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5 Reasons Why Parental Verbal Abuse Is More Damaging Than We Think

Ms. Meyers is a former teacher and now writes about early childhood education. She experienced years of parental verbal abuse as a kid.

Science has shown that name-calling can change a child's brain structure for the worse.

Science has shown that name-calling can change a child's brain structure for the worse.

Did Your Mom or Dad Call You Names?

  • Did one or both of your parents call you derogatory names when you were growing up?
  • Did you ever wonder how that name-calling affected you as a child ... and now as an adult?
  • Did you know that name-calling can change the structure of a youngster's brain and lead to long-term problems in life?

We've all heard that childhood chant: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me. That old brag should be officially retired, however, since science has proven it false. Contrary to what we believed in the past, new research in the field of neuroscience shows that verbal abuse during childhood can be just as harmful as other forms of mistreatment.

The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.

— Peggy O'Mara, author of "Natural Family Living"

Name-Calling Destroys the Parent-Child Bond

  • When my sister and I entered adolescence, our waif-like frames began to grow curvier, and our dad gave us the nicknames "buffalo butt" and "rhino rump."
  • When we became teenagers, he called us "stupid" and "dingbats" when we made small mistakes like misplacing our car keys or leaving too many lights on in the house.
  • When we began dating, he labeled us "tramps" and said we were "acting slutty" when we broke up with a boyfriend or dated someone new.

Even as a youngster, I knew my father's name-calling was juvenile. It made him seem more like a bullying older brother than a warm, loving parent. All these decades later, although he died years ago, I started wondering what effects his verbal abuse had on my life. I decided to research how parental name-calling impacts a child. I discovered it can be far more devastating than we ever imagined in five significant ways.

5 Effects of Calling a Child Names

  1. It can distance a child from both parents.
  2. It can crush a youngster's self-image.
  3. It can break down communication.
  4. It can change a child's brain structure.
  5. It can be remembered and continue to harm a person for years to come.

Each of these negative effects is described fully below.

1. It Can Distance a Child From Both Parents (Yes, Both)

Although our father's name-calling happened decades ago, it's still hitting our family hard today. For example, our 80-year-old mother needs assistance but my sister refuses to have anything to do with her. As fiercely protective mama bears, she and I simply can't fathom how our mom just stood by as our dad treated us cruelly.

Even if they don't say a thing, a parent can participate in childhood abuse. According to Athena Phillips, a therapist who works with trauma patients, a non-offending parent's inaction creates confusion for survivors of childhood abuse. Survivors will wonder if that parent was complicit in their mistreatment or was yet another victim of it. They question why that parent didn't step in to stop it. As a result, they feel removed not only from the abusive parent but from the non-offending one as well.

2. It Can Crush a Youngster's Self-Image

When children get called names like "fatso" or "loser" at school, it can be damaging to their self-image and make them doubt who they are. However, the impact of name-calling is far more devastating when those hurtful labels get assigned by a parent. Sadly, some moms and dads are under the misconception that their words don't matter to preteens and teens. They incorrectly believe that these older kids only get influenced by their peers.

In his book Surviving Your Child's Adolescence, Dr. Carl Pickhardt says that contrary to popular belief, what parents say still has a huge impact on preteens and teens. He advises moms and dads to think before they speak. He warns: “parents remain the most powerful source of social approval in a teenager's world, and they need to be mindful of that.”

When my father dubbed my sister and me "rhino rump" and "buffalo butt" when we were preteens, he thought it was clever and funny. However, we found it deeply humiliating. In the years and decades that followed, we struggled with body image, weight, self-esteem, and our relationship with food. Even today, I avoid my reflection in mirrors, windows, and glass doors, frightened to see a hideous monster staring back at me. My sister and I will never know how much our problems were caused by those mean names our father called us so long ago. When I think about it now, though, it still hurts.

3. It Can Break Down Communication

When a parent engages in name-calling, one of the most disastrous effects is that children clam up and withdraw. Feeling worthless and unloved, they may partake in self-destructive behaviors such as drinking, using drugs, hanging out with the wrong crowd, self-mutilating, and having unprotected sex. They may no longer trust the parent who labeled them, impeding communication. Those kids will be careful not to reveal anything to the offending parent that could be used against them.

After years of enduring my father's name-calling, in my teen years, I shut down and rarely spoke to him. My sister went off to college, married right after graduation, and never returned home again. My dad's verbal abuse during our growing up years contaminated our relationships with him and it could never be repaired. Although he softened in his later years and wanted a deeper connection with us, his name-calling had prevented us from ever bonding with him. The loving, compassionate feelings just weren't there.

Contrary to popular belief, name-calling and other forms of verbal mistreatment can be as detrimental as physical and sexual abuse.

Contrary to popular belief, name-calling and other forms of verbal mistreatment can be as detrimental as physical and sexual abuse.

4. It Can Change a Child's Brain Structure

Many of us think name-calling isn't nearly as destructive as physical or sexual abuse. In some families (such as my own), name-calling was even viewed as a positive thing—a way to toughen you up and prepare you for the harsh realities of the world. However, new research in the field of neuroscience shows that verbal abuse during childhood can be just as harmful as other forms of mistreatment. It can have a lasting effect on the structure of the brain and lead to anxiety, depression, hostility, learning deficits, behavioral issues, and drug abuse.

In "Sticks and Stones—Hurtful Words Damage the Brain," Dr. R. Douglas Fields discusses a recent study conducted at Harvard Medical School using magnetic resonance imagining (MRI). The findings show that name-calling, taunting, and other forms of verbal abuse left a structural imprint on the developing brains of preteens and teens. Fields writes,

“now we have scientific instruments that show us how dramatically childhood experience alters the physical structure of the brain, and how sensitive we are as children to environmental effects. Words—verbal harassment—from peers (and, as a previous study from these researchers showed, verbal abuse from a child's parents) can cause far more than emotional harm.”

As someone who's battled depression and social anxiety most of my life, I find this illuminating. While I certainly realized my father's name-calling made me feel sad and helpless, I had no idea it had the potential to change the structure of my brain at a critical point in its development. The old schoolyard chant about sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me is scientifically inaccurate. Words are indeed powerful things, and they can do far more damage than we ever imagined.

The first step in recovering from verbal abuse is recognizing that it took place. This is often difficult for many reasons, including “normalizing” the household; still wanting a connection to the parent or parents; buying into the cultural notion that verbal abuse isn’t really corrosive; and more. The good news is that with help and support, that internalized tape loop can be shut off and replaced with not just a more affirming message, but—at long last—one which finally reflects who you are.

— Peg Streep, author of Daughter Detox: Recovering from An Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life

5. It Can Be Remembered for Years to Come

After more than a half-century on this planet, some childhood memories have become murky. But I can still recall the exact locations in my family home where I stood when my father called me "buffalo butt." I can still remember how I wanted to flee the house and never come back. I can still remember feeling betrayed and belittled. I can still remember the embarrassment I felt as my siblings watched.

