HOW SWEET ART THOU WORDS TO ME?
Have you ever heard anyone say, “don’t act like an idiot”? How about, “you will do better next time”? Perhaps, “you filthy little liar!” Or maybe, “you’re useless!”? Sure, we have all heard those things, but saying them to a child, any child, can be as harmful as hitting them with a belt – hard. Those words can be more damaging than a spanking. Giving our children a loving and nurturing home is something we all strive for, but sometimes stress and pressure from outside elements cause us to lash out at the nearest person, and too often, that is our own children, or children in our charge.
I studied the cycle of abuse aggressively many years ago, for reasons of my own. I had a deep desire to know why it seemed to worsen in families over time – for the most part. There is a trend in abusive families that cannot be ignored. I worked as part of my communications studies in a shelter for abused women in Alberta, Canada, some years ago. What I discovered there was astonishing. Of all the women that were there, all were abused by a partner .. and a parent.
Statistics show that anyone raised in an abusive home will almost always be abusive themselves, or be abused by a partner. This is true among the entire population. Race, religion, social standing and sexual orientation are not factors in determining whether one will be abused or abuse. The most common denominator is upbringing. There are cases where we find a psychological element will facilitate the inability to understand what we are saying /doing is wrong. This is the chief exception in the cycle.
To say, “you’re stupid” to a child will increase their chances of failure because, being said enough, they come to believe that yes, they are stupid. Some children will only need to hear that once to believe it. Children do learn what they live, and if they live a life of abuse, they too will either be abused as adults or be abusive. On the other hand, if a child makes a mistake or does something naughty, like swipe a couple cookies from the jar before dinner, and we respond calmly with, “Why was that wrong?” or, “What can you do better next time?” Even, “Why was it wrong to have cookies before dinner, when I told you no?” This will likely produce an answer that may surprise, or even astound you.
Children are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. They know what they did was wrong. By responding in in a rational manner, we also enforce their ability to problem solve on their own.
There are many different types of abuse .. these are the most common found in families with young children:
1) Mental abuse – things such as telling a child they are stupid or ugly is common for this type of abuse
2) Physical abuse – speaks for itself, except to say that not providing the necessities such as food is included in that umbrella.
3) Emotional abuse – blaming a child for the trials or stresses of an adult is one example. Another is commonly overlooked by adults – that is arguing or fighting in the presence of a child.
4) Neglect abuse – this embodies everything from lack of food and clothing to being left alone or abandoned. Also in this category is neglecting a child’s emotional needs.
5) Verbal abuse – yelling and name calling are forms of verbal abuse.
I wrote my thesis on four different case studies. All four were real people, and the theory was solely mine. I would like to share my findings. I no longer have my dissertation, but do remember the cases well. It was something that not only fascinated me, but became a new way of thinking for me; a new outlook on some very old questions.
CASE ONE - “SAMANTHA”
Samantha was born into a lower-middle-class family. The family had its struggles financially, but nothing that was not overcome fairly easily. By the time she was 10, the family moved comfortably into middle-class. Samantha was an only child until that time, and was doted-upon outrageously as a small child. Samantha was born with a physical defect, which was undetectable most of the time. Her parents married very young. Both were still teenagers when they married and Samantha was born 10 months later. Her parents treated her like a doll – quite literally. She began protesting, to which her parents responded by having her hair cut very short to embarrass her. This occurred about the age of 9. Approximately the same time her mother became pregnant with their second child. A child they desperately wanted.
Here we have a child who is paraded around like a prize for years, until she begins to resent the treatment. Then the second child is born, and Samantha is suddenly the odd-man-out. Samantha had many friends, though because of the manner in which she was raised, was very shy and reserved. Her friends were similar in demeanour and accepted Samantha into their group. Samantha was often bullied at school because of her disability. Nonetheless, she remained a pleasant child and was very easy to get along with. She was an honest and caring child. Well-mannered and patient.
All of this took an about-face by age 10. Samantha’s sister, Rachel was born and her mother went into a severe postpartum depression. Her father cared for her mother, while Samantha was expected to care for the newborn. Samantha took care of the child day and night for an entire year, while her mother battled her depression. Samantha was thought the real mother of Rachel and was shunned by much of the tight-knit neighbourhood. She had little time left for friends after school; that time was consumed by caring for the baby, cooking and cleaning. (The life and treatment of Rachel is the second case study in this post).
