A Child’s Perspective on Life After Emotional Abuse: An Interview

A Child's Perspective on Life After Emotional Abuse | Hopeful Panda

Since this website focuses on healing from childhood abuse, I thought it’d be interesting to include a perspective of a child on how they feel about their abuse, specifically life with and after emotional abuse. So I decided to do an interview with my 12-year-old half-sister, Ushi.

For some background information, Ushi and I share the same mother, who was abusive to both of us in different ways. I have written posts about the abuse I experienced and how it affected me. But this post focuses on Ushi.

In 2018, when Ushi was 9 years old, my partner and I called child services on my mother. Long story short, after a series of events for the past three years, I was finally declared legal guardian to Ushi. You can read the full story of how I got custody in this post.

The following is a transcription of my interview with Ushi. I made sure Ushi was okay with doing this and having it published here. I made it clear that there are no right or wrong answers. And if there’s a question she’s uncomfortable with, she doesn’t have to answer it.

This interview is slightly edited for clarity. Relevant context and background information are also included.

I hope this post can offer a child’s perspective on what life is like with and without an emotionally abusive parent present. I hope it can also demonstrate the importance of intervention and support for child abuse victims.

Getting to Know Ushi

Q: Let’s start off with something easy. What are some of your interests?

Ushi: (nervously laughing) Uh… Drawing. Art. Gaming. Watching shows, specifically anime. Chilling. Being lazy (laughs). Spending time with friends and family.

Q: What are your future plans? As in, what do you want to be in the future?

Ushi: I’d like to be a freelance artist, I guess. I’ll likely get a main job first, and do art on the side. And hopefully, it can change into a full-time job.

Q: What type of artist?

Ushi: I don’t actually know, sorry. Maybe like character design, more story-related. Like comics.

Q: How’s school? Or well, how do you feel about school?

Ushi: Uh, the classes are okay, depending on the teacher.

Q: Do you have a favorite subject?

Ushi: Uh, honestly, I don’t think so. I mean, it’s not like I particularly hate any.

Actually, Ushi had a recent incident with her teacher where she felt very triggered by the teacher's tones and facial expressions. She told me that she cried and had a mental breakdown in class.  

She explained that she always felt like she was walking on eggshells in that class, claiming that the teacher's responses and behavior towards her reminded her of her mother. This wasn't the first time the teacher made her cry. Fortunately, Ushi was able to switch classes.

Q: Okay, well, how are you doing in school?

Ushi: I mean, I just got my report card very recently. As you can tell, I’m doing pretty good.

Q: Were you always doing good? Like were you always good at school?

Ushi: I think. I don’t actually remember.

Ushi is actually doing very well academically and always has been. A majority of her grades are in the 100s and 90s and she is frequently praised by her teachers.

Ushi’s Perspective on Family

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your family?

Ushi: (stutters) Anyone?

Q: Whoever you choose.

Ushi: Well, you see, I have a “mom” (making air quotes with hands). Well… biological mom.

Q: So you consider that family?

Ushi: Well, if we’re talking blood-related, then yeah.

Q: Well, what is your definition of family?

Ushi: Okay, well, family to me is when some people give you affection and love like you feel appreciated. And it helps your self-worth.

Q: Tell me more about your family.

Ushi: I don’t even know where to start.

Q: You can start with your parents.

Ushi: (smiling) Now, I consider you and [my husband] my parents.

Ushi’s Perspective on Her Birth Parents

Q: Okay, do you want to talk about your other parents?

Ushi: Thooose parents. Okay, so, um, anyways, we got my mom and my dad that’s all the way in France and barely sees me… ever. Uh, I don’t really like either of them.

For some context, Ushi's father lives in France and always has been. Meanwhile, Ushi and her mother has been living in the U.S. with us (my partner, father, sibling, and I), visiting her father in the summers. He's never shown interest in moving to the U.S. despite being displeased about Ushi living with us.

Q: Why not?

Ushi: They haven’t really treated me like how I think parents should. They’ve done many questionable and unforgivable things.

Q: You want to give an example or two?

Ushi: For example, um, it was relatively recent. The email thing with my father. He was trying to convince me to go back to France. But I refuse to go with him. I said no. And in the follow-up email, he then started to try to like, manipulate me, I guess. And saying things like, “Oh, you don’t know what you’re feeling”, “You’re too young to know”, and “I know what’s best for you”.

Throughout the whole case, Ushi's father has never really been involved. He was nonexistent in the first 2 years. However, once I was close to getting guardianship of Ushi, he started writing letters and emails insisting social workers, lawyers, and judges to send his daughter to him. However, he never showed up (in-person or virtually) to any of the meetings or court dates.   

He did, however, sent many emails to Ushi, convincing her to return to him. He was also badmouthing my partner and me that we know nothing about being parents, how we're awful parents, and how we schemed all of this to take his daughter away.  

