Most of us who have children have felt the urge to strike them at one time or another. These feelings can be especially strong when a child won't stop crying, nagging, or defying us. Sometimes it has less to do with a child's behavior than with our own exhaustion, stress level, anxiety, or unhappiness. A lot of us manage to resist the impulse to hit our children. Unfortunately, many parents are not so restrained.
We can only speculate why, but physically abusive parents seem to share certain characteristics. First, they have an appalling lack of impulse control. Physically abusive parents will assault their children whenever they have strong negative feelings that they need to discharge. These parents seem to have little, if any, awareness of the consequences of what they are doing to their children. It is almost an automatic reaction to stress. The impulse and the action are one and the same.
Physical abusers themselves often come from families in which abuse was the norm. Much of their adult behavior is a direct repetition of what they experienced and learned in their youth. Their role model was an abuser. Violence was the only tool they learned to use in dealing with problems and feelings -- especially feelings of anger.
Many physically abusive parents enter adulthood with tremendous emotional deficits and unmet needs. Emotionally, they are still children. They often look upon their own children as surrogate parents, to fulfill the emotional needs that their real parents never fulfilled. The abuser becomes enraged when his child can't meet his needs. He lashes out. At that moment, the child is more of a surrogate parent than ever, because it is the abuser's parent at whom the abuser is truly enraged.
Many of these parents also have problems with alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse is a frequent contributor to the breakdown of impulse control, though by no means is it the only one.
There are many types of physical abusers, but at the darkest end of the spectrum are those who have children seemingly for the sole purpose of brutalizing them. Many of these people look, talk, and act just like human beings, but they are monsters -- totally devoid of the feelings and characteristics that give most of us our humanity. These people defy comprehension; there is no logic to their behavior.
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