Monday, June 9, 2014

Child Abuse and Me



In a previous article, Back to Blogging, I said that I would be sharing more about my personal journey and what I'm doing to overcome some of the obstacles that I've created. During my sessions with a counselor, it has become apparent that my upbringing is why I create these obstacles for myself. This is a learned behavior that I frequently use to punish myself for mistakes and events that are beyond my control, and I am working on unlearning this behavior.

For those of you that keep up with the significance of each calendar month, it may seem odd that I am choosing to publish this in June when April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. While it is ironic that my father's birthday also falls in April (you'll understand why shortly), June is one of the months when I'm reminded of why I'm no longer in contact with my family. June is the month that Father's Day falls in.

Child Abuse Defined

"Passing By" by Cordelia Naumann CC By-ND 2.0
For those of you that may think that I'm being a drama queen about my "strict" upbringing, let's take a look at the definition of child abuse so that we can be clear about what is being discussed here. Since there are several categories of child abuse, I will focus on the two types of abuse that I was exposed to: physical and emotional (psychological) abuse.

Federal law defines child abuse as:
"Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

Physical abuse is defined as:
"...nonaccidental physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child, that is inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has responsibility for the child. Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child. Physical discipline, such as spanking or paddling, is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child.
I was beaten with a variety of implements (belt, paddle, flyswatter), I had objects thrown at me, I was struck on the head with enough force that I was nauseous afterwards, I was shaken, I was thrown against walls, and my parents frequently woke me up at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning (often on school nights) to be "disciplined" for a variety of reasons.

Emotional (psychological) abuse is defined as:
"...a pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance..."

"Punishment" by Enrique Saldivar
CC By-NC-ND 2.0
I was kept isolated from my peer group outside of school, I was called names by my parents (selfish, socially retarded, useless, incapable, unworthy, idiot), and I was subjected to what I term as "timeouts."

"Timeouts" for me meant 2-4 weeks of sitting in a chair in the middle of the dining room, and only being able to move from that chair to go to the restroom, go to bed, take a shower, do the dishes, and go to school. The only activity that I could engage in during those "timeouts" was completing homework for school. I was generally ignored by my parents as long as I stayed in the chair; except when my parents decided to call me names, or taunt me. I was not praised, shown any affection, given any encouragement, or released for good behavior. This form of discipline started when I was 7, and continued on until I was around 15.

Another excellent and specific example of the type of "discipline" that I was subjected to happened when I was 15. The girls at school thought that it would be funny to write a fake secret admirer note and give it to me. The note asked me to meet this admirer before school on a specific date at a spot on the school's grounds. I knew that the note was a fake, but there was a part of me that hoped it was true; I took the note home and hid it in my room. On the day that I was supposed to meet my secret admirer, I found out definitively that the note was a fake, and endured the girls' taunts and jokes all day at school. After a very long, humiliating day at school, I came home to discover that my stepmother had searched my room and found the note. I explained to her that it was a mean trick; instead of supporting and consoling me, she spent the next four hours screaming at me because I was a "selfish whore" and a "slut."

I'm not talking about a few swats on the behind, a few regrettable phrases in an emotionally charged situation, or even a few isolated incidents; I am talking about consistent and sustained behaviors exhibited by my parents that resulted in physical and emotional harm.

Where I am Now

Instead of re-hashing the research into how the effects of child abuse carry on into adulthood, I'm going to share my experiences and thoughts. Not all former adult victims of child abuse deal with it the same that I do, and not all victims of child abuse dealt with the same things that I dealt with. Experiences and reactions vary from person to person, because the type of abuse and the severity of the abuse vary.

"Start Here" by Sharyn Morrow
CC by CC By-NC-ND 2.0
First, I live knowing that events in my life are going to go sideways.... It's difficult for me to consider that a negative situation; such as missing work (even with a doctor's note), or admitting to a supervisor or HR that I'm becoming burned out, could have positive consequences. When faced with these types of situations, my mind goes into overdrive; I immediately think of the negative outcomes and begin planning for those negative outcomes. When I was growing up, positive outcomes were few and far between. When I anticipated positive outcomes, I was punished; when I considered all of the negative outcomes and made contingency plans to reduce the negative effects, the punishment was less severe. It was a useful, and necessary, survival tactic when I was growing up. While this has been useful to me as an adult in extreme situations; this often causes me undue anxiety and stress, and I often take action that doesn't need to be taken.