Ushi tried to explain that life with her mother was difficult. She expressed how her mother made her feel. However, he dismissed those feelings, claiming she's just a kid. He insisted that her mother loves her despite her mother's faults. And insisted that she either returned to her mother or to him - her "real" parents. Worse of all, he accused Ushi of making up some of our mother's abuse towards her.

Q: What about your mother?

Ushi: She, uh, I don’t know what example to use.

Q: Okay, how would you describe her?

Ushi: At first glance, she might look a little cuckoo, in the eyes and her eyebrows. She’s a little scary. And she is scary. She isn’t physically scary as people might think whenever I say like “Oh, she’s kind of abusive”. She’s more emotionally abusive. I mean, I remember once I lost my sweater at school. I was trying to find it and all. I was devastated. And then, when school was over, I still couldn’t find it even though I’d been asking all my classmates and teachers. When I told [my mom], she started completely yelling at me even though I kept apologizing, I kept saying sorry. And then, when we arrived home after the walk, she would then just hug me like, “Oh, I’m so sorry for everything I said”, acting like all of that was okay. I still remember that very moment right now. So that says something.

Q: So how was life like living with your mother?

Ushi: It felt like there was always something weighing on me. Like just worry and overall, just feeling very down all the time. It was hard to feel happy, I guess. And… um, it always felt like she was always looking into my soul (laughs), trying to find little things to annoy me or nitpick about.

Q: Do you have an example?

Ushi: I actually can’t remember.

Q: That’s okay. If you remember you can tell me. Is there anything you like about your mother? Is there anything good you can say about her?

Ushi: Uh… not really.

Q: How do you think your mother affected you?

Ushi: Okay, so, I’m very sensitive to tones and people’s way of speaking. Like, whenever I talk to someone, I’d be so anxious about what they are thinking and how they act around me. And how they thought about me. I think it might stem from her because she was always, you know, trying to break my confidence and self-worth, I guess.

Q: How would she do that?

Ushi: I don’t know, like very subtle ways. She’d always… I don’t know… (silence)

Q: That’s fine.

Ushi: She’d always stare at me whenever she was about to lecture me about something. She would talk with that tone that’s very scary. Like… she has that death glare, too. That doesn’t help.

Q: Does she call you names and stuff like that? Like insult you?

Ushi: Yeah, but I can’t really remember. I’m pretty sure she did. But it’s very subtle to the point it’s hard to notice.

Q. Sounds like you have trouble recalling instances but you just know that she didn’t treat you right.

Ushi: Yeah, it’s so weird.

Ushi’s Perspective on CPS, Foster Care, and Court Stuff

Q: How did you feel about the CPS thing? Did you know that CPS was going to be called?

Ushi: Yeah, I was told beforehand by you guys. And you know, I don’t really remember how I acted, but I agreed to it because I was just so sick of it all. I think my mental health was just going downhill.

Q: Did you know you were risking being taken away?

Ushi: Yeah, I knew. But like, I still didn’t wanna be with her.

Q: So you’d rather risk that than be with her?

Ushi: Yeah. I mean, if I can even get away from her, even better.

Q: So how did you feel when they actually took you away?

Ushi: Um, at first I was scared because it’s like the comfort of home was gone, even though it’s pretty twisted like this home was scary with her there.

Q: Was there nothing positive about home?

Ushi. You guys! You guys spent time with me, making sure I wasn’t losing my mind. So yeah, at first, I was scared because just missing you guys mostly. But then, I was just trying to appreciate it, I guess because I realized how different it felt without my mother’s presence there. It felt freeing, I guess.

Q: Okay, so how did you feel when we got you and your mother’s not there?

Ushi. Exhilarated! I was excited because it’s like a fresh start kinda thing. I had a new room and all. I got to stay at a new place. It’s just “Oh my gosh, I don’t have to worry about this person always talking bad stuff to me and stuff”.

Q: Were there any negatives being with your “new” family?

Ushi: Nah, not really. I can’t find any reason.

Q: How about being in foster care? How did you feel about all that?

Ushi: It was a draining experience. It was just more like, feeling hopeless at some points that the case will never move forward. The court dates were like super, kinda far apart, making the court case very extended.

Q: What was your ideal goal? What did you want to be achieved?

Ushi: Mainly just to have you guys as my main guardian. And to be in your guys’ care instead.

Q: Like full legal care? Because you were under our care while in foster care.

Ushi: Yeah, legally. That she can’t really… like she’s not involved anymore.

Old Life vs. New Life: Life During and After Emotional Abuse

Q: How is your new life different than your previous one? So let’s say what happened with CPS is the transition point from you being in that life into your new life. What are some changes, some things that are different?

Ushi: The weighing thing I mentioned earlier. You know, that weight that’s just there. It gradually went away.

