Case Study: “She’s Backward You Know”

Premise Thoughtless, careless words repeated over time by significant others have the power to destroy a young persons’ sense of self- worth and self-esteem. This affects relationships, goal-setting, and accomplishments for the rest of that child’s life. Background To all appearances, it was a happy family home, a devoted mother, father, and their little girl; … Continued


Thoughtless, careless words repeated over time by significant others have the power to destroy a young persons’ sense of self- worth and self-esteem. This affects relationships, goal-setting, and accomplishments for the rest of that child’s life.


To all appearances, it was a happy family home, a devoted mother, father, and their little girl; but behind closed doors much damage can be done.   Abuse doesn’t have to be physical; dark words can destroy one’s soul, confidence, self-esteem, one’s very life. Imagine the confusion and pain caused to a child by her parents’ cruel, thoughtless words that remain, even after sixty-three years, the foundation upon which a woman has constructed her life. Imagine the hurt and anger, hidden deep inside, but remembered for a lifetime. Emotional and psychological abuse wounds the soul in much the same way that physical abuse scars the flesh, leaving tender, lasting injury to a sensitive soul.

She was a bright, pretty, quiet little girl who was repeatedly insulted by her father and humiliated by her mother in the privacy of their home. In a shelter where love, security, and acceptance should have been the norm, descriptors like ‘imbecile,’ ‘mentally deficient,’ ‘hopeless,’ ‘clumsy,’ ‘slow,’ ‘idiot,’ or ‘clodhopper’  were the words used to her face and in her hearing to describe the child. She suffered her father’s taunts and lack of love in silence, her confidence and self-esteem battered. Made to feel inferior to others through relentless years of sustained degradation, she has never been successful at disregarding her parent’s harsh views. Her mother never defended her or comforted her when she was in pain or upset. “Don’t be a baby,” was the usual unsympathetic remark.  She often heard her parents talking about her in another room, not to her; something you should never do.

In self defense, she developed a hard tough outer ‘shield’ over the years, but knew that something was terribly wrong; she never accepted the ridicule she endured as normal. If she did rebel, she was told that if she had been a boy she would have ‘got a thrashing’, and that her father had always wanted a boy, anyway. She never understood why she was treated so cruelly while other children she knew received far different treatment; maybe her parents only had time, space, and thought for each other. In fact, she didn’t feel wanted at all. If she asked either of them a question, they would tell her to ask the other!

There seemed a desire on her mother’s part to belittle or humiliate her in front of her friends and teachers. When her mother told a teacher, in her hearing, “She’s backward, you know,” the child felt shock, embarrassment, disbelief, and seethed silently inside, her hatred growing, “One day I’ll show them all!” she thought defiantly. She was six or seven years old! Mockery in front of friends was the norm, anything to hurt her.  She never dared complain about her mother for fear of her father’s wrath.

Children at her junior school called this timid sensitive old-fashioned little thing ‘rabbit teeth’ due to her crooked front teeth, probably caused when, aged three, she ‘fell’ off her mother’s lap, or was pushed, hitting her mouth on a marble table corner.  She was mostly likely trying to escape!   

They also corrupted her name to repeatedly verbally insult her intelligence.    Even a teacher, who was later sacked, called her ‘Grandma’!    She hated her name after that, and the teacher, who she silently cursed.   The new teacher was a saviour, quite different and ‘recognised’ her.

She was obviously a sitting target.’  But why?  What on earth was going on?

Her worst memory was an incident that occurred when she was about 11. Her parents went out for the evening, leaving her home alone. When they failed to come home at 1:00 a.m., she was frightened that something had happened and they weren’t coming back. As children commonly do, she imagined the horrifying things that might have happened. After all, car wrecks are not uncommon. She remembers to this day the dark, wet, empty road and the street lights shining in mirror reflections. She relives her terror, and uncertainty, wondering what was going to happen to her in the event of such an occurrence. In abject terror of being alone in her house, listening to it creak and groan so late at night in the rain, she went to her neighbors for reassurance, waiting there for her parents’ return.  Eventually, they arrived and the neighbor went out to speak to them as they drove into the drive. Were her parents apologetic or concerned about her fright and worry? No, of course not; she was just told off for showing them up in front of the neighbors, for letting them down publicly!

