The concept of abuse is now more accepted as being more common than once thought, and often spanning across generations of families. Victims of abuse may not be aware that the family system they were raised in was dysfunctional or that the way in which they were parented included some abusive dynamics.
This is because they have accepted the abuse as normal which means as adults they are more likely to enter abusive relationships and to tolerate abuse as normal. Australian studies show that 75 per cent of all mental illness begins before the age of 25, and that the underfunded nature of mental health care in Australia will mean that only 13 per cent of men under age 25, as well as only 31 per cent of women under the same age, will get help and care for their issues.
Many go on to remain undiagnosed or treated, and become parents in this state. Abuse occurs typically when parents, or extended family members have an undiagnosed issue or are generational abuse survivors themselves.
In many cultures previous generations were effectively in survival mode, and earlier last century many families struggled through two world wars and a major economic Depression. These world events created trauma in adults across generations which in turn affected family system dynamics from those times even up until today in some cases.
Parenting skills have been found to suffer under the conditions endured by some families as well as more recent breakdown of family values, nuclear families, societal systems, religious and church institutions. Some basic roles of parents in regard to dealing with their children are as follows:
- To take care of the emotional needs of the children.
- To be fans of the children and give them your energy.
- To give them attention and love.
- To give them touch.
- To allow them to be who they are.
- To teach them boundaries, what’s OK and what’s not OK.
- To model the value of experimenting and learning from mistakes.
- To model humanness and allow the children to see vulnerability and feelings.
- To model to the children they are valuable, including them and listening to them, communicating literally.
- To love the children.
- To provide food, shelter, clothing, safety and education.
Unfortunately for whatever the cause the outcome sometimes become chaotic, dysfunctional or enmeshed and the following outcomes are the result:
- The child is required to take care of the emotional and/or physical needs of the parents.
- The children are required to be fans of the parents and give parents their energy.
- The belief is if you give the children too much attention you will spoil the child and anyway, there just isn’t enough time.
- There is not enough touch or none at all, except for punishment.
- The children must become who the parents want or need them to be, as stereotypes or idealized images, not seen for who they are.
- There are rules which do not apply, or only sometimes, or for only some in the family, or there are no rules at all.
- The parents model perfectionism and extreme goodism where they never make mistakes and do not show their feelings.
- Exclude, depersonalize and objectify the children. Communication is mostly by telling, teaching, and interrogating.
- Parents own the children.
- Parents physically, emotionally, sexually, or spiritually abuse the children.
A recent 2010 study of nearly 1000 Western Australian children aged between ages 5 to 18, found that our children are collectively suffering unhealthy levels of stress, bullying, abandonment, neglect and being rendered feeling unsafe in their community and own homes. The survey found that:
- 35% of children have too much stress in their life.
- 60% had been bullied.
- 44% had bullied someone else.
- 40% did not feel safe on public transport during the day, and 79% at night.
- 19% did not feel safe at home.
- 42% of primary school age children did not feel safe in public places.
- 38% did not have someone to talk to and preferred to keep problems to themself.
- More than 55% of children wanted to spend more time with their family.
- Most reported stress factors included family conflict, school, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse by adults in their home environment, and worry over friend’s welfare.
- More than 30% felt their parents expected too much of them.
The results were described by professional child psychologists as significant and alarming.
Whether it is in the form of domestic violence, sexual abuse, child abuse, emotional abuse, or some other form of trauma, it is now understood that these experiences can have lifelong effects on their victims. Sometimes the abuse is still happening when a child leaves home and they then simply recreate it in other adult situations.
Regardless of whether abuse has occurred in childhood or adulthood, the sufferers often report symptoms including:
- anxiety and panic
- difficulty establishing or maintaining intimate relationships
- sexual difficulties
- addictions or compulsions
- eating disorders
- self harm or;
- other emotional issues including feelings of emptiness, a lack of reality, extreme mood fluctuations or difficulty managing anger.
As a general rule, the earlier the abuse started, plus the intensity and frequency of the abuse, all dictate to what degree the resulting range and severity of emotional and psychological impairment may result.
If you are concerned about any of these symptoms and either are suffering abuse now or have suffered abuse in the past you may wish to consider contacting a therapist with experience treating these conditions. It is hard for some people to recognise they have been or are now being abused.
Any unwanted attention has the potential to contain abusive aspects in it. There are numerous government and private organisations in each state of Australia which are setup to deal with various types of abuse.
All such organisations and services have information and help available to assist you in getting out of an abusive situation you might currently be in, or to help you recover from the emotional, physical and psychological symptoms you may have as a result of having being abused in the past. We work extensively with various types of abuse.
When abuse has occurred, it is common that the abused child will develop emotional or psychological problems because of being traumatized, such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and/or other anxiety disorders. It is also true that different children in the same family system will attempt to cope with abuse in varying ways and to varying degrees of success.
Each individual will respond differently to abuse than others will. It is possible for one person who was chronically, severely abused to not have developed as many or the same psychological symptoms from the abuse as another person who went through the same type of trauma.
Some people have more resilience than others, while others are for a time are able to repress or disown conscious memory of the abuse. Despite the various coping mechanisms and individual differences in the way we are able to respond to abuse, there are some common symptoms of child abuse which typically manifest in adulthood:
- Low self-esteem
- Strong feelings of insecurity or fear in close relationships,
- Difficulty developing healthy, long-term relationships
- Anxiety, panic, depression, or recurrent suicidal thoughts
- Eating disorders
- Recurring thoughts or memories of past abuse
- Difficulty expressing or controlling anger
- Sexual or emotional promiscuity
- Alcoholism or excessive drinking
- Trust issues
- Drug abuse
- Mental dissociation or “spacing out” from certain situations
- Self-inflicted physical harm
- Seeking abusive relationships
If you feel that some of the above symptoms apply to you, you may wish to seek counselling or psychotherapy from a Body Mind Psychotherapist or Counsellor trained in working with survivors of abuse, in order to help you resolve the issues underlying your symptoms.