Within the year, Samantha had become resentful of her ‘motherly’ duties, and began to rebel. Little things like not coming home immediately from school. Instead she would hide in the nearby woods and meet her friends for some time to do the things any young child would enjoy. Samantha started to sleep in class due to fatigue, but this was seen as another form of rebellion. The officials questioned the parents, and they described her as being ‘difficult’ at home. By age 13, Samantha began running away. Though feeling frightened in a big City alone, she ran to a stable farm, about five kilometres from her home. The police caught on to this very quickly, however. Perhaps she thought the officers would figure out why she ran away in the first place, sooner or later. It was an obvious call for help, but again, all that was seen was the ‘difficult’ child Samantha had become.
Frustrated because the police could not stop Samantha from running away, her parents became exasperated with her, and thus the verbal, mental and emotional abuse began full out. Samantha was often told she would never amount to anything, and despite the excessive responsibility beginning at the tender age of 10, she was told constantly that she was lazy. She was told she was ‘stupid’ . When she refused to wear dresses, (the only thing that revealed her disability) she was told that she was ugly because she wanted to wear long pants. She was a very sensitive child and when Samantha cried, she was laughed at and told she was even uglier for doing so. Samantha was accused of doing drugs, smoking and having intercourse with boys by age 15. Her mother called her a tramp and other derogatory names when she dated at age 16. She was innocent of all she was accused of even years later, but still was categorically accused of these things.
Samantha’s extended family became distant from her immediate family because of the obvious dysfunction of her parents. This isolated Samantha considerably. Samantha’s parents separated just before she turned 16, and was accused by both parties for being the cause. Samantha dropped out of high school at 16, a year advanced. She found a job as a barmaid and an apartment with one of her co-workers. Samantha continued her duties to her younger sister until she was 18. Samantha married at 18. Divorced at 19. Her husband was a drug abuser and was verbally abusive toward Samantha, until he landed in jail for trafficking. She decided to go back and finish her grade 13, which was complete in one term.
Samantha dated, and had two long-term relationships over the next ten years, and all were in some way mentally or verbally abusive – until the age of 30. The last abusive partner was the worst, having a problem with alcohol and heavy street drugs. (Chiefly crack cocaine and acid) He was also the father of her child. Samantha endured that relationship for two years before she became pregnant, and one and a half after her child was born. She left him behind, after a string of verbal threats of physical violence, which she knew he was capable of, and moved her child halfway across the country. Having the child in that kind of home, something snapped in Samantha, and then and there, she broke her own ‘cycle of abuse’.
Samantha spent years reliving the same abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents. She did so because she honestly believed all the things her parents told her she was – Stupid, worthless, ugly, would never amount to anything, lazy, etc. Her list was extensive. All of this stemmed from the way her parents spoke to and looked upon her. It wasn’t any of her fault, not one tiny bit, but because of it, Samantha spent the better part of twenty years feeling very little self-worth.
She was either too fat, too skinny, to stupid, too ugly, or too lazy to be any good in her own eyes. None of which was true, but she didn’t believe that she deserved any better from life than what she had. Samantha struggled for years to be ‘better’, to be ‘smarter’, and to be a good person. A hard worker and dedicated to anything she set her mind or heart to, Samantha, I am happy to say, has broken free of that cycle, raised a perfectly well-adjusted child, and has become a much stronger person over the last 15 years.
Samantha learned what her parents did caused her to choose abusive partners and she has since learned the signs of an abusive partner. She got the help she needed to pick up where her parents should have left off all those years ago. She is still wary of people she doesn’t know and struggles with trust issues when it comes to sharing personal matters with others. Sometimes afraid of being hurt but willing to take certain risks. Samantha armed herself with knowledge and is empowered with it. Strong as a mother and role model. A dedicated humanist that loves without condition. Sadly enough, Samantha was engaged to a man who respected her and showed her the kind of happiness that she had never known, but he passed away ten years ago, after his heart failed. He suffered from ‘Epstein’s Anomaly’, a rare deformity of the heart – ironic, isn’t it? Since then, Samantha has been perhaps a little too cautious about whom she spends her time and energy on, but I am confident enough to say she is no fool and knows her own heart and knows what she wants.
