I grew up with authoritarian parents

My brothers and I were very well behaved children. In public, people commented on our good behavior, but nobody saw the naked butt spankings or heard the hour long yelled lectures we would get in private if we misbehaved. 

I was terrified of the lectures. They seemed to last forever, were highly repetitive, and demanded attention the whole time. You had to look dad in the face, his purple, spit spewing face, while he went on for hours about how disappointed he was and how bad your behavior was. A long, shaming, controlling lecture. Mom’s were louder but never so long. The lecture was never about how we could work together to improve things, but always about everything i had done wrong, how disappointed they were, and sometimes what a bad witness i was and how angry God was with me.

I once wrote about each family member for a school assignment, this was before i was homeschooled, and what i had to say about Dad was about his lectures, and how i wish he’d just spank me. Mom chuckled and Dad seemed a little embarrassed, but nothing changed.

Every behavior, every look, was closely analyzed. Crying for no reason was a spankable offense,  Even more so when we were homeschooled – I was twelve the year we started and my parents soon learned from speakers like Reb Bradley that teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to be teenagers. They should be young adults.

So my parents were always on the lookout for any form of rebellion. A sigh at the wrong moment could earn a spanking and a ton of yelling. An uneaten bowl of soup would earn a lecture on rebellion through food.

I was allowed very few personal boundaries and thoughts, everything was subject to my parents authority over me.

Once, I wanted to wear my new high heeled tennis shoes with a polka dotted dress to church. I dressed myself of course, because I was 16 or 17. When my mom saw me, she said they looked stupid. I sighed sadly and turned to change but she was so infuriated at my rebellious sigh that she, yelling, forbade me from changing my outfit. She said I would have to wear them now, and I got a brief lecture from my dad on rebelling through clothes. I went to church slightly embarrassed to be in something my mom thought looked stupid, but my confidence was bolstered when i got several compliments on the ensemble.

I was raised with shame, raised to be constantly hating myself for my sin and rebellion, my lack of perfection, raised to fear my authority’s disapproval, raised to be a people pleaser.

And that’s why I say no more. No more to shame, to self loathing, to trying to make my parents or anyone else happy with me. No more living to avoid disapproval.

It’s not as easy, of course, as just saying it and then brushing it off. It’s a long process of growth and rebuilding. I feel stunted. I never made many decisions before. I never learned to deal with many emotions because i had to suppress them lest i be perceived as rebellious. I didn’t learn to cope with mistakes in a healthy way because i’m so used to my parents voice berating me every time i messed up. I feel, in some ways, like i’m about 15, in the middle of that teenage period of learning who i am and what I think, what I want to do with my life.

But actually, I am an adult, and that means now I am my own authority. I’ve been slow to take on the mantle — being kept from your own decisions for decades by an authoritarian parent can do that to a person. I’ve often handed my autonomy over to Luke, or even to my parents voices that live in my head, screaming at me. But i’m taking more of it on now, making my own decisions, (with a bit of guidance), and living my own life.

In the past, I’ve tried to be careful what I say about my parents on this blog, and even here i could say much worse. I’m worried my parents will find it and be angry. But the truth is, *I* am angry. Angry at how they treated me, how they didn’t allow me to develop as a teenager, angry at all the shame they burdened me with and all the yelling they did.
If my dad didn’t want me writing about his lectures in that school journal, and if my parents didn’t want me writing about the things they did, well, they shouldn’t have done those things.

7 thoughts on “I grew up with authoritarian parents

  1. Ahab

    My God, what a toxic home life! It sounds like your parents were very angry, controlling people, and they vented their anger and power-issues at their children. I’m sorry you had to endure this, and pleased that you’ve reclaimed your self-esteem.

  2. Pingback: Just Because is Not Quite Good Enough | Hand of Ananke

  3. Latebloomer

    Yes, writing about your parents’ failures is such a dilemma. I feel the same way. But in the end, I think as long as you try to do it anonymously, the benefits to yourself and to others who read it far outweigh the potential for hurting the feelings of the very people who didn’t care about your feelings when you were a vulnerable child. Because really, that’s all that it would do–hurt their feelings. We have been trained that our parents’ feelings should be our top priority and that our feelings and opinions don’t matter. It takes a lot to push through that and share.

  4. Brannan

    “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

    ― Anne Lamott,

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  6. Headless Unicorn Guy

    That wasn’t “authoritarian”, that was ABUSIVE.

    When you described your father’s “purple spit-spewing face”, all I could think of was a three-year-old in a full screaming temper tantrum, whose entire being is “I’M GONNA HURT WHOEVER DEFIED ME! I WANT *MY* WAY! AND I’LL DESTROY ANYONE WHO DOES ANYTHING THAT’S NOT *MY* WAY!!!!!” A friggin’ three-year-old who’s just been told “NO!”


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