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12 Reasons Child Abuse Victims Normalize Their Abuse

Reasons Child Abuse Victims Normalize Abuse | Hopeful Panda

If you had abusive parents, you might have normalized the abuse you faced. Or maybe you still normalize the abuse now.

Other people might not understand why or how we can normalize our childhood abuse.

From the outside looking in, it might be obvious that we’re being mistreated. How can we ever see that as “normal”? But really, it’s pretty common.

Back in college, I had to write a short memoir and present it to the class. After presenting, I received a question from a fellow classmate. “When did you realize you were being abused?”

I shrugged, “maybe when I was 16?”

His eyebrows raised in confusion, maybe shock. It’s like he was thinking, how can it take you THAT long to figure it out?

In that tiny moment, I did wonder. Why did I take that long?

The thing is, I don’t think I ever questioned whether what I was facing was “normal”. It wasn’t really even a question. It’s just something that I accepted, which I guess is my way of normalizing it.

Many abuse victims normalize their abuse, whether it’s abuse by their parents, significant other, or someone else. This is especially common if the individual was born into an abusive household.

This post goes into why child abuse victims may normalize or seem to normalize their abuse or why they don’t seem to realize that they’re being abused.

If you normalized or are still normalizing the abuse you faced, hopefully, this post can help you realize that normalizing is actually pretty normal. It does not mean that something’s wrong with you.

And if you are someone who doesn’t seem to understand why child abuse victims normalize their abuse or seem unaware that they’re being abused, I hope this post can offer some insight.

12 Reasons Child Abuse Victims Normalize Their Abuse

There are a few reasons why child abuse victims may normalize their abuse or learn to eventually accept abuse as a part of life.

Maybe they were convinced that they deserved it, asked for it, or even liked it. Maybe they were threatened or slowly groomed into believing any of the above.

Oftentimes, victims eventually accept abuse as a part of life, accepting it as “normal” even if they know that deep down, it isn’t.

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Why Child Abuse Victims Normalize Their Abuse | Hopeful Panda

The victim was born into it

When you’re born or adopted (at an early age) into an abusive family, you don’t really know what life is outside of that family.

Your initial environment is your “normal” because you don’t have anything else to compare it to.

It’s also difficult to realize it’s abuse because your parents are your role models. They’re who you look to for guidance. And it’s not like you have any other choice, right?

As a child, you kind of had to go along with them. So why would you question what they did or what they’re doing? You’re likely just going to take their word for it and accept it as is.

Your family tells you who you are and what is normal. Your interactions and life with them are kind of all you have to base off of, at least for the first few years of your life.

You don’t really get to interact with the outside world until elementary age. However, by that point, you already formed your belief system.

The abusers normalized the abuse

One main reason we may normalize the abuse we face is that our parents normalized it. Again, they’re our parents so we kind of just take their word for it.

They want us to think how they’re treating us is normal. That way, we won’t protest or question it. They have us accept the treatment and tolerate it despite how it hurts us.

Abusive parents may use various excuses to try to justify their abuse or make it seem normal. They may say things like “It’s because I love you”, “It’s for your own good”, or “Other parents do the same thing”.

They also often use abusive tactics such as gaslighting, blame-shifting, and invalidation to make their children doubt themselves on whether it’s really abuse.

Phrases like “You’re just sensitive” or “It was a joke” are often used to make victims question their experiences and perceptions. It makes them wonder whether the abuser is really abusive.

It’s been passed down through generations

Similar to the previous points, many abusive parents themselves might not realize they’re being abusive. That’s because it’s something that was normalized by their parents or in their culture.

In her book, For Your Own Good, psychologist Alice Miller described a list of beliefs passed down from generation to generation that families use to normalize a dysfunctional dynamic.

Some of these beliefs are:

  • Parents deserve respect because they are parents. Children don’t deserve respect because they’re children.
  • Obedience makes children strong. Duty produces love.
  • Parents are always right.
  • Parents are free from guilt.
  • A high degree of self-esteem is harmful. Whereas a low degree of self-esteem makes a person altruistic.
  • Severity and coldness prepare a child for life.
  • How someone behaves is more important than how they feel.

