I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. Romans 7:19
I have often felt that my abuser doesn’t want to be the way he is. I know the man I married, the one who told me his dreams about who he wanted to be and what kind of husband and father he wanted to be, is not the same man I divorced. He never wanted our marriage to turn out like this and he never wanted this rift between him and his boys. Somewhere in there is a good man who can’t find his way out.
Why do people constantly choose to do what is wrong? I have long wondered why it seems they can’t see how wrong their choices are. Even when it’s pointed out to them, they are completely blind to the difference between what is good and what is wrong. Are they just purely selfish or is something else at play?
Behaviors are usually learned. That can happen during childhood where a father is chronically emotionally and/or physically unavailable for his children and the son learns to do the same to their own. Or maybe a mother learns what words to say or when to use tears to get the reaction or result she wants, and the daughter ends up doing the same to her own husband or children. There are many behaviors we learn as children that we carry into adulthood, some good and some bad. But why can we recognize those poor behaviors in our parents, but not in ourselves?
My ex repeatedly said he was not going to have a relationship with his own children like the one he has with his father. He wanted closeness and connection. He wanted to be there physically and emotionally. He told me when we were dating that he never wanted a divorce, he promised he would get counseling if it was ever needed to save his family. He couldn’t wait to be a dad. He was so excited when our first was born. He was going to teach him to play catch, throw a football, fish, shoot, all the things dad’s look forward to. I honestly can’t even believe the man I divorced is that same man. It’s like he has no idea how to choose them over himself. How did he end up in the exact place he said he never wanted to be? And why can’t he see that he’s just repeating the same behaviors he disliked so much in his own father?
A strained father-son relationship usually leads to another strained father-son relationship. This cycle can continue endlessly if no one works to end it. Men are not often allowed to express their emotions and feelings. It’s not “manly” or “masculine” to express hurt, anger, or sadness, so they can’t or won’t talk to their father to try to fix it. And if they do try, they may be rejected; or they set some boundaries and their father continues to cross them or tries to negotiate them; or maybe they ask something of him that they need, and he refuses. So, they hide the hurt or anger deep inside and don’t deal with it.
As we’ve learned in earlier posts (Lament, More on Lament, My Own Lament), not dealing with emotions causes us to hide who we are and not live in truth. These hurts don’t ever just go away. We now use them to hurt those around us- spouses, kids, friends, anyone we love or loves us. We don’t want to hurt them, but by choosing not to resolve the pain we feel, it’s like there’s no other choice. The pain just leaks out onto others. We want to do good, but we’re not living in truth so we can’t see how bad what we’re doing really is. We’re blind to our own wrongs even while calling out others for doing the same thing.
There’s also a condition called repetitive compulsion. This condition is repeating the same behaviors even when you know it leads you down the same destructive path. It’s a defense mechanism used to deny and forget our negative feelings and emotions. Children often suppress feelings and deny their own reality when they experience feelings of abandonment, rejection, and abuse. Rather than admit the parent has hurt them, they will instead try to find ways to win back their love. Living in denial of what they have gone through causes them to hide how they feel and who they truly are. When they are continuously disappointed, they create habits and actions to deal with that and continue to use those same actions in future relationships.
As adults, they keep doing the same thing over and over again because it’s all they know. They don’t know how to change. No one taught them how to deal with their pain, only how to hide it. The behaviors don’t change even though they always lead to the same ending, because it’s the only way they know how to fight for love. So, they just keep doing it, hoping it will finally yield the result they’re hoping for. Instead, it leads to more pain and more rejection. The emotional hurt just grows, and they hide even further from who they are. They can no longer find the person who had different dreams and goals, because that person is buried under hurt and anger. They long to make different choices but have no idea how or where to start.
Hiding from the pain of the past never works out in the end. It always finds you. You can attempt to ignore it and move forward without it, but you’re leaving a piece of you behind. And the more you leave behind, the less of you that is left, until you become someone even you don’t recognize. You can never really run or hide from your past; you can only learn from it or repeat it.
Does any of this explain what’s wrong with my boys’ father? Who knows? He’s never peeled back enough layers of his onion for any of us to see deep inside to know. He only shows the superficial and hides what’s underneath. Or maybe he’s not an onion at all, he’s just a selfish tomato. There are no layers, just a mushy inside with little substance. I’d like to think that’s not true, but only time will tell.
Khan, Nadia. “What Is Repetitive Compulsion & How To Overcome It | Betterhelp.” Betterhelp.Com, 13 Mar. 2018, www.betterhelp.com/advice/personality-disorders/what-is-repetitive-compulsion-how-to-overcome-it.
Another interesting article: https://www.psychalive.org/psychology-behind-strained-father-son-relationships/