In response to yesterday’s post, someone asked me to elaborate more on the connection between children and their abusive parent(s). Specifically, what is it that tethers children so tightly to such parents? Here’s what I said:
If my parents don’t love me, who will? Society tells us that there is no love greater than the love of a mother for a child. If my mother abandons me at home with an abusive father or if she chooses her boyfriend over me, that sends me a message: the one person in the world who loves me the most, loves me only this much. That’s the most I deserve, the most I’m worth. And so I better hang on to that—because something is better than nothing. In fact, maybe I can make her love me more—if I’m better behaved, if I keep the house clean, if I keep my abusive father preoccupied, so he doesn’t bother her, if I make good grades in school, if I’m very quiet, if I recant my story and lie to social services…ad nauseum. After all, love is conditional—even the bad parents dole it out in certain circumstances; of course, they also take it away (it’s a brilliant manipulation that keeps children coming back for more). And the messages the children receive as a result are all mixed up: love is not freely given; it is earned, and so they spend time, energy, and effort trying to earn it–at any cost to themselves.