Similar to other types of beliefs, values, and principles, a lot of what people accept as truth or as their values are things passed down from their parents, which are passed down from their parents.

Again, that isn’t the victim’s fault. We’re programmed to conform to our immediate environment and group.

Since our parents are our first relationships and first connection to the world, it’s only normal that we adopt their beliefs.

It’ll take stepping outside that dynamic and practicing some self-reflection for victims to begin questioning where their beliefs came from and whether it’s truly their own.

Other people normalize the abuse

Other than abusive parents normalizing the abuse you faced, it’s likely that other people did, too.

Your parents were the most important people in your life. You’re naturally bonded to them and you want to make them happy.

You believe that they won’t hurt you for no good reason, especially if that’s something you’ve been hearing from other people.

Also, some victims do speak out about their abuse or their parents’ behavior only to be met with skepticism or backlash.

The people they open up to might respond by saying, “Oh, that’s just their way of showing you they love you”, “They didn’t mean it”, or “No parent would intentionally hurt their child.”

In the end, sometimes it’s not really the victims who are normalizing abuse, but society who tends to glorify parenthood.

The media often normalizes abuse

Along with other people, the media also plays a significant role in normalizing abuse.

For instance, a parent demanding perfection or complete obedience is toxic, perhaps even abusive. Emotional abuse such as gaslighting, invalidation, shaming, and name-calling is also common.

What normalizes those abusive behavior is when the parent seems loving otherwise and the children don’t appear affected. Or say, even if the parent is construed as abusive, the child usually overcomes it and goes on to do amazing, successful things.

The thing is, that’s just a movie or TV show. In real life, children are affected by being treated like that. And most of the time, they continue to deal with the lasting effects of the abuse.

Of course, there are exceptions. And the awareness of child abuse and its effects in media, specifically emotional and sexual abuse, is growing. But how the entertainment industry continues to normalize abuse remains a problem.

The abusers made it the victim’s fault

Abusers may use excuses to make it feel like it’s your fault for the abuse. Or at least, it’s your fault for perceiving it or feeling like it is.

Or they might try to explain it away claiming other kids don’t have to go through this because they’re “good” or “better”, unlike you.

Your parents might have made you believe that bad things happen to you because you caused them, deserved them, or wanted them to happen.

They might’ve even convinced you that they’re the victims of your abuse so they had no choice but to “defend” themselves.

Or they’ll say that you’re just misunderstanding them and how ungrateful you are while all they’re doing is trying their best to love you.

So when the victim feels like it’s their fault, it makes sense that they’ll stay quiet, continue to tolerate the treatment, and probably even accept it.

The abusers used fear and shame to keep the victim quiet

Abusive parents may use threats and punishments to make you fear the possible consequences of what might happen if you tell someone about your experiences at home or ask them whether they have similar experiences.

It was made clear to you that if you ever talk about how your parents treat you it’ll result in even worse treatment.

Your parents might have also made you feel that talking about it is embarrassing, shameful, or humiliating. Or that even if you do, no one would believe you because you’re a “liar”, “drama queen”, or “crybaby”.

All of these tactics are to keep you quiet. That way, you might be too scared or ashamed to say anything, worrying that people won’t believe you and/or think you’re doing it for attention or pity.

And unfortunately, it is something that happens to many abuse victims who speak up.

The abusers claimed the victim is not important enough to be abused

A rarer reason but it does happen is that abusive parents might claim that abusers specifically target their victims. Therefore, they might claim that you’re so unimportant you’re not even worth the effort and energy.

Your abusive parent might’ve said things like “You think you’re so special that I’m going out of my way to abuse you?” Or they might’ve subtly implied it by never giving you any attention – good or bad. So aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself by thinking they’re purposely hurting you when they couldn’t even care less?

Abusive parents may belittle their child so much that the child might wonder if they’re even being targeted, though that is exactly what’s happening.

The victim doesn’t know what’s “normal”

Victims might normalize their abuse because they simply don’t know what’s actually “normal”. Again, they have nothing to compare it to. Their home life is all they know.

Even if they do know that other people aren’t facing the same things at home, they still might not exactly know what “normal” is.

