Sunday, Dec 17, 2017 | Last Update : 02:05 AM IST

Parental neglect, emotional, physical abuse can have a life-long impact on kids

The author is a renowned child and adolescent psychiatrist, medical director Mpower, CEO The Aditya Birla Integrated School
Published : Nov 12, 2017, 2:29 am IST
Updated : Nov 12, 2017, 2:32 am IST

The sad part is that these parents are not criminals, sociopaths or psychopaths.

Child abuse is not just corporal punishment, physical aggression or pain. It manifests in many forms. (Representational image)
 Child abuse is not just corporal punishment, physical aggression or pain. It manifests in many forms. (Representational image)

One cannot imagine harming or hurting a child, leave alone fathom why some perpetrators are the parents of the child. Child abuse is not just corporal punishment, physical aggression or pain. It manifests in many forms. It is the verbal, psychological, emotional abuse and neglect that often leaves deeper scars. It can shatter a childhood and future life. It’s not just fractured ribs, violent shaking, bruised arms or burn marks — it’s sometimes even death. Yes, some parents even take the life of their own child.

The sad part is that these parents are not criminals, sociopaths or psychopaths. They are usually victims of severe abuse themselves, which perpetuates these acts. Most may have a mental health problem, an illness and in many cases are substance abusers.

Sometimes they may have circumstantial traumas, stressors and frustrations that are so grave that they feel that there is no other option or way. They feel trapped and helpless. Such parents may even commit suicide themselves. One thinks that these tragic acts happen only rarely or occur within lower socio-economic backgrounds, but the truth is that it can happen across any economic status, irrespective of race, religion, culture or financial status.

Emotional abuse: It’s the most common kind of abuse that can lead to psychological and mental health problems in children and adversely affect their development or academic progress. Their overall sense of self gets damaged.

Name-calling, verbally abusing, shaming, humiliating, insulting, negative comparisons and rejecting are some of the most harmful forms. Some parents tell their children that they are “mistakes” and call them worthless, bad, and no good. They’re bullied, threatened, emotionally blackmailed and also exposed to other forms of violence.

Such children develop deep insecurities; they have very low self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence. They find it difficult to trust people and maintain meaningful relationships. They feel unsafe, alone, and are highly prone to anxiety, panic attacks, depression and other mental health problems. Abused children cannot express emotions safely. As a result, their emotions get repressed and come out in unexpected ways.

Anger management is a big problem for such children and some of them end up getting aggressive in their environment. Some may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the painful feelings of the past.

Neglect: Many parents are unable to fulfil their children’s basic needs, such as clothing, food, nourishment and shelter. Such parents may be extremely troubled or afflicted by an untreated mental health disorder; or be substance abusers. Even basic supervision and security may not be present.

Some parents just don't have basic parenting skills or empathy. There is no love, physical care, involvement or conversations. Children of such parents may in turn never know how to be good parents themselves.

Physical abuse: Some parents blur the line between discipline and punishment. They may also believe that this is the right way of behavioural management and do not see it as physical abuse. In such environments, the child grows up with a severe sense of unpredictability. The child never knows what is going to set the parent off. There is no structure, clear boundaries or rules. The child is constantly walking on eggshells, never sure what behaviour will trigger a physical assault.

Physically abusive parents act out of anger with the desire to assert control. There is no patience or navigating through discipline with explanations. Such parents use fear to control behaviour. Unfortunately, all the kids learn is that when they are frustrated or angry, they need to lash out physically.

However, they’re quick to learn how to protect themselves and avoid being hit. Some abused children when they grow up believe that corporal punishment is justified when they become parents.

Physically abused children frequently have unexplained cuts, bruises or welts. They’re always on edge, have limited eye contact, are socially withdrawn or have a startled response to a touch or normal movements. They may shy away or flinch when touched. Their mood and body language may change in the presence of their parents and they may not like going home.

Parenting is challenging and for some individuals it’s daunting. They feel overwhelmed, stressed, and always strapped for time. Their own traumas or past always seem to haunt them and remain in the present functioning of their lives.
Most abused children grow up to become beautiful human beings with far more insight, mindfulness and empathy. They vow they will never repeat what happened to them. They maturely let go of the past and even learn to slowly understand and forgive their abusive parents. These individuals become parents who will be far more insightful, empathic and intuitive towards their children.

Abusive parents need help. With more awareness, insight, preventive measures and timely intervention through counselling or psychiatric assistance, amazing transitions could happen.

I said: what about my eyes?
He said: Keep them on the road.
I said: what about my passion?
He said: Keep it burning.
I said: what about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: pain and sorrow?
He said: ...stay with it.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you
    — Rumi

Tags: child abuse, parental abuse