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Married To A Sociopath: Effects of Abuse on Children

When my husband and I separated after fifteen years of marriage, I felt as though all I did was answer question after question from everyone I encountered.  But, there was one question that stood out among all the others, and it continues to replay in my head, even today.

“Did you know your son was being emotionally and verbally abused by his father?”

A Mother Seeking Help

This was asked by a health care professional in the psychology department of the children’s emergency hospital.  My son had been in a severe depression for months, and I felt as though he was entering crisis mode.  So, at the suggestion of our pediatrician, I drove my son to the hospital.  I didn’t tell anyone I was going, and I made arrangements for my other child to be picked up from school.

I was unaware that once we were admitted to the ward, we could not just leave at whim.  Actually, they took my son inside for evaluation while I was locked outside of the entire wing, left to sit staring blankly at the dull, lifeless, faded pastel walls of the basement sitting-room.  The atmosphere was somehow comforting.  I think it would have been offensive to have bright cheery surroundings in a place that held such heartache and suffering.

I sat there for several long hours.  The nurse would come out every so often for updates or questions.  It reminded me of an almost perverse maternity ward where parents would look up expectantly whenever the door opened signaling news for one family as to the status of their child.  Only this time, instead of the excited anticipation of waiting to hold our newborn children sweetly wrapped in soft blankets, we sat in pools of guilt and insecurity while wrapped in an oppressive blanket of fear.

A Child In Crisis

Eventually, I was called in to the locked corridor and brought to a small room that held a table and chairs.  And that’s when the nurse from social services, accompanied by a psychiatric nurse, asked me the question that haunts me still: Did you know your son was being emotionally and verbally abused by his father?

I remember reaching for the table just to make sure I had something solid beneath me as I answered. The fact is, I had just recently discovered this to be true, and filed for separation as soon as I knew, but I hadn’t discussed it with my son, and I had no idea that he felt such effects that he was able to relay that information to complete strangers.

“Yes,” I tried to sound competent and worthy of caring for this child that was somewhere down the hall, completely out of my reach at the moment, “but I didn’t know for many years.  As soon as I knew, I tried to get his father to leave. He doesn’t live with us anymore.”  In my head I continued to explain- I thought I was doing what was best for my children by staying together; I didn’t know what emotional, verbal, and psychological abuses were.  I didn’t know”¦

Signs of Abuse Start To Show

It turns out, my ten year old son was better at articulating the abusive behavior than I was.  He may not have known what to call it, but he knew what scared him, and hurt him, and made him sad.  I thought I was protecting them from all of that.  It was very clear to me that I was not.  But I couldn’t go back and change my decision to stay with their father all those years, I could only move forward and figure out a way to help them heal.

While I was in the waiting area, his father called after getting my message on his cell phone, and went into a verbal tirade reprimanding me for ”embarrassing him by taking our son there while he was on vacation”. My ex was in the Caribbean on vacation with friends and believed that this was a ploy on my part to make him look bad.  I felt as though I was going to die from the unimaginable pain of hearing my ten year old son say he  ”˜didn’t want to wake up in the morning’, and my soon-to-be ex-husband was angry that he looked like a bad father.  I couldn’t process that level of narcissism and ended up turning off my phone mid-call.

Learning To Trust My Instincts

After a painful and tumultuous night, my son and I left the psychiatric hospital and headed for home.  Just as I was about to start the car, my son turned to me and said, “Thanks mom, for taking me here tonight.”

I didn’t have a response other than to say, “You’re welcome,” and give him a hug.  But inside, all of my anxiety and fear over my decision that day disappeared.  I wasn’t sure why he was thanking me.  I think he needed to know that he was loved and supported, that his emotions were validated, and that he was not expected to ”˜fix himself’.  We were going to help each other by trying to understand what we had been through and by sticking together while trusting our own instincts.

