I’ve been wrestling with a thought for a while. Maybe a few days. I am not sure. Maybe just since last night.

I have been thinking about how I understood my dad’s abuse when I was very young: there is no way a child who feels and who cares about others can imagine the mind of a man who does not feel and does not care. The cognitive ability is just not there. The only thing the child can do is place herself in that man’s shoes and wonder, “Why would I behave that way?”

When we are angry, we want to punish the person who has hurt us. That is universal. It is instinct. Hurt me, and if I believe I am in the position to hurt you back, I want to. If I believe I cannot, I will comply and try to make nice. As human beings, we have layered on top of this all kinds of social checks on this—because actually punishing everyone who hurts us indiscriminately is not good for relationships. But our mammal heritage is to punish when we are hurt.

A child of three can understand this. We understand punishment very early in life because we feel the same way. We want to punish.

So I would have thought my dad hurts me because I need to be punished. There were people who also told me this—my dad might have told me this—but it is what I would have understood if someone said absolutely nothing about it to me. I could not have understood my dad gets pleasure out of having complete power over someone, but I could have understood I was bad.

There is a big part of me who believes that, at my very core, I must be bad. The person inside, who feels and responds authentically to life, must be very, very bad and what happened to me must be my fault. I am an adult ad I know better, so not all of me thinks this, but some parts do.

It invokes a profound grief. I am not bad, but my dad is. He is really, really evil. This is not merely a misunderstanding, a lack of competent parenting, it is not a matter of an adult getting overwhelmed and being unable to meet a child’s needs. He created an inferno for me. Deliberately, and with complete disregard for its effect on me. At times, he hurt me because what he wanted happened to hurt and he didn’t care how I felt. At other times, he hurt me as proof of his total power. At other times, he hurt me because it gave him a good feeling in life, and he had no other source of good feelings.

I can see myself as a small child, trying to please my dad, imagining he is in some way suffering. I am causing his suffering. I must be, or he would not treat me this way. I think I really thought and felt that way.

But it wasn’t like that. I hurt, and he just didn’t care.

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