It turns out my ability to clearly recall these horrible name-calling episodes is not unique to me. In "The Enduring Pain of Childhood Verbal Abuse," Peg Streep explains that humans store such assaults in their brains for evolutionary reasons. Any kind of attack—physical, emotional, or verbal—is kept alive in our memories as a way to survive potential threats in the future. In other words, those painful memories we'd like to forget are the ones we're most likely to hold onto forever.

This video speaks to the need for more education about the devastating effects of verbal abuse.

A Hopeful Note

Unfortunately, some of us who endured name-calling by a parent keep it alive by using those same derogatory terms on ourselves. For many decades, I had a negative tape running in my head whenever I said something awkward at a party or mentioned something trivial at an office meeting. The tape would say something like this: "You're so stupid. You shouldn't have said that. What a loser you are! Everybody thinks you're a real knucklehead. I hate you."

In therapy, I was able to connect my self-destructive thoughts and behaviors to my father's name-calling during childhood. Once I saw that link, I was able to stop being so mean to myself. I began to feel compassion for that girl whose dad did so much damage to her self-esteem with his cruel words. I became determined to treat her kindly because she had already suffered enough.

My therapist recommended that I read Bad Childhood-Good Life: How to Blossom and Thrive in Spite of an Unhappy Childhood. It helped me transition from the shame that I felt as a young, helpless victim of verbal abuse into a confidant woman who now feels empowered by her past. It helped me realize that I no longer wanted my dad's behavior to hold me back from experiencing all the joy that life has to offer. As horrendous as parental name-calling is, it shouldn't enslave us until the day we die. When we appreciate its serious impact, we have a much better chance of combating its effects and finding peace.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How should a child respond to a verbally abusive parent?

Answer: When parents are upset, out of control, and calling names, it's pointless for a child to say anything until they have calmed down. When they're in a relaxed mood, the youngster can explain how much the name-calling hurts, using “I messages” (I feel scared when you get angry and call me stupid. I feel sad and just want to give up when you say that I'm fat). The “I messages” will make the parent less defensive and more likely to listen, take in what's being said, and connect with the youngster on an emotional level. The child can also bring up the latest research in neuroscience that shows name-calling can change brain structure and lead to long-term problems.

Unfortunately, some parents who stoop to name-calling are immature bullies. Throwing out hurtful labels makes them feel powerful and superior. They have little compassion for the unfortunate person on the receiving end of their insults, even when it's their own child. When it was happening to me as a kid, there was nothing I could have said or done that would have made my father stop. The worst part was that my mother stood by and let it happen. All these decades later, that still brings me the most pain.

Therefore, I'd encourage children who are being verbally abused to tell a trusted adult who can intervene on their behalf. Tell a grandparent, a teacher, a school counselor, a neighbor, or a friend's parent. The worst thing youngsters can do is keep it to themselves and internal those dreadful messages. They need an adult to validate their feelings, tell them that the name-calling is unacceptable, and be willing to discuss it with their parent. Children shouldn't have to handle this on their own and need compassionate grownups to step up and advocate for them.

Question: Why does my dad call me names?

Answer: Since I don’t know your dad, I can’t say. All I can do is speak from my own experience and from what other people have shared with me. With that being said, some parents resort to name-calling out of a combination of ignorance and arrogance.

My dad was a highly intelligent college graduate but never bothered to learn about parenting even though he fathered four kids. He never took a parenting class, never read a parenting book, and never showed a drop of curiosity about child development. He was a man who never should have been a dad but that’s what was expected of him during the 1960s.

Like many moms and dads, he went into parenting with the mindset that it was easy and that he didn’t need to educate himself about it. As a result of his ignorance and arrogance, he wound up not having any parenting philosophy or any long-range plan for rearing his kids. He just reacted with anger and frustration as different problems arose and name-calling became his favorite weapon.

When he became stressed with his job or worried about family finances, his name-calling escalated. He could be cruel, deriving pleasure from making his kids cry, especially my sister and me. When we stopped showing any outward emotional response to his name-calling, it diminished.

When a mom or dad resorts to name-calling, it reveals that they don’t have the necessary tools to parent in a mature, thoughtful way. It has nothing to do with their kids. Therefore, I encourage you to reach out to a trusted adult who can speak to your father on your behalf: a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, your mom, your coach, or a family friend. Your dad needs to hear from another grownup that what he’s doing is wrong and that he needs to learn better ways of parenting. Take good care of yourself!

Question: My mom calls me names. Is it my fault? I am always the one who causes the problems at home.

Answer: No, it's not your fault. As an adult, your mother knows better and should demonstrate self-control. Name-calling is a juvenile behavior. When parents engage in it, they lose their position of authority in the family and are no longer seen as role models by their kids. No parenting expert in the entire universe would ever condone name calling as a tool for rearing children.

With that being said, it seems like you and your mother are in some twisted dance together. You cause problems at home, and then she calls you names. What is the payoff for you? Is it the attention that you get? After all, negative attention is better than no attention at all. What is her payoff? Does it make her feel powerful in a life that feels out of control?

The two of you need to have an honest, blunt conversation and vow to make changes. Tell her how hurtful the name-calling is. Ask her how you can be more helpful around the house and less problematic. Ask her how you can get attention for your positive behaviors, not your negative ones. Work together as a team to make your home a happy and peaceful place.

There's enough chaos and pain in the world. We need our homes to be sanctuaries. It's not unusual for parents to resort to name-calling when they're feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Ask your mom how you can relieve some of the burden from her shoulders. I wish you well with this!

Question: What to do if you are getting called an idiot by your parents and you are scared to tell someone about that?

Answer: Are you scared of what your parents will do if they find out you’ve told someone? I’m concerned that there’s more to worry about in your home than being called an idiot. While that alone is quite damaging, I’m worried that you’re being abused in other ways as well.

It’s not unusual for dysfunctional families to be isolated. They often have weak ties to their relatives, neighbors, and community. If this is true in your situation, you may be feeling especially frightened, alone, and unsupported.

I’m not going to make a recommendation to you because I’m concerned about your safety. I don’t want to suggest anything that would put you in harm’s way. I’m worried that you don’t have trusted people in your life--grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and teachers-- with whom you can confide in about this matter.

Please give it some thought and reach out to someone who cares about you and will know what to do. You and your family need some help. Take good care of yourself!

Question: What should I do when my mom calls me stupid, lazy, and an idiot?

Answer: I’m sorry that this is happening to you. Your mother is using poor judgment and is lacking self-control. Her behavior is verbally abusive. Hopefully, you can convince her to stop but, if not, please get an adult involved to help.

When she’s in a relaxed mood, bring it up using “I messages.” Say something such as: “Mom, I feel sad when you call me names. I’m worried about you. It seems like you're under a lot of stress and I’m wondering if there’s anything that I can do to help.”

By expressing compassion and concern, you might prompt her to open and be vulnerable. It might be the starting point for a much-needed conversation about what’s happening in your home. Then, the two of you can brainstorm ideas to fix it.

If the name calling continues, talk with an adult you trust: your dad, a grandparent, a teacher, a family friend, or a counselor. Ask that person to intervene on your behalf and speak with your mom. She may be at a breaking point and need some support. Take good care of yourself!

