Children come to this world with a delicate innocence and wide-eyed curiosity. In the comfort and warmth of parental care, they learn to love and trust. They imbibe language, reason and knowledge from their immediate surroundings. With every experience–positive or negative–they grow, mature and transform into thinking, functioning adults.
Everything children go through, especially during their formative years, becomes a part of who they eventually turn out to be. When raised in a healthy home by loving parents, they are likely to grow into responsible and emotionally stable adults. On the other hand, those who grow up in a dysfunctional set-up tend to develop mental health issues that may stretch well into adulthood.
Many of us may have traumatic memories from our early years that may have shaped us for better or for worse. However, we might not have been part of a dysfunctional family, per se. Those who experienced or were witness to constant conflict, misbehaviour, neglect or abuse, on the other hand, truly know what it means. Explains child neuropsychologist Dr Akila Sadasivan, “When the power balance between the parents is off, it affects the whole machinery of the family and causes dysfunction. It could be due to illness (physical or mental), habits (addictions or compulsions), financial or social situations. These factors may then adversely affect their parenting styles and the general atmosphere in which the child grows up.”
While the toxicity of such a family set-up damages everyone involved, children are adversely affected, given their age and vulnerability. It is especially the case when rage enters the equation. Dr Sadasivan elucidates, “When exposed to anger, aggression and violence, children either turn out to be edgy and anxious with low self-confidence, or they end up being aggressive and violent themselves. Those who are subject to neglect develop a poor sense of self-worth and find themselves, even as adults, constantly seeking external validation.”
Lavanya Narayan, a 25-year-old media professional, admits to having been raised in a dysfunctional family. Growing up, she was frequently beaten by her overly-protective father. Says she, “The first ever time I was victim to my father’s rage was when he discovered I liked a boy when I was 12. This kind of punishment also extended to other things I did–like not scoring well in a test or watching Western TV shows.”
The physical abuse worsened as Lavanya grew older, resulting in her feeling a crippling sense of anxiety and fear all the time. She felt like she couldn’t be herself or share anything with her parents, so she turned into a chronic liar. Moving out of her parents’ house and seeking therapy helped her get to the root of her issues and work on resolving them.
Children are often compared to sponges; they are highly sensitive and receptive. So, it is impossible to shield them from every negative experience that comes their way, even at home.