A Boston College study conducted from 2003-2005 shows that the impact of abuse never fades. The study surveyed over 1,000 participants and ranked them into the following three categories: 1) those with no history of childhood abuse or neglect; 2) those who had been abused and were caring for their non-abusive parent; and 3) those who had been abused and were, to borrow the study’s memorable title, “caring for my abuser.” Researchers also compared caregivers neglected as children with those who were not neglected.
Unsurprisingly, adults who were abused by their parents as children were more likely to show signs of depression, like lack of appetite, insomnia, trouble concentrating, sadness and lethargy, when caring for those elderly parents as adults. But a stronger link arose for those category 3, caring for the abusive parent. Those abused children caring for their abusive parent were still affected by that abuse and suffered from more depression than those in the other categories.
So, a person falling into one of these categories, especially category 3, has to really ask themselves whether they wish to subject themselves to this kind of risk to their own health as adults. Worse, this finding raises the ugly specter of whether the abused child will succumb to the increased risk that they will abuse their charges, perpetuating a sorrowful cycle, if the care-giving becomes overwhelming. Clearly, the natural feelings of revenge could easily surmount any obligatory honor or other societal barriers that otherwise keep in check these more primitive urges.
Whether it is those that are forced to care for their elderly parents who were abusive to them when they were children because there is no alternative or if there are other factors which place the adult children in such a precarious position, those who must engage or who choose to engage in the caregiver role must steel themselves for the impact on their own health. They should be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and methods of dealing with it such as therapy or support groups. What is clear is that more resources need to be made available to care for the aging other than reliance on unpaid family caregivers. For, as this article concludes, “Not only nice people get old.”