Samantha broke free of the abuse cycle before it was too late. For millions of others, they will carry on the cycle to abuse their own children, partner or themselves. After doing some research, Samantha discovered that this abuse had seen at least four generations in her family before her. Both her parents were victims also. This type of abuse causes self-doubt, and self-derogation .. fortunately, this was not one of those cases.
In the worst case scenarios, abuse can lead to suicide, murder, and death by the hand of another. When we abuse our children, we just may be setting our children up to be abused or an abuser as adults. Is that what we want? Is that our real intention? If you or someone you know struggles with their children, please, for the love of God and our children – GET HELP – before it is too late! When we belittle others, remember, it has impact!
CASE TWO – “RACHEL”
The next case in my study is the younger sibling of Samantha. Born into an already dysfunctional family, Rachel was subjected from birth to the depression her mother suffered and the distance from her mother as an infant. Some have thought Rachel to have ‘unattached syndrome’, a type of dissociative disorder that causes the affected person to have persistent feelings of depersonalization and/or derealization. Rachel continuously displays what others perceive as selfish and self-centred behaviours in her adulthood.
Contrary to the upbringing of her older sister, Samantha, Rachel was almost ignored by her bickering parents until age 5. Before this, she was the chief responsibility of her sibling. A child rearing a child. This in itself was damaging. A child of 10 does not have the ability to be child-rearing. Rachel was a temperamental child, who often destroyed her belongings and those of others. She displayed a propensity to aggression and belligerence. Ill-mannered toward her peers and oppositional toward any authority. Rachel bullied her peers at school and found herself in the Principal’s office frequently. At home, her parents, on the verge of divorce, spent most of their time fighting, causing a lot of tension in the home.
By the time her parents separated, Rachel was already showing symptoms of a dissociative disorder. Lying and bullying had become typical behaviours for Rachel. After the separation, Rachel remained in the family home with her father for two years, until he no longer wanted the responsibility of a disobedient child. Her mother worked long hours and Rachel was often left unattended late into the evening. Rachel’s mother was too self-involved at this point, to care for a young child; spending time in the company of different men became her primary concern since the separation. Left alone for the most part, Rachel became more distant and reclusive as time passed. Her ability to connect on an emotional level was almost-non-existent.
As an adult she repeatedly blames others for her misdeeds or lack of her own success and motivation. Rachel exhibits poor self control and depends on others to provide external behavioural control. She also has a strong lack of foresight, and has a poor attention span. She shows lack of guilt when breaking rules and laws. When Rachel is cruel or abusive to others, she shows no evidence of remorse.
Rachel is unable to gain any real satisfaction from tasks well done and has difficulty enjoying herself, unless alone; rejecting the true companionship of others. She demands attention but lacks depth in all relationships and has a hostile dependency issue. Rachel struggles to be in control of all situations and will lie profusely to gain control. She has an impaired social maturity, and cannot behave in a group setting as a mature adult. Rachel has trouble recognizing and expressing her own feelings appropriately, especially anger, sadness, or frustration. She also has immense difficulty recognizing feelings in others.
Beginning in early childhood, Rachel displayed difficulty with basic cause and effect and experienced problems with logical thinking and seemed to have a confused thought processes. Rachel still exhibits difficulty thinking ahead and difficulty with abstract thinking and auditory processing. A marked difficulty in expressing herself well verbally is also present to this day. Eye contact is a definite problem for Rachel. Most people with ‘dissociative’ disorders do not make eye contact with those they are speaking to. To them, it is a way of maintaining control.
Other issues that people face when dealing with Rachel is her evident phoniness, and hollow, empty emotions, frequent and intense angry outbursts. A seemingly amiable woman, Rachel turns angry quickly when faced with opposition or things do not go her own way. If she is asked to do something by an employer, Rachel will find any excuse not to do it, if she does not feel like doing what is required. The excuses are extensive and they are fictitious. Rachel will delegate duties to others, in order that she will not have to perform them herself.