Question: My father calls me names like crybaby, jackass, lazy, etc. He claims that I will never make it in the future because I cry when he yells at me. I can't help crying. I'm afraid of telling a counselor or my doctor because they will tell my parents that I told them. Then, my dad will yell more. Even though he isn't beating me, it still hurts a lot, and I'm paranoid about everything I say and do. I don't know what to do since I am so scared. What should I do?

Answer: It seems like you’re in the same predicament that I faced as a kid with a name calling father and a weak mother who’s too scared to intervene on your behalf. Like you, I never told anyone but lived to regret that. The name calling haunted me well into adulthood, making me less confident and more mistrustful. Its profound negative impact on me as an adult is what prompted me to write this article.

If you haven’t already, tell your mom how much the name calling hurts you. Talk about the research in neuroscience that details its far-reaching harmful effects. Ask her to speak with your dad about it. Have a conversation about why she’s hesitant to intervene. Gently remind her that it’s her obligation as a parent.

If she doesn’t act, reach out to someone who can advocate for you: a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, or a family friend. That person should encourage your dad to take parenting classes or, at the very least, read a parenting book. He has some faulty beliefs about how to motivate youngsters that are causing you a lot of pain and need to be corrected.

Even though it’s difficult, don’t cry when he taunts you. Your father is a bully and they like to have power over people. Some get off when making others break down emotionally. If he gets no reaction from you, he may get less pleasure out of it and stop.

Most importantly, know that you matter. You deserve to live in a home where you feel safe and there’s no name calling. Don’t let your dad’s words become your inner voice. Do a lot of positive self-talk to remind yourself how worthy you are. Take good care!

Question: My parents have been calling me names like fatty, lazy, and others much worse. This past week has been very stressful and they called me a mess up. Is it okay? They're only looking out for my future so should I let it happen?

Answer: Your parents aren't helping your future by calling you names. It's not motivating or useful under any circumstances. It's just wrong. There's no child psychologist, family therapist, or parenting expert in the entire universe who would recommend that moms and dads engage in such behavior.

When your parents are in a relaxed mood, tell them how you feel when they hurl hurtful labels at you such as lazy and fatty. Use “I messages” so they don't get defensive: “I feel hopeless/angry/sad/disrespected when you call me that. What can we do to stop the name-calling and solve our problems in a constructive way?” (You may want to tell them about the latest research in neuroscience that shows name-calling can alter a child's brain structure and lead to serious issues in the future such as drug addiction).

Stressed out moms and dads often resort to name-calling because they don't have the time, patience, and tools to parent correctly. Name-calling is fast, easy, and maybe familiar if that's what they were subjected to as kids. Having productive conversations and problem-solving sessions take time and effort and require knowledge and skill.

If your household is stressful (as many are), think about ways that you can eliminate some of the burden from your parents. Take responsibility for what you need to do such as cleaning your room and doing your schoolwork. When you see that your mom and dad are overwhelmed, ask how you can help.

Name-calling in a family is typically a symptom of a much bigger problem. Talk to an ally (a grandparent, a teacher, a neighbor, a school counselor) about what's going on at home. It sounds like you and your parents could use some support and may benefit from family therapy.

Question: How does the parent decide or when do they decide to stop the name calling?

Answer: A parent stops the name calling immediately once they understand the long-term damage it's doing to their child. Then, they take ownership of their bad behavior, apologize to their youngster, and vow not to do it any more. Because the name calling is a symptom of a bigger problem in their parenting (that most likely stems from childhood), they need to examine the root causes of it. They may need to seek out a therapist or take parenting classes to fundamentally change the dynamic they have with their youngster.

Parenting expert, Peggy O'Mara, said: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” From my own experience as a victim of my father's name calling, I can say that this was tragically true. I'm now in my fifties and my dad is long gone, but the labels he stuck on me as a kid remain even though I've tried desperately to shake them. When he called my sister and me “buffalo butt” and “rhino rump,” he branded us for a lifetime. We've both struggled with eating disorders, poor body image, and low self-esteem.

Looking back on my dad's behavior from an adult perspective, I see how wounded he was from his own childhood. When interacting with my aunt, his sister, I witnessed the hostile sibling rivalry between them. As an adult, I realized that he had re-created that relationship with me when I was a kid. With his name calling and other immature antics, he had always behaved more like a resentful brother than a mature, loving father.

When parents call their kids names, they're usually reverting back to their wounded selves as children. They cease to be grownups. That's why they often need extra help through therapy or parenting classes to reclaim their status as the respected matriarchs and patriarchs in their homes.

Thanks for your question!

Question: If your parent calls you a name and you don’t like it, what do you do?

Answer: It's not useful to confront your parent at the time of the name-calling when they're upset. Pointing it out at that moment will only make them hostile, defensive, and unable to absorb the emotion behind what you're communicating. Wait until you're both in a relaxed mood to bring up the matter.

If your parent is especially sensitive to criticism, bring up the subject in a general way. Share the latest research in neuroscience that shows how verbal abuse can alter the brain's structure and lead to long-term problems. Have them recall a time from their childhood when they were called a name and ask how it made them feel.

If you choose to talk about your parent's specific behavior, use “I messages” to diffuse the situation. For example, say: “I feel hurt/sad/betrayed when you say that.” Don't say it in an accusatory way: “You always call me that when you're mad and you're causing me so much pain!” When people think a finger is being pointed at them, they tend to shut down and stop listening.

If your attempts are unsuccessful, turn to a trusted family member or family friend and ask them to discuss it with your parents. I'm glad that you're being pro-active and looking out for your own well-being. I know how miserable it is to grow up in a home with parental name-calling.

Question: How do I cope with parental verbal abuse because I'm a teen and I've been having mental breakdowns today?

Answer: You cope by being proactive. I'm so glad you read the article and now understand the seriousness of parental verbal abuse. Please talk to a trusted adult immediately about what's happening in your home and how it's affecting your mental well-being. Discuss it with a school counselor, a grandparent, a teacher, a neighbor. Show them the research in neuroscience that explains how name-calling has the potential to alter the structure of the brain, having a negative impact for years to come.

Parental verbal abuse is typically a symptom of larger problems in the home. You, your parents, and your siblings may need to attend family counseling together. Your mom and dad may need to attend parenting classes. You may need to see a therapist. You may need to live somewhere else until the situation in the house improves. Your parent is off track and needs some help to do better.

Start taking better care of your mental and physical health. Spend time with friends. Share with them what's going on and how it's affecting you. The worst thing you can do is keep your emotions bottled up, causing you undue anguish. Focus on exercising, eating right, meditating, and spending time in nature. Write about your feelings and experiences in a journal.

Most importantly, don't try to handle this by yourself. Reach out to someone right away and keep reaching out until someone hears you and helps you. I'm keeping you in my thoughts and hoping for the best.

Question: My dad calls me names and my mum does nothing. When I complain about it, she tells me to go away and yells at me that she doesn't want to hear it. What do I do about my father's name calling?

