Books/Resources re: family violence
June 18, 2012 9:34 PM   Subscribe

One of my parents comes from a difficult family situation. I have always assumed there was significant abuse and violence in the family; my parent has always denied that this was the case. Another family member has now confirmed my suspicions, and I'm looking for resources to learn more about the impact on my generation of adult children and our children of this sort of legacy of violence - where my generation was not directly victimized but grew up with parents who were.

My parent's sibling confirmed that there were decades of physical and psychological abuse (the quote was that the abuse was horrific enough that the abuser would have been jailed if caught), and that the abuser's mental illness progressed through various stages of psychosis and suicide attempts. My parent (the oldest) left home as early as possible, leaving the other children behind. Though each of them left as early as they could, there is a great deal of acrimony between the siblings around the issue of who protected and failed to protect each other, and who took the brunt of the abuse. Their other parent was not physically abused, but was unable/unwilling to protect the children. The abusive parent died 25 years ago; the other parent is now quite elderly. My parent and their siblings are all married with children; none of them have been physically violent with their own families, but all have had challenging emotional dynamics. My parent "does not believe in therapy"; some of the other siblings have had therapy as adults.

I don't know if there is any value in talking with my parent about the abuse, as they have consistently denied that it happened, and would be angry that I believe the sibling's word over theirs. I do, however, want to determine if there is value in talking to my own siblings about it (and/or my other parent), and would like to have some resources to understand how this second-generation/legacy of family violence impacts me and my siblings and our children.

I assume I'm missing some sort of exact terminology for this, but Google is not leading me towards resources that address this particular situation where the abuse was not in my immediate family. Any direction you can provide would be helpful, thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The literature and programs for "Adult Children of Alcoholics" is one starting point. The circumstances it covers includes what you have listed, and its programs are not limited to "alcoholism".
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:41 PM on June 18, 2012

"Adult survivor" may be a useful term.
posted by pantarei70 at 9:44 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another useful term is "transgenerational trauma."
posted by Wordwoman at 9:47 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Family trauma" may also be helpful.
posted by mleigh at 9:49 PM on June 18, 2012

I found out in late childhood that both my parents had been or experienced abuse in different ways. Although they were both in therapy, fairly open about it once they thought I could begin to understand it, and did their damnedest not to pass it on, anecdotally, I do think something transfers to the children of survivors.

The closest thing I could find relates specifically to children whose mothers had been sexually abused.
posted by smirkette at 9:51 PM on June 18, 2012

The book "It will never happen to me" is a classic on how children cope with a dysfunctional family and how their coping style affects them as an adult. It might give you some insight into your parents.
posted by metahawk at 9:52 PM on June 18, 2012

But wait, there's more! Children of Vietnam war vets, children of parents with PTSD, intergenerational trauma effects re: First Nations people in Canada. You're right--it's hard to find much without an academic database.
posted by smirkette at 9:58 PM on June 18, 2012

My first thought was to Google "children of abuse survivors," which led me to Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. On a quick Google search, there surprisingly doesn't seem to be much written about second generation abuse survivors, perhaps because there is an assumption the cycle of abuse continues, so if your parent was abused, you probably were, too. Of course, there are just as many survivors of abuse who overcompensate and try to counteract their negative childhood through their own parent-child relationships. I think you can learn the most by reading about adult survivors of abuse, as well as children of addicts/alcoholics (because they have some commonalities & if your parent isn't be forthcoming there is a strong possibility substance abuse was also in play). If your parent(s) are unwilling to admit or discuss the abuse, I wouldn't push it. Find out what you can from the sibling who is willing to disclose and consider therapy if you think it would be helpful to you.
posted by katemcd at 12:04 AM on June 19, 2012

One of the keys to finding more about adult children of abuse is to know what went on (alcoholism, addiction, physical abuse) and/or which mental illnesses were at play. When you know those, a web search for specifics turns up more information.

That said, in order to address this effectively, you need to know what you want from this discovery. I mean that constructively: if you want to know the effects on you, then it's best to start with issues you can already identify, whether or not you think they're related to generational abuse, and bring them up with a therapist. If you want to better understand what your parent went through, then it can be good to look into books, but your best route is to respect their choices and address issues in the here and now.

One of the hardest things as an adult survivor of child abuse, when you've managed to get away from it and build a healthier life, is still having to pay for it whenever you bring it up. I used to talk more openly about my abusive childhood, until I realized how many damaging assumptions were made about me due to it. Once I stopped talking about it, the assumptions stopped, and my life became much easier to live. Now I only talk about it here, because MeFi is a generally supportive place, and with a very few trusted friends (many of whom have been through similar experiences). If your parent doesn't want to talk about it, I'd venture an educated-by-experience guess that it's because they no longer want to be defined by something they had no choice but to endure. Everyone deals with abuse differently. If your parent has managed to raise you well, with some rough but non-abusive spots here and there, that's quite an achievement on their part.

This goes along with addressing issues as they are: all have had challenging emotional dynamics. Those exist in the here and now. They can be addressed as is. While it is true that knowing they were abused gives informative context, it doesn't change what's true in the present.

FWIW, this is also informed by the one supportive side of my family, my paternal grandfather and his relatives. I didn't know until after he died that my paternal grandfather, his siblings and cousins, had been pretty horrifically and systematically abused as kids. My grandmother was the first to tell me. Then a great-aunt told her son (who passed it on to me; we've both done genealogical research on that side of the family) on her deathbed that she had always wanted to be loved as she was, not for the horrors she'd lived through and seen her siblings and cousins endure as a child. For her that was the true victory over abuse: being loved for herself, seeing in her new, loving family that the abusive lies of being unlovable and forever broken were so completely untrue.
posted by fraula at 12:58 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

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