#TherapistDiaries: From abusive childhood to parental abuse

Published: July 2, 2019
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Parental abuse is anything ranging from physical to emotional damage that causes a child to feel helpless, inadequate and worthless. PHOTO:GETTY

Like a number of adults who come for therapy, Sarah* also narrated her past. The impact her parents had on her childhood and teenage life continues to affect her in her adulthood. She was neglected by her mother, and didn’t find any refuge in her distant father either. The only time she was showered with conditional affection by her parents was when she would pick sides during their intense and frequent fights and arguments with each other.

Did her parents know how distant she had become from them now that she was an adult and they were old? Did they know about the damage they caused her by their constant negligence? And by only loving her when she sided with either of them during their fights?

There are a number of damaged children in adult bodies. There exist so many ways whereby parents can abuse their children that now it is almost scary to think of parenthood.

Parental abuse ranges from physical to emotional damage that causes a child to feel helpless, ignored, worthless, abandoned and unwanted for a long period of time in their childhood.

Ana* had a hard time understanding as an adult that she actually lived a nightmare of a childhood where her mother’s narcissism excluded Ana out of the picture completely. Ana was demanded to be perfect in every way possible. She was made to breakup with a number of her friends because they were ‘too poor’ which made her look bad, and was forced to befriend people who were affluent and could change the status quo for her mother.

Ana was never encouraged by her mother when they were by themselves but her achievements would paraded and exaggerated when they were among other people because it portrayed her mother as a good mother. Ana was asked to visit orphanages only for the sake of pictures that her mother would later show to her friends in every social gathering, and the pattern continued throughout her teenage life, until Ana got suffocated of the grandiose and the fake world her mother had created to elevate her own self.

The journey towards forgiveness and genuineness was a long one for her. She is still not comfortable at forming friendships with females because of her relationship with her mother and her childhood.

‘Mommy issues’ and ‘daddy issues’ are pop culture terms that we hear casually being thrown out by people. For some, it’s a life-long struggle to form healthy relationships with their abusive parents. The mistrust and pain is so deeply rooted that it averts any chance of genuine or in-depth bonding. The coldness and awkwardness just never leaves.

Physical forms of abuse are not uncommon, and though it is not reported as much, sexual molestation is also a form of parental abuse that is not unknown and still prevails in our society.

Like many other children, Irfan* was also a sexual abuse victim who was molested by his step-father. His mother took him to an orphanage to protect him from his father but ironically, he was molested by the older boys living there. In many cases, parents don’t even consider it a sexual abuse when it comes from their own spouse.

Most people never get a chance to resolve the damage and abuse they suffered at the hands of their parents, and gradually it becomes the new normal for them. It comes to a point where we have no other option but to use brutal strategies to have control on our kids that were once practiced on us.

Also, inability of parents to manage their daily life stressors  and relationship conflicts also causes them to mindlessly use violent strategies on their children and later perceive it as a way to teach discipline.

Furthermore, our society’s misconcept of ‘good parenthood’ makes sure that the child is stuffed with food, toys, games and money. On the contrary, a child requires much more than that on an emotional, psychological and physical level.

Sohail’s* father never spared a moment to humiliate and beat him in front of his guests, schoolmates or at public places.

“I don’t know whether it was my rebellion that started after the beatings or did the abuse lead to me rebellion,” claimed Sohail.

He still clearly remembers when he started taking drugs as a way to humiliate his father and to take revenge after his father had beaten him at his sister’s wedding event.

“Can you believe I was beaten up for forgetting his sunglasses at my sister’s afternoon reception? Did I deserve to get beaten up for that in front of 200 guests when I was just 14?”

The abuse was chronic, but the last nail in the coffin was this public humilation after which Sohail recounted harming himself in several ways. He just couldn’t take the humiliation for something as trivial as forgetting his father’s sunglasses.

“The funny part is that my father thought buying me a meal after would fix everything,” he added.

Like Sohail, a lot of kids suffer from physical and emotional abuse at hands of their parents and retaliate as adults by opting for intentionally and unintentionally self-harming strategies as a mean for justice and acknowledgment of their pain.

Azeem* and Burnan*, twin brothers in their late teens, feel extreme sadness over the fact that their mother does not even acknowledge the physical and emotional abuse they were subjected to as children, neither did she ever stand up for them. This ensued so much anxiety that now they cannot even stand up for themselves, let alone each other. They constantly feel scared of making mistakes or doing something wrong.

“We cannot differentiate between right or wrong anymore. Nobody in our family stood up for us against our dad’s unjust behaviour towards us. How do we know when to do this for our selves?”

Planned parenthood should be taken seriously if we want to break this circle of abuse. Parents need to be aware of their toxic demeanours that might harm the child and should seek counselling if they have a history of bad relationships with their parents because it can result in either an unhealthy over-attachment with their child or  simply make them repeat the toxic parental behaviours of their own parents.

Finally, we must realise that babies are not born to fix people, relationships, marriages, broken hearts and broken self-esteems. They are not born to give you a sense of validation or purpose. They deserve better.

(*Names have been changed to protect identities and doctor-patient confidentiality.)

Zaofishan Qureshi

Zaofishan Qureshi

The author is a Clinical Psychologist and an Educationist based in Islamabad. She tweets @Zaofishan (twitter.com/Zaofishan)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.