On the day she was confirmed, after she was given her name and had been blessed by the bishop, this bright, quiet child felt really proud and walked back to her mother beaming and happy.  All she got was a black look and the words,” “Why didn’t you speak up?”  

“It wasn’t me.  It was the other girl,” the child snapped back in protest, referring to the little girl who had knelt next to her, who had a very quiet voice. The bishop had heard her very well, but had to ask the other girl to repeat her name.  The sacred, meaningful, sacramental feeling of the event was shattered and she has never forgotten it.   

While her mother never yelled, things said in a strong dominating manner, can still crush one’s spirit, when all that was wanted was love and praise.

The verbal battering continued well into adolescence: Mother would often say, ‘Yoiu are round-shouldered. Can’t you stand up straight! Your posture is appalling.’ And she was made to attend sessions after school to correct [italics] the problem. Even the teachers would laugh at her during exercises, adding a little more to her humiliation.

In her teenage years, she realized that she was an attractive, intelligent young woman, but the insults continued. “You’re not as good looking as your mother.” Her reply, “Beauty is only skin deep,” effectively silenced her father for a little while. Her mother would say, “No one will want to marry you. You smell.” My God!

As a result of the daily, unreasonable, uncaring, thoughtless barbs, the child was driven to distance herself more and more from her parents, often saying, “Go to hell,”  She shrugged off their scorn outwardly, but felt a deep, angry, silent pain.  Her parents must have been shocked at her rebelliousness, perhaps, a bit frightened at what they had unleashed. As she grew up, she reasoned that she was not stupid; she was actually quite clever and people did like her, and she was beautiful. She was helped to this realization by a loving grandmother who saved her life to some extent, with the mantra, ‘They can because they think they can.’

Later, she met a man who did like her, even loved her, which released a torrent of evil words from her parents. “He doesn’t love you.” “He’s just being polite.” “You’re second best.” He became the brunt of her parents’ unkind and untrue criticisms. They ridiculed his looks, how he spoke. She knew their words were untrue, but they sowed seeds of doubt in her mind. However, he made her feel so good; she blossomed like a queen, saved by love.    But although she had met the love of her life, who was giving her the love she craved, her father threatened to cut her out of his will.    She took no notice, of course.

One evening was particularly bad. She got home from work and was met at the door by her mother who said, “Paul’s had an accident.” No more. Her mother then watched and waited to savor her daughter’s shocked panic. It turned out it was only a minor incident and he was fine. He rang later to let her know that he was all right. Such evil, insensitive cruelty toward one’s own daughter was unbelievable to her.  She didn’t question.  She just longed for the day when she could leave and marry him and be free.   

At long last, the day of her wedding arrived. Her father called her a ‘slut’ and Paul was the ‘scum of the earth!’ When their baby died at birth, she unwisely told her mother how unhappy she felt. Her mother replied, ‘I don’t want to know.’ Even her husband was insensitive to her depression after the death of their infant. Unfortunate words were spoken. He later regretted them, but the damage had already been done. She felt she had no one who could understand her grief. Traumatized by the lack of sensitivity for her anguish by those who should have been the most sympathetic, she left them all and struck out on her own.

She can only speculate at other unknown words of betrayal to other teenage boyfriends, high school friends, her second husband. He was insulted too!

What mother would say to her 39 year-old daughter who, following major gynecological surgery, had miraculously given birth to her third and last ‘live’ son, twelve hours before, “You’ve got a fat stomach?” This son was so precious and has given so much healing happiness! While bringing up her boys as a single mother (the second marriage ended as well); she was told she was ‘selfish.’ When she looked ill after eight years of solitary struggle, her parents gave her a car to help her raise her children, but qualified the gift with the words, “This is only if you’re ill. We won’t be lumbered with your children.” Their own grand-children! 

When her face was partially paralyzed due to Bell’s Palsy, her mother said to her sons, “You can’t miss her face, can you?”     They were silent. The older son will never forget those words, spoken in haste and with no thought for the damage they might cause.

