly to the family you become part of as an adult and then say that it's all because you had a bad childhood. I know it's unfair, people who got brought up in happy functional families don't have to do this extra work of being a normal human being and other people do, but there's no way round it.

You don't have to cut people slack because they had a bad childhood if they are doing nothing to recover from it. If they are trying to recover, if they are really working on it, then I'd say cut them some slack.

So is your DH working on it?

TheHermitCrab Thu 11-Dec-14 15:57:28

I am asking really if my mother is right and I should be more forgiving when my partner does the things he does...can it be an excuse?

He isn't using it as an excuse but your mother is right that you need to be more forgiving. To be honest you seem like you need to be more understanding in general. Just saying people should get over things that happened to them as a child is cold.

The list you gave sounds like he had a horrible childhood, and it will affect him, but doesn't mean it will affect your relationship, just certain circumstances or parts of it.

I didn't have a very nice childhood, full of depression, mental ill health, and then my mum died when I was 19, and I have a narc for a father (who I still do more for than I should), and the small amount of family I do have, don't really give a shit about each other. Like your partner, that makes me not look forward to Xmas at all, because I always spend it with his, and they are a very big, very tight family, which is nice, I'm very welcome there, but it always hits home that I never got that, and makes me a little sad. My other half doesn't think I should get over it, he understands we have very different upbringings and supports me through the xmas period if I waiver a little or get emotional.

Just for the same reasons people love xmas or family occassions because the had a great childhood, means those who had the opposite won't feel the same.

Lottapianos Thu 11-Dec-14 15:58:17

I absolutely hate Christmas as well by the way. I can't bear the expectation of cheerfulness and happy families. It reminds me of what I don't have - a loving family who I can actually enjoy spending time with. Luckily my DP (who has a similar family to mine) feels the same so we can loathe it together!

TheHermitCrab Thu 11-Dec-14 16:01:20

Instead of discussing it with your mum, if it's affecting your relationship with him because of the way he is treating you, then bring it up with him. But you can't expect him to be how you want just because you are skeptical. Dealing with your childhood if you haven't before can be hard.

dollius Thu 11-Dec-14 16:01:37

Right, when a child experiences those sorts of things, it leads to arrested emotional development. Basically he was parentified by his mother and terrorised by his fathers violence.

So in some ways, through no fault of his own, your P is very much still a vulnerable, unprotected child dressed up in an adults body.

Without anyone to nurture him, he had no way to develop emotionally.

Children rely entirely on parents to model appropriate emotional responses and a platform on which to develop self esteem.

These things were clearly completely lacking in your DPs childhood. This is not something you can just "get over" without a lot of help and support.

dollius Thu 11-Dec-14 16:03:03

PS lack of apostrophes down to iPad rubbishness

Karasea Thu 11-Dec-14 16:05:55

You are luckier than you have any idea. It is your childhood that gives you the resources to love, be loved, to trust, to communicate and to empathise. Individual resilience is massively variable as are individual's emotional intelligence but really it woukd be a miracle if your partner wasn't damaged by what you describe.

It doesn't excuse bad behaviour though but it will make communication difficult unless your dh is very unusual.

Meerka Thu 11-Dec-14 16:07:23

What leapt out at me was the insecurity he must have felt.

Little stability that was reliable.

You can get over some things but childhood lays down the basics - without those fundamental foundations of security and reliablity + boundaries it hurts the child. They learn that the world is not a safe place and that if he is hurting, then no one is there to help. Well, the world isn't a safe place and often there is no one there to help! But if you learn that too young it stays with you at a level that gets in the way of adult, healthy relationships.

Having said that, at some point an adult needs to face their lacks. Those lacks aren't their fault, but they need to acknowledge they are there and try to find ways of dealing with them. A difficult childhood is a reason but not an excuse.

Some people can heal wholly. Some can never heal. Most people fall in between the two. But the adult chooses how to deal with the fallout and how they interact with others.

lauren42 Thu 11-Dec-14 16:09:01

Thanks everyone.

To answer a few questions:

If I were to even hint to my partner tha he had any form of abusive upbringing by his mother, he would respond very badly. He would say 'you think my mother's shit??' And although he might not leap to her defence, he would not like me suggesting this AT ALL. It is therefore very hard for me to ascertain wherher that means he thinks he had a happy childhood? Does he? Can he possibly think those things he told me are normal? And does he think he is ok despite them? It doesn't seem that way to me, but I don't feel I can say these things..he would take it as a personal attack on him.

Secondly, can I just highlight that I am understanding - if my partner said to me ourtight that he feels he had been a little bit messed up from his childhood, I would do everything possible ot help him deal with that. It's the fact that I don't know that makes it hard for me.

My partner tells me these things about his past when he is tipsy, or randomly when we are in the car or talking about families. He has NEVER once said 'it was so shit seeing my parents fight,' - quite the opposite, he says 'it was so awful for my mum.'

One thing I have noticed is that when I respond, and I do so very cautiously, I will say 'i dont think that was the right way to behave in front of a child,' and he will immediately say 'stop attacking my mum.'

The bottom line for me is that I know people have their problems. I am not out to attack his mother or father, but of course I am going to say somethng when he tells me these stories.

He always ends up each topic saying: well i have a good relatioship with them both now, so it's fine.

But it's not fine. His mother STILL blackmails him emotionally.. I won;t bore you with the details, but she makes him feel so shit for various reaosons and once didn't pick up her phone for 3 days because he told her he was visiting his dad!!! So now we have a rule where we cant mention him visitin ghis dad for that very reason.

If you all agree that this has been damaging for him, why cant he see that? And how can I help him if he cant/wont see it?

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