People often imagine Anger to be one of the most typical responses to growing up with adversity in one’s childhood home. But SADNESS is also a dominant emotion. We grieve all the things we lost as children: our innocence, our sense of safety, and our right to have a childhood at all.
There is a path out of that SADNESS. For all that you lost, there is much you will find that you have gained and that you can now create for yourself.
This was the case for Savannah, who grew up with a particularly violent stepfather. Here’s her story.
Savannah’s father was a military man, and when Savannah’s mother, Rowena, married him, she thought her family’s future would be secure. Rowena was a glamorous woman with a professional singing career. She always sought out men in uniform for their military benefits: better housing, health care, and good schools for Savannah and her younger brothers. Savannah was never sure if her mother even liked these men.
He imposed a kind of martial law
When Savannah’s second stepfather came into her life, she was 13. He imposed a kind of martial law in the home, enforced with violence. Even the most trivial incidents would send him over the edge. And even Savannah and her siblings were sometimes the targets.
The family once ordered pizza from Domino’s, and her little half-brother, who was 3 at the time, reached up to the counter to grab a cinnamon stick without asking first. When the toddler accidentally knocked them all to the floor, Savannah’s stepfather picked him up by his arm and held him up in the air.
“Everything went back to normal the next day”
Their mother screamed at him to stop, and so he lunged for her, the toddler still held tightly in his other hand. Savannah ran into the bathroom, grabbed a hair dryer and used it to hit her stepfather in the head, hoping it would stun him enough to release his grip on her mother. More enraged, he tossed her brother onto the ground to grab Savannah by the throat and slammed her against the wall.
She still remembers him trying to strangle both her and her mother with each hand. Then suddenly he stopped. He dropped both women and walked out without a word. “There were no apologies,” Savannah says. “Everything went back to normal the next day, and that’s how it always was. Nothing ever seemed to get better.”
It is now our responsibility and choice to transform those emotions
Growing up living with adversity in our childhood home can become nearly unbearable when there is zero acknowledgment of the violence or of any harm caused. Children in such households lose the right to feel the natural sadness and other emotions that arise because they are too busy facing and responding to constant threats. Unable to talk about it with their own family and loved ones, the SADNESS only builds and many retreat into themselves or hide. They continue to mourn the lost childhood, as the deep SADNESS, unreleased, stays with them through adulthood. This despair hinders their drive to pursue the things they want and deserve in life.
As we begin to see what household violence does to children, we can also see that the emotions we felt then, and perhaps continue to feel today, were not (and are not) our fault. However, as adults, it is now our responsibility and choice to transform those emotions. Even if you lost your childhood, you can now ensure that you do not also lose your adulthood and the rest of your life.
Were violent outbursts common in your home or do you remember the foreboding threat of violence being more prevalent? Did you experience a deep SADNESS and sense of loss that still plagues you today?
These are not pleasant things to reminisce about. However, I ask you to share what you felt and feel in the comments below. Speaking about these emotions is proven to help us begin to heal and void them. Thank you for sharing.
A detailed overview of the SAD Lie can be found in CHAPTER 3 (“Sad to Grateful”) of INVINCIBLE: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up With Domestic Violence, and the Truths to Set You Free.