I didn’t listen to my instincts for so long; it felt a little uncomfortable to start making decisions this way.  But I was finished listening to what other people thought was acceptable or not.  I didn’t know the signs of emotional and psychological abuse because there were no bruises, no broken bones.  That was how I defined abuse.  After all, words can hurt us, right?

Understanding Abuse

Well, eventually I learned that while physical abuse leaves bruising and scars on the outside, emotional and psychological abuse leave wounds and scars on the inside, and those don’t fade nearly as quickly, if at all.  We didn’t have any broken bones, but our spirits were broken, as were our hearts.

It almost seemed unfair to me at the time that victims of physical abuse didn’t need to prove they were abused and, often, tried to conceal it. While here we were trying to explain why and how we were abused, and other people in our lives tried to cover it up.  Of course, I do understand that physical abuse is also accompanied by the ”˜unseen’ abuses, but I didn’t understand (and still don’t) why it is not accepted by much of the world that abuse is abuse whether it leaves visible signs or not.

I also learned that many people would rather pretend abuse doesn’t exist, because it is embarrassing, messy, and complicated.  Looking back, I could place myself in this category during the early years of my marriage.

Making Excuses

But, I think what is most confusing about these forms of abuse is that the abuser can usually manipulate the victim to believe it is normal behavior, especially if they are using the guise of love and compassion.  My ex-husband, like many sociopaths, was very good at making me feel adored and cherished; so, it was easy to make excuses for him when he was acting cruelly.  I could tell myself he was tired from working so hard, he was stressed about providing for his family, he was upset about something that happened that day, and on and on.  The interesting thing was I was never able to use these ‘excuses’ for myself.  I always had it easy, according to him, and expected everything done for me.

A Turning Point

But that night, one of the worst nights of my entire life, was a turning point for me.  I now knew that the effects of the abuse we suffered in secret silence for years had left a devastating toll, and so did my son.  I promised myself that night that I would listen to my instincts and teach my children to do the same.  And I would learn everything I could about healing from emotional, verbal, and psychological abuses.

These days, we are still surrounded by questions about what happened during those fifteen years, but now, we are the ones doing the asking.


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23 Comments on "Married To A Sociopath: Effects of Abuse on Children"

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Quinn – what a powerful article. It is heartbreaking what you and your sons endured. I’m so glad you left your ex, that you and your sons are healing, and that you’re sharing your experiences here at Lovefraud.

Yes, we need to listen to our instincts. We *know* when something is wrong. We need to trust ourselves to *act* on our knowledge.

Quinn,
This article and all the honest stories here made me realize that I did the right thing in filing for divorce. Sometimes I questioned myself but hearing my 17 year old son that he is glad this evil person who so pretended to be his father is out if our lives. I now know what kind of emotional scars they leave us with. I have no idea what a “normal” relationship is. We were so used to the abuse that it seemed normal to us. Quinn I admire you for your strength and actions. If you did it I then I can get through this also . Also I totally agree that emotional abuse is so hard to prove. Nobody would believe that my deputy husband was abusive. If they only could look behind doors .

Thank you again.

My problem was the same as what Quinn so eloquently expressed!!! My ex was so good at appearing to be a good guy that when he was hurtful it somehow became my “responsibility” to excuse him…That covert abuse is what is So very insidious. Thank You for your contributions Quinn!!! I see so much of my past in yours….Just yesterday a friend told me that I tend to repeat myself in conversation. Not in a forgetful way but just to keep reiterating….Thinking about that made me realize that that was a result of my never feeling truly heard in my marriage!!!! Oh the damage those $#@&s cause!!!!
Quinn keep your son blanketed with your love and protection!!!

Bravo Quinn!
You have just told the story that makes so many of us squirm.It is our story too.As you said,not truly understanding what all abuse entails,leaves one confused.”Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?!Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong!But today he is a charmer!”

