During this pandemic, domestic violence and child abuse have increased significantly in the United States. As quarantine measures have extended across the country, domestic abuse incidents increased from 21% to 35% depending upon the state. In fact, one in three women and one in ten men currently suffer abuse in the United States.

School closings have compounded the problem. Teachers, nurses, and counselors are no longer available to detect the telltale signs of abuse in children such as bruising, burns, stomach aches, nightmares, loss of appetite, sudden change in behavior, excessive masturbation, use of drugs, or self-mutilation.

Add to this the deadly mix of unemployment, substance and alcohol abuse, overburdened medical facilities, isolation, and no access to mental health support, intimate partners of abusers and their children are suffering tremendously.

Who are Toxic Parents?

Typically toxic parents are character-disordered people, narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths, borderline personalities, or addicts/alcoholics who harm their children physically, sexually, emotionally, verbally, or financially.

  • They exert power through emotional and financial manipulation.
  • They lack empathy, never considering how their actions impact their children.
  • They never accept responsibility and blame others for their behavior.
  • There is constant chaos and drama in the family unit.
  • They expect everyone to serve them while disregarding their partner’s and children’s needs, obligations, or schedules.
  • Often they are angry or passive-aggressive and highly over-reactive if you do not do what they expect you to do.
  • They are horrifically cruel. They mock you, embarrass you, insult you, call you names, and purposely point out your mistakes.
  • They pit siblings against each other, enjoying the manipulation.
  • Toxic parents are secretive, neglectful, and have no boundaries with their children allowing physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse to flourish in their homes.

But in the pandemic, the biggest clue for toxic parents is that they purposely put their children in harm’s way i.e. to contract Covid-19 for their own benefit, pleasure or control.

For example, toxic parents:

  • Threaten to infect their families with Covid-19 or actually do infect them.
  • Insist on their children fly to see them or take a vacation during a lockdown without precautions.
  • Expose their family to the virus during holidays, weddings or birthday celebrations.
  • Send their children to sports activities to compete or practice when there are known cases of Covid-19 on the school’s team.
  • Refuse to take appropriate measures to protect their family’s health.
  • Refuse to provide medical care during illness.
  • Refuse financial support to keep their children safe during a pandemic.

These children have little hope or power until they leave the family home or for college students until they return to campus. Some older students have confided that with decreased income and dire financial
circumstances, their parents are becoming more abusive – screaming, drinking, and punching them. These parents ignore their children’s needs, focusing on themselves or their addictions. Remember – all abuse is about controlling the other person. Period.

Emotional abuse

  • Toxic parents demand that their children be available to them at anytime.
  • They punish the child for establishing emotional and physical boundaries.
  • They consistently lie to bolster their self esteem.
  • They deny abusive behavior and blame the child or others for their actions.
  • Many make inappropriate sex jokes and comments in the children’s presence.
  • Some shame children for their physical appearance.
  • They ridicule and ignore their children for expressing emotions.
  • They degrade, insult or guilt-trip their children, many times for no apparent reason.
  • They refuse to give comfort when their children ask.

Financial abuse

  • Toxic parents may open bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, or credit cards in the child’s name.
  • They may steal from their children’s accounts.
  • They make the child verify every penny they spend, while bullying them and threatening them.
  • Toxic parents remove children from their credit cards at a whim, usually when the child desperately needs economic support.
  • They will withhold support until their child “sides” with them on various family disputes.
  • They refuse to assist their children financially or otherwise without belittling them first, but they are quick to assist someone outside the family to look like a “good guy.”
  • Some toxic parents will surround themselves in luxury, keeping nothing for their children or use financial blackmail to prove their worth as a “good” parent by teaching the child “a lesson.”
  • Some completely neglect the children of their first or second families, focusing on the current family or intimate partner to bolster their fragile egos, showering them with lavish gifts and travel. Children witnessing this are completely devastated and quickly learn not to trust.

As a result of these toxic parents, their children are unable to speak out and assert their needs

  • Many children become empaths purely for survival reasons. In order to avoid the parent’s anger and abuse, they have to guess what the parent wants before they even say it.
  • Abusers carefully choose when and where to abuse the people they claim to love so that others cannot see it. They will lash out when no one’s around including the police, family court, judges, bosses, colleagues, or friends. This frequently leads children to believe they are crazy. But never forget that abusers know exactly of what they are doing.
  • Because children are hardwired to love their parents, they still go to them for comfort despite abuse and blame themselves for their parents’ toxic behavior. Many children believe if only the parents could understand the effects of their actions, they would change.
  • Later in life, these same children do not recognize disrespectful behavior from intimate partners, colleagues, or friends. By internalizing their upbringing, they expect abusive behavior and neglect from others. It is very difficult for them to build healthy self-esteem.
  • Many adult children become people pleasers and others become narcissists or addicts/alcoholics, perpetuating the vicious cycle.
  • For most, it is necessary to begin the healing process with an experienced therapist who understands the issues of toxic parenting.

How to Survive Abuse in a Pandemic

Because of Covid-19, many families do not have the option of fleeing to a safe house. But there are ways.

  • Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799. SAFE (7233)
  • Seek help however possible – school counselors, psychologist, trusted advisor or clergy, trusted family or reliable friends.
  • Document the abuse. You may need it in court. Even if you’re a teenager.
  • If you are an abused spouse, make a detailed plan to escape with your children. Find a safe house. Purchase a pay-as-you-go phone. Put money little by little in a new bank account with no evidence on your current cell phone. Store clothes at a friends house. Notify your employer. With the pandemic’s strain on local resources, your safety plan is crucial.
  • If you’re an older teen or college student, know you are not crazy. That abuse is not normal.
  • Know that your parent or spouse or intimate partner will not change. Nor that you can reason or speak with them. It will only make them angrier.
  • Don’t slip into the rabbit hole of chaos and drama. Toxic parents and spouses know how to solicit your empathy while disrespecting you. They make you so angry that you lose your cool, making them look like the calm, good guy. Don’t fall for it.
  • No Contact. In a world without Covid-19, going no contact with a toxic parent or spouse is the one the safest routes. It allows you to heal without opening old wounds.

Also if you’re a neighbor, friend, or family member witnessing toxic parenting and child abuse, this website has all of the state telephone numbers designated to receive and investigate child abuse.

None of this is easy. However, awareness is the first step to getting help.

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Alexis Azria

Alexis Azria, a dedicated mom and passionate humanitarian, writing about the parenting issues and ethical dilemmas we face daily.

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