Targeting a Specific Child for Abuse

by Sara
(Cobleskill, NY, USA)

I would like your thoughts on a parent targeting a specific child. I haven't found much information about that. I'm sure it is more common that people think. My mother, who grew up in a loving stable home and was not on drugs, could be a giving, dutiful person to others, but she chose me to unleash all her frustrations on.


My earliest memories as a toddler are of her shaking me, calling me bad names, comparing me to my father. She would tell me she wished I would die. Out of the blue, she'd slap me in the face and call me a bitch. When I got older, there would be the three of us kids laughing at the dinner table, and suddenly she'd erupt and throw dishes at me. She would belittle, curse, and verbally abuse me. She'd expect me to be responsible for the housework, the other kids weren't. She was kind to them. She would never show impatience with them, but be sweet and give them whatever they asked. She certainly never slapped them or threw objects at them. She seemed to have a different set of standards for me. It was as if she never viewed me as a child, but rather, as competition or an enemy.

To be fair, she WAS under a lot of stress in her marriage to a difficult man who was easily annoyed and controlling. I understand that she was probably depressed and under a great deal of stress with thre young children and a husband who didn't respect her. However, why didn't she take it out on everyone? Why did she target me?

She was also very strategic with her abuse. She would never behave inappropriately in front of other adults. Only when we were alone or when the other children were too young to comprehend what was going on, so she could get away with it. Her ability to conceal the abuse was amazing. No one would suspect it. Outside of the home, she was perceived as a funny, kind woman. But behind closed doors, she was miserable and somehow felt justified in taking it out exclusively on me, blaming me for her situation in life.

I truly would like to understand what was going through her mind during these abusive episodes. Did she hate me because I looked like my father? Or was she jealous of me when I was little because I had a close bond with him? Or did she attack because she couldn't successfully fight her husband so she picked me; someone too young and dependent to do anything about it? But then, why not abuse the other children?

At any rate, she clearly ENJOYED the abuse. On the rare occasions when she'd verbally abuse me to the point of tears, she'd lean back and gloat, SMILE, and mock me "Poor abused you." SMILE. And the look in her eyes . . . she was clearly getting pleasure from it.

So I am particularly interested in any cases or stories any of you can share about an otherwise "good" parent fixating on a specific child to abuse. It is all so disturbing. I desperately want to understand it.

I am grateful I found your site.

Comments for Targeting a Specific Child for Abuse

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Oct 09, 2007
Topic to be addressed in next e-zine issue
by: Darlene Barriere

UPDATE: This article is now a page on this site at Why Parents Target a Specific Child for Abuse. Feel free to add your own comments.

It seems the Universe has put you and me on the same page, Sara. I've been asked the question about "targeting" many times. Therefore, I will be addressing the topic as my feature article in my next issue of Barriere Bits, which will find its way to the inbox of my subscribers Tuesday, October 16, 2007. I cannot guarantee that each of your questions will be specifically or adequately answered, since many of the questions you pose, even when answered, may not provide you with the understanding you so desperately seek. If you haven't already signed up as a subscriber to my e-zine, I urge you to do so (it's free) at http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/BarriereBits.html

There are stories on my site that reflect the "targeting" phenomena. One that comes to mind is at http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/MCathyHRStory

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Oct 09, 2007
Targeting
by: JWC

I'm really looking forward to the article. I agree with Sara. Targeting is probably a lot more common than most people think.

Oct 09, 2007
I have info on it!
by: Michael

It's called "Target-Child Selection" where a parent will chose a child one of their kids to vent out on. There must, of course, be more than one child in the house. How does this happen? Well, the parent is usually stressed out about their job, and the weight of raising 2 or more children. It's extremely stressful, so they need to vent it out on something. When one of the children does something that annoys the parent, the parent decides to vent on that child.

Oct 09, 2007
I Feel You
by: Francine

OMG Sara, I'm so sorry about what your mother did to you! You deserve for her to admit that whatever she did to you is so rude! You deserved a loving mother who would never enjoy hurting you, but would rather protect you! You TRULY deserve for your mother to say, "Sweetie, I'm so wrong. I'm very, very, very wrong. I'm so sorry. Please, Sara, forgive me, I'll never hurt you again."

