Sunday, September 17, 2006

Child Abuse - The Emotional Aspect and The Blog Carnival

The Blog Carnival

The Fourth Child Abuse Blog Carnival is up thanks to hostess ScarlettDemon.
I’ve already managed to read most of the posts and I’m sure that anyone who has gone through such experiences will find them (the posts!) worthwhile. It is especially comforting to realize that you are not alone, which is the main purpose of the carnival.
But what am I doing there?
Although this blog is ostensibly dedicated to repairing Israeli society, it is also dedicated to whatever I feel like writing, and I thought this piece about Billy Elliot would fit in. Apparently Scarlett thought so to and I thank her for that.
Also there is another reason, which I would like to discuss separately.

Child Abuse – The Emotional Aspect
This blog is dedicated to Repairing Israeli society, and outwardly has nothing to do with child abuse. However, as I have already explained here, Tikkun (World Repair) for me means first of all Repairing the individual, since a society cannot be considered repaired if it’s members are not themselves Repaired. I’ve already started to write the lengthy detailed explanation of what is broken and needs fixing within us in this category RepairingIsrael-TheSeries, which is mainly concerned with the application of psychological theory to the problem of World Repair. But the real issue, as far as I am concerned, is child abuse in it’s various forms, because it is this abuse that ruins children, who later become ruined, malfunctioning adults.
I believe that most people would say at this point that I am being ridiculous – after all they would say: “How many children are being abused? Admittedly the problem is much more widespread than we once thought”, they will say, “but still” they continue, “these children constitute a minority – maybe five percent of the population, and therefore they are not really the reason why our society is in such a bad state. All we need to do to solve society’s problems once and for all is to: pass a law/ raise taxes/create another government agency/lower taxes/privatize government/abolish government/abolish money/ and so on and so forth.”
I disagree. I believe that child abuse is far more prevalent than anybody, except the people who actually deal with it, is willing to believe. I don’t want to get into the numbers here so I refer the reader, for starters, to this article “What Parents Need to Know About Child Sexual Abuse” (which I found through a previous carnival) by psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani which states, among other things the following:

Parents should know that:
1. 85 to 90% of all abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the child, someone in a position of trust.

2. About one in every four children will be sexually abused by the age of eighteen.

3. Most sexual abuse involves no outwardly visible physical damage to the child.

4. The damage comes from the physical and emotional violation of the child, and the violation of a trusted relationship. These can be more long-lasting than physical injury.

5. Most abusers are family, friends, and neighbors, someone the child knows and trusts.

6. Parents, schools and organizations may use all of the avoidance technology at their disposal against strangers, yet experience tells us that they are almost always surprised to discover perpetrators in their midst.

“About one in every four children will be sexually abused.”
This is an astounding number. This means that about a fifth of the population are walking around with scars that will hinder them for the rest of their lives to a very large extent. I don’t mean that survivors can’t thrive; I mean that they will have to fight for it every inch of the way.
And this is only the sexually abused children. There are others who are physically abused and are in as much pain and anguish, and others who suffer from severe neglect.
Whatever the specific abuse these children have suffered, it was always accompanied by a degree of emotional abuse. Personally, I have the feeling that the emotional scars from physical abuse are much harder to deal with than with the physical pain itself. I cannot really speak from personal experience on this matter, except to say that although I was very accident prone as a child and adolescent, and ventured near death a couple of times, the pain I endured in these injuries has been forgotten long ago. But I can remember clearly many, many instances of emotional abuse, and I have found it very difficult to get over the pain that was inflicted upon me years ago. I also know that I am not alone – I have known many other people who feel exactly the same, and struggle, even in their old age, to come to terms with insults and affronts they incurred decades ago. All in all if we would add emotional abuse to the list of recognized abuses, than we would have to face the fact that most children growing up in our society are being abused to some extent, and then we can begin to understand that the level of alienation, violence and cruelty in our society is not a matter of chance, a blip in the numbers, a fad. It is what we are.

What is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is very difficult to deal with mainly because it is invisible. Personally, I never thought of myself as being an abused child – after all, I was not assaulted sexually; and physically – well, sure, I got some spankings in my time when I was a small child , but nothing worth mentioning, no scars remain. I never went to bed hungry, and I always had a shelter over my head – so what should I be complaining about? Well, I had my share of problems, in school, with my parents – but who doesn’t, at a certain age? So what if I was afraid of my shadow, if people scared me, if I was ashamed of myself no matter what I did, without knowing why? If my hands shook so bad I was dropping stuff, and never was any good with tools and mechanical stuff, and always had trouble relating to people, with men and women alike, so what if I always felt like a walking husk of a human being whose soul had run away, and left me with this stupid, useless body until he decides to come back? None of this mattered because I always knew that even if there was something wrong with me, a fact that is hard for me to admit even now, then it was always clear that it was my fault. That I alone am responsible for my problems and no one else. And in any case, I was considered a normal child, both in school and in my family (although I was the proverbial black sheep, to be sure), and lacking any reason to think otherwise, I really had no choice but to think of myself as a normal child, and later on a normal guy, with a few, small, personal problems of his own.
These “few small personal problems” have occupied me for many years, but throughout all that time I never imagined that I had been a subject of any kind of abuse – after all I had no scars, and no vivid, frightening recollections of any violence towards me. All I really wanted was to be myself – I knew intuitively that such a person existed and I was determined to find him and bring this self to life. That’s all I wanted and it had nothing to do with being abused. I did know that I was very angry at my parents, but I never really understood why – and in any case our Judeo-Christian culture strongly prohibits directing any anger or blame towards our parents, so for a long time I was an unsuspecting victim of emotional child abuse.
Actually that is one of the sure signs of abuse – not being able to acknowledge it, and taking responsibility for all your problems. The full list, which I found in Toxic Parent’s , a book by renowned child abuse expert and therapist Dr. Susan Forward is actually derived from a questionnaire, below, designed to help the reader find out if he had, or has toxic parents. (I’m translating from the Hebrew version)

