Take This Survivor Quiz
It may sound odd, but many people who were victimized by their families don’t fully realize it until they are well into adulthood. And while every family is unique, the dynamics associated with trauma, addiction, and abuse are strikingly similar across households.
Think back over your childhood and answer the following questions:
Did you feel afraid in your home on a regular basis?
There may have been a lot of anger or yelling in your home, which led to a fear of getting in trouble, or even being hit. We live in a society where spanking is considered normal, but being hit by your parents is scary—especially if they use an object, like a belt, or hit you across the face.
Did you feel alone or isolated much of the time?
When the dynamics in the household are abusive, parents don’t really want their children connecting in meaningful ways with people outside the home, because they don’t want others to find out what is going on. Family members even isolate from each other, as children lay low and try to stay out of trouble.
Were the kids in your family pigeon-holed into one of the following roles?
The golden child, or hero, whose job is to be a high achiever and make the family proud;
The scapegoat, who everyone criticizes and blames for the family’s problems;
The mascot, or clown, who makes jokes or entertains the family, to break the tension or distract from the dysfunction;
The invisible, or silent child, who just disappears and doesn’t bother anybody.
Abusive families regularly push their children into these roles, and children are rewarded for acting them out—siblings even help to keep each other in line, for example by joining the parents in dumping on the scapegoat.
Did you feel like you had to take care of your parents?
Children as young as age five in abusive families may be forced to take on substantial responsibilities around the house, such as making meals or looking after younger siblings, because their parents can’t or won’t do it.
Did you fill the role of emotional confidant for a parent,
with them telling you their troubles?
If you answered “yes” to these last two questions, it means that the parent-child relationship was turned on its head. Parents are supposed to meet the physical and emotional needs of their children, not the other way around.
Did your family keep secrets?
When abusive and dysfunctional things are happening, children are quickly taught not to tell anyone outside the family what’s going on (secrets may be kept within the family as well—especially in the case of sexual abuse). This dynamic is linked to the isolation, mentioned above.
Did you feel like you could never do anything right?
Children typically want to please their parents, and often work hard to do so, according to the rules of their family. A hallmark of emotional abuse in dysfunctional homes is that the rules keep changing. So even if you try to do the right thing, you’re bound to come up short, and be punished for it. This dynamic is particularly difficult for people to recognize. This means that many adults keep coming back to their parents for validation that they are never going to get.
Are your relationships with your family members a source of ongoing pain?
While no home is perfect, our family members are supposed to love and support us and, on balance, make us feel good about ourselves. If you routinely walk away from family interactions feeling hurt, angry, or inadequate, something is wrong.
How to Assess Your Score
If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, I strongly recommend that you read more about the dynamics in abusive families. If stories from these homes resonate with your experience, you may come to the realization that you, too, are a survivor of childhood trauma. In that case, I also recommend that you look for ways to heal that wound, which might include attending a support group or individual counseling. I found yoga, meditation, and energy healing tremendously beneficial. Actively working to recover from the abuse you have experienced will help you to live a more peaceful life, and ensure that you don’t repeat the dysfunctional patterns in your own relationships.
I have written about my experiences, with my sister, in our book: Healing Begins With Us: Breaking the Cycle of Trauma and Abuse and Rebuilding the Sibling Bond.