When Parents are Abusive


We hear from children as well as from grown adults about the abuse they experienced growing up. The issue seems to have become more pronounced in our society today than a generation ago. The media as well as TV programs are saturated with abusive stories which makes it seem more prevalent. I’m sure that the frequency of parental abuse for generations has been the same, although 50+ years ago, it wasn’t brought to our attention because of the lack of TV as well as no social media.

It is a very painful topic to discuss, especially among people who have experienced the abuse first hand. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Verbal abuse. A combination of two or more abuses. The abuse leaves lifelong scars on the victims of abuse and creates negative consequences for cultivating close friendships in the present or in the future.

Early in my life of counseling, I worked with a group of men who were required to attend a sexual molester class as part of their prison time to deal with the reasons for molesting children. What I found very profound is that every sexual molester that I worked with had been molested as a child. You see they experienced love from a parent molesting them and so they carried that experience in life when they became an adult. This pattern doesn’t give them an excuse for what they did, but you can see the negative consequences of abuse growing up that impacted their decisions when they became an adult. What came out of the group encounter is that these molesters began to see how God loved them and their perspective began to change in experiencing love in a healthy way versus what they had experienced growing up.

Physical and verbal abuse as a child have similar consequences for an adult who begins to raise children. Abuse has a tendency to be carried from one generation to another if the abuser doesn’t get the necessary help to see life an relationships differently.

We read of similar abuse taking place in the Old Testament. Saul was the king of Israel and had a son named Jonathan. Jonathan was a great warrior and was also connected closely as a best friend to David. Saul became angry with David for he feared that David was going to take over his throne, so Saul was trying to kill David, Jonathan’s friend. “Then Saul became angry with Jonathan and shouted, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you are siding with Jesse’s son to your own shame and to the disgrace of your mother? Every day Jesse’s son lives on earth you and your kingship are not secure. Now send for him and bring him to me — he must die!” Jonathan answered his father back, “Why is he to be killed? What has he done?” Then Saul threw his spear at Jonathan to kill him, so he knew that his father was determined to kill David. He got up from the table fiercely angry and did not eat any food that second day of the New Moon, for he was grieved because of his father’s shameful behavior toward David.” 1 Samuel‬ ‭20:30-34‬ ‭CSB‬‬

Saul was verbally abusive to Jonathan by calling him a ‘son of a b______’ (son of a perverse and rebellious woman). ‘You are a terrible decision maker’ (you are siding with Jesse’’s son to your own shame). ‘You are a disgrace to your mother.’ When Jonathan tried to talk with his irrational father, His father took up a spear and tried to kill Jonathan (physical abuse). So what do you do when you are in a situation where you are being abused by a parent? For Jonathan he did two things. He got out of the abusive situation. Secondly, he had his focus on cultivating his friendship with David. When you are being abused, you need a safe place to go and find friends who are loving and accepting of who you are and what you are doing. This safe place gives you an environment in which to counter the negative actions and messages that are coming from a parent or someone else who is abusing you.

On this journey, we will come in contact with experiences in life that are very tough and difficult as in the case of abuse. As a child it is difficult to get away from a parent, but as an adult, it is important to make decisions to move to a safe place away from an abusive spouse or partner and find individuals who will accept you for you. God is more concerned for your safety than for cultivating an abusive relationship.

About James Gorton

I am happily married to Nadine, a person I've known for 20+ years. She and her late husband owned Airpark Auto Service where I took my car for years. Four years after my wife died we began dating and the rest is history. We have a blended family of 6 children between us and love visiting them across this country. We recently had our third grandchild between us. We love to hike, bike and ski. I am a psychologist and do relational life coaching for marriages and families primarily. I love what I do and never get tired of seeing marriages and families move to more healthy places in their lives. Five years ago my oldest daughter Deborah encouraged me to begin writing my thought into a blog I call my Jlog (Jim's log). I have become more and more passionate in connecting everyday experiences to spiritual truths. I hope that as you read my Jlog, you will gain insight into your personal life and experience true growth in your personal and relational life.
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