Social Question

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

In your eyes, how far does "my parents were mean to me" go as an excuse for bad adult behavior?

Asked by Captain_Fantasy (11439points) April 18th, 2010

How tolerant are you of that sort of thing?
Some kids had legitimately awful childhoods but how much bad behavior does a traumatic childhood excuse, if any?

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39 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

No distance. People are always responsible for their own behavior unless they suffer from an intractable personality disorder.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say this – I think it’s others that figure that’s the reason why anyone is being one way or another. I further think that unless a person can reflect back on their childhood in a meaningful way, they won’t stop.

janbb's avatar

It can be useful knowledge in understanding someone’s behavior, it is never an excuse for it.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

I suppose murder would be a fair limit. 2nd degree, not 1st.

rebbel's avatar

What i know, it’s mainly used by people (or their lawyers) who committed a crime, to try to get a lesser punishment.
Usually that is researched then by psychiatrists.

eden2eve's avatar

That depends on the age of the adult, and the severity of the abuse. Sometimes the abuse can cause very serious emotional issues, and it would be wrong to judge when we don’t know the extent of the damage done. In this case, compassion with some encouragement to get treatment should be offered. A professional would be able to best determine how to deal with problems of this extent.

However, when the person is healthy and just appears to be using the past to justify their behavior or current events and circumstances, they should just accept the fact that they are not alone, that most people have experienced hurtful things in their childhood and survived. If they need to vent or get help, then they should do so and get over it.

But either way, there needs to be some sort of “end” of the discussions, because it’s never healthy, for either party, to continue with negative conversations without working toward some solution.

chyna's avatar

No excuse. I had an ex-boyfriend that tried to use the excuse that he didn’t find out he was adopted until he was in college to be a dick. He went on to be a dick elsewhere.

talljasperman's avatar

it depends on the circumstances…but if I tolerated that behavior than I would be mean too… better to fix the mistakes by giving consequences now than being a bad friend now.

lillycoyote's avatar

Like others have touched on, there is a difference between an explanation for one’s behavior and an excuse. However, phrasing the question as “my parents were mean to me,” I think, trivializes the kind of physical, sexual and psychological abuse that far too many people suffer as children. If your father put his cigarettes out on your arm, or molested you or beat the crap out of you every chance he got, is that just “being mean?” Some people just don’t get the chance to turn out to be a fully functioning adult. Some people can rise above it and some can’t. In the end, people are responsible for what they do but trying to understand why they turned out the way they did and possibly considering mitigating circumstances when sentencing someone for committing a crime, is not unreasonable. A man with two good legs will almost always do better in a foot race than a man with two crippled legs.

janbb's avatar

@lillycoyote GA for a great answer!

CaptainHarley's avatar

People who use that excuse aren’t adults yet.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

Yeah, it doesn’t go very far with me either. People have a choice in how to live their lives. They shouldn’t blame it on their parents. It’s up to you to make your life better.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I will have to say that having someone else on whom to blame all your problems is quite convenient. I know. I lived with someone like that for about 34 years! Everything from cap off the toothpaste tube to plate tectonics was automatically my fault. Sigh.

chyna's avatar

@CaptainHarley Geez, can you not get the lid on the toothpaste? lol

Trillian's avatar

I was going to stay out of this because I don’t have my references handy.
Abuse and neglect do horrible tings to the psyche. Add to that a low income, single parent and you set a child up with some life diminishing dynamics. Poor academics, low self esteem, increased risk for promiscuity, mental and physical poor health, depression, substance use/abuse, limited social skills, inability to process social cues, inappropriate anger response to any stress situation, poor life choice making skills, delinquency, truancy, criminal behaviour. The studies indicate that a two parent home with the parents in a loving, financially stable relationship are a basic necessity for providing all the needed psychological factors that give a child a sense of security and an ability to fully develop. Along with these factors, studies also indicate a need for a strong sense of community and/or a religion. Not any religion in particular, just a structured belief system.
I agree that as an adult, the person now has a choice, but the basic ability to make good choices is not there, and by the time many criminal acts are committed, some choices cannot be unmade, such as the decision to do poorly in the academic arena. This person now has fewer choices financially and fewer marketable skills, and consequently, resentment and fewer options. It isn’t as black and white as the question implies. I believe that his is why the entire penal system needs to be completely started from scratch. The criminal you abhorr today is the abused/neglected child that no one saved yesterday.
This is why I advocate so hare for the ideas of Dr. Lykken. I think that it’s a good idea worth exploring that people be licensed to have children, and children in current abusive/neglectful situations have a right to be rescued. The deck is being stacked against them. They have a right to start their lives with as many things in their favor as possible.
Sorry that I don’t have the studies right here to cite. I can dig them up is anyone wants them.

