Not everyone has experienced loving and supportive parents. Some have actually experienced or dare I say “survived” the exact opposite. American culture and media have done a phenomenal job of educating and normalizing two loving parents, two children, a home with a white picket fence and a dog (or cat for the cat lovers). However, there are many adults who lived untold or unrealized stories of abuse (i.e. physical, mental or emotional), neglect and abandonment. The abuse usually remains a shameful secret or ignored. Consequently, the abuse is passed down to subsequent generations in some shape or form. Furthermore, some survivors of abusive parents have a difficult time realizing they were abused as it was their “normal”. At times, the abuse isn’t realized until someone outside of their family brings it to light like a friend or therapist.
Survivors of unloving, unsupportive, manipulative, oh hell let’s just say it, survivors of abusive parents may suffer from symptoms like anxiety, depression, lack of identity, low self-esteem, rage, distorted perception of self, hyper vigilance and/or codependency. Despite the negative effects, some abuse is completely normalized as it is culturally accepted and expected to “properly” rear a child. Hitting, yelling, criticizing, intimidating and cynicism are behaviors adults exhibit to create fear in their children. Creating fear in a child is commonly mistaken for establishing respect as it helps the parent gain and maintain “perceived” control. However, symptoms similar to those of abuse (including timidness, aggression or resentment) are created in the child.
Unfortunately, adults that lead with fear often learned the behavior from their families, culture or environment and may be unaware of more effective child rearing skills. Furthermore, some may suffer from personality disorders (“PD”) like Narcissistic PD, Borderline PD, Antisocial PD or Histrionic PD. Now, let’s be clear (*clear throat and slightly tilt head*), this is not an attempt to excuse the behavior or negate the resulting emotional injury. This is a genuine attempt to acknowledge the reality that we are products of our families and environments, which includes child rearing and other behaviors. However, an effective way to break the cycle is to “learn” or “seek” healthy child rearing skills (i.e. parenting classes, parenting books) as knowledge really is power. Though finding the courage and/or means to gain the knowledge can be challenging and even perceived as a weakness or admittance of guilt.
Survivors of abusive parents can become abusers, abused or attempt to be nonreactive in fear of repeating the vicious cycle. None of these options are beneficial or healthy for the survivors or for the families they create. However, not every survivor of abusive parents will repeat the behavior! Nonetheless, the abuse makes an impact as it can determine how one functions in relationships or avoids/devalues relationships (i.e. attachment). Some survivors become dismissive while others may become entangled or enmeshed. Dismissive attachment is when the person has difficulty being or staying in relationships as he/she may not value relationships. Enmeshed attachment is when the person has difficulty being alone and lacks an identity without a relationship making him/her preoccupied and clingy.
Abuse can also be categorized into two groups, covert and overt. Overt abuse is visible and tangible while covert abuse is hidden and intangible. Some argue that covert abuse is the most damaging as it is emotional and psychological (i.e. gas lighting) and the effects are long lasting and difficult to undo. Covert abuse is largely detected by how it makes the victim feel. Some of the feelings that result from covert abuse are shame, anger, discomfort, sadness, self-doubt, confusion and/or neurosis. However, those who have been physically abused will disagree, especially when the abuse was severe and chronic. Physical abuse can also impact brain development and if severe and chronic, it can trigger mental illnesses (i.e. schizophrenia, major depression, dissociative identity). As such, regardless of the type or scale of the abuse, it is all damaging.
Now for the bright side of this wonderful story! There is hope! Every survivor of abuse can learn to function in a healthy manner which can happen in several ways. Survivors may have friends, loved ones and other family members who are supportive, loving and exhibit secure attachment. Survivors can also seek counseling to learn healthy coping skills and to process past traumas. Additionally, if talking to a counselor is not an option, having someone trustworthy to confide in can be very helpful. If emotions surfaced for you while reading this and you’re feeling distressed or overwhelmed, please reach out to someone you trust or a professional therapist to speak with. Lastly, if anyone attempts to invalidate you by telling you to get over the abuse or it happened so long ago and you should be over it, tell that lovely person to…hush or any other four letter word you’d rather use.
Thank you for reading my first blog! Be well and show yourself some love! I am also available for speaking engagements on the topics discussed in my blog.