I help adults recovering from childhood mental abuse. Many people I see in my clinic experienced abusive parenting. That left them disturbed and unhappy.
In a Study of the German population Iffland (2013) found the frequency of adult abuse and neglect of children ran at 13.9% for emotional neglect, 10.2% for emotional abuse. In looking at these figures it is important to note that this is a highly developed society, with sophisticated laws protecting children. So, in less regulated societies the figures are likely to be much higher.
Three kinds of parents
Let me preface this by saying no one really knows how to parent until you have a child. Since all children are different a parent needs to make a handbook for each child.
The first kind of parent has a natural ability to parent. They mix love with teaching, so the child feels valued, worthy, and loved. Maybe that parent had good parenting or they have a natural talent with children. They see their relationship as a two-way learning process.
The second kind of parenting is the one who is willing to learn and adjust their behavior to positively support their child, but they struggle. They may have physical or mental health issues themselves or a very poor education.
The third kind of parent is negligent, either totally incompetent or purposefully cruel to their children. They are only concerned with what they want and don’t listen to the child. They may even be narcissistic or psychopathic. Maybe they did not have good parenting and are damaged themselves.
What does a child need?
- To feel safe and to be able to trust their parent
- Have a sense that they are important in the world, valued, special, and beautiful
- Regular gentleness and kindness as they maneuver childhood
- To be spoken to in a positive, constructive way
- Experience rewards for good behaviour and congratulations for their achievements
- To feel they can go to their parents for help with any problem and no judgement
A parent’s obligation to their child
Since parenting is not a paid job many parents think they do not have to learn how to be a good parent for their child to be happy. They resent any suggestions that other people might make.
When you have children, you are their parent for life, not just until they leave home. You are older and hopefully wiser, so you need to be an eternal source of wisdom for your offspring.
It does not matter what mistakes your children make, and they will make many, you still need to remain there to support them for life.
Create a childhood for your children that they remember with joy.
The mistakes of the first type of parent
Sometime the first kind of parent can over parents. They provide too much support, and the child fails to become fully independent as an adult.
The parents’ intentions are noble, but they are little too hands on. This can produce whinny adults who expect everything to be done for them. Future partners get bored quickly with their lack of independence.
They also may not know how to discipline their own children and enforce corrective behavior because everything came easy to them.
They may not know how to deal with people who exhibit highly negative behaviour.
The mistakes of the second type of parent
This parent spends a lot of time I chaos. Not only are they unorganised but can also be unmotivated at times to make things happen. This leaves the child with a sense of security.
The lack of education around parenting means they also don’t know what it is they must learn to be good parents. A lot of their knowledge is just ‘here say’, second hand and poor quality.
They may understand the concept of positive reinforcing, but they do not do it consistently. Everything is sort of make it up in the moment with little afore thought.
The child often must parent their parents and take the responsibility of being an adult far too early. They grow up with a sense that they missed large parts of childhood when their friends were having fun.
The mistakes of the third type of parent
The third type of parent only ever sees their own perspective. They are incapable of or do not choose to see life through the child’s eyes. They do not have empathy.
The child is seen as a burden or as a trophy when the child is used to glorify themselves. The child is an object to them not a person with feelings and emotional needs.
They are negatively verbally critical of the child and cruel in their comments to the child. They have no use for positive reinforcement and think such a thing will make the child weak. They may even use violence as perceived behavioral correction technique or to vent their own frustration.
They may even be a constantly absent parent, not able to imagine that the child needs warmth, love, and attention.
Dye (2019), in the Journal of Childhood and Adolescent Trauma, reported that childhood emotional trauma was equally as damaging as physical and sexual trauma.
Seeing your parents as people
One of the hardest transitions for childhood to becoming an independent adult is learning to see your parents as just people. Considering what in their life made them the way they were when you were a child.
No matter what your relationship with your parents you had, there is also a strong emotional attachment. That attachment can be negative, positive or a mixture of both.
Whilst emotions, and even extreme emotions, are a biochemical survival mechanism they can be deceiving. When strong emotions come in, logic exists through the window. Your analytical neocortex can be disabled when extreme emotions take over.
Because you have all these emotions about your parents, what they did and what they did not do, you can fail to see them objectively as people.
Part of therapy is learning to step back from your emotions about your parents and begin to understand their motivations, problems and at times gifts.
Your anger and self-victimisation
Einstein said, ‘Everyone sits in the prison of his own ideas; he must burst it open, and that in his youth, and so try to test his ideas on reality.’
The reality is your past is your past. It’s not your present, unless you choose to make it your present inside your mind.
You have a choice to be the past inside your mind or train your thinking into the present. In the present you are no longer a child, you are an adult.
You’re not the child still being mentally abused. You are an adult with choice, whether you make that choice or not is up to you, don’t not take it and then complain you are still a victim, because you are not.
Being angry at the past serves no purpure. Sure, you can learn never to let that happen again, but to hang on to what once was is illogical. It’s like keeping breaking your leg because you think the leg is safer with a plaster cast on it. You become the abuser of yourself.
As the Buddha said:
“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”
Let it go and move on
Both my parents were the third kind of parents. They were abusive in every way imaginable, mentally ill, angry, cruel, demeaning, and dangerous. Emotionally, I just did not like them and never ever trusted them, and they said they did not like or even want me.
At 15 years old I packed a bag and said ‘goodbye’.
When I think about them, I see how terribly broken they were. Their lives must have been so hard, and I don’t think they were ever happy. It’s sad but it’s not my life.
Their abusiveness is history to me, and I see it logically and leave it in the past. What they did had nothing to do with me and was all about who and what they were and the world they were locked into inside their minds.
I can’t change what happened, but I changed the way I experienced that history. Many years ago, therapy taught me to do that.
Some years later I experienced post-traumatic-stress-disorder around what happened but again I recovered.
I let it go just as I teach my patients to do but you must be honestly willing and committed to letting that happen. As a free adult you can either live in yesterday and miss today or you can get the help to live whole your life in the present.
Break out of the prison of your old ideas. Don’t snub your nose at the opportunities that every morning brings, it’s a gift.
Embrace the present moment
Life is precious and it can be beautiful and joyful, so I teach you to focus on that each day and have a good life.
Don’t waste your life in anger and self-victimization. It’s exhausting, self-violence, pointless and does not protect you in any way. And it changes nothing at all.
None of us truly know when we are going to die. Life at the end of day turns out to be shorter than we thought it would be when we were young.
Embrace the opportunity each day to live happily, with joy and in the present time. Every day is a blessing.
What therapy helps trauma for childhood mental abuse?
There are so many kinds of therapies with different approaches. Some may go on for a very long time, in fact several years, and may not work for you.
In looking for a therapist ensure they are well recognised within their profession and have the appropriate training. Also, that they are experienced in working with trauma.
What’s also important to know is that with the right solution focused therapy recovery can be very quick, even though you may have been suffering for years.
For the thousands of people, I’ve helped recover, we always work fast using clinical hypnotherapy because it makes the whole process go faster.