Pandora's avatar

I agree with @lillycoyote, It all depends on three things.
How horrible where the parents.(Did they do such horrible things that it would be almost a miracle to get over it.) What did you actually do. (Steal, kill, physically hurt someone else. Than no excuse.) And finally how old is the person.
Now if we are talking about a parent who was absent from your life or ignored you or didn’t give you cash when you wanted it , or nagged you to death, or was verbally abusive but otherwise, fed you clothed you and raised you till you were of age to move out, than I can’t say I would excuse any bad behavior. There is right and wrong and once you are an adult you have knowledge whether you agree with it or not. And if you choose to be a douche because of what was once than you are fully responsible and deserve to deal with the consequences with no sympathy from me. Unless you suffer from some sort of mental dysfunction, right and wrong behavior is very clear.

Seek's avatar


I don’t think you should discredit verbal abuse so readily. Psychological effects of persistent verbal abuse can be crippling.

Rangie's avatar

how much bad behavior does a traumatic childhood excuse, if any?
I believe it depends on the age of the person behaving badly, and if it is the same behavior or bad behavior in general.
I often wonder just who caused the trauma in the childs life, but that it is easier to blame the parents. Maybe it was really a sibling or school kids, in which case it would be hard to single out just one, so it becomes easier to blame someone close to you. Which is done all the time for lesser things. In general, I have a problem with anyone blaming anyone for much of anything. There are those exceptions, where honest to goodness, verbal and physical abuse, is a constant in a child’s life. But, in many cases I need the person doing the blaming is and has been trying to do something about it. Otherwise, I feel they are giving themselves a license to continue their bad behavior.

lillycoyote's avatar

@janbb It’s just that, I would hope, most decent, civilized people would be horrified and filled with compassion for what some of these people had to endure as children. We are supposed to care, as a society, we acknowledge that innocent children need to be protected, we have systems in place that are supposed to protect children for whom the the most dangerous place on earth might be their own homes. But those systems are flawed, imperfect. What are we supposed to say to the kids we miss, that we failed to protect when they grow up? Sorry we missed you? Sorry we didn’t notice until it was too late to make a difference? Sorry you fell through the cracks? Sorry. If only we could all travel back in time to when you were innocent children, then we would care, but just as children age out of foster care, you have aged out of compassion. And besides, now you’re a monster. We are complicit in that, but hey, it’s too late now. And once these monsters have acted out, yes, of course, society has a right and a duty to protect itself from them. Sadly, for some, there is no fixing them but, again, we failed to protect them, but trying to understand how they became who they are, understanding them, having a little compassion is not at all mutually exclusive with holding them responsible for whatever it is that they have done and with protecting ourselves. And trying to understand how abuse can sometimes create monsters will go a much longer way to stopping the creation of monsters than simple vengeance and hatred will. But some people will always go for bloodlust, never for understanding.

Trillian's avatar

@lillycoyote That it so what I was trying, not so well, to say. Thank you.

ubersiren's avatar

I can only speak from my own experience. My mother has always been, and continues to be an absolute self centered, hurtful bitch sometimes (85% of the time). This has worn on me my whole life. I used to blame a lot on her. Not finishing college, problems with food, psychological stuff… But now, I know that I’m my own person and can change who she made me. It took moving away from her and growing up to realize it. I still have a lot of contempt for her and not everything is resolved, but I can no longer blame her for bad decisions.

I was never physically abused, so I cannot speak for those who were. But I can say that if simple words can make me feel like I felt, I can’t imagine how physical abuse can mold someone. Monsters make monsters. If that’s all a person has ever known, how could he possibly ever make a change in himself? I don’t think you can use your parents as an excuse for being abusive or a criminal, but it’s not as simple as saying that they are not grown up or just too lazy and stubborn to change.

Trillian's avatar

@CaptainHarley Well? What are you doing to stop Plate Tectonics? I was wondering who we had to blame for that!~

CaptainHarley's avatar


I said I got BLAMED for it, not that I DID it! : P

@Trillian [ See above! ] : P

Trillian's avatar

@chyna I’ll bet he squeezes from the middle of the tube too!

chyna's avatar

@Trillian Oh, I have no doubt! Anyone that can’t put the lid on has other toothpaste issues.~

lillycoyote's avatar

@Trillian This is something that I have thought a lot about and have very strong feelings about. Anytime anyone talks about the “abuse excuse” I always think about when these people were children and no one helped them. An excess of compassion perhaps… always my undoing. But I naively continue to believe that compassion, understanding and mercy will get us much closer to the world that we all pretend to want and strive for than vengeance, bloodlust and an eye for an eye ever will.

Trillian's avatar

@lillycoyote I’m currently studying this subject as I happen to have stumbled into it. I’m no longer with my SO, but he started me down this path of research. I don’t know that compassion alone will help these people. but maybe a penal system with a different mindset. Mandatory therapy, kind of a holistic view, with different methods tried that we haven’t really lent much credence to in the past.
I wondered if a person could be hypnotically regressed to different key points and maybe somehow had different programming put in that over rode the first damaging input, and replaced it with the correct feelings of security and trust. Further education and conditioning after a de-programming. Sort of like what the Scientologists practice. I don’t really know enough about hypnotherapy, but certainly intensive therapy and education, maybe working with animals, I’m sure that there are numerous therapies and routes that bear scrutiny, as well as a complete abandonment of the current system of bars and integration of like minded criminals where brutality is the order of the day and the only way to even survive the time spent there.
My ex told me stories about what he did and sometimes had to do just to avoid being the victim himself that make me shudder.

