Rising Above The Impact Of An Unhappy Childhood

Self, Family

Breaking the "Hurt People, Hurt People" Cycle

Writer, actor, producer, and director Tyler Perry is a master at displaying the many intricacies found in family dynamics, particularly in families of color. Though his work has faced many critics, many can identify with his characters and storylines regardless of how they feel about his overall work. Mr. Perry has also been very transparent about the abuse and trauma that he experienced as a child and how that has influeced him. Most recently, he disclosed that the man who he grew up thinking was his father and who often times beat him unmercifully, was not really his biological father(story can be found here). Despite his abusive and traumatic childhood, Tyler Perry has risen to be one of the most prolific voices in entertainment and has become the face of perseverance and resilience. How did he do this? How did someone who endured physical, sexual, and emotional trauma throughout childhood conquer the brokenness that so many who are abused experience? How did he discover his self-worth, learn to accept himself, and share his experience with others?

An unhappy childhood filled with neglect, abuse, or any other adversity, can affect the long-term mental health of an individual in profound ways, including an individual’s ability to establish healthy relationships with others. Naturally, humans are are relational beings, we are always in relationship with others. The most important relationship we form is with ourselves; this relationship dictates the success of one’s relationships with others. Growing up in an environment of abuse or neglect can cause a damanged or unhealthy view of of oneself, resulting in carrying their “wounded child” characteristics into their adult relationships.

Many life coaches, motivational speakers, and self-help gurus have tackled the topic of trauma and neglect and the vicious relationship cycle perpetuated by these atrocities. Unfortunately, breaking the “hurt people, hurt people cycle” is not an easy task because it involves changing our ideas about ourselves as well as how we relate to certain people in our lives.

"When people show you who they are, believe them", "Everyone can’t be in the front row of your life", "You have to love some people from a distance". Do these apothegms sound familiar? Well, what happens when the person you need to "love from a distance" is a parent? Many adults have difficulty distancing themselves from friends, siblings, aunts, and uncles, but most find that distancing themselves from a parent is most difficult regardless the severity of the neglect/abuse. While it might be just as difficult for a parent to distance themselves from their adult child, it seems as though that society is more forgiving of this type of distancing. Cultural expectations of the hierarchal nature of the parent-child relationship may cause the adult child appear disrespectful, disobedient, and ungrateful for merely having thoughts of distancing themselves from the parent and the abusive nature of the relationship. There can be a great deal of guilt associated with this decision for many adults who were abused as children and who continue to be victimized, whether physically or emotionally. Despite the abuse or neglect, people with past abusive or neglectful relationships with their parents still crave acceptance. 

But how can someone step away from a childhood that was abusive to lead a successful life, especially if the perpetrator is a parent and is still in their life? Success does not mean the same for all people. Thus, creating a successful life means creating the meaning of success for one self. Realizing that this does not happen overnight is crucial. Everyone’s situation may be different, the process is not comparable. For some individuals, distancing themselves from a parent may not be immediately possible, if possible at all. Here are some things to consider that may help:

1. Nurture Yourself: For a person who has never felt or been nurtured this may sound like a foreign language. You deserve to be nurtured! Did you hear what I said? YOU deserve to be nurtured! You may have to start this process yourself. Take time for YOU and make a list of things that restore/renew you — things that make you feel special (e.g. a bubble bath, a talent, a long walk, your favorite treat, etc.). It does not have to be expensive to be valuable to you. Take note, however, that there is a difference between "nurturing" and "soothing" one self. Soothing is not always healthy, but when we nurture ourselves we do so to be healthier mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

2. Resurrect Old Dreams: Remember when you were a child and you used to say, "When I grow up, I want to be…" or, "I want to do…", and somewhere along the way someone sent you a message that you were not supposed to or could not do it? Take some time to think about those things you once said you wanted to do. Explore them and if possible, try them.

3. Pat Yourself on the Back: Sometimes external validation becomes more important to us than internal validation. Don’t get me wrong, external validation is important. For example, an adult-child who may still face coping with an abusive parent may be looking for external validation that may never happen. Remember, we are relational beings and we all want to know that we matter or that what we do matters to someone. When external validation becomes more important that internal validation this can contribute to what may already be an unhealthy sense of self. It is important to sometimes pat yourself on the back. We give others cues on how to respond to us...so, if YOU don’t pat yourself on the back, you may be sending a message to others that you are not worthy of being patted on the back. Make a list of accomplishments. The purpose of this list is to shine your mental spotlight on the positive aspects of you to prevent the automatic focus on negative messages, external and internal. Even small accomplishments can show you your value.

4. Develop a Support System: Resilience is a capacity that develops over time in the context of a supportive environment. Many individuals victimized by abuse do not have adequate support available. In many instances, there is great stigma associated with being abused, neglected, or feeling disadvantaged. There is also a sense of allegiance to the parent. This stigma and allegiance leads to shame and isolation. Also, because of the nature of the abuse, the person may not know what a healthy support system looks like. Seek out individuals who can support you to foster and nurture your goals and any change you want to facilitate to be a healthier, more self-actualized you.

5. Seek Counseling: Counseling is not just for the "white", "black", "rich" or "poor"; it's for everyone. Counseling is a healthy thing and a necessary thing for those learning to rise above and beyond the emotional impact of an abusive, unhappy childhood. Counseling can help you process YOUR feelings and educate yourself about what abuse looks like; as certain types of emotional/mental abuse are more difficult to recognize than others and less obvious than physical abuse. Counseling can also provide you with support and help you develop a plan to form a better relationship with yourself – even if you deem maintaining a relationship with your parent is necessary.

"You have to love some people from a distance"…in order to love yourself up close and personal. This is the resilient person. This is the one who prevails.

Read more personal development advice on YourTango: