recreating abusive conditions from childhood in adult relationships

July 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Growing up in my family of origin I was conditioned to accept negligent and abusive behaviour. I was forced to abide by family taboos and dysfunction as a price of belonging to the family. This conditioning was not limited to my attachment to family, it also showed up in my academic relationships as well.

Today, for the second time, I have written to my university making a case to end my PhD program without graduation. I don’t mind doing it. There was a time that I was upset at the prospect, I saw this outcome as a sign of failure on my part. Now I see it differently.

I started my PhD program in 2007 with a research assistantship to collect data for the study. I had already decided to write my dissertation from this study so I though I was in good shape. I told my then-supervisor (now ex-supervisor) that I did not have any outside financial support to embark on this degree, that I was going to be relying on the program to provide funding for me to carry out the work. My ex-supervisor said not to worry about it, that I would getting teaching appointments when the time came, to carry on the writing portion of my degree.

The day I started my PhD was the day I started collecting data. It was also the day that I continued to finish my MA thesis, and it was also the day I started my PhD courses. During that first term of the program I was collecting data, attending classes (with reading and writing assignments ongoing), and finishing my MA thesis. I managed to graduate with my Masters degree but I did not attend convocation because I was in class and collecting data.

Now I need to back up a bit. I started working with my ex-supervisor during my masters degree. My relationship with my Pro Tem advisor had soured before Christmas during my first term in the masters program. By ‘soured’ I mean that I had found out my Pro Tem advisor played favourites and I was not one of them. After one particularly humiliating public event, I realized I needed to find a new advisor. I sought out my ex-supervisor because I had taken a course with him and I liked his teaching style. I had heard bad things about his behaviour outside the classroom, but I discounted this as sour grapes or unfounded gossip.

From that point forward, whenever my ex-supervisor would behave in a hostile way toward other students or faculty, I would discount the events and maintain my loyalty to him. I stuck with him, despite numerous warning signs of inappropriate  control issues. It was only in September, 2013 that I reached my breaking point and disassociated myself from my ex-supervisor. This was after he threatened to ‘fail’ my dissertation if I continued to use the theoretical framework I had been developing since 2009, and which we had used in our co-authored book chapters and conference papers. That was when I wrote to my department expressing my desire to withdraw from the program.

I was assigned a new supervisor who has been extremely supportive, and also firm in his resolve that I will graduate. It has only been through the difficult process of reviewing 4 years of rejected conference papers, chapter drafts and paragraphs that I have come to realize my relationship with my ex-supervisor could be seen as academic abuse.

I am glad to be free of having to work with my ex-supervisor, and I am embarrassed for how long it took me to finally do what many others had done before me, that is, to leave him.

Since I started writing this blog post I have had a check in with my new supervisor, and, once again, he has convinced me to continue with my writing, that I can get this done.

But first I am going to clean the kitchen.


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