Answer: I wish that I had an easy answer. However, this is the same situation that I faced as a child, and I couldn’t help myself back then. My mother was weak, cowardly, and financially dependent upon my dad. She let him call me hurtful names, just standing by and relieved they weren’t directed at her.

My best suggestion is to reach out to someone who has some influence over your parents: your grandpa and grandma, an aunt, an uncle, neighbor, or friend. Explain what’s happening and ask them to intervene on your behalf. A school counselor would also be a valuable resource.

When parents resort to name-calling, it’s typically a symptom of a bigger problem. They may be experiencing stresses at work, in their marriage, or with finances. Try to determine where the tension is coming from and help alleviate it if you can.

Just keep in mind that this is a failing on their part and is not a reflection of you. It’s never okay for a parent to call a child names. My father has long since past, but my interaction with my mom today is extremely limited. I’ll never forget how she just stood by and let my dad give me hurtful labels.

Question: Sometimes, I don't take a lecture well from my mom and she reacts badly. She calls me a piece of shit who won't make it in life and says that I deserve to be on the streets. She has chased me around the house with a knife and threatened to kill me. Is that normal for a parent?

Answer: Your mother is out of control and you need to be out of the house immediately. If your parents are divorced, call your dad to pick you up now. If that’s not a possibility, move in with another relative, a friend’s family, or a neighbor. Under no circumstances should you remain in that environment with someone who is behaving so irrationally and dangerously.

If you need help, call CPS (child protective services) or the police (911). Your mom may be struggling with a mental illness. You’re not equipped to handle this matter on your own so please reach out for support. Nothing is more important than your physical and emotional well-being. Get away from her and stay away from her until she gets professional help.

Question: My parents call me a failure, a slob, a pig, an idiot, stupid, dumb, and worthless. I actually have a lot of friends, and I want to talk to them. So I grabbed an extra iPad from the living room and hid it. My friends gave me compliments to make me feel better. I am an only child and never have anyone to talk to. Yesterday, my parents found the iPad. They hit me, threw me into the door, and called me the same names they always do. I just want a normal life. Can anyone help me with my abusive parents?

Answer: Yes, there are people who care and want to help. You, though, must have the courage to take the first step and reach out to them. You’re in a bad situation, experiencing both verbal and physical abuse. Because this is all you’ve ever known, you probably have no idea how wrong it is and how much your parents are off course.

Isolation is a common tactic of abusers, and it sounds like your parents are utilizing it. This isolation makes you feel even more helpless and alone and even more dependent on your tormentors. It makes you less connected to people who love you and want what’s best for you.

You have several options. Since you have a lot of friends, you can confide in one of them and get their parents involved. You could ask to move in their home until your parents get the help that they need (i.e. anger management courses, parenting classes). You could also move in with your grandparents, an aunt, an uncle, or family friends.

You can also speak with a teacher or counselor. They’re required to report any abuse to CPS (child protective services). Then, a social worker will come to your home to interview you and your parents. The social worker would take whatever steps necessary to keep you safe and well.

Please reach out to a trusted adult as soon as possible. If that person doesn’t take action, reach out to someone else. Keep reaching out until you find a grownup who’s willing to get involved and knows what to do. You deserve to have a normal life and be in a home that’s safe and loving.

Question: My dad always tells me to lose weight. Every time he sees me he says that it looks like I've gained a few pounds. I already hate my body and my looks, and it doesn't help that my mom doesn't care. I asked my mom straight-up: "Do you think I'm fat?" She answered, "I know that you're going to cry but yes. Just face the facts."

Answer: As your comments illustrate, being overweight as a youngster is a symptom of a much bigger problem. It's not a kid issue; it's a family issue. Unfortunately, when parents are busy, they often ignore the deeper, more complex reasons for the weight gain. They see the solution as being easy and not requiring any involvement on their part, but that's not the case.

In their minds, it just takes you eating less and moving more. Unfortunately, it's not that simple as you probably already know. There are a lot of hurt feelings that need to be addressed. There's dysfunction in the family unit that needs to be resolved. They are communication skills that need to be improved. If you and your parents only look at the weight issue, you're missing a wonderful opportunity to get to the heart of the problem.

If you were cutting yourself, for example, the solution wouldn't be for you to no longer have access to sharp objects. No, the solution would be for the family to figure out why you're engaging in this harmful behavior and confront the root problem. The same is true with weight issues, whether it's gaining too much, losing too much or having anorexia or bulimia.

The first step is to get your mom or dad to take you to the pediatrician for a check-up. Your doctor can then explain the changes taking place in your body and why they may be leading to weight gain. Your doctor can advise you on how to best maintain a healthy weight and improve your body image. Your doctor will probably urge your parents to buy more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, prepare healthier meals, and purge the kitchen of snack foods, sodas, and such. Your doctor will probably recommend that technology use be reduced and outdoor time be increased.

The next step is to explore the underlying reasons for the weight gain: things you mentioned such as not feeling good about your appearance and thinking that your mom doesn't care. You could be suffering from depression, which can most definitely result in extra pounds. This, too, is something to discuss with your pediatrician who may then refer you to a psychologist or therapist.

Family counseling would be a wonderful way for you, your parents, and any siblings to talk about tough subjects with the help of a professional. It provides a safe space to explore the dysfunction in the family and figure out workable solutions. You definitely shouldn't be in this alone.

You may want to read my article entitled, “How to Help Your Child Lose Weight: Advice From a Former Fat Kid.” Your parents love you but aren't seeing the bigger picture. Please reach out to them for help so all of you can get the support you need. Take care!

Question: Last night, during the coronavirus quarantine, my parents called me "stupid" for not doing schoolwork. What should I do if this happens again?

Answer: We’re all under stress during this time. Your parents may be worried about their jobs and finances, the family’s mental and physical health, your education and future. With that being said, I hope that their name-calling is not a regular occurrence but a one-time event brought on by the strain of quarantine.

Instead of waiting until it happens again, be proactive and stop it from recurring. When your mom and dad are relaxed, address the issue using “I messages.” I messages will make them react less defensively and, thus, be able to hear your hurt. Say something such as: “When you called me stupid the other night, I felt sad and defeated. I know what we’re all going through is hard. But I need your love and support, not name-calling.”

Then, it’s your duty to get the homework done without them resorting to nagging or name-calling. As a parent myself, I know that many of us are concerned that our kids are falling behind academically during this time. Don’t add to your mom and dad’s anxieties by neglecting your school work. The therapist, Esther Perel, says: “Behind every criticism is a wish.” I think your parents’ wish is that you stay motivated and keep learning.

Question: My mom keeps calling me mentally retarded and stupid and an idiot. She calls me this when my brother keeps annoying me and laughing at me. She and my dad never believe me when I tell them this. How can I make my mom stop talking to me rudely?

Answer: Even though she’s an adult, your mother is acting immaturely. Name-calling is ineffective, juvenile, and (as you know from my article) can have a far-reaching negative impact on kids. Perhaps, her parents called her names when she was a child. Perhaps, her life feels out of control, and name-calling makes her feel powerful. Perhaps, she doesn’t have the necessary tools to be a competent parent. While these excuses may explain her bad behavior, none of them excuse it.

