Relationships, Touch, You & Your Family

Legacy of wrath

The similarities among three clients struck me recently. All three are men. All three are capable high achievers with respectable jobs. And all three have issues with managing their anger.

Sadly, these issues have seen them lash out and hurt family members. Although one has shown flashes of his impatience to colleagues, their displays of anger have mainly been directed at their families. All three men recognise that their angry and violent behaviour is wrong and have struggled to control it for years.

Looking at this rather small sample of three, what are some things we can learn?

For one, they had witnessed their fathers use violence against their mothers and themselves. One saw knives and a chopper being drawn. The others saw hitting, slapping and objects being thrown at home. Accompanying the violent behaviours was verbal and psychological abuse—put-downs and insults which made others feel small and insignificant in their presence. All reported that their fathers were domineering and ruled the home with an iron fist. Their fathers justified their control by their position as the head of the household and their making all the major decisions as being in the family’s best interests.

Growing up as male children in their households also accorded them some privileges and little responsibility. While their sisters were expected to help cook and clean, the boys got to study or play. A sense of entitlement carried into their adult lives.

To try to explain my clients’ propensity to use violence as something that they internalised from observing their fathers’ behaviour would be an oversimplification. After all, they were raised in homes where Christian values and teaching were emphasised. They all attended Sunday school and later, Bible seminaries in preparation for full-time ministry. I found that they held the notion that what they had experienced was correct and not to be questioned. On becoming heads of their own households, they felt their role was to lead and the family’s to obey and follow.Deviation and disobedience had to be corrected. Using physical punishment for correction was acceptable and justified.

One other similarity caught my attention. All three are intelligent, talented individuals with high expectations of themselves. Their exacting standards are also applied to their family members, with “failure” to match up looked upon as their personal failures. These demands on self and family only exacerbate stress and make for a toxic environment. In such a tinderbox of emotions, it does not take much to spark a raging fire of anger and abuse. These men are perpetuating a pattern of behaviour learned from their fathers. Their fathers may well have gone through the same negative experiences. The fathers’ legacy of wrath was probably not intentional—they may in fact have thought they were doing the right thing to prepare their children for life in a tough world. The examples of these three show that it is so easy to live our lives on wrong ideas.

If your growing-up experiences mirror those of these men, the good news is that you can break free from the negative legacy. Get help, work with a counsellor and pray with your pastor. We can be set free from destructive patterns of the past. Stay tuned for next month’s article when I shall cover some ideas on how to break free

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.