Are Your Kids Paying For Your Parents' Mistakes?

These four behaviors can help you overcome the vicious cycle of emotional abuse.

Posted Jun 12, 2013

"Mommy, I hurt myself!" Jessica's youngest ran up to her, tears streaming. Dropping everything, Jessica scooped him up in her arms and comforted him. Two seconds before, he had been trying to get her attention, but she was putting away groceries and had been busy. But now he was hurt, and all her attention was focused on him.

Jessica grew up in an unaffectionate household. No one had ever been there to hold her when she fell or scraped a knee. Now when one of her kids was hurt, she made sure they were treated better than she had been.

What started out as wonderful when they were little soon turned into a problem as they got older. Whenever any of them wanted attention, he or she simply "got hurt." If Mommy was too busy, was too preoccupied with one of the other children or with Daddy, or talking on the phone, a finger or toe would get hurt, a knee would get bumped, or one of a hundred other small complaints would be loudly proclaimed to ensure that Mommy stopped whatever she was doing and listened.

Eventually it was all Jessica could do to work on one thing for any length of time without being interrupted. Frustrated at all the crying and complaints, she began to respond with anger.

"Why can't you kids leave me alone for just five minutes? I can never get anything done around here without one of you coming up and whining about something!" She would rant and rave for a second or two, but the kids knew nothing would ever come of it. Jessica had trouble disciplining her children. Every time she thought of it, she would remember what it was like growing up. Though she knew her children needed her to set limits on their behavior, she couldn't seem to get past her negative reaction to those limits. As a consequence, Jessica found herself losing control of her children, and instead they began to control her. When they did, she generally lost control of her anger. It was a vicious cycle that needed to be stopped.

Unfortunately, abuse of all kinds is a vicious cycle that keeps going round and round, from generation to generation. Part of the cyclical nature of abuse is to enter into abusive relationships in the future because of past ones. Within those abusive relationships it is possible for the abused to become the abuser, repeating the pattern of abuse learned at the hands of his or her abuser.

Much research points to the fact that abusers in our society were themselves abused as children. Those who were emotionally abused in the past may find themselves acting out the abuse they suffered on those around them. Children have always been a convenient target for that abuse.

Emotional abuse can have a devastating effect on all personal relationships. That is why it is so vital if you have been emotionally abused that you acknowledge the fact of that abuse, no matter how painful the realization, and actively learn how to overcome its effects:

  • Choose to respond to situations instead of react. Think back over the recent past. Was there an instance where you reacted disproportionately in a significantly negative way to events or circumstances?
  • Accept your own response without needing approval from others. Do you find you wait to see how other people react in situations before you respond?
  • Allow others to make their own decisions. Do you generally feel your decisions are right and appropriate for everyone involved?
  • Utilize the power of forgiveness liberally. Do you think forgiveness involves an element of risk? If so, what is that risk?

While it may seem one or more of these behaviors are not directly relative or appropriate to your relationship with your children, being mindful of them in adult relationships -- with your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your co-workers -- will naturally translate into healthier interactions with your kids.

2009, Healing the Scares of Emotional Abuse, Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., Revell.

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