When she’s in a relaxed mood, discuss the name-calling with her. Use “I messages” so she doesn’t feel attacked and react defensively. Say something such as: “Mom, I feel hurt when you call me names. When my brother starts to bug me, I’m going to take a walk around the neighborhood or go to my bedroom. I’m going to ignore him. If I do that, will you please stop the name-calling?”

Parents are under a lot of stress these days. It would make her feel better if you’d acknowledge that reality and offer to help. When you and your brother argue, it increases the tension in the house. Now, more than ever, we want our homes to be peaceful places. By working together and making a plan, I know that you and your family can make your living situation happier and more tranquil.

Question: I’m in my 60’s and would like to know what I can do to stop making comments to my adult children and granddaughter. I'm not intending to hurt anyone, but I’m a big kidder but not an expert on knowing when well enough is enough. How can I become more conscientious in my language?

Answer: First, let me congratulate you for wanting to make this change. It would be easier to just get defensive and say: “This is who I am. Take it or leave it.” Because you’re motivated, though, it shouldn’t be difficult if you stay vigilant about your words and elevate your role. After all, you’re the patriarch!

If they’re like most of us, your adult kids and granddaughter have plenty of folks in their lives who kid, goof off, and tease them. I imagine that they’d like you to be more of a leader, role model, and advisor than just another joker. In an increasingly hostile world, I bet they’d like you to be kind, compassionate, and sensitive to their feelings, especially if they are tenderhearted.

When I’m trying to alter a behavior, I adopt a mantra to keep me focused. Then, I say it again and again when I’m in the situation (either in my head or out loud). You could use something such as: “Let me use my words to create connection, not division.”

When my sons were little, my husband pointed out to me that I was sarcastic with them. While wounded at first, I did eventually step back, check my behavior, and realize that he was correct. I read about sarcasm and discovered it’s a passive-aggressive behavior. It’s used by people who are feeling hostile and impotent and struggling to communicate in a direct way. At that point in my life, this description fit me to a tee. When I worked to improve my communication skills and gain some power in my life, I was able to drop the sarcasm.

Therefore, if you take the time to figure out why you behave in this manner, you’ll gain powerful insight. You may need to go all the way back to childhood, but that newfound awareness will help you stop.

Question: How important is it for adults who were verbally abused as children by their parents to find validation and support in the present?

Answer: In many cases, it’s crucial. When we’re children, our world is so small and, therefore, the words of our parents are so impactful. We believe what they say is true without question and their statements about us become our inner voice. If their words are critical and hurtful, they damage our self-esteem and can stay with us long into adulthood.

If we misspeak at an office meeting or cocktail party, for example, we may automatically hear our parents in our heads. We may be listening to a tape that says: That was so stupid! How could you say such a thing? You really put your foot in your mouth this time!

Becoming conscious of these destructive thoughts is important to finally getting rid of them. When they start playing in my head, I use the mantra: “We are not our thoughts; we are the awareness of our thoughts.” This helps me snap back into the present and reclaim my power from my father.

Working with a cognitive therapist can also be extremely helpful. Clients learn strategies to make their thinking work for them, not against us. Thanks for the question!

Question: I've been called a bitch, a baby, lazy, irresponsible, fat, and a know-it-all many times. I feel like the name calling has negatively impacted all my relationships. I want to be nice, open, and gentle, but I feel like I can't do anything right. How can I stop my parents name calling when I have asked, but they won't listen?

Answer: You’re astute to appreciate how this is negatively impacting your relationships, your self-confidence, and your autonomy. You’re in a situation at home where you have little power and that often leads to despair. Because both of your parents are doing the name-calling, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed while they’re feeling emboldened by one another.

In homes where there is abuse (whether it’s verbal, physical, psychological, or sexual), members are often isolated from their extended families and the surrounding community. I’m hoping that this is not true in your case, though, and that you can reach out to other caring adults for support. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can intervene on your behalf by speaking with your parents about the name-calling. They can encourage them to get help by seeking therapy or taking parenting classes.

As much as I admire your desire to stay nice, open, and gentle, it will be nearly impossible to do so while living in such a brutal environment. There’s no doubt that your parents’ harsh words will change who you are and break your spirit. That’s why I’m hoping that you can move in with extended family or a friend’s family until your parents get help. You deserve to be living in a place where you feel safe, loved, and respected. Your parents are incapable of providing it at this time so I recommend that you live elsewhere.

Question: How can I escape from a mum who has been calling me fat, untalented, and dumb compared to my sisters who are way better than me in everything? She does not try to understand that I have inner demons.

Answer: It sounds like the inner demons that you’re battling are caused largely by your mother. You’ve internalized her voice (the one that calls you fat, untalented, and dumb) and that’s created a lot of needless pain for you. Your mom is insecure and gets a dose of self-worth when her daughters excel. When you don’t reflect well on her, she feels hostile toward you and calls you names.

I don’t know your situation and options so I can’t recommend ways for you to escape. If you feel that it’s intolerable to stay at home, ask an extended family member or a friend’s family if you can move in with them. If that’s not necessary, ask someone to speak with your mother on your behalf. That person (your dad, your sister, an aunt, a grandparent, a neighbor) should explain how destructive the name-calling is. They should encourage your mom to see a therapist or take parenting classes.

One of my favorite mantras is: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Don’t let your mom or anyone else measure you against your sisters and find you lacking (that includes yourself)! You’re a unique and talented being who’s here to do wonderful things. Don’t use the excuse of having inner demons to keep you from enjoying life, helping others, and accomplishing your goals. If you need help to manage your thoughts, work with a cognitive therapist online or in person.

Question: Can I call the cops on my stepdad for name calling?

Answer: That would be a bad idea for two reasons: 1) The police are extremely busy and are not the best resource for dealing with non-violent family disputes. 2) If you get the police involved, your stepdad will be furious and may never trust you again. He may think it’s unsafe for him to live in the same home as you, fearing you may get him in trouble with the law.

Your mom is responsible for protecting you from such verbal abuse. She should be your advocate. Make certain that she’s aware of how much the name calling is distressing you and ask her to intervene. However, she may be too scared, too weak, or too financially dependent on her husband. Therefore, she may be hesitant to speak up and end it.

The best plan is to get all of you--your mom, stepdad, any siblings, and you--into family therapy (online or in person). The name calling is a symptom of a larger dysfunction in your home. You need professional help to unravel the problems, talk about them, and find solutions.

For this to happen, you need to confide in a trusted adult about your home situation. That person can direct you to resources in your community. If your mom isn’t being proactive, speak with a school counselor or nurse, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a teacher, or a neighbor. Please know that there is help out there and people do care.

Question: My dad called me mental because I always repeat the same mistake. Is it right for him to call me that?

Answer: If he called you that just once, it’s not a big deal and you should brush it off. It sounds like he got frustrated when you repeated the same mistake. While it wasn’t the best response, it certainly wasn’t malicious. My article is about the harmful effects of parental name calling that is frequent and occurs over time. If this is the only example you have, you’re quite fortunate and should count your blessings.

