After my daughter’s birth, my husband called me “fat and stupid,” threatened me with his fists and referred to her as “that child.” He refused to financially support her because she was my “fault.” He made it clear that everything belonged to him. My job was to serve. He put on a show around his friends, and I covered for him because I was ashamed. I believed I must have done something wrong to earn such treatment. When I tried to leave, he changed completely, but it didn’t last. Now, my daughter puts her father on a pedestal. I married a man like my father. He sheltered me from my mother’s abuse, so I put him on a pedestal, but he abused my oldest brother. It’s typical of a naive woman to attract a predator. It’s taken me until my mid-50s to figure this out. How do I keep my daughter from making this mistake?
You can’t shield your daughter from suffering. Attempts to do so will render you controlling, fearful and self-righteous in her eyes. It also means you will occasionally disregard personal boundaries, forgetting that she is an individual with a spiritual journey separate from yours, even if there are similar markers on the path. Your desire to save her, however, is laudable. The place to begin is inside you.
Many of us endure childhood trauma. As adults, we must shed the mindset that we are victims. Instead, we must embrace the possibilities that our history allows. Ask yourself: How can I benefit from my suffering? You may have learned, for example, that no one can force you to believe something negative about yourself unless you already fear it’s true. In a troubled corner of your brain you feared, long before you met your husband, that you were “fat and stupid.” Was it a criticism that your mother leveled at you in childhood and you accepted? The teen years follow childhood so that we can question the authority of our parents’ concepts of the world. What kept you from challenging your mom’s beliefs about you? Answer this question with a spirit of curiosity, not condemnation. Doing so will support your investigation into an aspect of your character that is worth understanding. It also will provide tools to repair your mental bridge out of childhood and into maturity. After all, believing your mother, but hating her, too, led you into a marriage where you could resolve those volatile feelings. If only you had known that was the purpose of your union!
It’s also useful to squeeze the juice from every criticism. When I was 11 years old, the mother of one of my friends admonished me as being “too emotional” in front of a group of women that did not include my own mother. I looked at her and said, “No, I’m passionate.” Her mouth fell open, and the other women tittered. And, yes, the woman who criticized me was uptight, cold and reserved. She was likely uncomfortable because of my comfort with emotions. Similarly, parents often called me stubborn, but I later embraced my ability to persevere through obstacles, including those created by my own insecurities. Do you understand? You must do the work of freeing yourself from other people’s judgments and find the beauty and perfection in what is true about you. This is the only way to save your daughter: resurrect yourself from your suffering. We should never advocate or participate in the suffering of others, but when it happens to us, we must learn from it and integrate those lessons into the person we are now. So, if you want to avoid predators, don’t be so naive as to allow other people to define you.