YARNLADY's avatar

I saw a recent article that said that past issues are not to blame for the adult behavior – IF and it is a great big if, proper treatment is applied.

Pandora's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr The reason I don’t believe in it is because I’ve know families who were abusive and seen some great human beings thrive and become thoughtful adults who wouldn’t hurt a fly and very responsible as well. And I’ve seen people come from very caring parents who grew up to be irresponsible and awful adults. So it leads me to believe that many can over ride the feeling of lashing back at society if they choose too, and some just want to blame everyone else for their adult failures instead of owing up to the fact that they choose how they wanted to be as adults.
Hey my mom told me she never wanted children. Doesn’t exactly warm me to her but why would I take that out on society, or even her. Not everyone is cracked up to be a mom.

Rangie's avatar

@Pandora I have seen this type of behavior right in my family. My older sister was raised in the same home as myself and other sisters. We stayed in the same bedroom, up until we all either moved out or married. My point is we all had the same up bring. Which was fun, loving, caring, probably the best childhood any kid could want. But, my older sister has issues, so she blames everybody, especially her 3 sisters for her problems. She uses every excuse for everything she does that she knows is wrong or against the law. Like changing price tags on clothes, exaggerating foot problems to she would qualify for SS disability and medical. I actually think, she believes she deserves to do what she does, because it is our fault. We may have gotten better grades, maybe able to jump rope better, skate, ride a bike, or anything. I just don’t buy it. She hasn’t killed anybody or anything like that, but it doesn’t make it okay. What kind of kids do you think she raised? The same. She won’t listen to me, so I just told her she should talk to somebody qualified to help her.

escapedone7's avatar

Edited for being way too personal

Rangie's avatar

@escapedone7 If I was the hitting type, I would slap my sister and tell her to get over it. Her story is so, so, nothing, compared to your life. Bless your heart for rising above what was dished to you. I love the fact that you took control over your life. Too bad more people don’t have the courage to follow your example.

Pandora's avatar

@Rangie, Same here. Large family of 5 and I have a brother who for years blamed all his failing on everything and everyone but the sun. (of course his drinking isn’t the problem or should I say his love of beer)
His son is the same. But its no excuse for either. Both know right from wrong. They chose to do it the hard way.

Rangie's avatar

@Pandora I think these people know, that they can take control of their life, regardless of who they blame, But it is my opinion they are too lazy to take control, because it takes courage, honor, self-discipline, self-respect, responsibility, humility, morals, ethics, and obligations. It is just too so easy to blame someone else.

JeffVader's avatar

If someone were using such an excuse Id want to question them further. Being ‘mean’ isn’t really enough, however, it could simply be that someone would rather say their parents were mean than, ‘they used to beat the shit out of me daily with a stick’. Admitting stuff like that can be very hard.

janbb's avatar

Wouldn’t it be great if we could use all the money we spend developing weapons and building an army and fighting wars on good daycare, parenting support, mental health care, and unversal health care instead? I must be dreaming this morning!

( I spent yesterday with a very loved new baby girl; if she grows up with issues of abuse, I will be very surprised.)

Seek's avatar

Speaking from personal experience, as I am a survivor of verbal, emotional, and occasionally physical abuse.

I would never, and I don’t know anyone who would, use “Oh, well I was abused” as an excuse to justify aberrant behaviour. I think anyone that comes out and says “Well, my parents suck, so that’s why I did ________” is full of shite and should be ashamed of themselves.

However, years of abuse can and does affect your actions years after the fact.

For example, turning in a job application will literally cause me to go into a panic attack. Every time. Even filling out the paper is physically painful, with all the things going through my brain – how many people are more qualified for this than me, how I’ll never be good at this, why would anyone choose me for this job, and even if I get it I’ll do something stupid and lose the job anyway. Everyone there’s going to hate me anyway… – It’s the main reason I still haven’t gone to college. I can’t get through the paperwork. It’s why no matter how much I’m dying to be on stage again, I can’t make myself show up for a community theater audition. And I know I’m a good actor. But of course I’ve _only been in school plays and I’ve only had the one acting class, and everyone knows I can’t sing…._ There are times the panic attacks will come on if I have to answer the telephone, regardless of who’s on the other end. How will I know what to say? Of course I’m going to say something stupid. That’s all I ever say…

Do I tell people “I hate my parents because they made it so I can’t do this”? No. I just don’t do it. I clam up like a good girl and take my verbal beating from the voices I haven’t actually heard in two and a half years, and try to breathe and get past it.

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