Question: Whenever I feel good about myself, my mom says that I’m getting fat. Is there something I should do? She makes me think that I’m the problem and it hurts.

Answer: Your mother is being cruel and seems to be deliberately undermining your self-worth. Has she always acted in this nasty way or is this behavior new? If she’s been this way throughout your life, then it’s time to get away from her until she seeks professional help. She either needs to attend therapy sessions or take parenting classes. Until she gets the help that she needs, go live with your dad, your grandparents, an aunt, an uncle, or a friend’s family.

If this is new behavior, have a heart-to-heart with your mom and ask her why she’s calling you names and acting so mean. Explain to her how hurtful it is and how it’s destroying the relationship and wreaking havoc on your self-esteem. Hopefully, she’ll open up and explain why she’s being this way. Perhaps, she had a weight issue when she was a teen and that’s why she’s hyper-focused on your body now. Perhaps, she became sexually active at a young age and is wanting you to avoid that same fate. Whatever the reason, her actions are misguided and she needs to change the way that she’s parenting.

Please talk to a trusted adult about what’s happening in your home. It’s not right, and you shouldn’t be navigating this on your own. Your mom has problems that she needs to deal with and another adult can make sure she does so.

Question: My mom calls me a baby, lazy, selfish, and once even a bully. It really, really hurts. Should I let my mother communicate with me so rudely any longer?

Answer: When your mom is in a relaxed mood, speak to her about the name-calling and how it's hurting the relationship. Ask her to stop. In the future, if she starts up again, leave the room immediately. Moreover, never get in the mud with her.

We teach people how to treat us. By disengaging from the situation, you'll be informing her that this behavior is unacceptable. If she wants a relationship with you, she must treat you with respect.

Name-calling is typically a symptom of a bigger problem. If this behavior has only shown itself recently, your mom may be stressed out, depressed, or angry, and in need of therapeutic intervention. Ask her if there's anything you can do to help. If the name-calling has always been a part of her behavior, that indicates low character. She's unlikely to change so it's best to distance yourself from her.

It's said that the person who causes us the most emotional pain is our greatest teacher. Take what you're learning from your mother's name-calling and make yourself a better, kinder, and stronger person. Vow to never use words as weapons to hurt others. Realize how powerful they are and speak them to lift people up, not tear them down.

Question: I get called "useless" and I feel useless as well. I help around the house doing my chores and all and I get called useless when I spend too much time on my phone or laptop rather than helping my parents. Is this verbal abuse or just strict parenting?

Answer: This is ineffective parenting. Being given a sweeping label such as “useless” would make anyone (child or adult) feel bad. As you indicated, it’s making you internalize the remark and feel impotent. Instead of motivating you to do what they want, your parents actually accomplished the opposite and made you feel like giving up.

In psychology, this phenomenon is called “learned helplessness.” After continuously encountering a negative and uncontrollable situation, humans (and animals, too) eventually stop trying to change our condition even when it becomes possible to do so. We gradually surrender and accept our fate. As a result, we may feel hopeless, anxious, and depressed. This is happening to you when you complete your chores but still get called “useless.”

This situation is bound to damage your self-esteem unless you take control. Since you’re already doing your chores, you may be frustrating your parents with too much screen time. If they haven’t set parameters for the use of technology in your home, they should do so as leaders of the household.

Some moms and dads allow screens only when chores and homework are completed. Others allow screens only on the weekend. Still others have their kids put the screens in a basket upon arriving home from school and don’t return them until the next morning. If your parents haven’t set up rules such as these, ask them to do so. Otherwise, misunderstandings, resentment, conflict, and confusion will continue.

It seems like communication has broken down in your family. When that happens, it often results in name-calling. After all, slapping a label on someone is a whole lot easier than making a chore chart, establishing and enforcing screen rules, and being good role models. Yet, all those things are necessary to make a household run smoothly.

© 2018 McKenna Meyers


McKenna Meyers (author) on August 16, 2020:

Philippa, I wish that every parent who calls their child names could read your comments. You explained it so magnificently, especially its long term impact. I went to therapy and read self-help books and it helped. Yet, my dad’s critical, cruel voice still enters my head and ravages my self-esteem more than I'd like. During the pandemic, I worry so much about kids and pray that moms and dads are choosing their words carefully.

Philippa Whittingham on August 16, 2020:

My father told me I was hard, selfish, etc etc, basically I grew up feeling I was a bad person and if people knew the real me they would reject me. It wasn't just the words but the way he said them. Total contempt and loathing. It was as if I was worth nothing and shouldn't be on the planet. I completely "disappeared" if that makes sense. I had a breakdown when I was 13 and went into hospital. I suffered from OCD. I'm now 70 and I still have this negative voice in my head saying I'm no good and nobody would like the real me. For example, writing this now the voice is telling me I'm wallowing in self pity and boasting about how awful my childhood was.

I realise that basically it's our thoughts that make us sad, nothing else and we need to be aware of them but I find it very hard because mine are so automatic and ingrained that most of the time I'm not even aware that I'm beating myself up.

McKenna Meyers (author) on July 13, 2020:

Linley, I’m sorry this is happening. As you probably know by now, some women struggle mightily with food, dieting, and body image. The normal, natural changes happening to your body at 14 (weight gain, breast and hip development) may be triggering your mom’s insecurities about her own issues. She may be recalling some of her painful times with weight when she was a teen or young adult. She may feel scared or threatened that you’re growing into a young woman. Since she’s not listening to you, build a strong support system of friends and relatives who do. Focus on taking good care of yourself: eating healthy food, exercising, being outdoors, meditating, writing in a journal, and keeping a positive outlook. Stay connected to your feelings and don’t bottle them up by using food, electronics, or social media. Most of all, know that your mother’s name-calling and negativity has everything to do with her own limitations and are not a reflection of you.

Linley on July 12, 2020:

My mom keeps on calling me things like disrespectful, ugly, fat, disgusting, pig, ever since I went over 100 pounds. What's worse is that she only started after I tried being more mindful about my weight a bit before I turned 14, and it's made me feel terrible about my body. She often downgrades my friends as well, and it's made me a lot more distant towards her. I don't want to be mean to her, but I try to avoid her whenever I can. I know she won't listen to me, and I don't think my dad cares, so I don't know what to do.

McKenna Meyers (author) on June 29, 2020:

Pamela, I recommend that you take the kids and move in with your parents, a sibling, or a friend until your husband gets the help he needs. Your fears are well-founded. Without intervention, your kids may very well become verbal bullies like him. You could very likely be a target of their abuse as well as your future grandchildren. Yes, they will probably come to blame you because you’re their mother and it’s your responsibility to protect them. I wouldn’t return to the home until your husband has gone to therapy, has taken parenting classes, or has done both. You’ll feel much better about yourself if you take action now to safeguard your kids. Take care!

