Dealing With Abusive Parents in Adulthood

It was the first month of the lockdown and, like everyone else, I was extremely rattled. I was waiting for the day I would be able to step out again and get away from my parents. The four walls of the house started to weigh down on my mind.

After days of wanting to run away, I decided to pause, look around and do something for myself. I distinctly remember pulling on a new pair pyjamas and a t-shirt quite early in the day. I had a workshop on ‘how to take care of your mental health during lockdown’ followed by a live session where I was going to recite one of my pieces.

I was excited, probably for the first time since lockdown had started. However, little did I know what was coming my way.

While munching on some toast, I had a slight disagreement (that’s what I would call it) with my parents, which escalated to a point where my mother didn’t think twice before hitting me.

Yes, it happened.

Was I shocked? No, not particularly as this wasn’t the first time that it happened in the past 23 years.

Was I scared? Maybe a little. More furious than scared, perhaps.

Did it stop at just one slap? No.

Would it be any different if it would have? Certainly not.

Did my father intervene? No.

Also read: Lockdown in a Toxic Household

During the month that followed, I had several bouts of anxiety. I also didn’t talk to either one of them. I didn’t argue, cooked for myself and minded my own business – all of which really bothered my mother.

Throughout my childhood, all I ever feared was being beaten up, being locked up inside the washroom or outside the house if I did anything wrong – in school or anywhere. I was scared to speak up. I was scared to disbelieve what they believed in. However, there were moments where I did do what I wanted to – by lying or hiding the truth, as all teenagers tend to do.

Nonetheless, I always wondered what to call the situation I was in. Could I call it domestic violence? But doesn’t that “typically involve the violent abuse of a spouse or partner”, as Oxford says?

Could I call them abusive? However, they are concerned about me and care for me, so, wouldn’t it be a little unjust to call them abusive?

Could I call it child abuse? Err, but is a 23-year-old really a child?

Time and again, I have come across people who try to justify parents who bully, abuse, psychologically traumatise their children or young adults in the name of concern, care, expectations, love and whatnot.

Indians by and large have always believed in and propagated the idea of family being the most important element in our lives – whether through cinema, mythology or religion. We have raised it to a pedestal where, if anyone dares to go against it in any way, they are treated as outcasts and told they are morally corrupt, heartless, irresponsible and selfish.

Also read: Telling Your Parents Your Child Sexual Abuse Story

Such abuse should not be a normalised part of our lives. But sadly, it is a reality many of us face even though children need unconditional love, safety and support to thrive in the world.

At the end of the day, abuse is simply one way of exercising power over someone. And there are many forms of parent abuse. Parents exercise power by not letting their children have individualistic opinions, not letting them pursue subjects/fields they are passionate about as it doesn’t match their expectations and not letting them have the freedom to make their own decisions – especially when they are not financially independent.

All this can get very emotionally confusing for children, who then may not know what or how to feel towards them.

Fear and power is an age-old jodi. We see it play out in politics every day. In the case of parents, there are many fears that can come to the forefront – fear of losing children, of not being a part of their lives, of losing control of their decisions and more.

But such fears should not ever be seen as reason to excuse abusive behaviour. Beating a child into submission and moulding him/her into a particular vision is the very opposite of nurturing a child.

There’s also the phenomenon of victim-blaming within the family structure – abusive parents can make us feel at fault for their actions. There’s a whole lot of pointed fingers at ‘rebellious’ children. Children who go against their parents’ wishes never hear the end of it. Kids are also blamed for supposedly provoking abusive reactions – as if if we hadn’t done that one thing then they wouldn’t have acted like that.

The list is unending. It’s all just toxic psychology at play.

I’m hardly at the end of my journey in figuring out my relationship with my parents. But what I do know is that it’s important for us to know that it is okay to be affected, and that speaking up about it and seeking help is a healthy way forward. And that it’s not my fault.

Abuse at home leaves scars, many of them hidden, that last a lifetime. I hope mine can heal some day.

Prachi Batra is an intern with LiveWire. She has previously worked with SoDelhi

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty