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Should You Forgive a Physically Abusive Parent?

Updated on January 17, 2016

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You can be hit on the face or over the head.

You can be hit with a belt or some other weapon of discipline.

You can get things thrown at you.

You can get pushed, shoved, slapped or pinched.

You can be smacked around once in a while or be your parent's regular punching bag.

But no matter how you're hit, you're hit in your solar plexus - the center of emotional stability, will, joy of life and ego-identity.

Physical violence is devastating to a child's self-esteem and sense of safety.
Physical violence is devastating to a child's self-esteem and sense of safety. | Source

What Happens When You Hit a Girl

When you hit a girl, two things happen: she will likely blame herself (deep down), and she will have serious relationship issues with the opposite sex when she grows up. She will subconsciously choose abusive partners, and distrust men in general (assuming her abuser was a male).

Because of the way girls are socialized, we are trained to put blame on ourselves. Even when we're angry, we're not allowed to express that anger, so it often turns inward. This type of anger is a lot more dangerous than regular anger because it can go unnoticed for years, while a girl is 'punishing' herself through drugs, starvation, self-mutilation and other issues that can be masked.

What Happens When You Hit a Boy

When you hit a boy, the reality of it is, he is likely to become an abuser himself.

He is likely to have problems at school - getting into fights, acting aggressively without provocation, not paying attention in class, losing interest in things he used to enjoy, and becoming friends with boys of similar disposition.

If a boy doesn't receive help, he is also likely to become an abusive parent since he will see violence as the norm, and will probably say things like: "I was hit as a child, and I turned out fine" or "Some kids just need discipline". This type of man is far from fine, or even psychologically adequate.

While girls tend to internalize violence, boys are likely to become violent themselves.
While girls tend to internalize violence, boys are likely to become violent themselves. | Source

My Story

Being hit is bad enough; but physical abuse at the hands of the person who's supposed to love and protect you is simply devastating.

I know this because I was hit as a child.

It wasn't a regular thing - my father reserved it only for 'special occasions' (and only for me - he never touched my younger brother), but it was enough to distort my self-image into something unrecognizable. At times it seems that I'm still putting the pieces back together.

Something happens to you the first time you're hit. Your whole world changes in a flash. One moment you're a happy inquisitive child, the next - you're a depressed insecure pre-teen who lost a sense of safety in the world, perhaps, permanently.

A victim of parental abuse, Michael Jackson went through numerous plastic surgeries to erase the physical resemblance to his father.
A victim of parental abuse, Michael Jackson went through numerous plastic surgeries to erase the physical resemblance to his father. | Source

I was about 10 the first time it happened. I don't remember it very well, only the overwhelming feelings of shame and anger that eventually fused together and turned into a pervasive slow-burning sadness, something psychologists refer to as 'cold depression.' However, I have to recount the episode briefly.

Above all, my father is a man of principle.

He was helping me with my geometry homework, but he didn't believe in just giving me the answers. He wanted me to learn, but he had no patience for it. His idea of teaching was testing me with series of questions. It was like an ambush exam with an extremely irritable teacher. I didn't know the answers, I was tired and mumbling something defensive. At some point my father jumped up in his chair and slapped me across the face. The next thing I remember is lying on the floor with the left side of my face burning. I didn't even feel the pain, only the shocking horror of the moment. It happened again, and again, I'm not sure how many times.

The last time it happened, I was about 16, and I ran away from home. I grabbed the essentials - cigarettes, makeup, a book - and snuck out of the house at night, like a criminal. I took a train to my grandmother’s (I didn't have anywhere else to go), and before I even got to her house, I saw my father's car approaching. He walked up to me and without saying a word knocked me off my feet with a powerful blow to the face. I remember lying on the ground, my palms touching rough cold surface of the asphalt road. My glasses broke, I couldn't see clearly. I noticed something shiny on the side of the road, a few meters away. It was my earring. I was lying there blind and deaf, and then I heard: "Get up. Get into the car." We drove home in silence, and we never spoke of it again.

So Should You Forgive an Abusive Parent?

There are two schools of thought on forgiving those who've done you wrong:

  • forgive and forget, you'll be better off
  • you can't forgive the unforgivable, so just move on.

I agree that forgiveness can be healing and empowering, but only when it's sincere. I don't believe in 'forgiveness' that comes from guilt or outside pressure. Sometimes you're just not willing to forgive. Maybe the pain is so familiar, it's almost comforting. Maybe you want to 'punish' that person by not forgiving them. Maybe you're waiting to be asked for forgiveness. And there's nothing wrong with that.

