“Fear of breaking family loyalty is one of the greatest stumbling blockages to recovery. Yet, until we admit certain things we would rather excuse or deny, we cannot truly begin to put the past in the past, and leave it there once and for all. Unless we do that, we cannot even begin to think of having a future that is fully ours, untethered to the past, and we will be destined to repeat it.” – Ronald Allen Schulz

“You’re a survivor because every day you make a choice not to be governed by their harsh words or actions. No one has the right to take away your happiness” – Assunta HarrisA Sheep Amongst Wolves

Trauma experienced in one generation of a family can affect following generations unless the cycle is broken. So what causes parental abuse? The two major causes appear to be either a personality disorder or generational cycles of abuse which are passed down by example and exposure from parents to children. Episodes of abuse are repeated creating a pattern involving at least two individuals within a family system which includes child abuse, spousal abuse or the abuse of elders.  

A male child who is repeatedly verbally or physically abused by his father is far more likely to treat his own children in the same way when he becomes a man. If a female child witnesses her mother frequently belittling or severely criticising her father will probably grow into a woman whose learned behaviour will involve seeking to control her partners by using verbal abuse. A young child who observes his or her parents engaging in abusive conduct towards each other is quite likely to subject their partner to the same type of abusive patterns when they become men and women. Adults who were emotionally or physically abused as children may enter relationships where they abuse others with anger management issues being common among victims of emotional abuse along with depression, anxiety and substance use. This is known as ‘Generational Abuse’ or ‘Inter-Generational Abuse’ which occurs when there has been either physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect of a child or where domestic violence has been witnessed by young eyes which is eventually re-enacted when the child becomes an adult. Basically, this abuse is learnt behaviour passed down from the parent to the child who is then likely as an adult to continue the cycle.

Episodic Cycles of abuse by parents are characterized by behaviour that result in extreme episodes of verbal and/or physical abuse. Often adult victims of parental abuse live in denial of the repeating pattern which allows the cycle to continue. As children we relied on our parents for survival, had a natural instinct to love them, looked to them to meet our needs and usually felt a duty to be protective but these are not reason’s to accept any type of abuse from a parent as an adult. If we defend or even worse repeat the destructive actions of our parents or caretakers, we become part of the Generational Abuse pattern perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

How To Do You Parent Your Children?

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin (1924 -1987) American Novelist, Essayist, Playwright, Poet & Social Critic

In extreme circumstances when parents are traumatized by a life event their children are usually negatively affected. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues can impair their ability to parent effectively. Appropriate parent/child roles and boundaries may be blurred or deeply compromised while the parent is recovering and these types of boundary distortions can interfere with the proper development of a child. For example, some children can attempt to care for their weakened parent in certain situations and this can lead to co-dependency issues with the adult child entering relationships where their own needs are rarely satisfied. What was your childhood like? If you suffered abuse as a child you could be subconsciously acting out learnt behaviours. Here are some techniques that may help in the short term:    

Write a Narrative of Your Childhood Story: Several studies reveal unresolved trauma in a person’s life can negatively affect his or her children. You can become a far better parent by being totally honest with yourself and facing the full pain of any childhood trauma and writing an account of your childhood and/or teenage years that makes sense. This means observing your parents realistically as flawed individuals; this exercise doesn’t mean wallowing in the past or focusing blame, but for you to gain a better understanding of the childhood experiences that made you the adult you are today. It may be painful but necessary to discover if there are any unresolved issues that may be influencing your behaviour. If you identify patterns that you dislike these can be changed. A parent can always choose how they want to be with their children rather than being unconsciously influenced by the past.

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Learn Calming Techniques: Always think before you act and practice co-operative communication with your child or children; seek to assist in their understanding and help them to make sense of their experiences while providing encouragement for them to recognize and speak about their emotions. This will help them to formulate their own story throughout their lives which can lead to increased psychological resilience and overall emotional well-being. Certain tense moments with your children can trigger emotions from your past and these are the times you are more likely to lose your temper or act irrationally in response to a situation. This is why it is essential to learn techniques to calm down before reacting negatively. For example you could take several deep breaths, count to 10 slowly in your mind or softly out loud, go for a walk or choose to listen to some relaxing music.

Lead By Example: Primarilychildren learn notby what parents may say but what they do. Aggressive behaviour towards young children often creates more aggressive children. Learning different ways to stay calm and regulate your emotions whenever you are feeling stressed out will help your children to be much better prepared to adopt the same strategies when they become adults.

Build a Secure Attachment: When parents lose control of their emotions becoming intimidating and lashing out at their children, they teach them the parent is to be feared. This can cause severe rifts regarding the parent/child attachment style and damage the child’s sense of well-being and security. Children require limits, but also have to know they can trust you. If your child is afraid of you, they are very unlikely to feel relaxed in your presence. A child develops positively when their parents serve as a secure and consistent base from which they can go out and explore the world.

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Reconciliation: We are allhuman and that means when it comes to parenting no one is likely to be 100% perfect all of the time. Dr. Daniel Siegel, co-author of ‘No-Drama Discipline’ advocates parents talking to their children after a destructive encounter while seeking to repair the relationship which involves first listening to how their child feels about what happened. The parent should then try to see it from the child’s perspective and explain what he or she feeling during the incident. Finally the parent should apologize for any mistreatment, demonstrating to the child how to use their words. This helps children to make sense of their experience and re-establishes trust between the parent and child. However, this isn’t a technique that can be used repeatedly; if a parent is consistently being emotionally/physically abusive towards their child counselling or third party intervention will be required.

Childhood physical abuse is often perpetrated under the guise of providing discipline for children who are abused. Adults who have been abused as children may believe abusive tactics are appropriate to teach and discipline their children and so the Generational Abuse continues to be passed from one generation to the next. Abuse and violence only creates more of the same and can never be justified by claiming these tactics are used to teach a child to behave properly. The majority of parents want the trust and respect of their children but this can only be earned when parents act with love, integrity and maturity and respect their children as the separate individuals. This isn’t about seeking to lecture parents about how they should treat their children but to provide information on stopping a potential cycle of destruction that could leave lasting emotional scars on future generations. There are many effective ways to discipline a child, but any type of abuse is simply not acceptable. If you are struggling with any parenting issues seek professional guidance and support as soon as possible.