I really could have cried reading your story.I felt so guilty for deciding to stay and then later finding out how my girls suffered.I wasn’t the only victim after all!But I have forgiven myself after mentally struggling with that one.I’ve decided to move forward.

Imara,
I tend to repeat myself alot in conversations too.My husband never dignified me by listening to me.

Quinn,

I can relate to so much of what you’ve written. I finally left my ex, but the damage was done, and I later lost a child to suicide. The difficult anniversary is coming soon, so again, I am reminded of the price we all paid for the evil we lived with.

I wish that I had known about emotional abuse many years ago. It still is hard to explain the devastation that this type of abuse causes, and I now see how being raised with probably two narcissists in the family made what I lived with in my marriage pretty much “normal” and therefore, “invisible”, even to me.

I also repeat myself; my children tell me this, and I, too, recall NOT being listened to by the ex. Thanks for helping me to see the connection to the past in this aspect.

So glad that you took your son in for help. I wish so much that I had known then, the damage that had been done. I wish I could have known, and gotten help for my child, before it was too late.

I’m so glad that Lovefraud is here. It helps me to read and see that I am not so alone, as many people just don’t understand these kind of relationships.

I wished I’d found this article and read it a long time ago!It’s about the possible connection of Stockholm Syndrome and PTSD in abused women.It’s referring mostly to physically battered women,but in all forms of abuse,trauma is a consequence.Some is worse than others,and this article helps one to understand why.It also helps me to understand my avoidance and wishful thinking were part of the Stockholm Syndrome;I do not need to ever feel guilty!Who cares about all these gung-ho people who wanna tell you what they woulda done in ‘your situation’!!!

http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/35/the-relationship-between-stockholm-syndrome-and-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-in-battered-women

I wish I could say the journey through the counseling system was a good one. The first 1 1/2 years of the seperation from my ex he had custody. And about the only thing I “won” in the courts was that my kids were mandated to be in counseling.
My youngest started telling me her dad was hitting her again (He stopped for awhile after the separation). I told her to tell her counselor. She did and she told me the counselor said she “did not believe her”. I sent an email to the counselor say that I did not care if she “believed” her she needed to deal with what my child believed happened. The next appointment my daughter said the counselor told her she had talked with her dad and he admitted spanking her, and she believed that, but she did not want to hear the word “hitting” again from my daughter.
For what it is worth, while I filed no grievance, she was apparently fired about 2 months later.
She also told the school counselor, at my prompting, who dismissed it as nothing more than spanking and did not report it.
My mother reported it to Child services and no investigation was done.
All along she had said her dad had merely spanked her, but that he also hit her back and legs when he did it and that he hit her so hard she was not be able to breathe. She said these incidents were prompted by things like her refusing to go to bed, a fight with her sister and her losing some toy when they were out and about.
I had to let my daughter know after this that she was on her own if he hit her again. That I had stuck my neck out for her and had been told that I was being vindictive and that if I made another stink I might have my visitation rights terminated.
Thankfully, all the hoopla appears to have made it so he has stopped spanking her. So it did serve its purpose. But I also think it has to do with the fact that due to my ex’s homeless state a few months later I now have custody and he does not have her long enough to get really upset with her.
Her new counselor where I live never seemed to want to talk to her about in depth stuff. At least what my daughter said was all they ever talked about was how she was doing in school and how she got along with her brother and sister. In part because of this reason I allowed her to quit going. She said she talked about her emotions more with me and how to deal with them.
In the year and a half that I have had custody her temper tantrums have gone down from almost daily and so violent that I had to bear hug her as protection to one major temper tantrum about every six weeks. And she reminded me proudly after a minor tantrum this morning she didn’t hurt anything.
I ache that my children are so wounded, especially my youngest, from all that they have experienced.

Reading this article at a time when I am confronting the exact same thing is at once liberating and terribly painful. What happens when we do not recognize and our job is to be the parent that does not let a child down?