But I wouldn't hold my breath. In my experience, abusers rarely, if ever, are self-aware enough to recognize the harm of their ways and to ask to be forgiven. In the case of parental abuse, it's even less likely because it would mean admitting they were bad parents, and who is willing to do that?

My father never acknowledged the abuse, let alone asked for forgiveness. In his mind, he was a good parent because he was a good provider; everything else is details.

For many years I carried on the best I could, from one bad relationship to the next, struggling with issues of self-esteem, depression, anxiety and a fear of speaking out. I felt like I was never good enough. I moved to another country and severed ties with my family. I blamed myself, I blamed my family, and even more so I blamed my father for everything that went wrong in my life. And I was angry. So angry.

But at some point I felt like the hurt and the anger are incredibly heavy burdens to bare, and they're holding me back. It's like trying to climb a mountain with a backpack full of rocks. I was suffocating under the weight of my childhood and I needed to be free.

Not only that, blaming my father for everything that went wrong was a very disempowering experience. I realized that I used it as a cop-out, a way for me to avoid taking responsibility for my own life. I needed to take my power back, and forgiveness seemed like the way to do that.

Maybe your family is never going to be picture-perfect, but you can still find healing and happiness, if you choose to.
Maybe your family is never going to be picture-perfect, but you can still find healing and happiness, if you choose to. | Source

Forgiveness Affirmation

I acknowledge that my parents are imperfect, and they did the best they could. I forgive them for any harm that they knowingly or unknowingly did to me. I forgive myself for holding a grudge against them. And as I embrace true forgiveness, I open my life up to light, laughter and joy.

Two Things to Keep in Mind

  • Forgiveness is an act of kindness to yourself. Emotional pain, when stored for long periods of time, has a tendency to fester, and to sip through every aspect of your life. You're not even thinking about it, yet you're acting from it, and your life starts going in a certain direction. Your abuser doesn't suffer from it; you do.
  • Most likely, the abuser was a victim of abuse. Although that doesn't justify the abuse, it can help you understand how they've become this way, so you can have enough compassion to forgive them.

My father's parents, my grandparents - God bless them and may they rest in peace, were simple uneducated people. My grandfather was often 'away' (read: in prison), leaving my grandma to raise two boys by herself and to make a living. When he'd come home, he liked to spend time binge drinking and chasing my grandma with an axe. My grandma would run to the neighbors screaming: "Help, he's killing me!", he'd get arrested, and the cycle would start over. Knowing what my father went through as a child helped me see how this damaging behavior shaped him and, unfortunately, desensitized him to domestic violence.

Journey of the Wounded Healer
Journey of the Wounded Healer | Source

Is There Any Way to Undo the Damage?

Three decades, countless books and one Psychology degree later, I am still asking that question.

I don't think there is a way to completely undo the damage, but you can find healing and forgiveness if you seek to find it, and you might even help someone along the way.

Jungian archetype of the Wounded Healer describes someone who uses his 'wounds' to help others. In fact, only by going through something yourself can you truly know what others are going through, and have the compassion that can potentially extend into service.

P.S. Dedication

I dedicate this to all the kids who are or were abused, be it physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse. I know what a scary and lonely experience it is. But it doesn't have to be a defining moment of your life.

I also dedicate this to my father who was an obvious inspiration for this article. I love you, and I am trying my best to forgive you.

And thank you to billybuc, a.k.a. Bill Holland, who'd encouraged me to use more of my 'voice' in my writing.

© 2015 Lana ZK


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    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 11 months ago from California

      Dear Adam,

      I had to take a few days to think on that. I think as long as you forgive, and you feel no bitterness or resentment towards them, it's OK to have no contact. There's no rule that says you have to be around them again. But from my experience, forgiveness does come easy at a distance. But once you're in the presence of that person again, the old feelings come up and you realize that your forgiveness perhaps wasn't total. There's still a burden on your soul from unforgiveness, and all the wounds are still healing. They may take a long time to heal. They may even never heal completely. But you are getting there. You learn the interpersonal skills your parents didn't teach you. You learn to treat others differently from the way you were treated. And you learn to forgive. If you want to. There's no rule that says you have to.

      But to be completely frank, I believe life is a game. And there are certain challenges, obstacles in this game. Usually of the emotional kind. You can meet the challenge and graduate to the next level. Or not. You'll get it next time. What I'm saying is, look deep within yourself and question your forgiveness. Make sure it's not superficial. If you really want to move on. And from that point on, it really doesn't matter whether you see your parents again or not.

      Hope I could help. Thank you for your trust and honesty. I'm still figuring all this out myself. Peace

    • profile image

      adam 11 months ago

      I forgave my parents, but I don't really want them in my life anymore. They abused physically, emotionally and verbally since I can remember (and maybe even before, but I have no recollection of that).