In relationships, Rachel is ‘needy’ for attention, and will demand it, and at the same time, will almost suffocate her partner with attempts to control. She has involved herself with mainly married or attached men – again we see the need to control, in her repeated attempts to separate someone from their partner, to be with her. This also may be due to the lack of desire to put any real effort into a healthy relationship. When Rachel does not receive the attention demanded, or the partner begins to pull away, Rachel will threaten suicide and ‘stalk’ the male friend until there is an absolute end to the relationship – she will however, use any means necessary to obtain and maintain control, only relenting once there is another that shows interest in her.
Rachel will never live and thrive on her own. Even at the age of 36, she cannot be independent. Rachel is the abuser in all relationships. This includes family and friends. She needs control, and will do anything to get it. Unfortunately, her own mother is a victim of emotional, mental, and financial abuse at this time, by Rachel. Having been a victim herself, Rachel’s mother does not, (and likely never will) realise what is happening, and continues to be abused in this manner.
Rachel leads a sexually promiscuous lifestyle. Meeting men through websites, and after speaking with them a very short time, Rachel meets with them in their own homes or hotel rooms – a danger to herself, at best. Last known, Rachel was unemployed, and had been for two years, having faked an injury to avoid working, and now lives off monies gained from the Government as well as her own mother. Rachel is addicted to prescription pain medication and Valium, and remains a recluse, playing online video games day and night – her substitute for human companionship.
CASE THREE – “MARIA”
In contrast with the first two cases, Maria and her sister, Ashley, were raised in a loving and supportive home, though their upbringing was very strict. They were the children of a classic over-protective rearing, by today’s standard. Everything had to be earned – right down to time with friends. The family was well-to-do, the home expressly lavish. Maria’s father was a successful criminal Lawyer, her mother a respected Surgeon. The family had a live-in nanny and domestic engineer, who did the cooking and cleaning. They lived in the city, while maintaining a luxury summer home in northern Canada.
Maria was a complacent child. She excelled in her education and took extra pains to further her education later on. Maria was never one to demand of or question her parents’ methods. She was told the rules were to protect her and her future, and she did not challenge this. Her nanny adored her and spent considerable quality time with her. Maria’s younger sister was only two years her junior, and spent a lot of time with Maria. Maria loved (and still does) he younger sibling, though they began to grow apart once Maria began high school.
Her parents did not allow Maria to spend more than a half hour a week on television programmes, and during the week, there were no visits with friends or telephone calls to them. Her parents did not allow her to eat anything but healthy food, and there was no candy or junk food in the home. Her family ate vegetarian only. Bed time was 8pm right through high school and it was lights out by 9pm, or lose the week’s television and weekend privileges with friends. Sleepovers were non-existent in the home and friends seldom visited their home. When adults visited or her parents had dinner parties, she spent that time with the nanny only.
Maria made the top of her class through high school and college. She went on to University to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and is very successful in her field. Maria married at 25, and has three children. She too is strict with her children, though at a far lesser level. Her husband is also a Veterinarian, and after 17 years of marriage, they live a quiet home life and are very happy and content with their lives. Their children are well-adjusted and do well in school. In contrast to Maria’s upbringing however, the children spend plenty of quality time with their parents. I guess you could say that in Maria’s case, she ‘learned from her parents’ ‘mistakes’. When we compare this to the average norm, we know it is not an average outcome. Maria has laboured to make her way and her mark in this world. Her situation was / is not by any means average. Perhaps she tried too hard?
CASE FOUR – “ASHLEY”
Ashley was a typical child from an upper-class home, except for her inborn anger. The child of well-to-do parents, and the youngest of two children, Ashley felt ignored and shunned by her parents and friends. She and her sister wanted for nothing growing up – even love. Raised chiefly by her nanny, she still always had all that a young girl could possibly want or need. Although her parents loved their daughters unconditionally, they expected great things of them. Success for their children was utmost in their minds. They made all efforts to see that the girls had the best education and care growing up.
Ashley was, as I mentioned previously, the younger sibling of two children. She and her sister were like best friends until her sister began high school, and made new friends. Feeling like the third wheel, Ashley became reserved and lost all interest in her studies and social life. Ashley started to show signs of rebellion and depression. She cut her hair short and began wearing black clothing only, citing that she was mourning life itself.
