Why We All Have The Potential To Be Abusive And What To Do About It
Abusive. A word that generates anger, hate and a complete unwillingness to understand abusers. But I think we all have the potential to be abusers.
Looking at parenting specifically, we all have struggles, some more than others. We don’t talk about it but most people have felt like hurting their child at one point or another, many have submitted to the urge.
Some lucky parents may avoid these feelings because they were fortunate to have been born with a set of genes that offer them great emotional regulation, stress management and patience. Maybe they were raised in a respectful, loving, supportive home and didn’t suffer any trauma throughout their lives. Maybe they have a great support network or full time childcare.
Most of us though, aren’t that lucky. And those of us that manage to pull ourselves back from acting upon our darkest reactions do so through an intentional desire to be a good parent and protect our children.
I am in awe of every parent out there reading parenting books, talking to other parents, looking after themselves and taking the time to self-reflect. These and many other techniques help us protect our children (and partners) from ourselves. And it isn’t easy.
Any parent of a baby with colic will know the feeling – you may have screamed or sworn at your baby to stop crying, been rougher in your handling of them, gone somewhere else and left them alone screaming at the top of their lungs, just to get away from the noise for a bit.
Nobody who hasn’t had a baby will understand it. You think that because it’s your baby that you love more than anything else in the world, it should make the noise easier to bear. But it doesn’t. It’s harder.
Because it’s not about the noise. Yes it’s stressful for the human brain to deal with loud, repetitive noise (which is the point of it – it drives us to help the child) but it’s the stress we feel of NOT being able to help our child that’s the real stress trigger. It’s on a larger scale but on the same spectrum as the stress of them not eating. We love them so much we can’t cope if we feel we can’t take care of them.
I think a lot of this is a modern problem – at a simpler time, before we knew too much, we didn’t worry about these things so much, kids ate because they were hungry (and didn’t have access to all these tastebud disrupting foods and chemicals) and parents didn’t create a stressful mealtime environment with their worry.
Babies didn’t cry alone while the parents wished them to sleep, because they just slept together. When no reason was deciphered for the crying there was a community around to share the responsibility. Babies and children spent a lot more time in nature so there weren’t many stimulants in the environment.
There are many, many things in our modern world that create stress and stress is the number 1 reason for treating anybody in a disrespectful way.
Very few people intentionally want to hurt their child. They become stressed – which usually stems from fear; the fear that I’m a terrible mother, that my child will grow up with psychological issues, that there’s something wrong with my child, that I’m not cut out for this, that there’s something I should be doing – I just can’t figure it out, that I’m weak, or stupid or wrong.
I haven’t spoken to a single parent who doesn’t feel these things, and parenting is one of the hardest things most of us will ever do. Nobody tells you all of this, and nobody supports you through your darkest fears. Probably because we don’t tell them.
Personally, I struggle when my children don’t do what I want no matter how calm I’ve remained. The feeling of having no control takes me right back to my own childhood where I had no autonomy and the desire to use my power to put the control back in my court is often too strong for me to resist. Because I spent my whole life since leaving home clinging to that autonomy, it’s very hard for me. These are often the times I end up shouting.
Those of us who were punished with physical harm as children usually (maybe always?) have a subconcious reaction to hit our children during times of stress. Usually when being hit by our children or feeling out of control with them. Or maybe just after a long, stressful day.
Many of us try our hardest to restrain ourselves and so end up shouting instead. But you know what they say – shouting is the new smacking. My experience is that psychological abuse can be much worse than the physical kinds. Psychological abuse can include shouting, threatening, shaming, name calling, criticising, negative body language/mood and love/affection withdrawal.
Obviously there is no clear line as to where acceptable behaviour crosses over into abuse. And I truly, truly believe that most abusers don’t set out to abuse. If you look at the psychological profile of many abusers you will find they were brought up in an enviroment where they had no control and emotions were punished. How are you supposed to handle your child’s extreme emotions if you learnt to shut yours down in childhood?
Things we may have swept under the rug are unleashed when we have kids in an almighty storm. I believe children are our greatest teachers and force us to really look at ourselves. In many cases this is a good thing and it helps us shed our demons and reach a somewhat peaceful place in which we can build a strong, authentic bond with our children. For some people though, either they haven’t found a way to resolve these issues, they aren’t aware it’s a problem or the trauma is too great and they are afraid to begin the healing process.
It’s well known that people repeat parenting methods/phrases used on them. Often these are unwanted and usually show up when we’re stressed, tired and worn out. For those of us who grew up in an abusive home it can get very tricky and acting out any of those unwanted behaviours leads to guilt, shame and fear. And the cycle continues.
Being aware of your feelings – however unwanted – is crucial. Once you can recognise the signs, you can take a break and calm yourself down and then put a self care plan into place.
If you have any unresolved issues – maybe something from your childhood – take steps to resolve them. Therapy is the first step here and the type and length will differ depending on the issue.
The main thing I want to say about therapy is that – yes it will bring things up you may not want to think or talk about but actually that isn’t as bad as you think – I found it very cathartic. Like, finally I could release all the thoughts that had been trapped in my head, twisting and turning and waking me up in the night. But once they’re out and well – nothing happens; the therapist doesn’t look at you with shame or distaste and life just carries on – you realise you’ve blown it up into something way bigger than it is or needs to be. And then you can begin to heal.
Many things helped me on my journey but I don’t think I would have got to those, or got as much out of them, without the therapy.
Buddhism, freedom from addiction (even if it’s just relying on wine or sugar for stress), exercise, getting enough sleep, eating well, relaxation and doing things you love are all self care practices that will help. Having a bubble bath, reading a book, watching a funny film or taking a walk; find what you love to do, helps you relax and means you don’t have to think about anyone else for a period. Make it as essential as changing nappies and putting dinner on the table.
If you are a parent relating to this, just know – you’re not a bad parent, you’re not permanently damaged and you CAN get through this. You got this far in the article – you clearly care deeply about providing a healthy environment for your children and taking care of yourself. What more can a parent give?
If anyone would like to discuss this one to one in further detail I would be more than happy to see if I can help – at no cost – just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org ❤️