Maybe what they’re facing isn’t “normal”. But how not normal is it?

When all you’ve experienced is a toxic and dysfunctional family, you wouldn’t know what nontoxic or functional is without experiencing it yourself.

Even hearing it from others might not be enough, especially when most people don’t usually talk about how healthy or functional their families are. If anything, they mostly talk about the not-so-good things.

The abuse is too painful to acknowledge

Many people resist acknowledging certain things because they’re too painful. And this could be one of the reasons why victims might normalize their abuse or not realize they’re being abused.

The pain of realization or of remembering might be too much for some people. So it’s easier to remain in denial about what really happened.

Dissociation may occur during childhood as a way for the victim to escape or cope with the abuse they’re experiencing.

And this may continue into adulthood where the victim continues to dissociate from their reality and/or past experiences.

The abuse doesn’t seem like abuse

There are abusive behaviors that might not appear abusive to the public, let alone the victims. And these oftentimes fall under the realm of emotional and/or sexual abuse.

For instance, some sexual abuse victims don’t realize they’ve been abused until years later. Or they never do.

As a child, they might assume it’s normal physical contact. Or maybe they never thought to question it because it was an insignificant part of their life.

If it doesn’t physically hurt them, how could the child tell it isn’t normal without someone on the outside witnessing it and telling them? It’s not like they’ll go around telling people, because who goes around telling people “normal” things?

In terms of emotional abuse, it’s hard to recognize for outsiders because it tends to be invisible. It might also happen in subtle ways that the victim and outsiders fail to notice.

For example, parentification is hard to recognize. Some victims may still have trouble accepting it as a form of abuse.

As a child, being able to support their parent and take on adult responsibilities might seem like a good thing, despite the harmful effects it can cause.

Another example is narcissistic abuse.

It’s also hard to recognize since narcissistic parents tend to abuse in subtle and deniable ways. Their unpredictability and tendency to hoover also make it difficult for the victim to realize or accept their treatment as abuse.

The victim sees more to their parents than just the hurtful behavior

Someone from a loving, functional family can look into how an abusive parent treats their child and easily recognize the abuse. But the child inside the situation can’t do it so easily.

First off, the child already has a distorted view of what’s normal. They also have many other experiences and beliefs that make it harder to acknowledge what might be obvious abuse to someone else.

In addition, they might also feel very attached to their parent despite the hurtful treatment. This is known as trauma bonding.

Seeing their parents’ behavior as abusive or hurtful might cause the child to feel guilty. It may seem like they’re forgetting or neglecting all the “good” things their parents are.

Most of the time, things at home aren’t all bad. Abuse isn’t all there is. There are good moments, too.

It’s easy for outsiders to easily hone in on the toxic behavior and determine whether someone’s abusive. But it’s much harder for a victim to come to that conclusion, especially when it’s a child who usually has no one else to rely on but their parents.

Basically, it can be very hard to tell that you’re being abused when you’re the one it’s happening to.

Conclusion

Until you escape your abusive parents, meet someone who shows you the love and support you deserve, or dig deep into research about what’s abuse and what’s not, you won’t really know what “normal” is.

What was normal to you was what you faced. And that goes for everybody.

We become used to certain things. We become familiar and comfortable with it, even if it hurts us.

This is why many child abuse victims continue to unconsciously recreate the scenarios in their childhood, unaware that they’re still attached to that dysfunction and toxicity.

In the end, it is NOT your fault if you normalize your abuse. This is something many abuse victims go through. It does not mean there’s anything wrong with you. It also does not mean that just because you don’t see it as abuse that it isn’t.

If your parent’s treatment towards you left you with lasting effects in adulthood and/or if they hurt you in any way – physically or emotionally – then you’ve likely been abused.

But if you don’t think it was abuse or if you’re still confused about it, that’s okay.

It’s also important to acknowledge that abuse doesn’t have to be intentional. A well-meaning parent can still exhibit abusive behaviors.

In the end, trust yourself. If you struggle with some unresolved issues due to your upbringing, even if your parents weren’t exactly abusive, they still made some mistakes.

You can’t go back and change things now. But you can start taking the needed steps to begin healing. Seek professional help and/or get started on your healing journey here.

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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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