The child effect - ptsd sufferer raising children

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How does a parent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affect their children? What are the long-term effects?

I feel as though there is an implication within that question, something along the lines of, "Am I abusing my child by having PTSD?" The question asked, whether actual or implied, is easy to answer. After reading through the below information samples, simply ask yourself, "Am I abusing my child?"

There is substantial empirical data from diverse trauma types as children and adolescents demonstrating an outcome probability score for adulthood mental health concerns. The common theme is that if you raise your child in an abusive environment or subject them to abuse and trauma, their chances increase significantly for adulthood problems. This is not a guarantee but is an increased risk.

Interpersonal trauma and abuse has far greater impact on a child than larger scale social trauma. Children are extremely resilient to major social trauma such as natural disasters, terrorism or war (Link Removed) provided the child is with their parent/guardian. Separating that emotional buffering from a child has profound effect, increasing their risk for adulthood mental health concerns.

A meta-analysis by Wolfe, et al., cites that

Researchers acknowledge that exposure to domestic violence is a nonspecific risk factor for developmental harm, typifying the process of multi-finality of development. That is, such exposure is part of a group of harm-producing contextual factors (such as child abuse, harsh parenting practices, and other forms of trauma and violence) that interfere with normal development and lead to unpredictable, but generally negative, outcomes in the short and long-term.

In a recent study (Vranceanua, Hobfollb, Johnson, 2007), it was found that Child Multi-type Maltreatment (CMM)--e.g. sexual abuse, physical, emotional, neglect, witnessing family violence, etc.--was directly predictive of decreased social support and increased stress in adulthood, and that increased stress was predictive of adult symptoms of depression, and CMM was directly predictive of PTSD symptoms in adulthood.

The study summates the possible long-term effects quite well:

Individuals who were maltreatment as children have smaller supportive networks, are less satisfied with their supportive networks and perceive their relationships as less supportive. One potential explanation for these effects is that the maltreatment causes distortions in children’s cognitions regarding themselves and others. These distortions become internalized, leading to unhealthy adult relationships. It is also likely that maltreated children have less actual support in adulthood because their potential family support is limited as their parents and siblings may have been perpetrators, or may have suffered maltreatment experiences, and thus may be ineffectual as supporter providers. In addition, often children who were maltreated grew up in dysfunctional family environments, and may have poor scripts for healthy adult relationships.

Another study (Kilpatrick, et al., 2003) reviewed the risk for meeting a diagnosis, measuring demographics (i.e., race and ethnicity variables, gender, age), family factors (i.e., familial alcohol use problems, familial drug use problems) and interpersonal violence (i.e., sexual assault, physical assault, witnessed violence) and outlined from a sample of 4000+ 12-17 year olds that 15.5% of boys and 19.3% of girls met at least one of the three mental health problems.

A study that considered intergenerational psychiatric disorders between mother and daughter (Andrews, Brown, Creasey, 1990) outlined that chronically or recurrently depressed mothers were less involved with their children or to interact with them in a positive way and that children who had been exposed to hostility were more likely to have been disturbed regardless of whether or not they had a parent with a disorder. Results showed that if consideration is restricted to the behaviour of mother, father or stepfather, as many as 60% of the daughters with mothers with chronic or recurrent disorder experienced poor mothering compared with 16% of those without; and 45% experienced poor fathering compared with 4% of those without.


Society is an ever-evolving entity. Step back to the 1960s and children endured far greater familial abuse than they do today. Slowly, society is learning what works, what doesn't. The problem is that it takes 20-40 years to see generational results while making changes in between. If you aren't abusing your child, neglecting them or removing needed emotional support from them during times of distress, then chances are you're doing just fine as a parent, PTSD or not. You don't need PTSD to abuse a child or other mental health issue.

If PTSD is controlling you, you're struggling with anger and other symptoms, then chances are you may be abusing your child to some degree, knowingly or not. With longevity, this increases their risk for any of the above issues later in life, especially if traumatic events compound throughout adolescence and adulthood. Shorter durational issues of a year or less show no conclusive longer term risk to children.

Now ask yourself, "Am I abusing my child?" That will answer your effect upon them as a parent with PTSD.

Joseph Rodriguez

I have PTSD. As a vet returning from WWII, My father suffered from it as well. He basically went through every experience viewed in “Band of Brothers”. Everything! He was an extremely angry and abusive man who loved me but was trapped by his illness. My mother threatened to leave him unless he stopped hitting me. The result? A father physically present but one that would abandon his child. We never saw a film together. That was a bad memory for me until I found out the first film he went to (with my mother and her parents) after “The War” sent him into a seizure – he froze, his eyes went back in his head and he started to drool. I understand him now. Thing is, there was a whole generation out there raised by parents with untreated PTSD and I don’t believe that it has been strongly recognized. As to the Viet Nam war, soldiers who came back to jobs and “lives” and feeling “normal” are now experiencing PTSD in retirement. The belief is they have more time to think and remember… I’m a newbie here (first day). Be gentle…
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I work with PTSD every day. The majority of my patients were abused as children and are now parents. After years of coping they reach a point they want it resolved and come for help. By far the majority have been wonderful parents and their children have done well but many have stated the impacts of PTSD on their childhood. Children love their parents and often mirror their pain. I just wanted everyone on this forum to know that I see healing from PTSD every day with EMDR processes. Please look into this for your children and as parents.