Oct 12, 2007
I can empathise with you
by: Anonymous

I've already written in to this site on a couple of occasions, to tell my own story. Reading yours was very interesting, as you are asking yourself all the same questions that I did.

I grew up in a family where my mother had mental health problems. My father was a distant, physically abusive man. My mother was the more manipulative, emotionally abusive parent.

I am fully aware that both of my parents grew up in abusive families, and that both of them felt bitterness and anger about the abuse that had happened to them as children. I personally feel that it was this that brought about my mother's mental illness.

I am the elder of two children. My brother is 5 years younger than me. Right from the start it was made clear to me that my parents had wanted a boy as the eldest child. Being Catholics, my parents also had a very different set of standards for boys, as opposed to girls. My brother has, for years, been treated differently to me. Don't get me wrong, he did experience some abuse in his own right, but it was not of the same nature, or intensity, as mine.

My parents, like yours, hid the abuse well. To the outside world, they appeared successful, well-educated, hardworking. They would present to friends and neighbours as "sweetness and light", the caring family. Only as an insider, as a family member, did one see the reality.

I think maybe you have started to identify some reasons for the abuse you suffered - your mum's stress, her disrespectful and difficult relationship with her husband, her possible depression. I understand that you may be puzzled as to why she chose to take this out on you alone...

Here's a few suggestions to think about...

1. Your mum may have abused your siblings too - she hid your abuse from others; she may have hid their abuse from you.

2. Think about your birth position in the family. Are you eldest, middle or youngest? Sometimes parents view their kids in different ways dependent on when they were born. The eldest may be put in a position of responsibility and put under pressure. Parents often have high expectations of the eldest kid. Middle kids are often overlooked. Youngest children may be "spoiled" or "mollycoddled", but they can also feel suffocated by their parents' over-protectiveness.

3. Your mum might have identified personality or appearance traits in you that brought on the abuse. Perhaps she DID view you as looking too much like your father. Perhaps she found you to be easygoing, and therefore thought you would be submissive to abuse. Or perhaps you were more outspoken, so she viewed you as argumentative...

All I can say is that you have identified some issues which you may benefit from discussing with a qualified Counsellor, who will help you unravel your past.

Oct 12, 2007
Added
by: Elaine

Hi again,

I've just written to you with some advice about your issue, and then realised that I'd made a bit of a blunder! I'd not identified myself, and the commentary comes up as "anonymous" - not much use to you if you're interested in reading my story.

Anyhow, I'm Elaine, and a Social Worker from the UK. I've also been a victim of childhood abuse. Like I'd said before, I can really identify with your story.

By the way, I suggested you try requesting Counselling. It might be useful, if you go ahead with this, to explore your feelings about the abuse specifically targeting you. I suspect that because of this, you may feel additionally victimised and resentful. You may feel somehow to blame. I don't doubt that there have been times when you compared yourself to your siblings, and asked yourself why it was that you suffered and they did not. I can only hope that my comments have been of some use. Perhaps you could keep a diary of events that happened, to help relate them to the Counsellor. If you are now in a position to do so, you could perhaps write a letter to your mother, asking her why the abuse occurred. Sometimes, parents can be oblivious to the feelings of their kids, without being prompted to look at what's actually going on.

This is, to me, a very specific type of abuse, and I suspect that, in a way, you may feel more upset about this, than if you had known it had happened to others in your family as well as yourself. Do not take that blame on board.

I've noted that this issue is due to be investigated via the E-Zine, so I'll definitely be registering, to see what others have to say.

One other thing, I've found a useful book, which I'd recommend. It's called "Managing Stress In Families" and is published by Routledge. The ISBN number is 0-415-07193-3.

GOOD LUCK.