Q: Gradually? So it was still there in the beginning?

Ushi: Yeah, but with the help of my new family, it helped a lot. And I overcame some, I guess you could say, fears.

Q: Oh, like what? If you don’t mind.

Ushi: Like, I don’t know… I remember once that I kinda broke your phone. And I was very scared. I know for sure that if it was my biological mom, she would start… I don’t even know what she’d do. I don’t even want to imagine it at this point.

Q: Is there anything that stayed the same other than us?

Ushi: I guess my mindset is still similar. I’m still trying to work on it, though. Like my attitude and mindset towards some stuff in life.

Q: What do you mean by that?

Ushi: I don’t know. Sometimes, like, I feel so pessimistic or burnt out, I just start giving up or I don’t try to find solutions. I just stay stuck in that place, like “What’s the point of this, there’s no hope”. All that.

Q: How do you feel confident-wise?

Ushi: I feel like I’ve gotten much more confident, at least speaking with other people and with school. Just the socializing has helped, even though I’ve been kinda feeling drained introvert-wise. But like a good type. Not too bad. I still get the chance to talk to people and stuff, which just helps me relearn how normal talking goes. Like what’s normal for an average person to say and stuff.

Q: And that helped your confidence?

Ushi: It made me think like “Oh, people don’t hate me. Why was I thinking that? What’s wrong with me?”

Q: Why were you thinking that?

Ushi: ‘Cause you know, like I said earlier, I think it stemmed from my mom. I’m pretty sure she said stuff to me that made me have the impression that she hates me.

Q: Even though she said she loves you?

Ushi: Uh… her words felt so fake, felt like a worthless piece of rag of clothing that I can just throw away without any hesitation! Um, so when I thought that she doesn’t like me, she hates me, I think maybe everyone else hates me, too. So I started putting her face and I guess, in a way, putting her words to everyone else’s mouth, even though it’s not the things they were saying.

Q: Oh, okay.

Ushi: This feels like therapy (laughs).

Q: Did you ever do this in therapy?

Ushi: No… I’m sorry, but therapy was kinda useless.

Q: Why’s that?

Ushi: ‘Cause it was just useless questions. It feels like beating around the bush. But then, I was too timid to ask anything.

Q: Maybe they don’t wanna push you too hard?

Ushi: I know, but then I can’t… I don’t know, man.

Q: What were some of the things they asked in therapy?

Ushi: Like, how was your week? How are you doing in school? How are your friends?

Q: Okay, well, how are you doing? Like what would you say your general mood is compared to before and after?

Ushi: Seven.

Q: Huh?

Ushi: I don’t know why I was doing it out of 10 like that.

Q: So now it’s a seven. What was it before then?

Ushi: Three

Q: Do you think it’s possible to get to a 10? Or well, what do you think a 10 is?

Ushi: A 10 is like when something amazing happens, like “Oh, it’s my birthday” or “I’m eating delicious food, yes!” or “Oh, it’s Christmas!” It’s like that type of stuff, like that childishness.

Q: That’s good. Do you like being a child?

Ushi: Yes.

Q: Do you think you’re having a childhood, whatever that means?

Ushi: I mean, for the little moments it counts, yeah. I got to have at least some moments.

Q: Did you feel like you had a childhood before?

Ushi: Nah, nah, nah, nah. No. No bueno.

Q: Why do you feel like you’re having more of a childhood now? What’s different?

Ushi: I get to feel more carefree like you know, relaxed. I don’t think a child should feel very…

Q: Are you really relaxed though? Because I know you struggle with um, thinking about the future, wanting to do well…?

Ushi: That’s more like optimistic thinking. It’s more of an excited, “Ooh, what am I gonna do in the future like hmm”.

Q: Okay, because I know you were kinda worried about not knowing what to do exactly.

Ushi: I mean, I think that’s also another thing with… like I heard, this is probably going off rail but, I watched this video on Youtube. It seemed pretty cool. There’s this psychological effect, like disastrous, where you just think about the worst thing that can ever happen.

Q: Catastrophizing?

Ushi: Yeah, something like that. And even though it’s probably not gonna happen, you indirectly close the door on yourself like that. So I feel like that effect was kind of happening to me, I guess. Because, you know, my biological mother’s words kept echoing in my head.

Q: Has it echoed less recently?

Ushi: Yeah. Much less.

Q: Do you hear any other voices?

Ushi: Hmm, my own. But that’s a good, cheering, supportive one. I’ve been working on that, like a lot.

Q: Do you think your new parents helped?


Q: That’s good! Is there anything else you wanna say?

Ushi: Um, well, I just wanna say for any other people struggling, even though it might seem intimidating, it’s still… if there’s nothing… um… (sigh), I don’t know.

Q: Take your time.

A: Basically, escaping from your abusive parents can be scary because, you know, they’re your parents. You have a feeling like you have to stay by them, that you’ll never be able to get away from them. But it’s possible.

