So where does it begin?

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Any kind of abuse in childhood has life-long consequences. Even to watch one parent being abused by the other has long-term effects upon the children.  “They have been found to exhibit virtually every symptom that appears in children who are being abused directly,” explains Lundy Bancroft.Parents’ statements and behaviours are probably the single greatest influence on the development of children’s values and on how they perceive other people and themselves. Children’s parents are their first and foremost source of sex-role definition and identification.”

There is a depth of psychological cruelty without physical violence that an abuser can perpetrate which can be kept hidden behind the most impressive facade. But most children of an abused parent are aware that the other parent does these things – even if the parents don’t think they know.

sad-girl

Children growing up in an atmosphere of verbal abuse by the father can gradually come to look down on their mother as a parent, having absorbed the abuser’s messages that she is immature, irrational, illogical and incompetent. They can learn to see their mother through the eyes of their father.

Children who see or hear their father belittle their mother, silence her, walk away and ignore her learn that such behaviour towards her is both acceptable and effective. Even disparaging humour can condition the thinking of children: “Our research demonstrates that exposure to sexist humour can create conditions that allow men – especially those who have antagonistic attitudes toward women – to express those attitudes in their behaviour,” said Professor Ford of the psychology department at WCU. “The acceptance of sexist humour leads men to believe that sexist behavior falls within the bounds of social acceptability.”

Reverse perceptions

Research studies have found that posttraumatic stress disorders are not uncommon in women who have been verbally abused by their partners. An abuser can naturally step out of the bad effects of an abusive incident much more quickly than the abused woman can. It is therefore not surprising that abusers are sometimes able to reverse their children’s perceptions so that they see Mother as the volatile or unreasonable  one despite the abuse they witness.

The abuser may have indoctrinated their children to perceive their abused mother as over-emotional,  even  though he has been the cause of her trauma.

Powerful Low Key Shot of a Sad Young Blonde Child

The children’s reactions in this regard are entirely understandable, but the mother can find herself in an impossible situation that leads to more distance and tension between her and her children. Her partner’s behaviour damages the mother-child relationship, and it can take both time and outside assistance for mothers and children to reestablish a strong and trusting connection.

Children growing up in an atmosphere of even mild abuse are unlikely to have ever heard their father praise their mother, so they are conditioned by what is missing from the relationship as much as by what is wrong in it. They, in turn, may never respect or  praise their Mother, seeing only the long-term effects of posttraumatic stress, but not recognising it for what it is.

And the absence of respect is just one aspect of what is missing from the relationship; friendship, mutual support and validation are other missing things that can impair the children’s ability to form healthy relationships later in life.

To the next generation

Thus an abuser passes on his thinking to the next generation. He in effect recruits his sons to the ranks of abusive men. Boys who are exposed to the abuse of their mothers are often disrespectful of and aggressive towards their peers, targeting females in particular for their hostility.

Sons of abusive men tend to be disparaging of and superior to girls and women. When they reach adolescence, for example, they may lack empathy for girls, having been conditioned by their fathers to shut themselves off from caring about the feelings of females.

This is not always the case of course. The son may grow up to be very protective of women, having seen the hurt that abuse causes. Or he may grow up and meet and marry a woman he does respect and so experiences a very different kind of relationship. All too often, sadly, his flawed perceptions of women are ‘hardwired into his brain’ and his distorted perceptions perpetuate the abuse.

insecure-woman

To a lesser extent an abuser also recruits his daughters to join the ranks of abused women. Daughters of abusive men often have have profound self-esteem problems.  Abusive mothers can also damage their children’s sense of self-worth. This training can make it harder for the grown-up children  to recognise when they are being mistreated and to stand up for themselves. They may meet and marry someone who respects and validates them, and their sense of self-worth is gradually restored.

Tragically, however, these daughters (and even some sons) can become people-pleasers as they strive to gain the approval that was denied them in their crucial childhood years. “The things you believe in your heart, as opposed to your head, are the things you live by” said one woman. “It’s hard to even spot them, let alone explain them; they are so much a core part of you.”

The things you believe in your heart!

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