There seems to be no escape for the bright, quiet, pretty little girl who has grown to be a pensioner with lasting wounds from her childhood. At 67, she is still encumbered with her mother, now aged 90, who asks whenever her daughter wants to do something to  retrieve the lost threads of the ruins of her life, “Is that more important than your mother?” To the pensioner child, it is obvious that her mother has always been neurotic, jealous, and resentful; even hated her, for whatever reason. Her mother has bullied, lied, emotionally blackmailed her to control and manipulate, and is now trying to cause her as much trouble as possible.  When confronted, she denies everything with the stock remark, “Don’t be ridiculous!  It’s a lie.”

At her nursing home, her mother accuses the staff of stealing money and personal effects, lies, causes or fakes illness or accidents, plays one off against another, leaving the staff and caregivers confused and in a ‘frightening’ situation. When challenged she replies, “What sort of daughter have I got?” She wrote a note with a latent threat, “Daddy would be so angry.”  Ye gods! Her father is dead! She told a caregiver she was ‘disappointed’ in her, after she had put up with her playing up!  Such hurtful words can cut like a knife in a person’s heart. One could be forgiven for un-Christian thoughts, even when thinking that her mother must be a very sad, unhappy woman, never satisfied with anything.

Her mother seems intent on carrying the damage onto another generation, disparaging her grandson. After he had been really helpful, fetching and carrying for his grandmother,after things were discovered broken in her room, she berated him as “mental” and a victim of Asperger’s Syndrome. He is a soldier, serving in Afghanistan! 

At her wit’s end, her desperate daughter is a victim of depression, panic attacks, and suffers from stress-related symptoms. Nonetheless, she is obligated to visit and shop for this 90-year-old woman who can no longer fend for herself and who can never be satisfied. Will this long-suffering daughter ever be free? Who knows the answer, the solution, the reason?


  1. What are your thoughts on the responsibilities that parents/guardians have in raising and nurturing children?
  2. What are the most significant influences parents/guardians have on children?
  3. How do children normally respond to directions and comments given to them by parents/guardians? When they are young? When they are adolescents? When they are older?
  4. In what ways can parents/guardians encourage their children? Why is receiving encouragement important at any age level?
  5. What language and actions are most important to be used when guiding children during difficult times (i.e., at times when children have done something inappropriately or harmful to someone else).
  6. How might it different raising children in today’s world than in the past?
  7. What are some ways that parents/guardians can help model “belonging,” “healing,” and “security” to children?
  8. Can you give examples of how children often duplicate in their relationships with others what they have or haven’t learned through guidance or lack of guidance they receive as they grow older?

Discussion Questions

  1. How could this life have been nurtured rather than denigrated?
  2. What results could have been realized if this child had lived with love and encouragement?
  3. If this were your situation, how would you handle it?
  4. What could have caused such meanness in her parents?
  5. Is change possible? Is forgiveness?
  6. What advice would you give the daughter to help her recovery?
  7. Is it possible to escape one’s past?
  8. Could jealousy have played a part in this circumstance? Why or why not?
  9. If you sat down to have a conversation with this woman, what would you want her to know?

Case Study written by Nina Ann Hamilton:

Residing in Sutton Coldfield (UK), Nina Ann Hamilton is a retired West Midlands Press newspaper reporter.  She is 68 and the single mother of two sons, aged 35 and 29.  Nina’s life involves: voluntary work as a reading helper in a primary school, serving as a publicity member of her local British Women Graduates’ Association, writing reports for local newspapers, and learning piano, Bridge, and Spanish. She enjoys playing cards, swimming, dancing, Family History, and has aspirations to write a book–she’s just waiting for an inspirational idea!  She is a passionate follower of Michael Jackson. The more she learns about him, the more amazed she is by his incredible voice and humanitarian acts.   Much of what Nina does is out of love for him and in memory of him. (Note: The accompanying photograph was taken by Nina’s son when they visited the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Lane, London to see the tribute plaque to Michael Jackson which was unveiled at a ceremony on June 25, 2010.)

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Jacques Prevert