Pamela on June 29, 2020:

My husband is verbally abusive to our 3 children. He calls them useless , thick, a waste of space, and many other names i could not put on here. He also does it to me. I confront him regularly about his behaviour but he seems to not be at all bothered about the effects its having on our children. It is very difficult because I fear i will get the blame whwn my children get older but I worry more that this behaviour will be repeated by them. Its difficult to get someone to change when they are completely desensitized.

McKenna Meyers (author) on May 02, 2020:

Mami, it’s so tragic that you and your husband have let this go on for so long. Now you have a profound parenting problem as well as a far-reaching marital one. Neither you nor your husband have the knowledge and skills to make this better without professional help. All of you would benefit from family counseling (online or in person). There’s a good chance that the therapist will recommend that your 18-year-old son leave the home. Your days to parent him are over and you need to focus on your younger kids and not make the same mistakes with them.

Nobody should be allowed to treat you with such disrespect. Moreover, your husband shouldn’t be permitting it. It’s a horrible example for your younger children who may treat you the same in the future if you don’t remove your older son now.

If your husband and son won’t participate in family therapy, you should consider moving somewhere else with your younger kids. This doesn’t sound like a safe environment for you because your son might escalate to violence. Your self-esteem is probably very low at this point so please reach out to family and friends for support. Please get going with this and I wish you the very best!

Mami Sandra on May 02, 2020:

My husband was emotionally abused by his own father throughout his childhood. He called him a thug, arrogant, parasite and it has left deep scars in my husband.

As a result, my husband has been parenting our oldest child completely the opposite way: He never asks him to help at home, spoils him materially and gives him decision making power alongside me as his wife. He treats him like his best friend.

Our son is now 18 and incredibly lazy. He has finished college till October and stays up every night until 3 am or later. He then stays in bed till 2 pm. He never clears up after himself unless asked to and then responds with “Shut up. You do it. You are the housewife, you do literally no work all day.”

Today after I asked him to bring a dozen dirty plates down from his room (having asked him several times already), he shouted at me, told me to shut up, what is my problem, get out. I am at my wits’ end. He has not grown up to be a team player, never offers to help with anything and has never even made us a cup of tea (whilst his younger siblings regularly help at mealtimes and just generally join in family life).

So today, I told our son not to be lazy and arrogant and do his bit just like the rest of us. And not to speak to me like this.

My husband was not happy with my handling of the situation (he said nothing at all as our son shouted at me) and instead referred me to this article. He thinks I am damaging our son just like his father damaged him by telling him he is lazy and arrogant (when he is in fact exactly that). Surely it should be obvious to my husband that what I am doing is rightfully telling a young adult how not to behave whereas his own father unfairly labelled him.

I fear my husband is so damaged from his own upbringing, he cannot see that teaching your child to be lazy is another form of damage.

McKenna Meyers (author) on April 05, 2020:

Taein, it's kind of you to think of others and share what you've learned in the midst of your suffering. I hope that folks will heed your advice and get the help that they need. We understandably expect our family to be a source of comfort and support in our lives. It can take us a long time to realize that they're actually the source of our pain.

Don't give up on yourself, Taein. I hope that you can find the strength to get out of that situation and find somewhere safe to go. I'm rooting for you.

Taein on April 05, 2020:

To this day when I am about to be 30 years old, my mother treats me like a piece of shit. Not just about appearance but the most terrible abuses and vulgar language she can think of and shouting all the time. She has narcissism. My father is always silent and also not supportive/understanding at all. I have one older sibling who has schizophrenia who also gets mistreated. For 20 years, I have been enduring and I don't know what to do about it. I am already dead on my bed, I want to run away but it's not easy. Sometimes it feels like it's too late. It feels like I have unseen chains that tie me to my bed all day. I don't eat drink or even go to washroom until it's too serious. Due to that I am having serious health and abdominal issues which I have always had but now they are getting worse. I understand that I have clinical depression, social anxiety, separation anxiety and skin picking disorder. Behavioral problems as well. My reason is to tell anyone who is suffering out there just like me that please don't lose hope and please don't make it late. Please have treatment before it's too late. Please don't endure it, you are beautiful and you deserve all the love. Please don't make it late. May God always bless u and help u to make your way out of it. Ameen

McKenna Meyers (author) on March 07, 2020:

Lynn, I'm sorry that your childhood was filled with such abuse and hope you're doing well today. Every day I'm grateful that I now live in a home where there's no name-calling and I feel safe and loved. I hope you have that as well.

Lynn on March 07, 2020:

I grew up with verbal and physical abuse from my sister and my father. She was always calling me names and telling me to shut up every time I spoke. My father would say I was going to weigh a ton every time I had a snack. One year he said he would pay me a dollar for every pound I lost from then until Easter!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 02, 2019:

The books you mentioned can be very helpful to people who need to overcome this kind of abuse. It was rare that my parents slipped and said something unfeeling. Usually, they were very careful with their words and I am grateful because I take words internally.



McKenna Meyers (author) on November 04, 2019:

Kathy, I'm so sorry you've had to endure this for so long. I suggest calling your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) and make an appointment with a geriatric social worker. With your concerns about his age, diagnosis, and abusive behavior, you could easily spend on hour with a professional talking about your dad. The social worker can inform you about resources in your community for both seniors and their caretakers. The social worker may explain that your choices are limited if your father is unwilling to accept help. At the very least, though, you'll get advice on how to protect yourself and your family from his actions. It's a difficult situation and you definitely deserve some support and guidance. Best to you!

Kathy on November 04, 2019:

I am 54 years old and a mother of a 31 and 23 year old and have never, ever, EVER called my children names of any kind. EVER. Growing up, our parents called us everything they could think of and to this day, my father still says the most hair curling things. He slings such horrific names, I cannot repeat them and am so embarrassed that my own children have witnessed him calling me and my husband and even my own children some horrible names. I'm not sure where to turn, but feel he needs intervention of some type. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the late 1990's and I feel he needs mental help. He is 76 years old and to be honest, I feel as though he can be dangerous in society as he's lashed out to other people, not just family, in the past. Do you know of any help that an adult child can obtain for their parent?

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 29, 2019:

Jas, thanks for sharing your story and making my article come to life with your thoughts and experiences. You represent many of us who, wanting desperately a relationship with a parent, are willing to tolerate and endure so much. I'm glad you're finally at a point where you can forgive your dad but won't go back for more of his abusive behavior. Accepting that you'll never have a loving father-son bond is difficult but will ultimately bring you peace. I now have my dad's critical name-calling voice out of my head after decades of hearing it. I started recognizing and silencing it every time until it gradually faded away. I hope the same for you.

Jas Crowell on October 28, 2019:

I've tried to comment several times and always stop short of pressing send. I'm not one easily moved, but this is the first time in nearly 50 years that I have seen anyone address this issue. I was raised in a family where the oldest childs first words were the same endearment my father used for my mother - "Dumb Bitch".

As children, we were often called, stupid, lazy, fat, useless, retarded.... I can't even continue the list as there are just too many to name. And, we got the same excuses - "If you think that's bad wait til the "WORLD" gets a hold of you. This will toughen you up" or, and I never understood this one either, "I was trying to motivate you".

