The impact of hidden scars from childhood

Sunday November 29 2020
scars pic

In a city filled with struggles and successes, Loyce Kimei’s story is scarred.

The 51-year-old’s childhood was particularly difficult. When she was a little girl, Ms Kimei recalls that she grew up watching her father abuse her mother whilst neglecting their basic needs and exploiting the family economically by selling family properties and utilities.

Ms Kimei who was a smart child, drastically dropped in her performances during her schooling years.

She recalls being chased away to sleep outside in the cold during the episodes of separation of parents, including she and her siblings being scattered amongst relatives or split between the two parents during separation.

Although Ms Kimei had a chance to proceed after standard seven, they [she and her siblings] had to run away from home and seek for greener pastures. Ms Kimei says, “My childhood hurts me, I have scars. I know I am psychologically affected.”

Ms Kimei, who is a single mother, admits the fact that her childhood affected her later life, till date.


“I see myself disliking men. Over the years I have not been able to help myself but always favour, shield and protect women and children. I feel like I still hold a hidden grudge against men. My past relationships have failed and I have no desire to enter into a relationship or marriage anymore.”

What’s really happening

Human beings will mirror the people of their environment and will be affected by the environment they are in. Children tend to be a reflection of their parents from physical appearance to more traits such as emotional and intelligence quotient.

There’s a field of science dedicated to studying how “adverse childhood experiences” – the traumatic things that happen to people as young children – negatively affect their life later.

New research out of Drexel University shows there may be a similar relationship between how traumatic a parent’s childhood was and how healthy their children are, even years after they’re born.

There are higher chances of one to display patterns of behaviours that are from their parents and to pass them to their children.

Psychologists say that copying and pasting behaviours can be done consciously but adopting traits and characters can also happen subconsciously.

This is a result of children absorbing and identifying with either a compliment or a criticism. This is what brings about confidence or low self-esteem to individuals.

With that being said it’s correct to say that parents’ relationship has an impact on the outcome of children.

Social worker Zackayo Shigongo says, “There is no perfect family, because there are no perfect human beings,” adding, “This is to say stable and healthy families are obtained when both parents keep an effort to ensure that their partnership is withstanding all the perils and sailing to the undefined shore with harmony, kindness, wisdom, warmth and courage.”

Although ideal families or stable families are the epitome and major goals in our societies, Mr Shigongo says family feuds, misunderstandings and conflicts are inevitable.

“Lack of resolutions while discussing the problems within a marriage leads to separation and eventually divorce.” he says.

Ms Shigongo adds, “Divorce just does not happen, it is a result of series of events and misunderstandings that graduate to physical and emotional violence such as battering, deprivation of marital needs, forceful sexual acts, exploitation and economic violence such as selling properties without consulting the other partner and deprivation of family basic needs can be some factors that will be observed in the journey of a falling home.”

Sociologist Julius Mbilinyi points out that most people get married for other factors other than love and this is why most marriages fail; “People get married due to social, peer and religious pressure,” Mr Mbilinyi explains.

He adds that in the past, men were mostly being pointed fingers at for all the problems that happens in marriage but recently both partners chime in to the marriage problems.

“Exploitation reasons are also a factor in marriage failure, people enter marriage with a start goal and an end goal, they also tend to enter marriage with expectation and oblivious to dynamism. Most people have a list of an ideal partner but no one is open to prepare for a partner with short comings. These reasons lead to failure of so many marriages and in turn children become collateral damage and are affected either short term or long term,” Mr Mbilinyi says.

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, children who are emotionally abused and neglected face similar, and sometimes worse, mental health problems than those who are physically or sexually abused. The study defined the following as psychological abuse by a parent or caregiver: bullying, terrorising, coercive control, verbal assault and threats, humiliation, overwhelming demands, shunning and/or isolation.

The study says that the hidden scars of this type of abuse can manifest in numerous ways, including insecurity, low self-­esteem, poor development of basic skills, difficulty forming relationships, withdrawal, destructive and harmful behaviour (such as pyromania and cruelty to animals), alcohol or drug abuse, and in extreme cases, suicide.

A happy home to activism

Hannah Mwandoloma, 40, a single mother turned activist and advocate of proper parenting started an initiative known as ‘Funguka Na Hannah’ so as to spread awareness on parenting and parents’ relationships.

“This platform allows people, parents and children to open up on their challenges as well as discuss issues on parenting,” Ms Mwandoloma tells.

The founder has had a stable childhood and that is the reason she understands what exactly it takes to have a harmonious home for children and how exactly to deal with all the nooks that come with parenting.

Ms Mwandoloma lost one parent when she was young but as long as she remembers, both her parents stayed in harmony.

She recalls a stable, happy home and despite both her parents having children from previous relationships, Ms Mwandoloma witnessed and believes her parents raised her half siblings well.

Ms Mwandoloma believes that the relationship of parents has an effect on children because the first socialisation of a child begins with a parent.

“The parent’s impact on a child begins in the womb. What a parent exposes a child to, affects a child in one way or the other; The moods of a parent affect the growth of a child and how they act in the future,” she explains in detail.

That means, a child acts exactly how a parent behaves infront of them.

Advocating for good relationship

Ms Mwandoloma advocates for a good relationship between both the parents despite their status of marriage.

She says, “Parents play a big role in children’s upbringing and even though there is no parenting manual, parents should put selfishness aside and even if they are separated and have new partners, they should let them know that they are carrying a responsibility towards them [their children].”

The activist acknowledges that separation affects children and they become frustrated to an extent they start believing they are the reason for divorce.

Children who understand, pray for separation so as they can obtain peace. Ms Mwandoloma urges parents who are separating not to soil each other. Parents could be ex-partners but children will never be ex-children. Ms Mwandoloma advices its important to be assured of the partners you choose to start a family with.

Co-parenting the right way

It’s important for children to know that although their parents are separated, they are loved and they will always remain their priorities.

She advises parents not to use children as leverages to hurt the other partner. Partners who have separated, their focus should be on children only.

Both the experts, Zackayo Shigongo and Julius Mbilinyi point out that during conflicts between parents, the parent who feels bullied tends to find a weaker person to take the anger on. For example, usually in families you find mothers either taking anger out on house helps or children.

This causes trauma and fear to children, it results to an attack on their esteem. They point out that families that have conflict have a negative impact on children, these impacts can be short termed if matters are handled earlier and long term even passing from generation to generation creating a viscous cycle. The impact could lead to a child growing up to an individual with low self-esteem, anger issues, mood swings, post-traumatic stress disorder, deteriorated morals, mistrust and like Loyce Kimei said, a reservation from marriage or hatred towards the opposite gender. It is very important for people entering marriage to understand that there will be cultural and status dynamics within marriage, there will be changes either physically, emotionally or mentally, the sociologist and social worker explain.

Some factors like hormonal changes or different maturity stages have to be faced with understandings. “Family issues have to be consulted with resolutions, failure to this is what leads to explosive divorces. There should be understandings that expectation changes and not every trend is necessary to be meet. Children have to be involved and communicated with. Most importantly they have to be raised well and be protected, because a hurt child who has not healed is an affected adult and numerous destructed and wounded adults become a broken society,” experts interviewed advise.

Tanzania lacks surveys that can identify problem of children abuse, psychologically and physically. As a society, we should learn from awareness campaigns, such as “Weapon of Choice”, an international public-service campaign by US photographer Rich Johnson, that can help change attitudes.

Johnson took a series of pictures showing victims physically scarred by the words used against them to demonstrate the extent of harm that can be caused by verbal abuse.


By Diana Elinam

Email: [email protected]