      There was never a relationship, and I've been pretty much on my own my whole life. I am 30 now and I am still learning basic interpersonal and emotional skills.

      Any thoughts about this approach? Forgive, but never have contact again. Just like you can forgive a stranger who slapped you at a restaurant for spilling wine on them, but you'll just never see them again.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 21 months ago from California

      Thank you so much Paula for your warm and thoughtful comment. I wrote this a while ago, as a way to put this behind me, once and for all...yet again. I'm so glad that it found a reader in you because this was probably the most personal piece I've ever written, and I wanted it to be as honest as possible. I feel very grateful for readers like you.



    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 22 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      This is an extremely moving story of your true experiences, Lana. My heart was heavy while reading how you described the intense effects this abuse had on you and your life as you grew older.

      Your journey to where you are now is commendable and I say, "more power to you," for being able to face this issue with such grace and dignity.

      Your dedications were the perfect ending to this saga. I am grateful to you for sharing this with your readers. Peace, Paula

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      peachpurple, in my experience it is a much harder ordeal to forget rather than forgive :) Some things you will never forget because of how they impacted you, but you might be able to forgive, if inclined to do so...

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      that depends, if the parent leaves a bad scare for years, I won't forgive but try to forget

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      Thank you for the kind words, Venkatachari M. I agree that excessive harshness as you say is often viewed as something beneficial to the child, from the position of an abusive parent. However, there is no excuse for physical violence, especially perpetrated against children. These parents are maybe trying to make themselves feel better, but the damage they create is real. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Uzochukwu Mike profile image

      Uzochukw Mike 2 years ago from Oba

      Lana Zaki, I must tell you that this hub has toughed many lives.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      Hi Bill, LOL, that's what happens when I'm away from HP for a day! Thank you so much for the wonderful words, and for all your support. I was sincere - it made all the difference. I'm off to find you on Facebook!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well I guess my comments showed up LOL

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I've left two messages now and I don't see either of them. Well, I was going to say...I have said...that I had tears in my eyes from reading this, but they were tears of happiness. Well done! You have risen above abuse and found yourself. No easy feat, that, and I'm proud of you. Thank you for the dedication....if one person is helped by you writing this, then you should feel wonderful about it.....heck, feel wonderful about it anyway. I'd love it if you looked me up on Facebook. You can find me under Bill Holland in Olympia. It would be nice to have you as a friend.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't see my comment....I'll wait a little while and see if it pops up, and if not I'll do it again. :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      "Forgiveness is an act of kindness towards yourself." That speaks volumes, doesn't it? This is such a beautiful piece of writing, my dear. Yes, I had tears in my eyes reading your story, but believe it or not, they were tears of happiness. You broke with the past by writing this. You showed others that there is another way other than bitterness by writing this. You took a chance and opened yourself up to strangers, and by doing so showed your courage. Kalinin, I am proud to call you my friend. Thank you for the dedication. You made this old man very happy and proud. Do me a favor and find me on Facebook....I'm under Bill Holland in Olympia...I'd like us to be friends if you don't mind.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very inspiring topic on harsh treatments by parents and forgiveness. I agree that parents treat children too much abusively sometimes, but they may not be thinking in that direction. They want to make the children perfect, it may be a selfish, prestige issued motive or for the good of the child. In both ways, the child is the benefiter. So, as you are telling, forgiveness can be the best option to keep family relations and live peacefully with no negative effects.

      Thanks for this inspirational hub. Voted up and awesome.

    • Uzochukwu Mike profile image

      Uzochukw Mike 2 years ago from Oba

      Forgiveness solves many problems, but hitting a child always is not good.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      We will never be close, and a lot of things are probably never going to be said, but we're OK. At some point you just realize that you can't keep blaming everything bad in your life on your parent. You gotta forgive, and you gotta move on.

      As for cultures, I agree, in Russia it's generally more permissive to hit a woman ( there's even a saying: "If he hits you, it means he loves you"), although it doesn't mean that there aren't many Russian men who would never ever hit a woman. And I hate that Russians have this reputation of thugs and wife-beaters. Even on 'Sex and the City' Baryshnikov sort of slaps Carrie! Thanks for stopping by Mel :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Got a little teary eyed thinking about how a wonderful person like you could have been abused. As far as abuse is concerned I think there are significant differences between our two cultures. Over here Men were expected to discipline their sons via "tough love," however you want to define that, but daughters were off limits. Of course there were exceptions, but I was taught very early in life NEVER to hit a woman, even if my sister was beating the crap out of me. Boy did she ever take advantage of that. I hope you and Pops can make peace. Great hub!