I am a parent and step parent. I am in no doubt that my having PTSD, depression, GAD, or whatever diagnoses has had an impact on my kids. The impacts I believe are both positive and certainly negative. I am not abusing my children directly, but indirectly I am in no doubt it’s affected their lives and not always in a good way.
However It is possible I may be a more responsive and sensitive Dad because of the traumas that led to PTSD, than I might have otherwise been.
I do all that I can to protect my children from the negative traits and characteristics I am aware of that arise from my PTSD. But I am always mindful of it as a possibility.


I had a very abusive childhood from more than one adult. Was diagnosed with PTSD and DID maybe 8 years ago. I now have a four year old boy and feel I am doing pretty well as a parent. I always have it in the back of my mind, ‘no way is my child going to experience what I did’. Of course, some days it’s much harder than others. One thing I find is that in some ways my boy grounds me. Children have a way of keeping you in the here and now, that’s for sure! If it’s an abusive, generational background, like mine, all we can do is work to break that cycle. That’s the best gift I can give my son.


As the grown child of a father with combat PSTD, I think this article is spot on, and I appreciate the attention being paid to the topic. I never knew he had PTSD until this year, when I disclosed my own diagnosis. I never understood the rages or any of the other symptoms that pervaded our lives growing up, or that I was predisposed to other traumas that would occur. I would imagine whether someone is a good parent or not is greatly impacted by their own recognition and treatment of the disorder.


am new as well. I remember going to an Adult Childre of Alcoholics 12 step meeting when I was a very young mother (22yrs old). I asked if I should be spanking my 9mo.old baby. “You are just disciplining him!” I tried, as a parent, and failed pretty much every day. Read the books. Went to meetings, therapy, talked to friends, failed. Spanked, yelled, ignored. Probably shouldn’t have been raising a puppy. Had two children. They love me, now, and I love them. If they come to me with this, ever, I will say I’m sorry as many times as they need. It tortures me, the guilt is as much a part of me as my bones. I am in awe of parents that raised their children decently in spite of their own pain. God bless you.


I do think it makes sense that a parent with ptsd, especially complex ptsd might be capable of abuse themselves. I think the danger is that parents with ptsd are often dissociated, and don’t even see the harm their doing. There was a recent article I was reading about mothers who had complex ptsd, and how they interpreted the behaviors of thei children. One child of such a mother fell and raised his hand to his mom to be picked up. She responded, “Don’t hit me!!” That scared me because I do remember moments when I saw my child as acting aggressively when he probably wasn’t. Ptsd gave mothers a lot of distorted ways of thinking, and it affected everyone around them, including their children. I can’t imagine such a mom could do well and get better on her own. I think it’s important that we own up to the negatives of our condition even if it’s not ultimately our fault.

Trying to manage

I’m a new father of a 3 month old and it is a struggle to hold back the out bursts when she cry’s or gets fussy and she really is a wonderful and easy baby. My frustration tends to be taken out on my 3 wonderful and loving dogs that are also really well behaved and just sweet sweet boys. But the childhood trauma from the bullying and being beaten up and my struggles in school throughout childhood tend to trump all the energy I put into efforts to hold back the rage that bubbles up. I have several learning disabilities and they made social life and school so much harder for me. The strategies used by “professionals” in the mid 80’s and early 90’s were not successful in my case. My poor parents tried everything that was suggested and the results were minimal. It wasn’t until the last two years of high school that I finally got the help I needed for my communication skills, confidence and ability to excel in school. I went to a school for kids with learning disabilities and the professionals who were experts in their fields had a profound effect on me. I learned how to communicate effectively and appropriately, as well as how to understand how and why I was feeling the way I was. This was a transformation that changed my life forever. After high school I kind of took on a protector role for anyone that was mistreated or feeling lousy about life. I also, became very good at deescalating physical or verbal confrontation. To this day I still have this automatic protector reaction when I see the same things, especially when I see adults bullying other adults. When I was 25 I tried to stop a physical confrontation that my idiot friends had started and I was stabbed several times. A few months after that I started to notice a regression in my ability to control my physical reaction to being touch in ways that could be considered aggressive or dominant. It’s now 11 years later and I am progressively getting worse. I’ve tried different types of counseling and PTSD therapies as well as many different types of medications and my automatic reactions are still an issue. With all that said, it scares me to death that being in my child’s life is going to mess her up forever. Mostly I scream when I lose control, but sometimes I swat the pups, but that doesn’t happen often. Never my little girl, but she hears the escalation in my voice and I am so worried that she is going to be terrified of me later in life. I don’t want to feel like a horrible and scary father to her or my dogs. So, thank you again for your comment. It’s good to know that other sufferers have overcome or have been able to managed their PTSD and be successful parents.


