My dad said once, “The threat of violence is usually worse than actual violence”.
Living in fear that there might be violence is terrifying, even if there is no personal violence towards you.
My dad told me this as he apologised for all the threats of violence we had experienced throughout our childhood. My dad never hit me, my siblings or my mother but there were many threats of violence. Dad could blow up very quickly and we would all hide in our rooms. We all believed that being hit was a possibility.
Dad was a three career type of guy. He was a cattle farmer who had an epiphany and became an Anglican priest, who had an epiphany and became a psychotherapist.
It was in this final iteration that he realised the pain and distress he had accidentally caused us throughout our childhood. He was deeply and genuinely sorry and we were grateful that he recognised how hard it had been. His apology was part of the healing process.
In response to the threats of violence, I spent my a lot of my childhood being good. Tidying up, keeping my siblings quiet, cooking dinner, doing dishes - whatever was needed to avoid another threat of violence. We walked on egg shells for much of our formative years.
Dad worked from home for most of my childhood. Priests only go to the “office” on Sundays and for other meetings and special occasions. For a lot of the time he was great; our go to parent. In fact, he was our main parent. He would make us beef and tomato rolls for lunch during school holidays, he would be the one to take us to and from school or sports events. He fixed punctures in bike tyres and he was the one we hoped would answer the phone when we needed to be picked up or if we needed an adult to help us out. We needed Dad and most of the time he was there for us.
But he was also the one who lost it big time when he came home from a meeting at night and would find mum out of it again; he was the one who sometimes threw furniture, smashed things or punched holes in cupboard doors.
There were many reasons why we never allowed our friends to visit us at home. The bruised and battered house that we lived in was one of those reasons.
What I know now is that Dad spent most of my childhood being extremely stressed. Stressed due to the ill health of my mother; stressed because he didn’t have enough income to pay the household bills, stressed because he had four children living in a shoebox. Stressed because he had a job that required him to be “on” all the time when he was with parishioners; because he was involved in everyone’s lives and had to deal with all of their pain and their problems. He had a huge amount of responsibility to his tribe. It was a really tough time.
I know that a lot of leaders get very stressed at work. They can keep it together at work but sometimes they joke about going home “and kicking the cat” or drinking a bottle or two of red. The people we love the most often see the worst of us, because that is our safe place. We can let it all hang out at home. We put our relationships at risk and we don’t necessarily present the best role model for our children.
If you are really stressed and finding it hard to keep it together at home or at work; then get some help. Find ways to better manage your stress; reduce the workload. Get out for a short walk every day, eat well, exercise and look for ways to better manage your stress.
And if this blog has touched a nerve; please find someone to talk to. It could be your GP, a counsellor or a psychologist. Don’t destroy your personal relationships because of work. It’s not worth it.