Can a Child Love His Abuser?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q:My husband and I are worried about his son. He is 4 years old. We have noticed symptoms such as pooping his pants, sucking his fingers, and a sudden onset of stuttering. My DH and his son’s mother were never married, and she has a lot of anger and jealousy issues. It would take forever and sound too whiny to list them all, So I will stick with the most recent incident. My stepson was playing with some dolls and a dollhouse with my 4 year old. He was being very rough with the baby doll. Then the mommy doll hit the daddy doll. I said, “Well that isn’t very nice, mommy’s shouldn’t hit”. He said, “Yeah, I don’t like it” I pulled out several dolls and we gave them names from his mom’s house. We asked very careful questions, so we wouldnt’ give him ideas. The doll that represented him, gets “smacked, spanked, pushed and shoved” by the mommy, and his brother, but his brother is “Just being a brother” he says. He showed how the baby gets sent to his room. The mommy doll carries the baby doll to the room and throws him. My DH said, “Mommy throws XXXX?” pointing to the doll that represents my Stepson. He said, “Yeah, and it hurts my brains!” then he did a dramatic re-enactment, landing face down on the floor, arms and legs splayed. He said he came home from daycare and wanted a snack and his mom pushed him and said, “You have to ask!”. Again giving a re-enactment, which would appear he was elbowed and then shoved. I asked him if anything else happened to baby XXXX, pointing to the doll. He got teary eyed, and told us there was a secret. He said he was standing on the counter and his mom came into the kitchen and pushed him off. He said he hit the floor and was bleeding. My DH asked, “Did the mommy say anything” Stepson replied, “Sorry, and then she got a bandaid, I was bleeding a whole bunch and it was a secret” Then he said, “I dont’ want to talk anymore” . . .
Can child that is being abused in some way still love and care for the abuser? He seems to want very much to please her, but he does not seem scared to go home at all. If he were scared to go home, We wouldnt send him and would report it ASAP. Given this fact only is why I am writing here instead of picking up the phone. Do you have any advice?

A: Yes, children often love and care about their abusers. They are, after all , dependent on them. Children, being children, have no way of knowing that what is going on in their house isn’t what goes on everywhere. And, children being children, want very much to please the grown ups in their lives. Everything you have written sends up big red flags. Please take this child to a professional to be evaluated. It’s far better to have an evaluation and find out that you are wrong than to not get professional eyes on a situation and then have to live with something bad happening to a child because of your inaction.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Oct 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). Can a Child Love His Abuser?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/10/05/can-a-child-love-his-abuser/