Nov 04, 2007
Thank you for sharing
by: Anonymous

My own story is very similar to yours. I am the youngest of 4 children. My father was gentle but mostly absent and my mother (I think) suffered from undiagnosed depression. In addition, by the time I was born there was no money left and I'm sure my birth was the last straw for my mother.
Many times I have wondered if I made up all the abuse because all the other kids seemed to have been raised in a different house! Only my sister, who is 2 years older than me had some idea of what was happening to me.
Rarely was there any physical abuse. I was spanked with a large stick and a belt, but that was not unique to me or to the times. But I was the only one of the siblings to be constantly derided and humiliated.
Many years later I have realized that my mum was probably suffering from depression and perhaps jealousy because I was the blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter my father doted on.
In earlier years I was able to mask the effects of my past but as the years go on, they rise ever closer to the surface.
I was in my twenties before I realized that I was not hideously ugly as a young girl.
And now in my fifties I deal with depression, anxiety and poor self esteem.
I thank you for your story as in some ways it helps to legitimize mine.

Nov 29, 2009
update
by: sara

Thank you to everyone who responded to my original post. It helps tremendously to hear from you all. These shared experiences definately help to heal old traumas that would otherwise continue to be invalidated.
Getting a bit deeper into the topic, I'd like to ask if any of you have any further insight into this type of family dynamic--that is, when the mother abuses one child in particular and the siblings learn to bully the target as well. It becomes acceptable to bully one child. I know for me, my mother resented and abused me and created an environment where it was okay for my siblings to bully me. They did so without repercussion. At times there was some intense bullying, where it seemed everyone in the house was tearing me down and it all went unchecked. There were years where my mother was abusing me, smashing dishes at me, slapping, berating etc, and my sister would be sneering at me and trying to convince me I was ugly, and getting her friends to join in on the bullying. She could also do or say anthing to me to get me in trouble for she knew how easy it'd be to set my mother off on me; my little sister would stand there and watch while my mom ranted and slapped me. She'd stand behind my mom while all this was going on with a little smile on her face. I realise my sister was a child just like me and that our mom was largely to blame for establishing an environment where it was okay to do this.
However, what intrigues me is how the whole family covered up the abuses that went on. Abuse my mother committed against me; abuse our parents did to themselves (screaming, tantrums, smashing objects at each other). As kids we would freeze like rabbits during their episodes, believing if we were completely still we'd be invisible to their wrath. My parents pretended to the outside world they were sweetness and light (my mom is especially good at this) and we all took their cue and pretended nothing was going on at home, even though it was highly dysfunctional and violent. At least between my parents and what my mom would do to me. My siblings went untouched. They witnessed, and they later also joined in on the bullying themselves. Yet, the interesting part is how the whole family denies the abuse. Pretending nothing abusive happened, doing all they can to invalidate the victim. It's worse than the actual abuse. As if the victim could possibly feel worse about themselves,the whole house has to protect their image by further denigrating the victim and making you believe you're crazy or bad and it never happened. Denial is the WORST aspect of abuse. It protects the abuser and absolutely DESTROYS the victim. As if the victim didn't have enough to bear all on their own already.
Why into adulthood would a family continue to deny a long pattern of violent outbursts that were obvious, pervasive, blatant, and you would think, undeniable. Fascinating.


Feb 10, 2011
Why? Because They Can!!!
by: Anonymous

Why? Because they can, that's why. They've always gotten away with denying it, pretending it wasn't going on, and it worked quite well for them, so why change now? Too bad it doesn't work for You, but why make it uncomfortable for the whole family? I suppose that is their reasoning. It's the easiest thing to do. To go with grain. To go along with the group.
Why should they care that one person is suffering? Also, I think that a family or system that abuses power, just doesn't have it in them by default, by their very natures to begin with, to make it right and correct past wrongs i.e. ADMIT what they've done. Whether it was direct abuse or bystanding (denying, doing nothing to intercede, pretending it isn't happening, in short letting the abuse continue) these types of people are unlikely to contain the moral courage or integrity to acknowledge what happened to you because they REFUSE to admit their part in it.
That's the DEFINING characteristic of abuse--the persistant denial. If the denial wasn't there, it wouldn't be abuse...instead it would be a one-time mistake that could be made right. But abusers aren't interested in making it right, apologising, nor even admitting what they do. They are only interested in continuing to abuse. The cover up serves to allow them to do this perpetually.

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