'I’m a university student and this is why I hate going home during the festive season'


Many kids grow up in abusive environments where they watch their mother abused by their father. Most of these stories don’t make it to the media and sadly many of those kids bottle their issues throughout their teens to their early 20s. Their childhood traumas then start to come out when they start forming relationships of their own.

Cindy Ndou* (25), a psychology student, still wishes her parents would separate because home has become a toxic environment. She has four siblings – three sisters and one brother – and being a first born, she must always find a way to protect her siblings.

She finds it ironic that she’s on her journey to become a psychologist, burdened to help fix her family, but things keep getting out of hand.

“If I recall correctly, when I was seven so many things happened. I find it strange that I keep having flashbacks of my father telling my mother that he’ll kill her.” Cindy says her father doesn’t even have to be drunk to become violent, he’s always sober and knows exactly what he’s doing. “My father is never wrong, just because he’s the head of the house everything he says must go.” If she argued with him, when she was younger, she’d be beaten up too.

Social worker Lufuno Raphalalani says toxic environments aren’t good for any human being. “They drain one’s happiness and it’s a violation of one’s right to live in peace and harmony,” she says.

READ MORE: Fixing a broken relationship with your parents

Cindy recalls one night when she and her siblings couldn’t sleep, her father started being violent. They couldn’t open their parents’ bedroom door because he locked it. “All I could hear were sounds of him beating my mother and I always get flashbacks of those moments. Unfortunately, my siblings will live with that too.”

Now that she’s at university, she still wakes up in the middle of the night and just cries.

Raphalalani says experiencing abuse and neglect in childhood can lead to adverse outcomes in adulthood. “The consequences of experiencing child abuse and neglect will vary considerably. One of them being homelessness.”

She further explains that studies have shown strong associations between histories of child abuse and neglect and experiences of homelessness in adulthood, the long-term effects of abuse can be poor mental health, trauma, eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, aggression and violent behaviour.

READ MORE: Abuse stats shock

The relationship between her and her father has deteriorated, but Cindy doesn’t see the need to fix it. “It’s so hard when it’s time to go home after exams. I just wish I could stay here or rather have my mom and siblings this side.”

She says the rest of her siblings are forced to be on speaking terms with him because they’re still in high school and still stay at home. “It’s not good at all because we don’t know what’s going on in their minds. Especially the little ones, you’d think they’re too young to be depressed or stressed.”

“Toxic people create drama and live in a world of negativity and you have to take a decision for yourself if you can’t tolerate their behaviour.” Raphalalani says this may mean distancing yourself from your family by spending less time with them or disconnecting permanently.  

READ MORE: Signs that he is abusive

Cindy says by studying psychology she has come to realise how hard it is for her mother to leave her father. “People make it sound so easy, like you could just decide to walk away, and it’s not. Some think about regretting it later.”

Cindy says it’s discouraging for her to be in a romantic relationship. “Sometimes I don’t see the point of being in a relationship because I don’t know how to act while in it. Also, I don’t trust men if I can’t trust my own DNA,” she says. Some people say nice things about their parents and Cindy says she wishes she could do the same.

READ MORE: Why it's not that simple to leave

They’ve considered therapy before, but Cindy says no one was ready to open up and fear has also stopped them. “I understand that therapy sessions will help us, in fact I should know better, but I guess it’s just really scary to tell someone your business.”

Raphalalani says counselling is vital and encourages all the family members to get counselling and work on their communication: “Communication is a vehicle for every relationship.”

Cindy says she’ll try her best to get her siblings professional help. “At the end of the day one’s happiness, peace and emotional well-being are important,” Raphalalani says.

*Not her real name.

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