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I was emotionally abused by my parents - now I'm finally healing

NSPCC Real Life Story Volunteer Caroline shares her story ahead of Childhood Day

Katie Daly
Lifestyle Writer
June 7, 2024
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Trigger warning - this story contains references to and details of child abuse.

All any of us can hope for our children is that they can grow up carefree in the safety of a supportive and loving home. For many, this is wholly reflective of their first 18 years. However, there are times when this is sadly not the case, something that rings true for NSPCC Real Life Story Volunteer Caroline*. 

A woman at the beach© Getty
Caroline is sharing her story in support of Chilhood Day

At a panel hosted by journalist and NSPCC campaigner for childhood, Pandora Sykes, the incredibly brave Caroline, 51, shared her story of childhood emotional abuse, shedding light on the impact it has had on her life as she raises awareness for the NSPCC's Childhood Day on 7 June. 

Recalling her childhood

If you had to picture abusive parents, many minds would go straight to physical abuse. They might think of abuse which inflicts bodily pain and leaves a physical trace. However, Caroline's experience uncovers the insidious reality of emotional abuse which can often fly under the radar.

A tired and depressed  woman is sitting on the sofa near the window at home© Getty
Caroline shares her story

"For many years I really had no memories of what went on and it was only when I started having therapy that it started to come back," she admits, explaining that she experienced emotional abuse from both parents. 

Reflecting on the temperament of her father, Caroline says: "He was very rageful and I was the outlet for that rage that could explode at any given moment with no warning whenever I strayed from perfection."

Woman looking through window hopefully© Getty
Caroline feared her father

"He was very rageful and I was the outlet for that rage that could explode at any given moment"

She explains this could come in the form of spilling a drink and making a mess through to underperforming in a school exam. "If I was shy, he would explode in a rageful outburst, fist pump and redfaced and looming over me," she remembers.

Rear view of a young woman  sitting on her bed and looking out through a window© Getty
Caroline remembers the abuse she suffered as a child

Caroline likens her father to a raging gorilla and says that not only would he hit her, but he would call her derogatory names and then shame her if she cried. "I thought it must have been my fault, that I did something to deserve it," she says.

Her parents divorced when she was seven and spending time at her mother's house certainly provided no respite from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. The NSPCC Real Life Story Volunteer recalls calling her mother from her father's house in tears and getting little emotional response.

Rear view of a  woman seated on the bed© Getty
Caroline got no respite from her mother

"She is a textbook narcissistic mother," Caroline recalls. "If I expressed distress or anger, I was immediately shut down and punished very frequently with the silent treatment." Oftentimes, Caroline was sent to her father's by her mother as punishment.

"[My mother] wouldn't directly call me names, but she would undermine me, invalidate me and not show any interest, dismiss me, and make me doubt myself and my worth."

Seeking help

Rear view of an unrecognizable woman sitting on her bed looking out the window.© Getty
Caroline told a teacher at school

Unfortunately, Caroline's experiences came before the days of Childline, the service run by the NSPCC which offers a listening ear to children in need. She says she tried to tell a teacher about the emotional abuse she was experiencing but it was her mother's version of events that was taken into account.

Shaping the adult she has become

The impact of the emotional abuse Caroline experienced didn't wane as she entered her teenage years and into adulthood. She remembers going through adolescence not knowing who she was, or what she wanted and eventually going to university to study Economics as that was what her father deemed a worthwhile path.

woman lying on the bed at home.© Getty
The abuse Caroline suffered has continued to impact her as an adult

The treatment from her parents also impacted her relationships with her peers. "I couldn't enter a relationship that warranted intimacy or emotional response," she recalls. "A wave of discomfort would come over me and I had to get away. I didn't know how to be vulnerable. I didn't have a blueprint for developing a secure relationship."

Caroline experienced spells of depression in her twenties and developed OCD while she was working in a lab which culminated in a fear of the carcinogenic substances she was working with.

side view of worried woman with her hands clasped gold ring© Getty
Caroline developed anxiety and OCD

"I've always battled with feelings of not being good enough, [that is] why I never fulfilled my potential until I went into therapy," she tells us. "I'm definitely not there but I'm working towards it."

Reflecting on parenthood

Caroline isn't a mother herself but is able to reflect on her own experiences and the support she wishes she had been offered by her parents. She tells us: "Children benefit hugely from being heard, validated, and taught that they matter. Let them express, and show interest in what they think and enjoy.

"All emotions, whether yours or your childs, are valid as long as they are expressed healthily," she continues. "Of course, if a child has done something wrong then they must be told, but in a respectful and constructive way. And remember, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. 'Good enough' parenting is the goal."

Supporting Childhood Day

Caroline shares her story to raise awareness for the NSPCC who exist to support children who find themselves in situations like Caroline was in all those years ago. 

children in school hall running© NSPCC
Support Childhood Day at school

Childhood Day on 7 June is an annual flagship day to raise awareness and fundraise for the charity. Childline costs £40,000 per day to run so every penny counts. You can raise money this Childhood Day by traveling a mile your way, through to organising bucket collections and bake sales.

school children playing in school playground© NSPCC
Travel a mile your way for the NSPCC

Taking part and raising any money you can will ensure the maintenance of the service that continues to be a lifeline for so many children and young people.

*name has been changed 

To find out more on how to get involved in Childhood Day including taking part in the Childhood Day Mile or volunteering at a fundraising collection, visit www.nspcc.org.uk/support-us/charity-fundraising/childhood-day/

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