Abusive Mothers: What Are Their Characteristics?
It may come as a surprise to many, but, in the case of young children, mothers are more likely to physically abuse them than are fathers. This, of course, is partly due to the fact that mothers usually spend more time with young children than do fathers, which, in turn, means she is more likely than the father to experience child behaviours that, for whatever reason, frustrate and anger her.
Research has shown that abusive mothers are more likely to be isolated than are non-abusive mothers, with low levels of support from their family and from wider society and her community.
Due to this lack of support, she may turn to her own child for emotional sustenance (as was the case with my own mother when I was very young; I would ‘counsel’ her and she sometimes referred to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist’, as I have written about elsewhere. I repeat myself only to benefit visitors who are new to this site). Such mothers who use their children in this manner are said to ‘parentify’ them. (I have already published articles on ‘parentification‘ and its adverse effects upon the child).
Of course, it is impossible for a young child to perform this role completely adequately as s/he lacks the requisite emotional maturity and life experience.
Very sadly, this, in turn, can frustrate the mother to a degree that she becomes abusive (my own mother became so hostile towards me that I was forced to go and live with my father and step-mother when I was just thirteen years old. Again, I have written about this elsewhere and include the information again only for the reasons given above).
Other Common Characteristics Of Abusive Mothers:
– low self-esteem
– prone to depression
– frequent withdrawal from the child and prone to be ‘passive-aggressive’ (eg to subject their children to a sulky and brooding type of ‘silent treatment. I have already published an article on the so-called ‘silent treatment‘.
– frequently uses outbursts of anger/rage to control their children
– shows children little affection (I cannot remember my own mother ever having hugged me – it felt rather like having a contagious disease; a highly infectious and potentially fatal one, at that).
– tends to have a low intellectual capacity which can mean she has a poor ability to reason with her children and to understand them
– tend to maximize their children’s perceived ‘faults’ but also to minimize/ignore their positive qualities
– rather than speak about the child’s possible ‘bad behaviour’ (as she perceives/judges it), she is likely to extrapolate from such behaviour (wrongly and unfairly) and call her child a ‘bad person.’
– tends to have a low frustration threshold and to be intensely over-sensitive to small annoyances young children may cause (my own mother could become apoplectic with rage if I inadvertently spilt a few grains of sugar in the course of making her a cup of coffee).
Possible Effects On Children Of The Abusive Mother:
Female children tend to internalize the adverse effects of an abusive mother’s behaviour towards them, and, as such, may :
– develop poor self-esteem
– develop poor social skills
– become prone to depression and anxiety
Male children, on the other hand, may both internalize and externalize the harmful effects of their mother’s treatment of them. As a result, they may:
– bully others
– be cruel to animals
– become physically aggressive/get into fistfights at school etc.
– indulge in vandalism
– indulge in stealing
– become prone to dishonesty (eg in an attempt to cover up anti-social behaviours)
– start associating with other children who may be regarded by some as a ‘bad crowd,’.
– develop poor social skills
– start to ‘play truant’ from school/ skip lessons
Of course, effects upon the child of having an abusive mother will vary according to the child’s genetic make-up and other aspects of his/her life (eg the effects of abuse may be reduced if the child has strong support from responsible others (eg school counsellors). Also, effects will vary, obviously, according to the level and duration of the abuse, together with the age of the child who is being subjected to the abuse.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).