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Hidden Reasons You’re Allowing Your Kids to Mistreat You

Kids act out sometimes, and they don’t always listen; sometimes they’ll defy you or lie; depending on their age, they may not show a whole lot of appreciation. That’s just misbehavior. Mistreatment is about repetitive patterns of being demeaned, disrespected, dehumanized, and taken advantage of.

The reason I said you’re “allowing” it–and there’s no judgment in that word–is because you’re more powerful than you may think. And when children get away with habitually mistreating anyone, including you, they’re learning very dangerous lessons.

Read on for the most common subconscious reasons that parents don’t assert themselves in the ways they need to. It can be with younger children, adolescents, or adult children.  I point out these reasons with compassion, but also with a sense of hope: Our subconscious is powerful; making our emotional rationales conscious is even more powerful.

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1)  On some deeper level, you think you deserve mistreatment.

Like I said, this is about the subconscious. It’s rare that people consciously tell themselves, “I deserve to have my children yell in my face and call me names.” In fact, they consciously feel the opposite, and they’re angry.

But when it comes to making significant shifts in their own behavior, they encounter a roadblock. That roadblock may very well be that they’ve been mistreated at other points in their life, and have internalized a sense of unworthiness. So when it comes time to take firmer action, they lose their confidence, and their will, and they continue to live out the same toxic pattern.

2)  You feel guilty.

Maybe you think it’s your fault that your children act the way they do–either because of what they may have witnessed in your home, or because you couldn’t afford a better neighborhood or better schools, or because of some other “failing” of yours. You blame yourself, and that keeps you from taking the steps that you need, both for you and for them.

Because when your kids get away with treating you–with treating any living being in an excessively disrespectful manner–they are learning that’s acceptable. They may grow up to treat their romantic partners that way, or their own children, or they may learn the reverse and accept that treatment from others.

What I’m saying is, your guilt may be trapping you and your child in a negative cycle that can continue to perpetuate itself throughout the generations. Whatever’s gone before in your life or in theirs, the time to stop the cycle is now.

3)  You’ve given up.

Sure, you’re still there, but a part of you isn’t. Some part of you has checked out and ceased to believe that you can make a difference or impact your child’s behavior. Again, this is subconscious, but you might be conscious of some powerless, helpless thoughts.

It could be that you’ve tried a variety of tactics but none of them long enough to get results, or it could be that you’ve gotten stuck in a rut where you do the same thing but expect different results; or somewhere in between. You might not have come across the answers you need. Maybe you’ve exhausted your internal and external resources and could use a therapist to help guide you. Or maybe you’ve done therapy without success, and now you need to find someone else who’s a better fit for you and your family. Not all therapists are created equal.

Identifying that you’ve settled into a posture of defeat is necessary for re-entering the fray. Your kids can feel when you’ve disconnected, and you have to consider what message they’re taking from that. You might think that they’re feeling happy and powerful, like they’ve won, but it’s much more likely that they’re feeling out of control and adrift and insecure. If you feel hopeless, how do you think they feel?

Hope comes and goes. You can work to bring it back. You can find the strength to set a different tone in your household and to create positive changes. The fact that you read this far is already a hopeful sign. My hope is that you follow it up with action.


Hidden Reasons You’re Allowing Your Kids to Mistreat You

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2018). Hidden Reasons You’re Allowing Your Kids to Mistreat You. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Feb 2018
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