Q: How would other people do it? Well, how did you do it?

Ushi: With the support of, you know, you guys.

Q: What about people that don’t have that?

Ushi: You can try finding people that can support you, like friends and people that can be your family, maybe. It’s possible. It can be much better than the life you’re living right now.

Q: Well yeah, but not everyone has that option. So would you consider yourself lucky in that sense?

Ushi: Yeah, very lucky.

Q: Oh right. So you wrote a poem for your mom at the beginning of the whole CPS thing. Is it okay if I share it?

Ushi: Yeah, why not?

This is the poem Ushi wrote for her mother a few months after she was placed in my care by CPS. 

Ushi has been refusing visitations with our mother and our mother insisted that CPS and I was intentionally keeping Ushi from her, that Ushi wanted to see her. Ushi wanted our mother to know how she felt but was scared to confront her. So I suggested she write her a letter. This was what she wrote at the time at 9 years old:
Dear Mommy,
I feel better with myself.
I feel better with my new home,
I don't cry inside anymore
after every time we talk.
I don't hate myself anymore.
Unlike you,
My new parents understand
when they make a mistake,
Unlike you,
They know that nobody is perfect.
Unlike you,
My new parents don't scream at my loved ones.
This reminds me about
when you used to
talk about my fat body.
But now at my new home
there is something
which is called "Love"
I love my new current life.
I want to live at my new home.
I feel like myself here.
I love my new parents.
I wish I could live with them.
There's no screams in the room.
There is nobody who is
constantly talking about my fat.
There's nobody who is 
making me hate myself.
This is MY wish,
To stay and live with my new
parents and to never see you again.

Q: Do you still feel the same way?

Ushi: Um, I mean, I’m not really as focused on my mom now. I’m just trying to think about other aspects of my life right now.

Q: So initially, she was still kinda weighing on your mind, like kinda a big part of it?

Ushi: Uh-huh.

Q: What did you think helped you think about her less?

Ushi: Discovering other stuff, I guess. Like games, talking to my friends, new family, um food – delicious food. Holidays.

Q: Anything else you wanna say?

Ushi: Nope.

Q: How did you feel about the interview?

Ushi: A relief. Just like getting something off my chest, I guess.

Q: Haven’t you talked about it before?

Ushi: I guess, but not as in-depth. It just feels weird to have the attention on me. But I don’t hate it. It’s like all pinpointed on me now and my perspective, which is interesting.

Q: Anything you look forward to?

Ushi: The future. I don’t know. Drawing more. Hopefully making comics that people like.

Q: How about your new life with your new family?

Ushi: Moving to a new place soon, and that’s pretty exciting because then it’ll feel like a really, really new start. I’ll get to maybe spend time differently doing different activities and stuff, which is pretty interesting. So I look forward to that. And I’ll finally not be in the vicinity of my biological mother.

Q: Do you ever plan to speak to your parents again, or see them again at any point?

Ushi: I really prefer not to. I just can’t stand the sight of them really anymore.

Q: Okay, I guess that’s it if you have nothing else to say.

Ushi: Okay, bye!

Conclusion: Life After Emotional Abuse

Ushi had a hard time recalling specific moments of her abuse. But she remembers very well how her mother treated her and made her feel.

The issue with emotional abuse is that it might not sound that bad. And it’s difficult for children (and even adults) to be able to pinpoint and identify when it’s happening or how it’s hurting them. That’s why authorities rarely, if ever, take it seriously.

But emotional abuse is serious. Despite having a support system and getting out of the abuse pretty young, many of the effects of the abuse still remain. And like with many childhood abuse victims, it will take a lot of time, if not a lifetime, to heal.

Ushi is still very sensitive to tones and facial expressions, sometimes to the point of tears. She has gotten more confident and optimistic, but she still struggles with self-blame, guilt, self-doubt, negative self-talk, pessimism, and low self-esteem.

However, being away from her abusive parents and instead, in the care of supportive, loving ones, helped Ushi begin healing. And despite some of her current struggles, she is healing.

Even if a child is still stuck with an abusive parent, having any supportive adults in their life who can serve as a buffer can make a significant difference in their well-being.

I believe me and my family’s presence and support for Ushi, even while she was still with her mother, helped keep her balanced. It served as a reminder that all those awful things my mother had said or done to her were not her fault.

In the end, I hope this post was able to provide a child’s perspective on life during and after emotional abuse (plus some other bits). But of course, this is only one child’s perspective. It is not meant to be representative of how all children feel.

But I still hope it was able to demonstrate the importance of at least one supportive adult in a child’s life as well as intervention, if possible, to help children who are stuck in an emotionally abusive situation. I also hope this post was able to show how emotional abuse can be just as serious and damaging as other types of abuse.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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