We Grew Up in Violence: Thoughts on the Changing of the Guard

Image of books by Gavin De Becker
Image of books by Gavin De Becker

We grew up in violence. Because we believe no child deserves to suffer as we did, we want to show you what violence taught us. We want you to see today’s presidential changing-of-the-guard through our eyes. What you choose to see, here and elsewhere, will shape the world you leave your kids.

We bid farewell to President Obama, but our farewell is not one of mourning. Let us be clear: we both supported President Obama until recently. While we don’t welcome President Trump, we’re less concerned with him than we are with the tendency to deify individuals as requested by career politicians and mainstream media. This has perpetuated individuals’ unwillingness to see acts of violence perpetrated by establishment Democrats.

The violence we endured in childhood enabled us to see subtle Democratic displays of force for what they were: reflections of something deeply wrong. With the Earth’s climate and future habitability hanging in the balance, we must show you a sliver of what we saw and how. We cannot expect you to see what we do without having survived what we did.

Our father beat us. Worse still, he beat our mother in front of us. Decades later, we remain haunted by her screams as she tried to protect us from his wrath. (The way our mom told it, he’d had it much worse than we did. We shudder to think.)

He was a law enforcement officer. We weren’t surprised when we met women who said he’d assaulted them while on the job. We’d felt his fists, feet, belts, and whatever implements happened to be nearby firsthand. If we weren’t safe with him, we had no reason to believe anyone else who was vulnerable would be either.

The darkness ran deep. We saw even its subtler expressions. We had toour safety depended on it. Seeing small cues meant an opportunity to avoid full escalation. Adapting our behavior to the cues, we’d play our cards as best we could. When we played well, we’d “only” get the belt instead of full-scale beating.

Our mother abused us, too. We learned to read her cues, the better to know when to hide, cower, cajole, or fight back.

We loved her fiercely all the same. With all the devastation heaped on her by poverty and its corresponding vulnerability, we understood her occasionally buckling under its weight.

When she apologized to us as adults, neither of us forgave her. We didn’t see the need. She’d given us so much love, laughter, and hope with so little support, “thanks” felt more deserved than “we forgive you.”

After she died, we both regretted not having said those three words. Those words, so unnecessary to us, meant so much to her.

We suffered violence outside our home, too. Because we were poor and our mom vulnerable, we, too, were vulnerable.

Multiple predators preyed on us in various settings, including soup kitchens, offices, and family friends’ homes. From these predators, we learned not only that no place was safe, but that no one was safe. We learned that charm and niceness are tactics, and predators succeed because they wield them so well.

We must learn and then teach our children that niceness does not equal goodness. Niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character trait. People seeking to control others almost always present the image of a nice person in the beginning.

—Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

We learned still more about violence from predators’ friends and family. Those people told us we were lying, so that we came to understand not only the direct violence of assault, but the emotional violence of others’ denial. It hurt, at first, but we eventually saw it for what it was: a frail, faulty bubble of comfort against a reality capable of great cruelty.

(In another, gentler life, we might have chosen as they did. Oh, to not know that hurt, that sorrow…)

We grew up. We graduated from college, and then graduate school. The once-was horror of daily abuse grew distant in conscious memory, but its lessons continued to protect us through intuition.

intuition is always right in at least two important ways:

  1. It is always in response to something.
  2. It always has your best interest at heart.


When the DNC failed to give our favored candidate, a man who who’d have believed our mom and us, equal air time; when it scheduled only a handful of Democratic debates and then on evenings unlikely to garner high viewership; when it told us to fall in line behind its long-favored candidate, we saw the darkness underlying those and other seemingly neutral acts. We understood that we were seeing subtle expressions of something deeper and more troubling: symptoms, not distinct problems.

When President Obama said allegations of Democratic election rigging were ridiculous, but that it was entirely possible that Russians had rigged elections, we saw him as part of the problem.

We went from trusting the Democratic establishment to seeking verifiable signs our trust was unwarranted. Research almost immediately confirmed this, but we kept researching, driven to see the full scope of what we’d failed to see over our combined four decades as Democrats.

We were horrified to learn that predators and politicians use identical techniques to obtain something resembling consent.

Growing up in violence hadn’t helped us see this adaptation from personal to political. We’d have gone right on not seeing, if the Democratic establishment hadn’t responded so aggressively to Bernie’s candidacy.

But for Bernie, we might have gone to our graves without knowing how broken (and why) our democracy had grown. Our children would almost certainly have joined us there far too young.

As we learned while researching these last many months, the earth is suffering much more greatly than we dreamed when Democrats first lost our trust. Democrats themselves, we learned, offered it barely more protection than did Republicans. Mostly, they engaged together in the drama of illusion.

They silenced dissent and told us it was for our own good. This was all too familiar, so very like the local predators who also tried to steal our voices. We were poor and weren’t worth listening to. We were marginalized. We were nothing.

We saw, too, how their actions debasing dissenters mirrored our father’s, who made our mother out to be the abuser. We saw how willingly people believed the well-spoken man over the woman who wasn’t allowed to speak, and how unkindly she was often treated as a result of our father’s lies.

We beg you not to take our word for it, but to research for yourself. We could exhaustively detail everything we’ve learned, as we’ve tried to do for months, but details are useless against denial. Beyond that, you must never take our—or anyone else’s—word. You must give yourself room to question, including questions like, “What if I’m wrong?” or “What if they’re right?” Each person must take the first step to their own education. We can hold up our light and show you our journey, but you must choose to take your own first step. That choice is yours and yours alone.

If you don’t take an active role in resisting, educating yourself, and building the world as you want to leave it to your children, all our children will suffer. Left to the tired old devices that led us here, establishment Democrats will unlikely lead you where you want to go.

The antithesis to fear is action. The very first action we request you take is to read Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe. If you do, you’ll understand why de Becker describes denial as “a save now, pay later” tactic. You’ll learn to see through charm, and come closer to seeing the world as it is. You’ll know how important it is to consider all possibilities, the better to prepare for—and protect your children from—the worst of them.

Most importantly, you’ll see clearly the gift of your children … and be willing to give everything to keep them—and their planet—safe.

Mr. Schippers was mistaken when he said that there was ‘no one left to lie to.’ He was wrong, not in the naive way that we teach children to distinguish truth from falsehood (and what a year it was for ‘what shall we tell the children’?”). In that original, literal sense, he would have been wrong in leaving out Mr. Clinton’s family, all of Mr. Clinton’s foreign political visitors, and all viewers on the planet within reach of CNN. No, he was in error in that he failed to account for those who wanted to be lied to, and those who wished at all costs to believe.

—Christopher Hitchens, No One Left to Lie To

Written by Deborah Bryan

Deborah Bryan grew up poor and afraid. She has a pretty good life now, but can't rest easy until everyone, everywhere, is fed, sheltered, and free from harm.

Deborah is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

Written by R. R. Wolfgang

Mother. Wife. Sister. Survivor. She grew up poor and went to the University of Cambridge to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic languages, literature, paleography, and history. Now, she's interested in social justice and seeing if history could kindly stop repeating itself.

R.R, is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

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We Grew Up in Violence: Thoughts on the Changing of the Guard