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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.



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

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  1. Barb says:

    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?



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  2. mani says:

    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.



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    • darling says:

      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



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  3. blossom4th says:

    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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