The following story, by Lynne* is a deeply moving and courageous account of her journey through violence. As you will read, she continues to work towards non-violent relationships and has found various ways to achieve her goals. We thank her very much for her generosity and commitment.
Kerry* my youngest daughter is nineteen. She can be very violent. It has always been directed at me. I’d try to handle it on my own, to begin with, but when it just continued to get out of control my husband or my other daughter would step in. I never really kept track of how often it happened, but it wasn’t every week or every fortnight. It could go six months or perhaps three months. It just depended on how much I was willing to be trodden on. I was always trying to keep the peace until I would reach the point of ‘I can’t be manipulated like this any longer’ and then I would take a stand. I was frightened to do anything because I knew what it would result in. I knew that once that anger was triggered it would end up with things being broken, thrown on the ground, telephones being pulled out of the wall, smashed and then personal attacks. She would abuse me, swear, call me names. It would go on for ten or twenty minutes. When my other daughter or my husband realised that things were being thrown or she was attacking me they would come and try to pull her off. She would be hitting me and I’d be trying to push her away. They’d pull her off and then she would continue to struggle and hit and kick for ten or twenty minutes. After that, it seemed like her anger would drain away. All that was left was silence, just silence between us. Recently she would just go out the door and go somewhere. Earlier on she’d go to her room, slam the door and put stuff against it so we couldn’t go in.
I’d say she started acting like this when she was eighteen months old. She fell over and hit her head on the side of the door, just like any child would. She started crying and then held her breath and the eyes rolled back. I picked her up and she passed out and I raced out into the car down to the doctors. It happened two or three times and she was checked out but I was told there was nothing wrong with her. From there it went into two-year-old temper tantrums and I suppose she never really grew out of them. We kept thinking ‘oh surely this won’t happen again’ but it went on. When she was six or seven, if something didn’t go her way she’d go into these tantrums, kicking and screaming and then be terribly sorry, sobbing and upset wanting cuddles which I’d give her. And then when she was twelve it was still happening but at this stage, she wasn’t remorseful anymore. When she was fifteen we had the bathroom wall kicked in because the hair wasn’t going right or the mascara for the Year 9 Social wasn’t right and from there it was all downhill. At that point, I realised that something was drastically wrong and I got her to go to a counsellor. She only went twice and wouldn’t go back.
She only behaved like this at home, never at school. She has always told me that I make her like that. It’s all my fault. She’s not like it with anyone else, only me. She doesn’t see that there is a problem with her behaviour. All the time she says she hasn’t got a problem.
She doesn’t live at home anymore. We reached the point of saying ‘we don’t have to live like this anymore’ and we demanded that she find somewhere else to live. It happened recently after the last scene. She’d left the house after she’d attacked me and when she just sort of wandered in a couple of days later we said ‘this isn’t on any longer, this behaviour is totally unacceptable and we think you had better find somewhere else to live.’ So she left.
She rings whenever she needs anything. Sometimes the phone calls escalate and she gets angry and abusive and slams the phone down. She doesn’t do that as often now. I’ve learnt reflective listening and now I don’t get drawn into what’s going wrong in her life. I can keep myself more separate and sometimes I can keep it from escalating. I can listen more reflectively over the phone but I’m not sure I could do it in the house. I think she could still manipulate me and tie me up in knots. I think it is very hard to retrain yourself to have different conversations. I know it is better not to point the finger and blame and to express your own feelings but it is easy to get stuck.
There was a period where I did think the cause of the problem was my behaviour as a mother, and probably it is my personality to a degree. The only thing that keeps me sane is that my other daughters don’t react like that so I think it can’t all be my fault because they would all be like that. I think all mothers wonder if they had done things differently would everything be fine.
I read about the Breaking the Cycle group in the local paper. It was very beneficial just to realise that there were a whole lot of other people out there. I hadn’t thought it was all that common. It was good to know that we weren’t the only ones. I have told my friends about the problem and they have been very supportive. They know what we have been like as parents so it has been very reassuring to know that they think we’ve done a good job. We had tried to get help in the past but it always finished up against a brick wall. Everyone said they needed to see the adolescent and the adolescent wasn’t prepared to go. So that left us with nowhere to go. I didn’t tell my daughter I was going to the group because it would justify to her that I had the problem. She would have said ‘well that’s good, you’re going to try and sort yourself out’.
It was helpful to hear what other people were saying and being able to identify with others and you can empathise with their experience. I wasn’t expecting to meet so many people from two parents, middle-class families I thought it might just have been parents who were struggling on their own, with no support. So I got a great sense of not being alone and a feeling that there were people like us in exactly the same situation.
* Name and photo have been changed to protect client privacy.