Monday, 28 April 2008

Psychology of abusive parents

Sky News interviewed a psychologist this morning over the awful case in Austria in which a father had his daughter and some of the children he fathered by her kept in a cellar for years and years. I was interested in what she had to say about the case-partly for personal reasons and partly for (ex)professional ones. My dh still works for CAMHS and it has to be said there are some similarities in the way abusive parents present.

The psychologist said these kinds of parents were very often authoritarian- by this she did not mean parents who have true authority in the home and can set appropriate boundaries for their children's behaviour; but rather a control freak kind of authority in which secrets must be kept. I know parents who would demand absolute loyalty from their children-not healthy loyalty as one would expect from a loving family, but secret keeping-bad secret keeping. Children would be made to feel fear and guilt at the thought of trying to tell anyone else what happened within the confines of the family.

The other thing this psychologist mentioned was the 'respectable veneer' these kinds of parents often clung to.

Again I was struck by this. I too know parents who have done this. They cultivate a sense of being a pillar of society, known in the local community or church as someone 'good'. Under the veneer something rotten lurks of course, and if any whiff of this gets out those parents will usally blame the person who has seen it-cutting themselves off, or even keeping clear of people to avoid being found out.

I have seen families where friends are not allowed to come to the home, where children are isolated from any friends they make at school for fear of any 'secret' getting out.

So, one thing I think I have learned about abusive parents is this; THEY KNOW. They are not ignorant that what they are doing is bad. Healthy families do not ask children to keep secrets like that. They are not afraid that someone might find something out about them and they are not constantly bitter and angry about other people who may or may not have sussed there is a problem.

What fascinates me the most is how boring evil is. Satan is incapable of making anything new; he can only take what is and drain the colour from it, twist it out of shape or break it. I am coming to the conclusion that like Original Sin, all evil is not a 'something' but a lack of something. And I think there is always a deep anger-a fury even, against anyone who might shine a light on them.

I have seen that anger first hand in more than one situation working with or knowing abusive parents. It's something I think social services need to be much more canny about. I am shocked to see families that are rotten to the core being allowed to adopt and foster children.My dh has mentioned a case like that only a few days ago and the results for the child have been utterly dreadful.

Finally the psychologist went on to say she thought a lot more of this kind of abuse went on that we could imagine. I want to disagree, I really do. I want to say, no, it's rare-and I think the extreme cases like this one and the one my dh is working on are fairly rare; but abusive families are not and they need to be.

Dr Ray Guarendi has written about this somewhat in his book Back to the Family. I've mentioned it before. Many of the excellent parents in this book had survived pretty dreadful upbringings and had made an act of the will to NOT behave the way their parents did. It is not inevitable that abused children grow up to abuse, no matter how hurt.

Sometimes cases like this one in Austria may bring back horrible memories for survivors of abuse, but those memories serve only to ensure that act of will remains.


AutumnRose said...

"I am coming to the conclusion that like Original Sin, all evil is not a 'something' but a lack of something."
~ what an astute observation, and one worth exploring :)
Thanks for this thoughtful post,
AR xx

MaggieClitheroe said...

"I am shocked to see families that are rotten to the core being allowed to adopt and foster children."
Nothing shocks me about social services, I'm afraid. I am, I suppose, rather cynical about them now! (We officially withdrew from our adoption society last week - there's a limit to how long one can hang on!)

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

Maggie! I am so sorry. God bless and comfort you.
What on earth is happening in this world!?
The events in Austria have really horrified me. I just don't believe no one knew anything.
I don't understand ...

sexy said...