Jane's Story
Those messages from my father ruined her life

Women with battered women’s syndrome often get into friendships where they are dominated by other people. That happened to her. People who dominate other people are attracted to her, or she’s attracted to them. In a way she replaced my father with a best female friend who dominated her life and organised every minute of her waking day. At the time she would have said that this woman was her lifeline and she couldn’t live without her but now, because we’ve talked about it, she sees that she had allowed someone else to dominate her.

Nowadays I still have to say to my mother, “You make your own mind up”. As time has gone on I’ve pulled away, not emotionally, but I have not made those decisions for her. If she needs help, I’ll do it. But she hates doing that sort of stuff. She is very worried that she’ll do something wrong or that people will think badly of her.

During the time when my father was coming and going, when we didn’t know when he would turn up, I stopped eating properly. I was living in a hyper-vigilant state and got very anxious about all sorts of things – many of them irrational, like getting run over by a bus on the way to work or suffering a heart attack.

It was definitely connected with my home situation. It was an attempt to put some control into my life. If the rest of your life is out of control, the one thing you can control is what goes in your mouth. This was combined with the negative messages from my father who used to tell me I was fat. Strong as I was in other parts of my life, I had internalised my father’s negative messages. If you are told these things by your parents, you grow up believing them.

I grew up thinking I was worthless, and stupid thick, dumb, fat – and that no one would ever want me – because that’s what my father told me.

I was rescued at the brink of anorexia. The family doctor recognised my problem and instigated treatment. I was lucky that it never got to the stage where I needed to be hospitalised. The best description I think is that I was on the verge of becoming anorexic and I have lived with disordered eating ever since.

I was just lucky. But it’s like being an alcoholic. It’s sitting there on your shoulders. I fight with it every day. Up until I was 40 I watched every morsel that went into my mouth and the scales ruled my life. I was constantly on a diet. Then I entered a pact with my doctor that I was never going to stand on scales again and that I was going to put my efforts into making sure I led a healthy life, in terms of exercise and eating sensibly.

My mother was still only in her thirties when my father left, but she never had another relationship as such. She’s never lived with anybody or remarried. For a long time she didn’t like men at all. She had little tolerance for teenage girls’ relationship issues. If I came home crying with a broken heart, her attitude was “just stop that nonsense, they are not worth that, they’re all bastards”.

When I was about 18, I said very clearly to myself: “I’m not going to get involved with a relationship like my mother had. That is never going to happen to me.”

I was very wary of men and it took a long time for them to gain my trust. I would drop guys like hot cakes if I thought it was even looking as if they were going to try to control me or give me a hard time.

I met my husband when I was 20 and married when I was 21, and we have had a long, stable relationship – a good marriage. I was pretty upfront at the beginning. My husband is quite self-contained. His wife, his kids and his job are all he needs in life. I remember saying to him very early on that that was fine for him but it wasn’t like that for me, that he could not give me all that I needed and so he had to trust me and let me go and that if he did, I would always come back.

That was my way of saying I have to have my life, you are not going to control me, you are part of my life but you are not my whole life. He got that from the word go. He had a very different family background from mine. He had a mother and father together. They had their ups and downs but they gave him a secure family base.

Domestic violence tends to run in families because it is a learned thing. That’s what you’ve seen, and that’s how you believe people relate to each other. Unless the penny drops somewhere along the way and you realise life doesn’t have to be like that, you perpetuate it.

I don’t think there’s much kids can do about family violence, the trouble is a lot of this stuff is often really well covered up. My mother wouldn’t have been telling anybody her husband was beating her up and that she was in an abusive relationship. You kept your dirty linen inside the cupboard in those days.

As a child I wouldn’t have told people. It was not spoken about. It was hidden and so people got away with it. I think nowadays because we’ve got a family violence campaign that says it is not okay, kids could possibly go to someone and talk about it, but I am sure that very few do. And as I have said previously, it’s the psychological abuse that often happens behind closed doors that is the most damaging, and young children don’t recognise that.