How Recognizing the Abuse in My Childhood Has Shaped My Adulthood

The last time my father hit me, I was 19. It wasn’t hard, and it didn’t leave a mark, but this was the norm in my household — whenever you misbehaved or said something deemed inappropriate, you were hit. I never knew any other form of punishment.

I always thought of child abuse as parents beating their children every day without any reason. These were the children who stared at me from bruised and forlorn eyes on the collection jars next to cash registers on store counters. These were the children who were starved, bruised and battered. These children weren’t me. 

If I acted like the perfect child and didn’t speak with an “attitude,” then there was no reason for my parents to hit me. If I cried child abuse, my parents called me a brat and claimed that others would see it that way. I speculated that if that happened, the police would walk into our well-kept house, see that I had sufficient food, shelter and clothing and two seemingly-loving parents — I had no credibility.

I never considered myself a victim of child abuse until my child psychology course in college. When one class session focused on abuse, I surreptitiously wiped the tears from my eyes as my professor — who happened to be a licensed child psychologist — reiterated, “There is never any reason for a parent to hit a child.” The deluge of tears ebbed down my face as I recalled some of the worst moments of abuse.

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Not all beatings were bad, but certain ones are indelible memories. My parents like to argue that I only remember the bad and never the good, but when the bad was that bad, nothing can atone for it. 

The lies

My first lie occurred in second grade. I don’t recall the dispute, but out of frustration, my father threw a textbook at my face. When my mother noticed a mark on my nose, she kindly asked that if anyone questions it, I say that I was playing ball with my sister and it hit my face. My father later hugged me and apologized profusely, claiming that this would never happen again — but the cycle of abuse is impossible to break. 

My mother’s beatings weren’t as bad — she didn’t have half the strength of my father. Her signature punishment was hair-pulling. With my long, flowing hair, she would grab a large chunk and yank it as hard as she could. My head would jerk back as I would scream bloody murder trying to free my hair from her grasp. 

My mother’s hand would leave a temporary handprint on my body, but only once did I get a bruise, and it was because I backed into my dresser as I tried to get out of her reach. Sometimes, she would pin me to the floor so I couldn’t escape her hand. Her face gradually turned red, profanity flew from her mouth and more momentum was gained with each whack at my body. Yet I preferred my mother’s beatings to my father’s if I had to choose. I always feared my father.

When I was in fourth grade, my father got more creative with his beatings — he would pin me down, his body crushing mine, our noses just touching, his spit flying all over my face, as he screamed every profanity and insult that came to his mind. I was used to being “the little bitch,” “the devil’s child,” “idiot,” “bastard” and “fucking moron.” But he only succeeded twice with this new beating before my mom intervened. 

The kicking

Then there was the kicking phase — also occurring twice — during my first year of high school. I don’t remember the original argument, but because I “spoke back” to my parents, they were livid. After my mother yanked my hair and my father hit me, they both forced me out of the house and off of their property — they even threatened to call the police if I remained anywhere on their land. 

As I was walking down the steps, my father, in a fit of rage, kicked the back of my leg and yelled, “Get off my fucking property!” My scream was involuntary as I grabbed onto the railing to prevent my fall. 

I walked out of the house with disheveled hair, swollen eyes and tears streaming down my face. After coming to his senses, my father followed and begged me to return. After much convincing, I acquiesced.

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The next day, I noticed a large bruise with a wound where my father had kicked me. When I showed my mother, she acted as if it didn’t faze her, but I later heard her expressing anger at my father for leaving the mark. This provoked an argument about who hits me more — I hoped they would recognize the absurdity of this dispute, but they didn’t. 

The fight

My sister was braver than I was, so she fought back. When she and my father were exchanging harsh words one day, they both got physical. After he hit her, she punched him in the face, sending him into a fit of rage. I could see the anger in his eyes as he flew at my sister, with my mother trying to intervene. Overcome with trepidation, I ran toward my sister to protect her, but as soon as I was near, my father briefly turned to me, yelled and raised his hand.

All these years later, I still struggle with my past. No matter how I hard I try to repress those memories, I can never succeed. I can’t look my father in the eyes and say, “I love you.” I can’t allow all the good he has done for me to outweigh the bad. I can’t forgive my mother for not divorcing my father. 

I always contemplated reaching out to someone for help, but deep down, I didn’t want help. Despite the bad times, I loved my mother and sometimes liked my father. I was used to that environment, and if I had been separated from my family, I would’ve experienced a nervous breakdown. 

I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees with unblemished transcripts, and I’ve found success in my career. Living on my own, being medicated and attending weekly therapy sessions have helped me cope with my past and move on with my future. It’s certainly not easy, but it is possible to find happiness with such a dark past. 

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