Now, my mother did not stand idly by and watch this happen - she divorced him, and took us an hour a way so we were only subjected to it (without her) on weekends, holidays, summer "vacations", and the like. She had been with him voluntarily - we were hostages. There IS a difference.

I took the brunt of it from him, but admittedly there was far more to it than I will delve into here. By the end, I left home after a very terrible childhood (for all parties involved) at 16. I ceased all contact with my father for the next 3 years, and through urging from siblings and other family members, made the effort to reconcile.

Nothing changed. Not a damned thing. Now, it was worse - he no longer made an effort to veil the insults, humiliating commentary and hateful remarks because I had willingly come back to accept this behavior.

"It's just how he is, we learned to accept it why won't you?"

I again ceased contact. I married, my first child was born and again, I made the effort to reach out. Again, the same behavior ensued. I allowed this to continue for another 2 years, and ceased contact. Then, my second child was born, and, ever hopeful yet again, I reached out to reconcile. I set boundaries. I established that if he would not, for whatever reason, be able to speak to me civilly and respectfully, then we would no longer speak at all. And, for the first year, things improved slightly (though honestly we only saw each other 3 times, for less than 24 hours each occurrence).

Then it began again. In earnest. Then came him being displeased with a conversation my wife and I were having in which I used a movie quote - and suddenly he decided to slap me in the back of the head. For whatever reason, I did not respond. His behavior continued in this manner for 3 more years. I had finally had enough.

October 11th was 11 years since he and I have spoken. Since I could not ensure the safety of my children in his presence he was not allowed contact with them until they reached an age where they could decide for themselves, as they had seen how he treated myself and others.

Every day, in every single thing I do, I still hear the incessant criticism, insults, humiliating comments.... And every day, still, I regret my existence because of it.

Today I made a decision. I had considered once again reaching out to him. He is in his mid 70's now, smaller, weaker and not the person he once was I am sure, as I am not the same either. Then, it all hits me again - every word - and the anger, humiliation, shame all rise to the surface and I realize I can forgive him, but I can never be foolish enough to allow myself to be close enough to let it happen ever again.

The estrangement today becomes forever. Maybe by burying the remains of the relationship in the ground, there will be peace.

All things being equal, I preferred being hit. It never seemed to hurt as long.

Thank you for letting me post this. Good luck to you all - JC

McKenna Meyers (author) on July 11, 2019:

Hattie, I realize the economic realities of your situation, but please try your hardest to get out of that home...for your own sake and the sake of your child. The name-calling is so destructive and you don't want it to contaminate the next generation. Like your mother, mine stood by and let it happen, only to wonder years later why my self-esteem was in the toilet. As Peggy O'Mara said, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” It literally took me decades to finally stop hearing in my head the negative labels my dad had given me. Because of them, I had such a horribly distorted view of my weight, my appearance, and my intellect. You need to start forming a positive self-image but that won't happen in the house with your tormentor. I'm keeping you and your child in my thoughts and prayers!

McKenna Meyers (author) on July 11, 2019:

Bettybb, don't be pained by what you see in the phony world of Facebook. Instead, be proud of extricating yourself from an abusive situation. The love you felt for your children was so strong that it motivated you to finally end it with your mother in order to protect them. Sadly, not every mom is strong enough to do that, and the cycle of abuse continues. I, too, believe my father was replicating with me the sibling rivalry he had during childhood with his sister. He always behaved more like a mean, bullying brother to me than a wise, loving dad. Enjoy your life and the freedom that comes from being away from an immature and abusive name-calling parent!

Hattie on July 11, 2019:

I was called stupid and my sister fat at 4 she could eat a cheeseburger and he called her double cheese I was Ricky retardo and still now he makes stupid jokes comments on my weight my hair what I’m wearing he says he’s teasing I feel like the reason I never felt I could do anything is because I always viewed myself as stupid my mother never said anything I got into an abusive relationship and my mom was like you’ve always had such low self esteem why do you think that is ? It took me a long time to figure it out that maybe I was born with low self esteem but I think it’s that . I feel like even now if I say I’m gojbf to the gym his remark is you’ll quit or when I got food stamps he said negatively you’ll never use them I have severe depression and doing anything is hard I had a kid young and am stuck in there house for now he’s said things when my rooms a mess you’re an asshole

bettybb on July 08, 2019:

This is a great article! My mother was physically and emotionally abusive (I was also sexually abused by another relative.). I was tall, and she called me a sow, a cow, a heifer, a long-legged grasshopper, Bigfoot, and more. She often made derogatory references about how unattractive being "big-boned" was and would often draw other's attention to my various physical flaws. She especially savored it when someone joined her in the criticism.

She also called me lazy, stupid, and countless other names that devalued my mentality. My mother hated me. I think it was because I resembled her sister whom she had a lifelong rivalry with. She also had a lot of resentment for my father whom she believes cheated on her. He'd walked out on her when I was an infant and never looked back.

When I was in my late 20s, married with kids of my own, I decided that I could no longer tolerate my mother in my life anymore--especially when her abuse started to affect my children. She slighted and ignored them in favor of my brother's children.

After cutting contact with her, she devalued me to the rest of the family. They never forgave me for cutting her out of my life. I don't think they believe me about the abuse as she always seems to sweet and kind around them.

Anyway, that was 20-years ago. I'm now the black sheep, left out of everything, and it's painful to see photos of get-togethers, birthday parties, etc. on Facebook.

The part in the article about never bonding, because of the abuse is so accurate. I have some feelings for my mother, and through the years, I've suffered a great deal of pain about the way things are, but I never fully bonded with my mother the way my siblings did.

McKenna Meyers (author) on May 17, 2019:

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Ken. I hope the science will change behavior, making name-calling a thing of the past like beatings and factory work.

Ken Burgess from Florida on May 17, 2019:

Good article, important topic.

Being a parent is tough, it really takes work and effort to try and do the right things, knowing that everything you do is programming your children to one degree or another... effecting their self-image, or how they look at the world.

We are all human, you try and do the best you can.

For myself, learning about what my father went through as a child, and how he grew up helped me understand his perspectives better and why he did some of the things he did.

It was only a generation or two ago (depending on your age) that children were regularly beaten, not just by parents, but by school teachers, and others in society as well.

Go further back, and children as young as six could have been working in factories or anywhere else just to help the family get by.

Recognizing you were abused is a boon, because you can work to counter it... and you can work to make sure you don't pass it along to your kids.

McKenna Meyers (author) on March 03, 2019:

I'm sorry that happened to you. We take that hurt from our childhood into adulthood, and it's hard to shake. It takes parents just a few thoughtless seconds to say it and years for us to get over it.

Nobody on March 03, 2019:

I have had this happen to me. It still hurts. :(

McKenna Meyers (author) on August 27, 2018:

Thank, Dora. I love that Peggy O'Mara quote, too. I think all parents should have that on their refrigerators as a daily reminder.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 24, 2018:

You confronted a very serious family problem in this article, and you presented it well. I hope that parents and parents-to-be will read and learn. That Peggy O'Mara quote is worth a daily reminder. Glad you were wise enough to seek professional help. Best to you going forward!