When I work with adult children suffering from childhood trauma, the hardest thing to believe is also to help them move on.
There are so many different and mixed messages that a child can receive when they are emotionally, physically, sexually, and/or financially abused that it looks like neglect. (Think of parents being deprived of the literal care of bathing, dressing, and feeding a child, leaving it up to them.) When childhood trauma occurs over a long period of time, the consequences are even more devastating. The same emotional patterns of parental behavior often continue into adulthood, even though the parent no longer has physical or financial control over the adult child.
The damage or aftermath of childhood trauma continues even when the parent dies or becomes mentally disabled, such as dementia. Then guilt often enters the picture. The harm experienced by adult children is severe, widespread, persistent and predictable.
The harm experienced by adult children is severe, widespread, persistent, and predictable.–Page Rutledge, LCSW
Below are some of the messages received as a result of abuse, but they are by no means all-inclusive.
- Being sexually abused by a parent or relative, especially when the parent knows and won’t intervene or even denies it.
- Simply not providing the emotional connection that makes a child feel loved, seen, and heard—emotional neglect is silently deadly.
- Favoring one or more children over another, even eventually excluding them from family events.
- Refusal to identify a child’s sex or gender when it conflicts with the parent’s belief system. This denial often leads to suicide for the child.
- Parents who are overly controlling or expect too much from the child or areas of success that are beyond the child’s abilities and aspirations.
- Making a child a “problem child” by deeming them overly sensitive.
- Excluding a child due to a romantic partner, career choice, or lifestyle choice.
Limited Thinking and Limited Emotional Capacity
Many abusive parents have come from their own troubled families. This is a generational problem. Often they have very limited ideas or limited emotional capacity to think through their options. Unfortunately, they will not change, even though the child longs for this change. Longing for a parent who loves them for who they are without constantly trying to figure something out they are her child needs (and will never get).
Damage from Childhood Trauma
As you move into adulthood, the damage from these forms of abuse can be very, very, often devastating. It covers different shades from molesting one’s own children to committing suicide. It is common for these adult children to not be able to move on and build a happy life for themselves and their families. Being emotionally insecure in adult relationships is also a common outcome that repeats itself over and over again.
Happily, many go 180 degrees in the opposite direction, focusing on being the best partner they can be or the best parent they can be. This also has the potential downside of perfectionism and overwhelming people-pleasing.
The Hardest Thing to Believe
But for most of these grown children, this is the hardest thing to believe. You are worthy and worth it. You are enough. This core belief of feeling unworthy is hard to change. This is the most difficult job any adult can choose. But, oh, it’s so worth it. This deeply held belief that “if my parents can treat me like this, I must be worthless” is hard to change.
Bringing Light to the Hard to See
Bringing light to your childhood traumas, what happened to you, and how it affected your choices can be a difficult process. It creates sadness for things you lost or never got. But it is light for you, it does not discriminate good or bad. It reveals.
But if you’re willing to love yourself and set boundaries that make you feel safe, you can. Learning to say no. Allow yourself to say yes when you choose to do so. Yes, you deserve the future you want and just being you.
If you want it for yourself, contact me here. Get started now. There is no better “revenge” for yourself than success. There are many forms of success, not the least of which is self-worth. Acknowledging your anger and talking about it with someone you trust and setting clear boundaries are proven ways to move past such deep wounds. You can do it for yourself and your loved ones.
A resource for you: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD, 2015