Clinica Sierra Vista WIC

The Parent Bully


Mr. Blake comes home and sees his child’s skateboard sitting by the front door, again. He picks it up and storms in the house yelling, “…who left that blasted board by the door again?”  He suddenly slams the board on the floor, breaking it in two. He then kicks the board away and looks up to see his two boys staring wide eyed and frightened. He glares at them and moves on down the hall. The boys have a hard time getting back to their homework; they wonder what their father will do next. They sense more trouble. Then they hear it; down the hall father is yelling at mother, she is crying and doors slam shut. The two boys begin to cry. Whatever has been going on is overshadowed by their father’s actions.

Parents often exhibit the same impulsive behavior they complain about with children, but because of the parent’s size and strength it is felt more emotionally than anything else that goes on in the home. Tomorrow the boys go to school; one is distracted, having a difficult time with concentration as he continually relives the horrible evening at home with his father. The other brother is suspended for the day because he has threatened a teacher. Where did he learn these actions?

There is a bully in the homes of America and it is not the one that you would presume. It is not the child behaving badly or the overly active child that is causing the disturbance. It is the adult that acts out with intimidating techniques in a misguided and mistaken sense of discipline for one’s children. One father demanded the child to “tell the truth” about an earlier incident. The father berates the child in front of others, embarrassing him with school yard names and taunts. The child, crying, finally admits, “I did it,” but not because he is admitting to his poor behavior. He is being coerced by his father who is too big to defy. The other brother refuses to admit his fault; he is too terrified to face his father’s wrath.

Does this form of discipline work, chastising, berating, humiliating? No, not only is it not discipline, it only serves to show that the biggest can control, and only with intimidating power. But wait, juts who is the victim? Not only is the child the victim, but Mr. Blake as well. He is being cheated of a warm and successful relationship with his child, but why? Where did he learn to display such hostility with his children and his spouse?

 That is the unique problem of the bully parent, because he is not a genuine parent at all. He is a child in adult size replicating the exact behaviors he observed his abusive parent perform when he was a child, much as people can automatically play musical pieces they learned as a child, seemingly without even thinking, but more like “remembering.” The father’s brain has recorded years and years of childhood memories of the abuse cycle and it is so well memorized that he only requires one small incident to light the fuse of the abuse memory and away he goes, slamming, screaming, taunting and ridiculing, much as his father did years ago when he was a boy. Thus, the problem is one of a family legacy, a legacy of parental bullying. What happens is that Mr. Blake allows himself to “slip” into the child mode, which is often how trauma affects us, thereby FORGETTING that he is the parent of the children to whom he is yelling. Mr. Blake eventually calms down and “slips” back to adult mode, perhaps apologizing for his actions, but that does not solve the problem. The abusive parent has “difficulty” recalling the event because he was not CONSCIOUSLY there at the time, being overwhelmed by recalled trauma experiences as a child.

 This event can be resolved by Mr. Blake, who acts out aggressively and bullies others, to begin to recognize that the behaviors he believes he is using to discipline the child, is actually him acting out the behaviors he viewed as a CHILD, and utilizing the perceptions that are from the perspective of a FIVE YEAR OLD CHILD! Realizing that this may not be the most effective method to parent, it is suggested that Mr. Blake consider entering into a psychotherapeutic arrangement (AKA counseling) with a psychologist familiar with the impact of trauma experiences and successful methods of parenting and begin addressing the problem as an adult. This process can allow him to become much more observant of his behaviors, making present time choices about his behavior, while addressing issues of his own trauma, and thus begin the road to recovery from his own abuse history.

Then, and only then, can Mr. Blake  really be the father and husband he is truly capable of being to his family, freed from the trauma of the past, turning from an intimidating oppressor to a kind, considerate, and loving member of the family, and becoming a good role model for his children.

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Tags: Featured Story, Tweens & Teens

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