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Asking the Toughest Question: Am I An Abusive Parent?

Abuse is frightening, and it is hard to discuss. Especially, if you are the one who is causing the abuse.

While we have done our best to raise awareness about abuse and how to get help for the victims, it is also important to talk about what it is like to be the abuser. One of the hardest reality checks is realizing you are abusing someone. Facing and accepting that you need help is one of the bravest things a person can do for themselves and their children.

Today we want to share ways to identify yourself as someone with abusive tendencies or habits and give you the resources to get help. Whether you were abused yourself, or you feel that your behavior is the only way to keep things in control, there are ways to stop the cycle. You are not alone, and you are not forgotten.

 

How to recognize if you are an abuser:

Abuseville.com is a website that serves as a resource center for those facing abuse. The website is “for everyone who wants to stop abuse, prevent abuse, recover from abuse, get away from an abuser, protect someone who is being abused, or simply wants to make the world a safer, kinder place.” We have used their website to pull together this list of indicators of being abusive.

Abuse is systematic and addictive: According to Abuseville.com, “It’s not a rude episode, or being gauche or ignorantly doing something someone else doesn’t appreciate, though abusers will claim that’s all it is, and that it’s just an isolated incident. It is repetitive and cyclical.”

It is hard to take responsibility: Taking responsibility can be hard. Abuseville.com  shares that, often those struggling with abusing someone have a hard time taking responsibility for their behavior. They use excuses like “they lost control, blew up, went off, didn’t mean to, weren’t thinking, etc.”

When your environment changes, your behavior changes: Context matters when it comes to abuse. Someone who has abusive tendencies tend to act out in places where there is secrecy and a victim available. They do not tend to abuse people who they perceive has more power than they do.

Selective memory: Abusers often have no recollection for the cruel or oppressive acts they have committed. Abuseville.com states “They can express apparently genuine outrage at the abuse behaviors of others while not recognizing the similarities to their behaviors.

Abusers often were abused themselves: It is no secret that often those that abuse others were abused themselves. Abuseville.com shares that “If you’ve been abused, you’ve learned how to do it. You have a choice as to whether you will continue the passing down to the next generation of the abuse system.

 

Here are a few things to think about or ask yourself:

These indicators of an abusive situation are shared by Abuseville.com.

  • How do you deal with emotional discomfort? Do you use addictive behaviors to change your emotional/physical state? (gambling, shopping, food bingeing, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes.)
  • Do you come home to a happy family, and find that your children are crying within five minutes of your arrival, or someone is “in trouble?”
  • Is your family dinner table a place where children are regularly punished or reprimanded, and you find it necessary to send them away, or make them unhappy during or after the meal? Are there other repeated events or activities where similar trouble happens: trips, outings, holidays, bedtime, shopping, etc.
  • Are your spouse or children afraid of you?
  • Is there a cycle of building tension, blow up on your part, denial of responsibility on your part, admission of guilt, repentance, and then a “honeymoon period” afterward, that repeats in your home or relationship?
  • Do you have rules and regulations for your significant other or children that causes them to fear you or fear displeasing you? Do you withhold or deny them privileges or opportunities unnecessarily? Do you get satisfaction from doing so?

 

Characteristics of an abuser:
Here are some specific characteristics of abusers. If you find yourself having these tendencies, or if you know someone who does, it is time to get help. Find more, here.

  • Keeps track of what you are doing all the time and criticizes you for little things.
  • Regularly accuses you of being unfaithful, untrustworthy, etc.
  • Prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family, or going to work or school.
  • Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs.
  • Humiliates you in front of others.
  • Destroys your property or things that you care about.
  • Threatens to hurt you or the children or pets, or does cause hurt (by hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting).
  • Uses or threatens to use a weapon against you.
  • Forces you to have sex against your will.
  • Blames you for his/her violent outbursts.

How to get help:
The best answer with this type of situation is to get help. Admitting that you need help may be scary but it is brave. Here are some things you can do to start down a new path. Find more at TheStir.com and on DrPhil.com.

Go to a local support group: Your child’s pediatrician or a therapist may know of some local support groups. You can also find information at your local schools, YMCAs or even church groups. Ask a trusted professional and they can point you in the right direction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:There are different kinds of therapy. Most therapists do a combination of techniques. However, one, in particular, focuses on changing your behavior — cognitive behavioral therapy. Most of the time, this therapy goes beyond talking (because you already know what you’re doing is wrong) and delving into your past and focuses more on your triggers and doing the active work of change.

Be honest with your child: “You don’t need to get into detail and burden your child with too much information. But your child should know that they are not the one at fault. You have a problem, and you are working on it. Most of all, you love them.

Remove yourself: According to Dr.Phil, “When you’re in a stressful situation and you begin to feel yourself snap, remove yourself. At that point say, ‘I’m going to get out of this situation so I don’t lose control.’ You can send your child to his/her room to watch TV, to read a book — whatever it takes to give you a few moments to yourself. Or you can leave the room yourself. Go for a walk, take a shower — just remove yourself.

