Can You Help Me Move On From My Verbally Abusive Childhood?

Reader’s Question

Can you help me please? Growing up as a child from the age of 10 onwards, I was told on a regular basis that I was useless, worthless, fat, and disgusting. I was also told that I was breathing air that I didn’t deserve. No matter what I tried to do — whether it was school, college or work — I was always told that I would never be anything and what was the point of my doing anything as I wouldn’t stick at it! All this abuse came from my father, and it happened on a daily basis.

My mother was aware of what was going on and always stuck up for me, but the older I have become I feel ashamed to say that I don’t think this was enough! It has ruined me in a way, because I used to be a happy person, but now I am constantly angry inside and find it hard to speak to my mother properly, or my sister. My sister never got mentally abused: she was the apple of his eye. It was just me.

I don’t want to be the person that I am, as I feel that I cannot go through my life anymore feeling like this. I am 30 now and want to put a end to the way that I feel and treat people. I want to be happy again! I speak to my partner like a piece of dirt, and he is one of the nicest people you would ever wish to meet. I used to cry myself to sleep for years, but now I’m just angry and still feel that whatever I try to do, I won’t be able to do it. To make things worse, 4 years ago my father died at 52, and this had an effect on me. I was really upset for the father that I once had up until the age of 10 before the mental abuse started — he used to be a good father.

When I was a child, I plucked up the courage once to ask my mother why he had done it to me, and she said that she didn’t know. She did say that once when I was a child I stole money and my father hated a thief. I cannot remember doing this. Also when I try to explain why my attitude is bad or what I feel like, my mother says sarcastically, “Awww poor you! You gotta move on! You can’t live in the past!” My sister said that she didn’t want to know about what my father did to me because she doesn’t believe how bad it was. She was never there. She lived with my nan! Everything is still always my fault, according to my mother and sister, whatever I may do. Please can you help me move on?

Psychologist’s Reply

Rather than focus on the why, you need to focus on the situation. For whatever reason, your family environment changed when you were ten years old. Your father changed and became mean and hateful. Your sister escaped and began living with your nan, a common strategy to prevent children from being abused or neglected. Because you were there — and couldn’t protect yourself — you became the target for your father’s personal misery. It’s quite possible that your father became very depressed and when this happens — as you are currently experiencing — we are overwhelmed by anger, resentment, bitterness, unfairness, and hostility. We lash out at everyone around us — with your father attacking you and now you attacking your partner. Your mother was forced to choose a strategy which may have included 1) moving sister to nan’s, 2) trying to defend you against your father, 3) but defending only up to the point that she did not become the target of your father’s anger. Remember that if you hadn’t been there to receive your father’s verbal abuse, your mother would have received it all.

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In these family situations, the abusive childhood produced thousands of Emotional Memories — memories that make us remember the feelings of those days when we discuss them now. As you think about your childhood, you remain depressed and miserable — like you were then. Your mother and sister don’t want to discuss those memories as they are miserable for them as well.

From your description, you 1) have experienced an abusive childhood, 2) continue to have problems with the upbringing due to the emotionally traumatic memories, 3) are not supported by your mother and sister because they have accepted the situation, and 4) are probably clinically depressed. To fix this situation:

  • Recognize that your father had mental health issues that made him abusive and mean. Also note that he was abusive and mean to you because you were there and couldn’t get away. Anyone living in the home was probably abused. Your sister escaped due to her placement out of the home. Your father was mentally ill rather than you being a worthless child.
  • Read my article on Emotional Memory on this website. It provides strategies for managing trauma memories such as you’ve collected over the years.
  • From your description, I sense you are clinically depressed. You are overwhelmed by the level of emotionality you are experiencing — the anger, resentment, bitterness, etc. Read the articles related to depression. When we are depressed, the brain torments us with guilt and old memories. You would benefit from the use of an antidepressant medication that can be obtained through consultation with your physician.
  • Like your father 20 years ago, you are now lashing out at anyone in the home. Also like 20 years ago, your partner isn’t a bad person or worthless — he’s a victim of verbal abuse because you are having problems, just like you were a victim because your father was having problems. Counseling and medication will help control your angry behavior and keep your relationship healthy.

Obsessive thoughts about our past, especially our “bad” past, is a classic sign of depression. When we treat the depression effectively, those thoughts return to our memory, where they belong. You will still be troubled by Emotional Memories, but my article will provide strategies to cope with those as you continue in your life. Recognize that you’ve survived an abusive childhood and while you may never know the reasons for the abuse, you can be a successful and healthy individual based on all those characteristics your father said you don’t possess.

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