5 Reasons Parental Verbal Abuse Is Far More Damaging Than We Thought

Updated on April 8, 2020
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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 and cause serious problems.
Science has shown that name-calling can change a child's brain structure and cause serious problems. | Source

If Your Mom or Dad Called 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. | Source

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.

What about you?

Did your parents call you hurtful names when you were a child?

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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

  • How should a child respond to a verbally abusive parent?

    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.

  • 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?

    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!

  • 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?

    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.

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

    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!

  • 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?

    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.

© 2018 McKenna Meyers


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    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      3 weeks ago

      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.

    • profile image


      3 weeks ago

      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.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      5 weeks ago

      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!

    • profile image


      5 weeks ago

      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.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      3 months ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Mami Sandra 

      3 months ago

      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.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      4 months ago

      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.

    • profile image


      4 months ago

      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

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      5 months ago

      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.

    • profile image


      5 months ago

      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!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      8 months ago from Fresno CA

      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.



    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      9 months ago

      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!

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      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?

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      9 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Jas Crowell 

      9 months ago

      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

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      13 months ago

      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!

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      13 months ago

      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!

    • profile image


      13 months ago

      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

    • profile image


      13 months ago

      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.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      15 months ago

      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 profile image

      Ken Burgess 

      15 months ago from Florida

      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.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      17 months ago

      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.

    • profile image


      17 months ago

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

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      23 months ago

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

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      23 months ago from The Caribbean

      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!


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