Express yourself: Dr Phil’s website explains, “People get physical when they run out of ways to express themselves. Learn to express your rage in a non-violent way. Write down everything you are feeling. This is a good thing to do after you have removed yourself.

Call for support: Dr. Phil advises, “You can’t always handle everything on your own. Be accountable to someone else, and lean on that person when you’re on the verge of harming your children. Your support person could be a parent, spouse, friend, pastor or another mom.

 

We hope these resources have been helpful. Anyone struggling with abuse should not have to face it alone, get help today.

Asking the Toughest Question: Am I An Abusive Parent?

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17 responses to “Asking the Toughest Question: Am I An Abusive Parent?”

  1. Cheri says:

    Thank you. I raised 4 children, and was an abusive parent. I sought help, and was in an abusive relationship myself, but could not to this day swear that I would not freak out and lose control if I had my life to live over. I don’t yet know that I have that control. My kids are in their 30s and 40s now. All 4 kids say that they have forgiven me, that they always knew that I loved them and that the situation (poverty, extreme heat with no a/c, undiagnosed anxiety attacks, a mentally ill parent to attend to, and an abusive mate) contributed to the situation. But I do not forgive myself, and don’t know how I could even if I were willing to. All my life growing up, all my dreams were of being a parent. I wanted children more than anything, and no matter what else I dreamed of, I wanted to be a good parent. And I failed miserably, and caused physical and emotional pain to those I loved most and was responsible for protecting. I know other mothers who carry that shame as well. We look at our children with pride at how great they turned out, knowing that it was in spite of us, not because of us. And always, always, we are ashamed.

    • Jackson says:

      I am also struggling to control my anger and physical responses around my kids – they are still young but i know i have done damage and want to stop. As u say, the last thing i want to have to look back and say is that they succeed despite me, not with my help. I am sorry and ashamed and i do love them so much…i could give u many reasons why i struggle these days but at the end of the day, theyre cchildren and all they deserve is to be loved, protected and treated well, regardless. I hope u can forgive urself, and i hope i can become the parent i want to be and thereby forgive myself and heal some of the hurt ive caused too.

    • gracecalling says:

      You should forgive yourself. My parents were abusive and never have really admitted it and still blameshift. It sounds like you have taken responsibility for your own choices. To me just hearing my parents say that they had abused me would be a big relief rather than them denying it. Also Jesus forgives you, if you turn to His salvation and grace. He loves you.

  2. anon says:

    Wow, that comment was incredibly honest. I can relate.

  3. Marie E Medina says:

    I’m almost 50 & my kids are in their teens. I was in an emotionally & physically abusive home & swore to God & all of heaven that I would never treat my own children that way, but I do emotionally abuse my children AND my husband (and I think I drove my husband to it too now), & now I just want to get help but I don’t know where to go. I know that it stems from more than just being abused by my parents. I am pretty sure that I was bullied by many others & the shame I have, knowing what is like to be bullied and abused is almost so overwhelming that I feel like I don’t deserve getting help… but my family does deserve me getting help. I love them too much Not to.

    • Davd Brown says:

      Most likely you have had the behavior you are ashamed about modeled to you. It’s not your fault that you don’t have the resources to get a hold on your reactivity. The first step in your healing process is to own your behavior, which you have done quite publicly. This takes a lot of courage. Hopefully you have started working with a therapist who is helping to heal your wounding and teaching you how to be a loving compassionate parent to your own shame. Once you learn how to love yourself and your parts, even the ones that feel shame, then you will start being more accountable in your relationship with your children. You are not alone and you didn’t deserve to be mistreated just as your children don’t. No matter what you think you’ve done, you deserve forgiveness and love. Good luck in your process.

  4. Marie E Medina says:

    Where do you go to get help if you’re an abuser?

  5. carrie says:

    This is so hard. I want to stop. I feel so hopeless that I cannot change. I need help. Can I change? Can I help my kids?

  6. Michelle says:

    I was an abusive parent. I realized it when I started taking off my kids’ clothes to whip them with the belt. My son made a recording of me whipping my daughter when she was naked, and her screams just made me sick. I couldn’t believe I was the one doing this to her. I stopped using all forms of spanking and got counseling for all of us. I’m so glad I was able to change, and so are my kids!

    • T says:

      This is sick. I cry for your daughter.

    • Lydia says:

      The other reply to your comment is disgusting and I had to also reply after reading it. You have recognized and taken accountability and incredible action where many parents do not. I think that is incredibly commendable. Getting help is so hard and I look up to you for doing so. Our story might not be the exact same but I sure hope I can work for the same outcome some day.

