Disempowering Abuse vs. Empowering Abuse


Well-Known Member
I hought this might interest some because it has helped me understand, though not change, my difficult son.

Years ago, I listened to Pia Mellody, one of the earliest people of the codependency field, talk about the difference between the two.

Disempowering abuse includes things like physical, verbal, and sexual abuse of children, as well as neglect - all of which take power away from children and harm them either psychologically and/or physically.

Empowering abuse is when parents fail to set limits on their children's behavior, so that they don't learn self-control or to make amends when they misbehave. She is NOT advocating physical punishment, but rather that they need to learn and take responsibility for when their behavior is out of line and hurts themselves or others.

My ex (now deceased) undermined me when I tried to set boundaries with my son. If I grounded him, he told my son he didn't have to listen to me and picked him up from school, so he could avoid a time out. On visitation, he allowed him not to do homework, to watch anything, whether appropriate or not. To stay home from school, and on and on.

Essentially, he taught my son that he didn't have to follow rules like everyone else does. This is false entitlement and is the way to grow a narcissist, and in my son's case, a malignant one. The most difficult thing for me is that narcissists don't see themselves or their harmful behavior because they have been raised to believe they have a right to act the way they do, but they are quick to point their finger at everyone as as the offenders.

Tanya M

Living with an attitude of gratitude
Staff member
In my case, I had counselors and social workers that undermined my husband and I. When my son first started acting out and getting into trouble we did the grounding, taking away privileges, talking to him about his behavior and so on. Nothing we did made it any better. When our son started ditching school and running away we became involved with the police, social workers and family counselors. The police were the only ones that backed up me and husband. The social workers and counselors (except one counselor) all told us that we needed to be more understanding of our son and to talk to him, that grounding him and taking away privileges was damaging his self esteem. In the family counseling sessions my son was allowed to sit there with his head in his lap and not participate in what was going on. I had one social worker tell me that I should quit my job and stay at home! I asked her how we were supposed to pay our bills and her response was "that's not my problem". All of this talk my son took in while he had his head in his lap. Yes, he received a clear message that mom and dad were to blame and that he was entitled and did not have to take responsibility for his actions.
At one point my son was ordered into a group home because the judge determined that he was a threat to me and husband and our home. While in that group home we worked with a counselor there who was great, he made our son participate in our family sessions, there was no keeping his head in his lap. It's too bad it only lasted a month as our son ran away from the group home. When he was caught he was found with a knife and was sentenced to a juvenile detention facility.
My son is just like his bio-father so I do believe there is also the factor of genetics but I will always wonder if the outcome would have been different if the counselors and social workers would not have coddled him and giving him the message that mom and dad were to blame.
I guess two full time working parents who made sure to sit down as a family every night for dinner, who went to church every Sunday, who made sure their child wanted for nothing, who tried to get their child involved in sports, etc..... is just not what a child needs. (I'm sorry, was my sarcasm showing)o_O