Having an abusive parent is like having a live-in bully who has infinitely more credibility than you with the rest of the world. A terrifying person you can’t help but love, because gosh, he’s your dad or she’s your mom. And, for too long, you are socially impaired in myriad ways, because you’ve learned to hide under layers and layers of sadness and downcast eyes.
There are two types of cycles when it comes to abuse.
One occurs day to day, or week to week.
Because no matter how many times you swear to yourself that you’ll never forget the pain, you always forgive. You always give your parent the benefit of the doubt, you hold out hope of change. Real change. And when that change doesn’t happen, regardless of tears and promises, there comes a day you realize it is up to you to break the cycle.
You try talking with them. Reasoning with them in their irrational moments. Eventually, for your own sanity, you begin to distance yourself little by little. Because there are only so many bitter, demeaning, and downright demoralizing comments you can take from the parent you love so much. And because, even when you’re in college and only go home twice a year, you always come back crying.
But your liberty to take some healthy distance only feeds the fire. And they get angry that you need space. They’re offended, hurt, and unforgiving. They spit fire, they lash out at you in the precious moments you want to spend with them despite everything, in an attempt to break you enough to rope you back in.
And often, every venomous statement that makes you upset is, “just the truth.”
By the time you’re old enough to know that it’s not right, and nothing’s going to change, it’s already late enough in the game that you’ve learned some of their bad habits, and others are lurking under your skin, waiting to crawl out of your pores when the opportunity strikes. When you least expect that you are anything like that abusive parent, some other layer of toxic waste finds its way to the surface – and of course you can’t stop it. At first at least, it’s like a sneeze. Which brings me to another type of cycle.
The other occurs over generations.
Abusive habits, like your great grandma’s antique mahogany coffee table, can be (and often are) passed from one generation to the next. You’d think that the child, knowing how utterly devastating it feels to be treated so horribly, would simply understand that it’s bad, and be super duper nice to everyone for the rest of his or her life.
It doesn’t work that way.
Most children of abusive parents are rebellious to some degree and damaged to some degree. Frighteningly primed to pass on the family legacy in some form.
It takes an incredible amount of effort, time, therapy, and the love of those around them to unravel the threads of a fabric years in the making. As habits and tendencies they didn’t know they have are brought to light, those who truly love them continue to love them through their time of confusion and change.
To those who know someone with an abusive parent:
Don’t think about them on the terms you’re accustomed to. They don’t live in the same head space as you, or your friends, or your parents. Don’t expect them to open up like a spring flower in your presence, even though you both know that you’re much nicer than their abusive parent. It’s not your fault. Yes, they’re quiet and awkward. It’s all a byproduct of the situation.
Under no circumstances should you reach your hand out to help them, then shame them or blame them for being in the position their in. You DON’T know the finer details of the situation. Don’t point out that they cry a lot. Don’t make them feel horrible by telling them that another family (who also helped him/her) is upset with him/her, and that the mother of that family cried because he/she hasn’t called them yet. (There’s a much nicer and simpler way of providing a happy solution to that situation.) Don’t sit them in the corner of your home office and tell them to stay silent while you call their parent on speakerphone. Don’t call them manipulative, because I can assure you you’ve been manipulated by their parent. And don’t mock their shocked face and numb tears when you say those things to them.
Just try to understand where they’re coming from without making the situation worse. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all regarding the subject. They will be incredibly grateful for this someday. After they’re able to work through the years and layers of emotional mush that has caused them to suppress their own personalities and senses of self, they’ll remember your generosity of spirit. They’ll even remember the little things – that you gave them rides home, or made them laugh, or simply always looked at them with kind eyes and smiled.
To those with an abusive parent:
It will get better. If there is only one thing you actually believe, in your entire life, believe that. It will definitely get better.
Get yourself out of bad situations. Don’t let anyone own you, drive you, and use you like a handy gadget or emotional punching bag. The world outside of the one you’ve known is a wonderful but confusing place. Open yourself up to the possibilities and don’t be afraid of how different everything is from what you’ve been taught.
Don’t ignore your emotions, even though there is a whole heap of ’em. Focus on them, work through them, and talk about them. See a therapist as soon as you can, find one that works for you, and continue to see that therapist for a long time. Become aware of who you’re surrounding yourself with. If you find yourself in those familiar “cycles” with new people in your life, understand that you either need to look within yourself or it’s possible you’ve begun to surround yourself with people who make you feel the way your parent did. It doesn’t feel good, and it won’t change until you become aware of it yourself.
The love you’ve learned from your abusive parent is going to feel different from the love you learn from the outside world.
You may be used to feeling in extremes, in which everything’s either really amazing or unimaginably horrible. Those emotions will start to even out. Try not to expect bad stuff to happen when things are going really well. Sometimes when you intensely expect bad things to happen, you can accidentally cause them to happen. Once you get off the roller coaster you don’t have to sit on the edge of your seat anymore.
Someday life will be filled with the light you’ve always wanted it to. Be gentle with yourself as you work through it.
Don’t doubt yourself.
Don’t give up.
You can do it.
For your musical enjoyment: Dry The Rain, by The Beta Band 🙂