By the time she was 14, her parents sought help from a top-notch Psychiatrist. His diagnosis? ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). This meant that Ashley had trouble with authority, nothing more. She was in therapy for this with the same doctor for a year, and only seemed to worsen in that time. Her grades were all failing by the time she entered high school, and she began skipping classes. Eventually, she no longer attended and the private school had her suspended permanently.
The nanny complained about Ashley and her lack of self care to the parents, for which she received a reprimand, almost losing her job. After that, the nanny simply abided Ashley’s apparent road to self-destruction. Her older sister went off to college, leaving Ashley utterly alone. At this time, Ashley became manic-depressive. She never bathed, nor left her room. Despite these things, her parents continued to love her as she was, figuring that this was simply a phase, and she would just outgrow it. They hired a Tutor for Ashley, to which she had little response. Her academics suffered greatly and she found herself behind by two years.
Ashley found solace in alcohol at age 16. With her parents’ social standing, they had copious amounts of alcohol in the home, and did not notice the missing bottles. Hiding in her bedroom, Ashley was never seen while she was impaired. Though she began to show signs of severe impairment not long into her bingeing, and began screaming and yelling profanities at passer-by through her bedroom windows, which drew complaints from police and
neighbours. At age 17, Ashley took an entire bottle of antidepressants and drank several glasses of champagne with it.
Luckily, she was discovered in time and spent a couple of weeks in hospital, under the care of the psychiatric team there. Her own psychiatrist left the case files to another doctor at this time. Once home, things seemed to be getting better for Ashley .. for a time. Her nanny was fatally injured in a car wreck, and Ashley was quickly on the way to becoming a train wreck herself. She became involved in a group of peers that could be termed a ‘cult’ of sorts. Claiming to be religious, the cult convinced Ashley to forsake her worldly goods and her family to live on a large ‘farm’ with them. There she became a concubine for the so-called leader and was pregnant at age 18. The child was taken from her as soon as she delivered the child, to be raised ‘properly’ by the cult leader’s
‘proper wives’. This, they told Ashley, was the proper way to raise the child, to better serve him, so that he may serve their god. The child, a daughter, was burned as a sacrifice to the leader. Ashley and another similar victim ran away from the cult when she was 20, to live in a city together on the west coast.
Believing she had no one to turn to, Ashley was more vulnerable than ever. She connected with a man who claimed he would take care of her and make her rich. He did neither. He
began sticking Ashley with needles, telling her it was vitamins, and feeding her lines about needing her help to ‘entertain’ his clients. The needles contained heroin and other illicit drugs. Drugs he used to keep her under control and compliant with his ‘friends’. He had Ashley moved to a sub-standard flat with several other young women, as young as 14. Ashley lived in the rat infested shack, drinking and shooting heroin into her veins for several years.
Ashley became so depressed she could not remember her own name most days, and refusing to speak to her parents, for fear they would control her life, she sank into an abyss deeper than most of us could imagine. After several years, the man who claimed to be caring for her was arrested for his crimes, and it was weeks before Ashley realised he had not been around. Needing more food and drugs, she left her hovel to search for him. She did not find him, instead she found another like him, though he was far worse – he beat her until she was near death. Fearing he had killed her, he dumped her on the roadside and drove away.
The police found Ashley the next morning and she was admitted to hospital once more. She remains under the psychiatric hospital’s care to this day, oblivious to her surroundings and herself. Doctors claim that this is due to the persistent and heavy drug abuse. She no longer speaks and does not recognise her family members. Ashley’s chances for a normal life are gone because no one recognised what was happening before it was too late. Though her parents had searched for her for many years, the authorities were unable to locate her. During the time she spent with the cult, the investigators were close, and in fact arrested the leader just after Ashley left. The other women received the help they needed, and most went on to lead normal lives. Unfortunately, help came too late for Ashley.
In closing I would like to say that while the stories are real, the character names are fictitious. These cases have stuck with me for the last dozen (plus) years, and will for the rest of my natural life. It is sad to know that with just a few harsh words, we can alter the lives of someone we love. If you know anyone who says hurtful things to their children, please seek help – the future of these children may depend upon you to step up to the plate and help them. Remember, children are vulnerable and rely on us as adults to ensure their success in the future. It is not only wrong to demean children – it is child abuse.
STOP THE SILENCE AND SPEAK UP FOR A CHILD WHO NEEDS YOU!