My children are now 22 and 25, and only two weeks ago did my eldest break down and let out the abuse that was going on that I had no idea about. We spent the entire night in bed holding each other and sobbing. The last thing I said was “DONT LET THE TERRORIST WIN”.

I am putting her in therapy. I want her to pull the pin out and live her life.

I dont know, when does it end? When does the cycle end? Will we ever have semi normal lives ever again?

Quinn your words grabbed me, and I held on reading over and over again.

HurtTerribly – I am so sorry for what you and your daughters have experiences and are experiencing. It is just heartbreaking. But knowing the truth, and speaking the truth, are the first steps towards recovery. Releasing the terrible pain will take time, but getting the poison out of your system will allow you to slowly and gently fill yourselves with love and move forward.

Quinn
Your story almost identically matches mine. My younger brother became psychotic in the 1980s but he clearly expressed his antagonism to our father. I remember him confronting our father in the home and raising his voice (and threatening with a knife). My other two brothers arrived to take him to the nearby psychiatric hospital. He did not return home for 9 years. He attacked someone seriously at this hospital and he was transferred to a psychiatric facility for the criminally insane. My brother claimed that our father had ‘raped’ him. I can only confirm my own experience. My father grabbed my nipples when I was about 12 years old. I was wearing a coat but still…it was sexual abuse. My mother did nothing. She herself reached out and grabbed my crotch when she was supposed to be talking to me about menstruation; the school showed a film to all the girls in our class and gave us a booklet to share with our mothers in preparation for the ‘discussion’. This was how my mother handled the ‘discussion’ about menstruation.
There is more…a lot more. Back to my brother…

He somehow survived 8 years at the facility for the criminally insane, although he did throw himself under a truck in an attempt to suicide. The miracle is that he made it back to our crazy family and even ‘made up’ with our father. My father was clearly a pathological narcissist but I wonder if he was also a sociopath?

I am one such child. I haven’t had a child just because I don’t want myself to become a part of a child as my father is part of my personality; the part I hate in me. Am I a psychopath? No. Am I a narcissist? May be. But the rage – the remnant of a long emotional and some physical abuse – makes me be cautious to have a child of my own.

After marriage, how did you alone decide to not have a child? Did you discuss your issues with your spouse and does your spouse agrees with it or does she/he feel cheated or has this impacted your married? Would appreciate your response

When my oldest daughter graduated from HS in ’04,I was separated from my husband for the first time,and had no money for a gift;much less to throw her a party.

Let me regress a bit.Because of her dad,she had moved out even before I left him.A teacher(who I think may be a sociopath)saw the opportunity and ‘moved in’,kind of adopting my daughter as her own and later she became her legal guardian.So besides the heartbreak of an abusive marriage,I now suffered the heartbreak of a woman trying to compete as a substitute mother for my daughter.

With this in mind,I had a friend write a poem (I wrote down some key thoughts)that would be my gift to her for her graduation.This is the poem.
A Mother’s Love

Thru years of learning and years of caring
Memories made are thoughts worth sharing
Let’s go back to the times we’ve shared
To the times we’ve loved and the times we’ve cared
There’s nothing like a mother’s love
A love so special from above
It warms my heart to know you’re mine
A thought I’ll cherish for all time
When you were born,it changed my life
I held you close,with joy I cried
Those little fingers and little toes
Those beautiful eyes ,that tiny nose
Your delicate skin,a baby’s scent
I pulled you close and off we went
Years flew by and changes came
The joy you brought I can’t explain
Your mischievous smile that we knew was you
It made me smile,you looked so cute
Life wasn’t perfect,there was pain we shared
But we made it thru,two hearts that cared
Though our hearts were wounded,we know they’ll heal
With Jehovah’s help for he loves us still
He watches closely with his tender care
A love so true that he loves to share
Please close your eyes,get lost in prayer
Think of peaceful thoughts,then pretend you’re there
You’re my beautiful daughter and I love you so
In ways that only a mother can know

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