I am often perceived as cynical and negative because of this; what is really going on is that I am desperately wanting the positive outcome, but I'm too scared to admit it or show it. Telling me to "think positive," is like telling me to stick a loaded pistol to my head and pull the trigger. However, pointing out the negative outcomes of taking action when I might not need to take action, seems to reinforce the idea that positive thinking is acceptable.

Second, when something bad happens, whether it is preventable or not, I automatically think of the words that my parents used to berate me with. Believe me when I say that all of the mean and hateful things that people can say to me about the mistakes that I've made, I've already thought those things (and worse) about myself. There is a part of me that doesn't believe those mean and hateful things, but the part of me that does is powerful enough to make the part of me that doesn't believe those things seek outside confirmation.

This makes it difficult for me to accept constructive criticism sometimes because, from my point of view, the constructive criticism is reinforcing the mean and hateful things that I am thinking about myself. I also don't want to be perceived as "needy," so I am reluctant to seek some form of confirmation that I'm not a horrible human being. A former supervisor at a call center figured me out during our weekly quality sessions; instead of having me listen to a call and then tell me where I could improve, she had me list several positive things that happened during the call, and then we worked out how I could have improved the call.

Who I am Now

 
"Nike 'Victory' War Memorial Lewes Sussex"

I am still working on the two major points that I listed above. For the first point, I am trying a
logic-based approach. For instance, I miss work and give my employer a copy of the doctor's note that proves that I was too sick to go into work. One of two things could happen: the employer could take my note, place it in my file, and I can go back to business as usual. The employer could just let me go; despite the fact that I have the note. My hoping that the first outcome will occur does not have any bearing on the outcome. It's the employer's decision, and that decision is based on company policy.

For the second point, my counselor said to try to think of more positive things in a situation than negative. My upbringing, as crappy as it was, has influenced me to become the person that I am today. Here are a few things that I like about myself:
  • I'm empathetic      
  • I like to help others
  • I am usually patient
  • I am intelligent
  • I am thoughtful
  • I try to be respectful of others' thoughts and beliefs
  • I am a little weird
  • I am persistent
  • I am diligent
  • I am a work-in-progress
  • I am modest (and feeling slightly uncomfortable about making this list)

Thoughts? Comments?

The experiences and thoughts that I've written about may or may not be shared by other adults that suffered from abuse when they were children; they are my own. I am not trying to make generalizations, nor am I saying that what I experienced as a child is by any means the worst that has happened to children. This whole topic is very subjective, and reactions to abuse change from person to person. This is about my journey; if you have something to share about your journey and want to share it, then please feel free to do so. If you don't have anything to share, or you don't want to share, then please do not feel compelled to do so.

Thank you for reading.

Title image cropped from original by childwelfare.gov

2 comments :

  1. Wow! Charity, please allow me to say that I am in awe of this post. The strength it took to write the above is both impressive and inspiring. I could make a variety of comments regarding your childhood but, in the end, that is the past. My words can not provide any impact on those events; however, I hope they will motivate the present and encourage the future.

    I realize with each passing year that we each have a path - a destiny. Be it God...the Universe..or whatever one's belief system might be...I grow stronger in my belief that what we do is part of something bigger than us. I do not know you personally so it would be inappropriate for me to comment as such but, as a fellow blogger, I say again that you possess a gift. You are able to captivate the reader to the point he/she pauses the TV so to give full attention - as I did when reading this.

    They say that speaking of an event publicly has great healing potential. Please realize that what you did was public even if not spoken and I hope it has empowered you. Perhaps your words will one day be brought together as a book? Perhaps you will choose a career of helping others? Perhaps you will be content with writing? But, guess what? Guess who gets to decide which of these will be done - or if it will be something else entirely? It's not me. It's not anyone from your past. IT IS YOU! YOU have the power of the present that will chart your future. YOU have that.

    I would think your therapist would say "well done, Charity" when reading the above. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I look forward to future posts.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kyle... Thank you!

    Thank you for understanding why I wrote this, thank you for not pitying me, thank you for your motivational words and support, and thank you for reminding me why I decided to seek help and share my personal journey with my readers.

    ReplyDelete

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