I think this is an important question and one most PTSD sufferers or any survivors of childhood abuse repeatedly ask themselves once they have children.
I am replying from my own experience as someone with PTSD that developed from repeated, continuous abuse from birth in the form of severe neglect and experiencing verbal and physical domestic violence. I survived verbal, mental, physical and/or sexual abuse from parents, siblings, other relatives, doctors and so on and on and on. With survival skills in the form of dissociation and denial, I made it through. That is not to imply I made it through healthy and whole. This was evident in my adult relationship choices, my unhealthy ways of coping and in the ways I abused myself.
Did I vow I was going to break the cycle and my children were not going to suffer as I suffered?
I did and with absolute conviction, it stops with me!

Did I abuse my children?

Yes, I did.

Not knowingly at the time. Not in the ways I understood childhood abuse but through my own unresolved issues, self-hatred and lack of exposure to and understanding of what healthy was, the cycle continued.
I chose unhealthy partners who I not only allowed but encouraged to abuse me.
I had deep depressive episodes emotionally abandoning them, sometimes landing me in the hospital. I kept relationships with family members that were abusive to me as a child and in ways continued to abuse me as an adult. This brought on rages that were not directed at my children but their witnessing of them had to be traumatic.
Admitting this is not easy but necessary because denial is the momentum that keeps the cycle going.
My children are adults. Their ages are 39, 30 and 26. The eldest is the only one with children so far. He and my daughter-in-law love their children very much and give them everything including their time but I see how the cycle continues in its insidious denial.

I am in therapy and doing the work. The work is extremely difficult and complex since dissociation and denial are still active. What helped me survive my childhood, hinders my growth as an adult.
My children will always be my children and I am still bound to that vow to stop the cycle. This means having the hard conversations with my kids and listening if they have something to say and not pushing if they don’t. It means validating their experience, memories and feelings even when I don’t recall the topic or recall the topic differently. It means being accountable without abusing myself with more self-hate by practicing self-compassion. Like I said before, it’s hard work.

While the article sparked a much needed conversation, I disagree with some things It states.

“Step back to the 1960s and children endured far greater familial abuse than they do today.”

This is just the kind of comparison attitude that keeps the cycle of abuse and the denial it’s happening alive and thriving. Having heard too many times while growing up, in the 60’s btw, “You think you have it bad? You don’t know what bad is! ” and then listen to a list of their horrors which only served to justify their treatment of me and deny my own experience.

“The problem is that it takes 20-40 years to see generational results while making changes in between.”
That sounds to me like a defeatist, our hands are tied and not in the least bit responsible even though we’re aware of what’s going on kind of statement.
If childhood abuse and its affects are simply a research study to collect data so some Einstein can spout statistics then maybe it is a “problem”.
If real, can make a difference kind of answers are being looked for, then waiting 20-40 years is not necessary. Sit down and talk to me and other parents who have so bravely spoken out in this thread. We are the unfortunate experts.


am new as well. I remember going to an Adult Childre of Alcoholics 12 step meeting when I was a very youn...
Aarow, my heart goes out to you and yes, the guilt does become enmeshed into our very being. I hope you are in therapy and if not please consider it.
I think there are some misconceptions about the stigma of one abused will be an abuser.

There is a big difference between doing damage because one’s own self perception and life experience they really don’t have it to give. The desire might be there and it’s a good start but life requires more.
I believe most survivors of childhood abuse who developed PTSD as a result, usually don’t have a healthy support system as an adult and can isolate, reducing any opportunity of developing one. We make grievous errors that burden us our whole lives.

That is not to be confused with one who was also abused, possibly in the same household and also becomes an abuser but they embrace and get addicted to the power exchange to the point that they seek out opportunities to abuse for the power rush.
They will never see themselves as an abuser or feel any kind of guilt. In fact they will always feel justified in their actions. I know this for a fact. I spent my childhood with them and as an adult found partners to fill the role.
You are not that kind of person and neither am I. Does it change the damage we did? No, it doesn’t but we have the power to change the now and that makes all the difference in the world.

If I wasn’t in therapy and working hard, I don’t think I would have been able to start the conversation with my adult children about the mistakes I made. That guilt would have been too much to handle.

If I didn’t start the conversation, I don’t think it would ever happen. Because in spite of everything they love me and they know I love them. When we do talk, they are quick to say, “I know you did the best you could mom” True, but that’s not the reason I want us to talk about it. It’s not about me but you, my child, who deserved so much more than I was capable of giving. I was not there as I should have been then but I am here now. Anytime you need to talk or vent or need an understanding shoulder to rest your head on, I’m here.
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