Children of abusive parents have it hard. They will struggle their entire lives because of what was done to them and the neglect they suffered. They will forever wonder what’s normal in a family, what’s acceptable behavior. They will constantly doubt themselves and their own history, because they’ve been gaslighted believing that what happened didn’t happen. Learning how to relate to others, how to handle conflict, criticism, praise- is difficult. Some abused kids never acknowledge their abuse, and either become abusers or enablers of abusers. The shame of being an adult child of abusive parents is heavy. That adult always wonders how much to tell, to whom they can tell it, and fears how much blame they will have to take for their own abuse.
I should know. I am an adult who grew up abused.
Some misconceptions about abuse:
1) it must happen every day.
2) It must be physical or sexual.
3) it must be severe enough to leave visible marks.
A common misconception is that emotional abuse doesn’t count. I think that the emotional aspect of abuse is the worst. Physical abuse doesn’t need to happen every day for it to “count”. Because it is so easy to get caught for physical abuse, physical abuse is used irregularly- but the mind games are what takes things to a sick new level. I was only hit by a belt once- but it was used as a threat so effectively that I hid every single belt in the house, and deliberately made myself forget where they were.
I grew up terrified. I was the scapegoat, so I was blamed for everything no matter how illogical. If something broke while I was using it, doubtless it was because I was deliberately avoiding work, or being rebellious. I was constantly told I was a spoiled brat, that I was ugly, smelly, incapable, annoying, stupid. Almost every compliment was followed by an insult. Compliments said in front of my mom would be punished later, often with her screaming “you think you’re so good/smart/etc don’t you!” I always knew that trouble would brew if I painted my nails or dressed nicely. It would start out slow, with just being called lazy. Then a steady stream of criticism would begin, and it was designed to make me want to fight back. When I did, it would lead to a screaming match, and that’s when it would come out that I must have been horribly lazy or selfish to have wanted to look nice. If I didn’t fight back, the criticism would still lead to screaming about my supposed laziness. My mom still tries to pull this off.
Society is big on the idea of honoring one’s parents. But what about those parents in which the adult child finds nothing honorable? The Bible also says to not provoke your children to wrath. Jesus, in another of those moments that shows he was not a soft hippie, says that its better for adults that lead children to sin to have a one ton millstone tied to their neck and have them thrown into the sea. Do some research on drowning. It’s an excruciating way to die.
Having abusive parents makes a child less likely to trust God. If the dynamic is like my family dynamic, the abusive parent makes you believe God is a vindictive, capricious person who will be kind one moment and cruel the next. The parent who enables the abuser and doesn’t stop what the child can’t hope to escape, however, teaches that God is impotent, so you have to do for yourself what nobody else will do. After so long, I am finally learning to trust God. Some days I don’t trust him still, but luckily he has patience and understands even when I don’t. I finally learned that after having a screaming fit where I was so angry, I asked why he made me so ugly that my parents hate me. I finally said what I have felt all 26 years of my life, and I finally realized how absurd and messed up it is that I believe that.
I don’t know how to honor my parents. I am no longer a child, so obedience is no longer necessary. So what is honor? Does it mean keeping quiet about my own suffering, keeping my abuse a big secret? Does it mean continuing to interact with people who I do not trust, who turn the blame on me for my abuse, or pretend as if it never happened, or as if I were exaggerating?
What am I supposed to say to my new family, the family of my husband? I haven’t had anyone from my family over to help since my beautiful girl was born. (Thank God!)I’ve been told all my life that no one would believe me. I’ve been told all my life by my family and by society that if I dare let the truth out then I will just be dragging my family through the mud and therefore I will come out looking like the villain.
I don’t know how to honor my parents right now. I don’t know what honor in this sense actually is since I was never honored myself. All I can think to do is to minimize the damage- I will not allow them more opportunities to mistreat me, or my family. I will not allow them to provoke me to wrath. I will keep them at arms length, or further, like they are dangerous. Because they are dangerous.
Honor thy father and mother is a good commandment, and like most of the commandments it has a flip side- parents are to honor their children as well. Many people believe that the Commandments and laws of the Church are there to control people and make their lives miserable. The truth is the Commandments and laws are closer to observations than regulations. Those who don’t honor their children, who abuse them and make them scared and suspicious of the world around them, will not get the benefits of a commandment about honor. Love God above all else…or else you will find something else to worship that will fail you regularly. Love your neighbor…or you will end up hating him and isolating yourself. Do not murder…or you will never be able to escape the consequences if your actions. Don’t lust after someone else’s husband or wife, because you will be degrading your own relationships in the process.
I think the reason Jesus was so serious about those who would harm children is because the commandment about honoring parents (and children) is the one commandment where the effects harm the innocent much more than the sinner. My parents will have to suffer a lackluster, distant relationship (if even that). A formerly abused person gets to suffer from the emotional scars, gets to have to fight to love freely and trust others, gets to relive the abuse, and when the parent dies gets to suffer knowing that a part of them is relieved while the other part is tremendously guilty.
Honor. Treat your children with love and kindness, or they will suffer for your sin for the rest of their lives.