Relationships with the Parents During Childhood
1 – Did your parents tell you that you are bad and worthless? Did they call you names? Did they criticize you all the time?
2 – Did your parents use physical punishments to educate you? Did they hit you with a belt, a brush or other instruments?
3 – Did your parents get drunk or use drugs? Did it make you feel embarrassed, afraid, hurt or ashamed?
4 – Did you lack the ability to reach your parents because they were very depressed, or because of other emotional or spiritual difficulties they had?
5 – Were you forced to take care of your parents because of these difficulties?
6 – Did your parents do something to you that you had to keep secret? Did they hurt you sexually?
7 – were you afraid of your parents most of the time?
8 – were you afraid to express anger towards your parents?

There are twenty more questions, concerning adolescence and adulthood and if you answer affirmatively to a third of them then, according to Dr. Forward, this book is worth your while, or in other words – you had been abused to some degree as a child.
What struck me at first was the emphasis on emotional abuse, and on the many, simple, everyday things that parents do in order to destroy their children. What child hasn’t been criticized, chided, and scolded for all manner of offenses, real and imagined? I have never met children who aren’t afraid of their parents, who feel free to talk to them about what is bothering them, to confide in them, children who feel they can trust their parents. I’m sure there are such parents, somewhere, but I don’t see them. I do see parents ignoring their children, disregarding them, dragging them along the street because they are in a hurry, telling them what they should and should not be doing in the playground and how to do it. If this really can be considered child abuse, then most of us have been abused, most of us have had our native curiosity and trust throttled, our joy in life shattered, and our spirits broken, to some extent or another.
If we are indeed living in a society of abused people then it may explain the prevalence of alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and drug abuse - the slow suicide methods - not to mention the growing success of the multibillion legal drug industry, whose second best-selling product in the U.S. in 2005 was the anti-depressant Cymbalta, earning almost 700 million dollars in sales (first on the list was an anti-cholesterol drug).
If so many people need so many avenues of escape then we may well ask what are they escaping from – and as I see it, and as I tried to explain – they are escaping from their past, from themselves, from the abuse and humiliation they suffered, and are probably still suffering.

What Can We Do About Emotional Child Abuse?
Really, not much.
Society as a whole does not recognize this as a problem. Emotional abuse is so commonplace as to be normative, the way people are supposed to behave. As a result, a constant state of depression is the accepted norm, being sad and unhappy the rule. We comfort ourselves with small things – fast-food, a favorite television show, if we are lucky, if not – we grow ourselves an addiction - to work, to sex, sports, debts, religion, illness, - almost anything can become an addiction - because really, who actually likes living?
I know my parents never did. As far as they were concerned life was some kind of punishment, and death a longed for, though dreaded, release. In between we must do our duties to our families and society, but we are not expected to enjoy it because life is inherently miserable. Of course with this kind of attitude, change is impossible.
So the first thing to do is to change our expectations. Once it was expected to have a stable of Negro slaves on your farm. You would have been ostracized and perhaps even imprisoned if you didn’t want slaves. Eventually this mindset changed. Perhaps one day emotional abuse will too be considered so outlandish, so preposterous that no one would dare to dream about doing it – or even want to.
The first step is to imagine a reality without abuse. A reality where children are loved – not choked, strangled and controlled, but not neglected, ignored or shunned either – just loved and cherished for being part of creation, for being themselves.

Imagining an alternative reality is a most difficult task, but it is the first step towards changing the world we live in.
Can you imagine? Are you willing to try?


westbankmama said...

JerusalemJo - you have never met anyone who could talk to/trust their parents? I find that hard to believe! My mother passed away about 11 years ago, and my father is showing signs of senility now - so I do not have them now, but I had a good childhood and could trust them 100%. I think that you are right that both sexual and emotional abuse is far more common than we think, but I don't agree with the bleak picture that you paint in your post.

Jerusalem Joe said...

well, that's just me. i'm happy for you that you have better experiences!

Karma said...

What a great post. I was also emotionally abused as a child, and see that maybe my niece and nephew are, but there really is nothing to do about it unless it is extremely extreme, social services won't want to get involved.