  7. Sara Utter says:

    I am a parent to two teenaged daughters, one just turned 18 and the other is 13. My youngest was diagnosed with a sensory integration disorder around age 2. She hated her car seat from four months old and was very picky about how clothing would fit and feel…I am pretty sure that if they knew what it was when I was a kid, I would have been diagnosed with it as well. I have always been understanding towards how she felt, unlike everyone else who would say to just “make her wear….” whatever she was having a problem with. She was also diagnosed with anxiety very young. She is very shy and used to be very attached to me. I know I am a bit of an overprotective mother. I am with everyone I care about, not just my kids. However, I was always more concerned about my youngest because I knew how she felt and wanted to help her. My oldest was always a friendly and outgoing kid. She made friends wherever we would go.
    Growing up, my dad (who I didn’t know was not biologically my dad until I was 17) always treated my younger sister different than me (obviously, I figured out why). I was screamed at and spanked for any and everything- my school binder wasn’t organized the way he thought it should be, a friend gave us a popsicle…literallly anything. I am not saying he never spanked my sister, but usually it was just me. My mom would rarely be home at the same time as my dad, so she was somewhat oblivious to it. My dad and I also had our moments where we got along, so it wasn’t all bad.
    As I have gotten older I have been diagnosed with several chronic illnesses. I am getting more and more run down. My house is a mess and, no matter how often I ask for help from anyone, I am just expected to continue taking care of everyone and everything. My kids used to be better about helping out around the house, but, now, it is impossible to get them to help without being asked repeatedly and ignored until I get frustrated and yell. They constantly tell me that whenever they try to help, I just get mad…they’re reason is that I go move things around in the dishwasher to get more dishes to fit, or I asked where something was put away. I feel terrible and guilty whenever I get that upset and apologize.
    I have (within the last year) seen some things my youngest has written (it was in my old notebook from college and I didn’t know why it was on the couch) about how unhappy she is living with me. She says she doesn’t feel loved by me, she wants to live anywhere but with me and her dad, how she has been mentally abused her whole life. I tried talking to her about what I saw and she was upset with me for looking through my notebook she left out. I am at a complete loss for what I am doing wrong. I am trying to work on my health and not get so frustrated with everyone in general. I have tried to make my kids happy and make sure they are healthy. I love my kids and want nothing more than for them to be happy and know they are loved. Am I emotionally abusing my kids?

  8. Joy Hiffmann says:

    I was an abusive mother.My adult children are beautiful ,loving parents.
    But I know that their lack of attention to me says volumes about their feelings about me.
    I have not told them about my diagnosis because then they would probably give me more attention just because they would feel they had to.
    I cannot forgive myself and have been diagnosed with a no cure disease.
    I have written a letter to my
    Children and asked for forgiveness and owned up to my behavior with them as they were growing up.
    But my last days are pure hell with the horrible guilt I feel.
    So…..as is said ‘ you reap what you sow’
    I deserve this sadness and loneliness .
    Their choices were to not be like me but rather be loving parents.

  9. sophie says:

    I feel unfortunate that all my parents are abusive. My mom, dad and step mom are all abusive. And for years they successfully managed to convince me that I made them treat me this way because of my inadequacies in order to abuse me while having no need to take responsibility for their behaviors. They always shift the lime light on me through the blame, criticism and shame and not self evaluate and ask themselves if they are using healthy methods to communicate or discipline me. I do feel like I had some kind of late mental development because of these treatments. I caught up now that I’m an adult but my childhood is just ruined and I am deprived of healthy parental relationships and the aftermath will forever accompany me until I die.

    • Davd Brown says:

      I too am the child of emotional and physical abuse and I sometimes feel like I’ll never heal. As I’ve worked on healing the parts of myself that I’ve abandoned, with love and compassion, I’ve been able to turn these wounds into gifts that allow me to help others with similar wounds. We can turn our greatest wounds into the powerful medicine that we hold for others. And yes, it take a tremendous mount of work and constant vigilance, probably until the end of our lives. In the end it is our responsibility to heal and not only forgive our very flawed caregivers, but also to forgive the parts of ourself that still might believe we deserved to treated that way. Best of luck in your process.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I was looking for resources tonight. my daughter tried to down pills and wont tell me anything that’s happening in her life, especially with boyfriends. I have to find out through her sister. I have a history of mental illness (more severe depression and anxiety) and i am worried that my behaviors are emotionally abusive to my daughter. i see so many articles telling teens to just leave their parents and to cut ties but what about the parents who simply want to heal themselves and make their kids lives better? i know it takes a great deal of effort and therapy but to all the teens who think their parents don’t love them because of the criticisms and arguments, i can assure you some of us still do. my daughter left home to stay with my parents. it is the biggest void i’ve ever felt in my life besides my own trauma and abuse before. this feels like a nightmare and i truly need help but everyone seems to feel disgust toward those who may have altered perceptions themselves. to my daughter, you are still my sunshine and my heart breaks for you.

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