Parents who on a subconscious level believe they are worthless or inferior project this poor self-image onto their offspring. “If I am flawed, if I am lacking, then my children who are after all extensions of me must be also.” Hence their kids are fed a steady diet of ego-destroying comments: “You are stupid, a dummy, will never amount to anything, you are an embarrassment” or “You are a dirty slob, no one will want to marry you, you can’t do anything right, you are a lazy good for nothing.”
Some individuals are aware enough to break the cycle of verbal and emotional abuse and build their children’s self esteem with kindness, patience and tolerance – and realistic expectations. Others are clueless and do what’s familiar to them (the root of that word is family), heaping words of scorn, contempt and derision on their hapless children (and spouses and friends – if they decide to stick around).
Ironically, many of these abusers fall to pieces or get enraged if you point out anything slightly negative about their behavior or actions. Their fragile egos cannot handle even a minute hint of criticism – they must believe they are perfect, for the wounded, angry broken child still lurking in their adult psyche cannot tolerate hearing the echoes of the scathing, caustic, blistering voice of the parent who belittled, eroded and dissolved any vestige of positive self-esteem.
Tragically, young children believe what their parents tell them. After all, the mother/father who feeds, clothes, and takes care of them when they are sick or scared; who knows how to make cookies, drive the car, and the way to the zoo, must be right when he/she says you are bad, or useless, or stupid. After all, they are grownups and grownups know everything!
Even more tragic, these parents are creating wounded neshamas who will likely gravitate to that which is familiar to them – abusers – and will be victimized even more. Or they will become the next generation of bullies, abusive parents, spouses or bosses.
It goes without saying that children should be corrected or disciplined when necessary. But your words or actions should not be lethal blows to their egos. The dents never go away. When you feel like saying something negative or hurtful, try to remember how you felt when someone you loved and looked up to spoke to you that way.
It is very difficult to change learned behaviors, but it can be done. The most important thing is to recognize and admit that your actions/words are toxic. If your children try to avoid you, if new friendships fizzle out; if your spouse feels divorce is the lesser of the two evils, then you need to consider that you are the problem and not everyone else.
Getting help is crucial. If a thorough medical examination rules out a physical cause for your disposition, like a hormonal imbalance, then mental health therapy may be the light that guides you and your family out of the darkness.