How my parent’s constant fights affected me

I haven’t scored well this time, almost bordering failure. My father is scolding my mother, It’s not her fault I didn’t study. And I did study, I just couldn’t remember what I had studied while writing the exam.

He’s been scolding her for the last one hour, he has said something awful about how my mother only cares about money and her work and doesn’t have time for me. My mother is crying now, hearing these words has hurt her.

My father doesn’t stop.

Mum wipes her tears, I know what is about to happen.

This is not good.

She looks at me and she asks me if I feel the same way. She asks me to support her. She asks me if she didn’t teach me well, or she didn’t cook for me enough, or she didn’t spend time with me or she didn’t care. She looks at me and my father does too.

I know that if I say you didn’t, it would be a lie and she would be hurt, and if I say you did my dad would be angry and they would scold me for not scoring well. I stared at them blankly not knowing what to do.

A minute later my father resumed screaming because the aim of the argument was not my marks or my mother’s care for me. The aim was to scream about his feelings, his frustration from work and irritation that life didn’t turn out the way he wanted it too.

My mother was crying and defensive at first, defending every blame thrown at her and then she took offense. She attacked him saying, “I don’t like working, you- the man of the house are not being able to take the financial burden of the family alone which is why I don’t have an option but to work”.

That was rude, all of this is rude and we are not solving anything.

Why are they not stopping?

It’s been hours, my dad seems tired. He looks at me and says, “Why couldn’t you have studied?.” My mom looks at me and says, “We are doing everything we can so that you can study, and go to a good school. Why aren’t you concentrating? Are you happy now?”

My brother looked at me with disapproval. I hate him.

Happy?- That you fought- No, No I’m not. But I did study Ma, I did study Dad I just couldn’t remember anything… “I’m sorry Ma Papa, I’ll try harder next time, I promise”

Dad went to their room first, Mum went to the kitchen and cried while doing the utensils. I was stuck to where I was sitting, and when the adrenaline settled I got up and went to my room. If you’re wondering, this wasn’t the first time they were fighting and it wasn’t the last. But you just never get used to it.

It was my fault. They were fighting because of me. If only I had studied harder…

I did. I studied harder the next semester. Mum sat next to me, teaching me again. I sat for my exam and I was blank. I didn’t remember anything again. I scored low again. My parents fought again.

My principal called them to school one day. She told them I had no friends in class. I didn’t talk at all, to anyone. I didn’t listen to the teachers either, although I tried to. And when I was asked to read a book in front of the class I read well- grammatically- but I wasn’t fluent as I wasn’t confident.

I had written an article on how I wasn’t worth it, worth being happy, worth being loved or cared for. I had written how I wasn’t good enough, how I wasn’t capable of ever achieving anything in life, how I couldn’t do anything-not that I couldn’t.

I was quiet, my head was low.

She said it is important that they have me talk to a Life Coach and gave my parents a pamphlet.

My parents connected with them, explained everything to her. They spoke about my marks, about my lack of friends, lack of confidence in my own abilities, that I couldn’t retain what I tried to learn from the teachers and what I had studied; and about my article. Even before I was asked to talk, I knew that the person on the other side already knew my every weakness.
I dreaded being a part of the conversation.

But then she addressed me and said, I understand that you are going through a difficult time right now. And I broke down, how did she know…

It was just her and me in the conversation now, I felt more comfortable without my parents.

She asked me how I was feeling. I said I was feeling bad, my parents had to go through so much all because of me. She enquired what all did they go through, I replied they had to both take leaves from their respective places of work, I caused them shame at school in front of the principal, and they both fought a lot last night and it was because of me.

She asked me how often my parents fight, I replied at least once in a day at most 5 times in a day. She enquired me how many times is it not about me, It was many times, I didn’t say anything. She asked a few more questions

And then she made me understand a few things

1. It is important to not take sides, to remain neutral. If I took sides I could just as easily become the focus of the argument.

While avoiding to take sides, it is also important to try not to participate at all; it’s not my job to bring both of them to a middle ground, or to help them conclude their disagreement, or give a verdict like a jury.

If my mom or dad still bring me into an argument by hook or by crook, I should be honest and say that I don’t want to choose sides, or be dragged into the argument.

2. Finding a safe place. This place can be in my home or it can be a friend’s home, or a neighbor’s or a relative’s who stay near by. Primarily, it can be any place where I couldn’t see and/or hear my parents arguing or fighting. For me it was my room, or if they fought close to my room then the bathroom.

3. It can sometimes be difficult to leave the house and the argument is so loud that there may not be any safe place inside the house. I can watch my favorite movie or listen to music. It can help keeping me busy so I don’t have to witness the fighting.

I could keep myself busy in:

  • Probably finishing my homework. Using the situation to take care of myself and my responsibilities. Something I had completely neglected as a result of their fighting. I was never regular with my work.

  • Reading a book, especially if the noise level is low or after wearing headphones. I love reading novels when I’m not distressed. I never thought that it could even help me reduce the stress. So in my room or my bathroom I could just sit and read.

  • Playing video games. These can be a great distraction for the mind, as well as, a great means to express my distress and get it out of my system.

  • Exercising can serve both as a distraction and a way to get my emotions out of the system and at the same time keep me healthy.

  • Indulging in my interests and hobbies- for example mine was dancing. So I would just put my headphones on and dance away to glory. It also helped me in expressing my distress in a positive manner.

4. It wasn’t my fault and I had to avoid blaming myself. Even if my parents sometimes argued and would argue “about’’ me, I’m not the cause of the dispute. I can’t “make’’ them fight just as I can’t “stop” them from fighting, they choose to do it based on ways of interacting they’ve learned in the past. If I was not the reason, they would have still found something to argue about. It’s not about the topic of the argument or the solution of the concern at hand, it’s just their way of communication.

5. Just like I am not to blame for their arguments, it is not my responsibility to even try to fix things, even if the entire argument is centered on me.

Circle of Concern v/s Circle of Control are two of our psychological building blocks.

There are many things that concern us, that occupy us and stay in the forefront of our thoughts: Eg: Our family, friends, career, studies, how certain situations played out to be and made us feel, etc. In this case my parents’ arguments.

However, not everything that concerns us falls within our circle of control (the things that we can impact and change), which means that, given my situation, I can not control my parents’ feelings, thought processes and their behaviour. I cannot make them fight and so I cannot stop them from fighting as well.

And focusing on the uncontrollable parts of the situation at hand (changing their patterns of interacting- reducing the frequency of fights or stopping a

fight) only adds to our stresses. It is important, therefore, to identify the factors that fall in both- my circle of concern as well as circle of control, and understanding ways by which I can work upon them to feel better and stronger (staying away, not focusing on the fight, not feeling guilty, not trying to intrude etc.)

6. Witnessing a negative or unhealthy relationship at home, it is important to have my own healthy relationships. It may take a little work, but as long as I focus on important aspects like communication and trust-building, I can escape the cycle of harmful relationships

Recognizing that me and my brother are in this together, and having a conversation (or attempting to have one) about how we’re dealing with it, is a good plan. Initially he didn’t want to, that was his right. The challenge was to not let the fights between our parents try (unconsciously) to pit us against one another.

Making a close friend that I can trust, I can then approach him or her to share my feelings. They may not be able to fix my problem, but if he or she is a good friend then they will listen and be there for me.

7. Understanding how this might have affected me

Research suggests that children with inter-parental fighting have been shown, to have lower “academic attainment” (i.e. lower grades), more aggression, and lower self-esteem; the effect was particularly heightened because I had a “self-blaming behavior,” where me and even my brother, we thought the reason for the fighting was down to us and we tried to fix them.

Psychologists have known the importance of a secure attachment between parent and child for healthy development. Recent research suggests that perceived security between caregivers is also significant. Unresolved conflict between parents can cause anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems.

8. Fights between parents are both inescapable and invasive; it’s such a big part of the family story that it feels I can’t get away from it, and it’s unlikely to change.

Their conflict should not have the power to separate me from the things I love and use for support. It’s perfectly reasonable to refuse to deal with the arguments while I am at school or have other obligations to my friends or relatives etc. or when I’m pursuing my hobbies.

9. Sometimes parents don’t even realize the effect they have on their children. It may then help to express my feelings to them when the argument is over.

It can be important to be calm while expressing myself so they will reconsider their actions in the future.

10. Understanding that it’s okay to be angry at my parents for fighting. As their child, it’s their responsibility to keep me safe and away from harm. If they have intense fights, it’s normal to feel unsafe and frustrated.

Here are some activities that can be done to channel this anger:

  • Playing sports, or exercising or playing video games. Anger can actually be useful in something like football or baseball.
    Violence doesn’t help, though, so not taking it out on the other players.

  • Opening up about the frustration. This can be done with any of the people mentioned earlier: parents, siblings, friends, or counselors.

  • Indulging in interests and hobbies

11. Understanding that there’s actually nothing wrong with having a disagreement. Expressing differences of opinion is healthy in a relationship. Bottling emotions up can cause more damage in the long-run than the occasional dispute. Fights only become problems when they happen consistently and the emotions involved are really intense.

12. Some disagreements are natural and may help to solve problems. Other kinds of fighting never helped anyone involved, if anything it caused damage to the relationships and created feelings of insecurity.

Here are the characteristics of different kinds of fighting:

Good: compromise. Good fights end with people coming to a common ground- agreeing to do something in the middle in order to make things better. For example, if they think the TV set should have different channels playing, they can compromise by choosing a new channel that they can both agree on.

Good: positive statements despite having a difference of opinion. Disagreeing doesn’t have to be a general dislike of the other person or not appreciating the good things about the other person. It is important to give credit where credit is due. For example, a parent might say, “I’m angry that you forgot to switch off the light, but you did help me with the vegetables.”

Bad: hitting below the belt. For example, name-calling and insulting each other’s ability to be a good parent or partner are harmful ways to handle conflict or blaming them for something they haven’t done.

Bad: stonewalling, refusing to acknowledge the other person, ignoring them. The silent treatment can leave the other person feeling very helpless. They feel that there is nothing they can do to resolve the conflict even if they wish to.

Understanding these, I tried to explain these to my parents as well.

13. It was difficult, but I gathered up the courage to tell my parents that it would be less painful for me if they took the arguments to their room or another private place.

14. I also mentioned couples counseling or family therapy. A professional therapist can help in encouraging an expression of needs without engaging in “bad fighting”.

15. It’s common to worry about  parents’ relationship if one sees them having an intense fight. Every time I worry I need to remind myself that not all disputes lead to splitting up, though. A lot of the time, fighting has more to do with having a bad day and being frustrated than anything serious. Everyone loses their cool now and then, but it doesn’t always mean that something bad is going to happen.

Having conflicts is normal. It is important, however, to understand that there are different reasons for a conflict and different ways of resolving it and you are the only one who can choose your reason for conflict (expressing yourself and resolving concerns or displacing all the negative of your life on the one person who cares for you) and your own way of resolving it (arguing, screaming, yelling and being negative or being positive and coming up with a solution).

Know Your Counsellor

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