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Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Was I emotionally abused? The thought is eating away at me.

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Hi, I'm wondering if you can help? After some recent conversations with friends, I have begun to wonder if I was emotionally abused as a child? I'm concerned that I'm probably overreacting, but I really want an anonymous second opinion to put my mind at rest, because I feel terrible even thinking that about my parents. This might be kind of a long ramble because I've never really thought a lot about my childhood before (I'm 20 now).

For as long as I can remember I haven't enjoyed any kind of physical contact with my parents. I've always had this strong feeling that I don't want to be like them but not really known why. We were well-off, expected to do well at school, encouraged to participate in as many extra-circulars as possible and pretty much bought whatever we asked for. I have numerous memories of expensive day-trips or shopping sprees 'just because'.

I feel like my parents look great on paper, but things quite often just didn't feel right. After spending money on me, they would accuse me of being all nice till they had given me what I wanted and then I'd turned back into a brat and it made them feel terrible. I know I wasn't a perfect child, but I used to try so hard but they always found something I'd done wrong.

My mum would often take her bad days at work out on us. She'd shout about how she was stressed and we were "ungrateful and spoiled and making her life harder." Her and dad often accused me of having no social skills/no friends/being the sort of person no-one would like. I always tried not to wind them up more, but if they made me really mad and I argued back they'd hit me or shove me or take away anything they felt was important to me as a punishment. It got to the point where when they shouted close to me I'd flinch cause I'd be expecting them to hit me and then they'd yell at me for being stupid enough to think they would hit me. To be fair, they didn't hit me all the time, it was usually if I got too cheeky in response. They would then refuse to speak to me until I apologized and often I had no idea what I was saying sorry for, I just said it and hoped for the best. They would often say "if you hadn't done x/y/z then we wouldn't have had to hit/yell/call you whatever".

I know its normal for most parents to hit a little bit, but my parents always said I could tell people if I wanted, but mum (a teacher) would lose her job and that would be my fault and we would be taken away and put in care. I was scared that would happen, so wouldn't say anything. Occasionally, they'd scare me enough that I'd hide in the bathroom all night til they calmed down as it was the only door that couldn't be unlocked from the outside.  I remember thinking my parents were normal til a friend (aged 9ish) said it wasn't and I was so worried I told her I was just joking.

Sorry for the long rant, but like I said, I've just recently started to think this and I can't shake it and it's making me feel terrible because I'm sure I'm overreacting and they weren't this bad or it looks a lot worse than it was when stuff is written down. I basically just want a second opinion so I can stop thinking this and know that my parents were normal. I just don't feel comfortable asking a friend, because it's a horrible thing to even think about a parent.

Thanks in advance.

Answer
Were you emotionally abused as a child? By many standards, yes, by some other standards not really.

But does it matter? No child has a perfect upbringing. I'm sure your parents, like most, did not set out to abuse, but simply behaved in the only way that they could, based on their own problems, their own understanding of how one should act, and especially the way they themselves were raised.

Most every generation strives to do better. Please focus on what kind of parent you will be, and how you will model for your children the way they should parent when their times comes. And that includes tolerance for and understanding of unlikeable behaviour from the offspring.

If it's any comfort to you, some of the most successful people report quite similar childhood experiences to yours. I don't know if the bad bits toughened them, or whether they just managed to put the bad memories and feelings aside and persevere. Or maybe they just understood that the best form of response or revenge is to become a success and live well.

I hope those comments will prove to be of some comfort and help. Thanks for asking us, feel free if you have a follow-up, and the best of future fortune to you.

Alan  

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Alan Auerbach

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Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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