Children of abusive parents don’t just suffer at the time the abuse is taking place, but later on in life as well.

It’s not surprising that being a child of abusive parents leaves such long-lasting scars on one’s soul. Consider that as children we are forming our most important attachments and establishing our own identities. So any experiences, whether they are good or bad, will have a long-lasting effect on our psyche and mental health.

I can only speak from my own knowledge but I also have three siblings. Despite the fact that we all grew up in the same household, we had very diverse experiences. I have two older sisters and a younger brother, and we were all treated very differently. My older sisters came from a previous marriage. My father then married my mother who went on to have me and my younger brother.

My mother treated my two older sisters like slaves, ignored me and doted on my younger brother. Not surprisingly, it affected us in different ways.

Here’s what I can tell you about the struggles that children of abusive parents have, in particular, myself and my siblings:

  1. Children of abusive parents can become people pleasers

During the abuse, my older sister would do anything to please my mother. Any money she earned would be spent on flowers or chocolates for her. She would buy presents for her when it wasn’t her birthday, she would do anything for a scrap of attention. Bear in mind my mother was abusing her on a daily basis.

Later on in her life, my sister became known as a people pleaser. She would never raise her voice in disagreement and would be the one who always went along with other people’s plans.

  1. Children of abusive parents can become complete opposites of their abusers

When my older sister went on to have her own children, she went completely against my own mother’s rules. My mother would dole out lists of chores to my two sisters. They would have two pages of chores to do, I would have about half a page, my brother, who was an epileptic, would be told to ‘take his tablet’.

My sister always believed that children should not be used as slave labour and never asked her kids to do any of the household chores. Hence their rooms were always a tip, she did all the housework and struggled to keep up with the washing and cooking.

My oldest sister is now the nicest person I know. She is just five years older than me but has been more like a mum to me than my own mother.

  1. Children of abusive parents are afraid of confrontation

My middle sister got the worst of my mother’s abuse. This was because she would never let my mother see her break down or cry in front of her. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she asked to see my two sisters in hospital. She saw them separately and asked them to forgive her. My eldest sister did, but my middle sister did not.

It is a surprising outcome that the sister that always stood up to my mother then went on to have confrontation issues when she was older. She would do anything to avoid an argument as it brought up painful memories of the abuse. Nowadays, my sister has conquered this fear and is practically intrepid.

  1. Children of abusive parents develop a hard exterior

My middle sister won’t let anyone into her life unless they have proved their love and loyalty. She has a hard exterior that protects her because of the past abuse from my mother. We had a rocky time when my mother died because my sister was, understandably, relieved that she was gone, but she was my mother and I didn’t know how I was supposed to react.

It took us a long time to reconcile our feelings about the subject. Even now I have to remember that my sister values certain things such as regular phone calls, constant contact and remembering birthdays.

It is not enough for me to go a few months without contact, as I do with some of my best friends. My sister regards loyalty as wanting to be in touch. Another remnant of abusive parents. These days, however, my sister has allowed her softer side to shine through and her natural kindness is what I notice more and more.

  1. It is possible that children of abusive parents develop phobias

I don’t actually know if this is true, but I will blame it on my mother anyway. My mother abused my two sisters but ignored me. She had a strict routine that had to be followed.

For instance, every teatime, one of us had to make her a cup of tea, in her favourite bone china teacup, made to her specification (weak, lots of milk with a dash of boiling water on top). One day as I was carrying the tea, I dropped the cup. I expected an uproar, but she just said, ‘Don’t worry, it was an accident’. I knew then that somehow, I was immune from the abuse.

When she died, I did not know how to react. She was an evil woman who abused my two lovely sisters but ignored me throughout my life. It stressed me out.

Then one day, coming back from a holiday, I had the first of many panic attacks. I developed a travel phobia. I believe that I developed a phobia because the only time my mother showed me any attention was when I was sick. Then she would lavish me with attention. Having a phobia means that you relinquish all responsibility and go back to a childlike state where someone else has to take care of you.

  1. Many narcissists have had abusive parents

Was my brother abused or wasn’t he? My sisters would argue that he wasn’t. He was never beaten, locked up in a room, burnt or punished. But he was spoiled, made to think he was special without actually having to do anything and allowed to get away with murder. And we sisters were not very nice to him.

Consequently, he grew up with a much-skewed view of women in general. This turned him into a narcissist. I think he had no choice, given his circumstances.

