Once upon a time, a baby boy was born to one very loving parent and (sadly) to one very harmful parent. No matter how loving the loving parent was, and no matter how much the little boy tried to connect with the harmful parent, the harmful parent hurt the child.
This child was a victim of child abuse—a long-term stress that the brain is not built to endure. An abuser violates a child like this by choosing to:
emotionally neglect the child
call the child names
demean the child
insult the child
shame the child
humiliate the child
swear at the child
criticize the child’s strengths and achievements
tell the child they can’t do anything right
prevent the child from attending meaningful activities
manipulate the child to speak first, to discover the child’s weaknesses
use the child’s weaknesses to exploit the child
threaten to create the child’s worst fear
manipulate the child to do unwanted acts
bully the child, claiming “expert” authority to do so
imitate, mock, and use sarcasm on the child
gas-light the child
stage negative surprises on the child
stalk the child
confront the child where the abuser holds power
direct intimidating stares toward the child
direct intimidating tones toward the child
direct intimidating body language toward the child
threaten the child with violence (even if it isn’t carried out)
abuse others in front of the child
shout at the child
rage at the child
damage the child’s belongings
chase down the child
pull the child’s hair
drag the child by the hair
bite the child
slap the child
hit the child
punch the child
kick the child
don’t allow the child to eat or sleep safely
play dumb to the child’s needs
fake frailty in front of the child
force the child to fulfill the abuser’s responsibilities
refuse to respond to the child’s calls/messages
manipulate facts when talking to the child: lie, exaggerate, understate, accuse
twist stories about the child to present the child as someone they’re not
spread unfathomable rumors, far and wide, about the child
deny abusing the child
minimize abuse of the child
make excuses for abusing the child
claim someone else abused the child
mock the abuse of the child
refuse to take responsibility for abusing the child
sarcastically/meaningfully/never apologize for the abuse—then repeat the abuse
force the child to apologize for the abuser’s abuse
delay fact finding to protect the abuser from accountability
etc. (sadly, there are many more ways to abuse)
Many people believe a child isn’t abused unless someone witnesses the abuse. Many people believe a child isn’t abused unless someone sees bruises on a child. Many people believe child abuse ends at a certain age, place, or time. However, it’s vital to know:
child abuse happens when nobody is around to witness it
child abuse happens quietly, around a corner
child abuse happens slyly, in conversation
child abuse happens sarcastically, in front of guests
child abuse happens angrily, out in the open
child abuse happens every night, after the abuser walks through the door
child abuse happens right before the abuser happily answers the phone
child abuse happens right before the abuser smiles and welcomes guests to a party
abused children often do everything in their power to hide the abuse
abuse toward the child, all too often, continues on and on—daily, weekly, monthly—for years, even after the child is grown
Many people believe child abuse can be easily overcome, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Science tells us that child abuse is like taking snippers to a child’s brain, cutting the brain’s wiring, forcing the brain to rewire itself, which can trigger brain damage. This can cause the child to potentially suffer a lifetime of permanent challenges, such as:
the inability to tell the difference between safety and danger
the inability to trust those closest to them
the inability to interpret neutral information as neutral
the inability to control impulses
the inability to remember
the inability to learn
the inability to use serotonin (the neurotransmitter that creates a sense of well-being and emotional stability)
If all of this was not devastating enough, victims of child abuse receive a default destiny: they are more likely to live a future that is filled with more abuse.
Victims of child abuse often believe they are experiencing a life that is normal. Victims of abuse often don’t realize they are actually being abused.
So victims of abuse often don’t know what non-abusive humans look like, sound like, or act like. Also, healthy behaviors can feel odd or uncomfortable to a victim. This can make it hard for a victim to trust healthy people, emotions or situations…especially for prolonged periods of time.
Victims of abuse do know what looks and feels familiar to them, which they can be unwittingly drawn to. So a victim of abuse, while growing up, can be easily drawn to, surrounded by, and victimized by more abusers. Abusers can be female or male, young or old, rich or poor.
Tragically, a victim may unwittingly live out their entire life with abusers due to the impact of abuse on the victim’s neurochemistry.
Some of the reasons an abuser will abuse their victims:
abusers witnessed abuse while growing up
abusers were abused while growing up
abusers were taught/encouraged to abuse
abusers have a thinking pattern (value system) that rationalizes/justifies abuse
abusers maintain relationships so they can violate—exercise power and control over—their victims
abusers suppress their victim’s potential
abusers exploit their victim
abusers manipulate their victim into taking unwanted action
abusers make their victim feel inferior
abusers malign their victim
abusers make their victim look and feel bad in the eyes of others
abusers intentionally confuse their victim
abusers force their victim off balance
abusers make their victim feel fear/uncertainty
abusers manipulate their victim into handling the abuser’s responsibilities
abusers manipulate their victim into acquiescing to the abuser’s demands
abusers malign their victim for doing what the abuser told the victim to do
abusers work hard to hide an abuser’s flaws, weaknesses, and abuse
abusers want to feel psychologically superior
abusers don’t care if they harm their victims
abusers are filled with jealousy because they cannot connect lovingly with others (such as with their spouse or child, ironically often due to the abuse the abuser inflicts on these victims)
Nobody is immune from becoming a victim of abuse. Abusers can capture you, too, and you may never even realize it.
The most unimaginable form of abuse: when an abuser takes something innocent and twists it into something dirty…to scare the victim into quietly submitting to the abuser…and to prevent the victim from doing things like bonding with their very own child.
When an abuser can no longer control their victim, an abuser will control what others think of their victim. Meaning, the abuser will double-down on the victim, through conversations with others.
As master manipulators, if an abuser doesn’t have information with which they can harm their victim, the abuser will search their own brain for something only an abuser could fathom. And the more time one spends listening to an abuser, the more likely one is to believe what that abuser says.
This means that every time a third party automatically believes an abuser, that third party and the abuser both take part in:
killing the victim’s spirit
killing the victim’s self-worth
killing the victim’s self-confidence
killing the victim’s self-respect
killing the victim’s reality
killing the victim’s truth
killing the victim’s reputation
killing the victim’s safety
killing the victim’s health
This re-traumatizes a victim, over and over. Rarely is there a clean escape from abuse.
One never imagines that they’ll be abused at the exact time that they most need to be loved.
A victim often gives an abuser the benefit of the doubt, over and over. A victim often believes that, in their moment of need, an abuser will be loving…at least then. A victim often trusts that nobody could be so heinous as to want to harm the victim—emotionally, psychologically, verbally, or otherwise—when the victim is most in need of loving care.
May you never witness such heartbreak.
There are no words to prepare one for the loss of their beloved parent.
Especially if it’s a beloved parent who never laid a hand on you. Especially if it’s a beloved parent who gently held, snuggled, carried, and comforted you as a child. Especially if it’s a beloved parent who was abused.
Below are some resources that help demystify so much about abusers, including when an abuser is also mentally ill (which is never an excuse for abuse).
These resources help us understand more about the lifetime impact abuse that has on victims and on our communities.
While most abuse resources are written with the assumption that an abuser is always male, it’s important that we always remember that we now know an abuser can be female or male, young or old, rich or poor….and that there is never, ever, an excuse for abuse.
Why Does He Do That? (Again, this could be called “Why Does She Do That?”)
The Gift of Fear And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence
To better understand abusers with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):
To better understand how an abuser impacts the entire lifetime of a victim: