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.

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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. 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.

    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. Eric

    This was very enlightening.

  4. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  9. Dorothy Rockwell

    I come from Narcissistic Parents. My grandfather was adopted and it was not a good adoption. My father yelled, screamed and busted glass every day. I was neglected by my mother because she wanted to be the sexy one and get all the attention. She came from 11 children and got lost in the shuffle. My father received no parenting skills and my brother and I were neglected and he was abused physically.

    The abuse had to go somewhere, so it went to me, his only sister and he hated my mother and father. Life was hell on earth.

    As of now, I have no brother. I consier myself an only child. He now suffers from Manic Depression. So be it. I have my own medical problems. Siblings can be your worse enemy along with relatives. He’s an ASS and poisoned his two girls against me, their only blood aunt.

  10. iwona

    My mum just passed away in October my father abused and beat her all her life I have no friends no one comes to the house except for my two sisters, thank God I do have my own place but at the moment I am with him he’s almost 80 when will I be free of him. I wish he had died and not my mum, he’s a monster, he has no friends he plays nice in front of everyone but behind close doors he is a control freak . when will i be free of him I know it’s Christmas but I can’t help the way I feel. God help me have I not suffered enough because of him

  11. Galax

    I was never aware that there was a pattern in my family until I read this article.

    – First child, slave, full-time punching ball and psychologocal support to the mother

    – Second child, slave, object of neglection and scape goat snd part-time punching ball (me)

    – Third child, negelcted princess, excuse to use older siblings as punching ball

    – Fourth and last child, mother’s addiction, over protected and spoiled.

    We older sisters were giving disadvantages over the younger ones who got all the priviledges.

    I think it says a lot if a highly trained younger sibling starts to attack and tackle down an older physically untrained sibling using its martial arts skills.

    As said, the younger ones got priviledges which included also attending sport clubs, which the olders were not allowed. But the youngers have never been told to respect their older siblings that took care of the household and them.
    Hence they thought they can dominate the older ones.

    I also realise now that I am older that it is not normal that a teenager goes to school without food or money.
    I had to steal money from my mother to buy some food as she wouldn’t give me any when I asked.
    She stopped preparing school lunch by the age of 12-14 yrs.

    I always thought it was OK as she said, we are grown enough to do it ourselves. also when other kids in school were telling me their parents still prepare them their lunch, I thought they were treated like kids. But we were kids! I was still a kid too!
    It shows how early we were left on our own.

    Now that I am older I understand that this was one of so many things my mother became more and more neglectful. Food, school, clothing even health…

    I always thought my parents were poor and didn’t understand when people told me my parents have a lot of money.

    My younger siblings had at least material wealth compared to us oldest ones, but they were emotionally neglected.

    My wanted dolls and no humans that grow up.

    It took me a while to understand all of this and this block helped me finding the last peace of this puzzle I tried to solve.

  12. Emmet

    I think my parents are abusive too; specifically, my dad will yell at me and my sister and say hurtful things to us almost on the daily, and because my younger sister doesn’t know how to stay under the radar like me, he’ll target her for any rebellion and sometimes gets physically violent, just not enough to leave marks. My mom doesn’t do anything about it except make excuses for him, and she projects her insecurities about weight onto the rest of the family, which get doubly projected onto us by my dad. But they constantly reassure us that they care and will buy us presents and treats. I don’t know what to think. I was suicidal for a while, and I told my parents that I was depressed and had anxiety, but they dismissed it. My dad triggered my first panic attack (but told me I was overreacting and I had to learn what it was from my mom) and I’ve had them ever since. I attempted suicide once, and it was only after this that I was given therapy (because it was required by a doctor), but because it’s expensive my parents put me into group therapy from which I ‘graduated’ and I was praised for getting better, despite evidence to the contrary. My sister has told my parents multiple times that she is depressed and suicidal and has been dismissed as overreacting. Me and her both have developed eating problems; she now struggles with not throwing up after meals and I swing between forgetting to eat/not eating and eating too much. I am trans and have told my parents this a few times, but they only insist that it’s a phase and that I don’t know what I’m talking about- that I don’t understand ‘real’ trans people despite my dysphoria. When my sister or I protest any of this treatment, we are reminded of how much worse it could be. I don’t know what to do about any of this, especially since my parents are extremely good at making good impressions. I don’t think my parents outright deny us basic needs, but there are days when me and my sister are forced to clean the entire house and breaks are met with disapproval, leading to us not eating, drinking, or showering for most of the day. I am terrified of being alone in a room with my father, and I can’t tell if that’s irrational or not, considering he’s never hit me like he’s hit my sister. I sometimes feel like I’m not really allowed to be upset about the way I’m treated because my sister has it worse, but I’m also scared of defending her (which feels really selfish) and sometimes I feel like my sister is antagonizing my parents even though I know she doesn’t mean to and just doesn’t know how to not set them off. I just really don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

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