I’m sure I have just touched the surface where it concerns abusive parents. If you have any experiences you feel you can share, we would appreciate your input.

Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ela

    I enjoy reading your articles Janey. I get a lot of knowledge from them and they are very helpful. So good to know that children of abusive parents not always become abusive parents themselves. Hope some day
    your middle sister be able to totally forgive her mother for her own good. God bless!

  2. Janey D.
    Janey D.

    Thank you so much Ela for your kind words. I appreciate you taking the time to write to me and I am pleased you enjoy my articles. Best wishes Janey

  3. Avatar
    Eric

    This was very enlightening.

  4. Avatar
    Sagar T

    It’s very much true Janey, I am 27 and when I read this I remembered my whole childhood as my parents are very abusive,sad but true, and it was very hard to live upto their expectations everyday and sacrificing our happiness, just living to find out how to compensate those suffering and turning my reinventing new life of freedom. Very nice description. First time in my life I met the person who has gone through sufferings like me, be happy, god bless you.,

  5. Avatar
    Jo

    Your article helps me understand a couple clusters of siblings that I know.

    What I don’t understand is that although my husbands sister is like yours in wanting lots of his attention and frequent contacting, he acts cold toward me and cocky when he’s been with her or is going to be with her. It sometimes happens when he works with someone who enamores him. (Usually male coworkers).

    Any explanation for that behavior from previous abuse?

    1. Avatar
      Rosa

      Jo, I’ve witnessed that in people too. I think it’s got something to do with having a loose or poor sense of self. There is usually an effect on the developing identity of a child who is bring abused. Emulation is like idolisation in many abused people, who had no healthy role models at all that they could learn how to be human from.

  6. Avatar
    Anonymous

    I understand this i went through same situation my mother was a pain in the head and i hated her for that i would get beaten for my siblings actions i tried therapy and never worked i still a kidd and i wish no one has to go through what i did.

  7. Avatar
    Shalane

    I have been trying to learn more about Reactive Attachment Disorder in parents. The nature and severity of the abuse my mother visited on all of us seems indicative of RAD and I am curious as to whether or not there are any studies published on the subject of being the child of an adult with RAD. Two of my four siblings have committed suicide, and the one surviving sister suffers from many symptoms of PTSD, as do I. My abuse, as the oldest, was the most severe. I took the brunt of things and did my sad best to protect the little ones. I inherited each of them when they entered puberty and tried to provide safety and security, but was unable to mitigate the harm caused by our mother and her series of abusive men. I lived much of my adult life as a parent terrified of becoming her. I did what your sister did and became as opposite my mother as possible. I gave my kids agency and worked myself ragged trying to do and be all things to everyone I loved.

  8. Avatar
    Stefan

    This is a really loving description of all your siblings and their struggles.

    I would describe your (now narcissistic) brother as being mistreated, or maybe even suffering parental neglect. I wouldn’t describe him as abused, but I would consider his upbringing traumatic, due to him having to witness the horrors your sisters and you had to endure.

    As the scapegoat of my family I used to find the idea that my siblings were abused comical, since they tended to participate in the abuse on me. Later on I’ve realized that they too were abused at times (though not as severely as I was), and they did witness the abuse I experienced, which also would be traumatic for them (especially the brother who witnessed when I was held in a chokehold at age six).

    Four of six siblings have had therapy, and both siblings with children have involuntary contact with CPS. I have diagnosed PTSD. A sister of mine (the next scapegoat when I reached adulthood) struggled with anorexia in early teens.

    The first four siblings have been split into two groups, me and a brother still remaining in good contact with my mom and each other. He has some contact with my dad, but I’ve cut it completely, which I’m very content with. I don’t have any contact with the two siblings with contact with CPS. They cut contact with me when I participated in reporting one of them to CPS, and when they tried to reconnect I realized they would just use the relationship to try to get revenge on my mom or brother (who also participated in reporting them to CPS).

    All in all I’ve lost a father, brother and sister, and the really sad fact is that my life is much better without them. It’s taken me a really long time to accept that and stand up for myself.

    I found your site when I was googling around for advice on how to handle toxic parents in May, as I was writing a letter to my dad to inform him I was cutting contact with him.

    Thank you for your post. It requires a lot of strength to be able to get to the point where you’re at, and to be able to objectively assess yourself and those you love.

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