Physical abuse can be physical discipline excessive to the child’s age and condition. It can be the result of using various implements such as belts, wooden spoons and hairbrushes. The abuse can simply be trying to injure the child in some physical manner. There are three criteria for physical abuse: Unpredictability, lashing out and using fear to control behavior.1
To me the unpredictability is the worst part. As a child I never knew when I was going to be assaulted or for what meaningless transgression it would be for. Mom used to call me her “ghost child.” I was the ghost child. I was the ghost child because I didn’t want to be near her for fear she would get pissed off at me for something and attack me with whatever she chose to attack with.
Lashing out comes in at a close second and is intertwined with unpredictability. Mom’s mood could change in a heartbeat. I could spill milk while fixing myself some cereal for breakfast and she would completely go off, using the spoon to smack my skull all the while yelling at me for making a mess. I couldn’t even sit in my own house with her around when I was a child because I never knew how bad I was going to be beat if I did something she didn’t like. Dad was good at lashing out too, though not as often. Every single time Dad smacked me I either ended up on the ground (once in a flowerbed full of fresh manure) or with chipped teeth.
Using fear to control behavior is a given if you’re already lashing out and unpredictable. I personally cringe every time I hear some person giving their child “the countdown.” I’ve been the recipient of the countdown quite often, and it was usually in a “get over here so I can beat your ass” manner. Abusive parents use the Machiavelli model of parenting rather than one of love and nurturing. Rule by fear and you shall rule absolutely, at least that’s the way it is in their minds. In reality it’s just picking on someone who can’t fight back.
The physical abuse I’ve suffered has indeed left a huge mark on me. I refuse to have children in the slight chance that I can’t break the cycle. I will not bring a child into the world just to use it for my stress relief, and I won’t bring it into this double dysfunctional family. Every time I argue with a significant other I fully expect them to attempt to hit me. One small move that can be perceived in a split second as a setup for an attack causes me to cower, flinch and cover my body until I can regain my senses. Conversely, I often fear that I will become the abuser to him, that I will be pushed to the point of blackout and become the punching, kicking whirling dervish that I know lives within me somewhere.
Emotional abuse is as destructive as physical abuse is. Child Help lists the following as emotional abuses:
* Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child
* Calling names and making negative comparisons to others
* Telling a child he or she is “no good," "worthless," "bad," or "a mistake."
* Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
* Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment.
* Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
* Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet.2
As stated previously, emotional abuse can lead to difficulties in emotional regulation, trust issues, abusive relationships, decreased sense of self worth, guilt, anger, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
I still combat the effects of the emotional abuse I’ve endured at the hands of several people. Both of my parents and my brothers constantly belittled me. Nothing I did was good enough, and I often was considered the spoiled brat or incorrigible. I still feel like a failure today. If I had stayed on at the prison and collected the steady paycheck, no matter how insane the place and people drove me, I’d be living on my own right now, probably making mortgage payments on my own house.
I doubt that I would be the type to settle for nothing less than an A and feel a mixture of anger, worthlessness and failure if I receive a B. My grades while I was growing up seemed to be the only way I could get Mom and Dad’s approval. Naturally I’d get fussed at if I got anything less than a B in anything, and it continues today with Dad. A couple of semesters ago I had more than a full load of college courses, Mom was diagnosed with cancer, then Paul was diagnosed with cancer, and on top of that I was confronted with issues of my sexual abuse. I passed the semester with a 2.5, slightly above a C average. I was thrilled I passed every class and didn’t withdraw from any. Dad’s response, “I thought you were going to get good grades this semester.”
Even Dad’s current emotional abuse sends me spiraling down into a depression. If my brothers are brought up I’m immediately compared to them and told that I’m not as smart as I think I am and not everyone is always wrong. This has gone on all of my life. I’m made to feel worthless because I mess up and end up needing medicine from the pharmacy. Dad has always tried to control me through money, like I’m not worthy enough to occasionally go to a movie or a concert. Dad, Brett and Don always called me names which led to me bashing my head against the wall or falling into a crying fit. Mom always yelled when I was a child, and told me things such as I’m a failure. I’ll always be a nobody. I’m worthless. But when I’d ask her if I was a mistake and she didn’t really want me, she’d always say I was planned and loved.
The old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is utter bullshit. They hurt. They have the power to destroy. Don’t be an asshole to your kids.
Sexual Abuse: non-touching: obscene language, pornography, exposure
touching: fondling, molesting, oral sex, intercourse3
The most important thing to mention here is that many children are victimized by somebody they know, somebody trusted by the adults, as I was in all incidents. Boys are just as likely to be abused as girls. For some reason there is more shame in being a sex abuse victim than in being physically abused. That is partly the reason I didn’t come forward until years had gone by.
It is embarrassing to have allowed my cousins and George to touch me. Even if I was 8 years old, something inside of my brain says I could have stopped it. I could have run away. It is excruciatingly embarrassing to have lost my virginity to my 1st cousin. I can never honestly have the drunken ‘what was your first time like’ conversation, because I lost mine shamefully.
I also know what my family is like and how they reacted when I spoke up about George after growing concerned about him trying to get another younger cousin of mine to sit in his lap all day at a Thanksgiving dinner. Dad naturally wanted to bury his head in the sand, which he did. Mom wanted to kill George. The cousin’s mother thanked me. Grandma didn’t believe it at first and then the response was “well, I’m sorry it happened.” If she were really sorry then why the hell does she still associate with him and Kari? Anne had the best reaction, she was shocked, then pissed, then made sure he was nowhere near any of the children. Mary refused to believe it until he pissed her off then she only believed it because it made him look like a bigger asshole. Everyone else either thought I was lying, I seduced them or they didn’t care and let their children play with him anyway.
As far as the cousins go, I was, and still am concerned about the inevitable rift it will cause. The family will become the Hatfields vs. the McCoys. Not like I care much anymore. I’m sick of the family thinking it’s ok to turn their heads to gross abuses and pretend it’s not going on. Each day that passes the stronger my resolve to get the entire truth out to my family. It may have taken me years to find my strength, but hopefully my strength will translate to someone else it’s happening to right now and they will have the strength to step forward and stop the torture they are enduring.
The sex abuse is and was the hardest for me to deal with. Its effects are layered on so many levels that it becomes a spiderweb of pain and secrecy. It’s a tough thing for an adult, let alone a child to deal with the real consequences that would be met by going to the police, a teacher, any adult that they trust implicitly: Destroying the family (how dare you lie about my angelic Mick!), not being believed (who’s going to believe a kid over a pillar of the community), being treated as a worthless, damaged human (you did that with your cousin? You whore!), and my personal favorite response; You brought it on. You seduced him with your 12 year old charms!
As you can see with all of that running through the mind of an 8-13 year old, it is difficult to come forward. Every day I regret not telling the police when it happened, and at the same time I’m pissed that trained professionals missed or ignored the signs and weren’t my voice when I didn’t have one.
The American Psychological Association has this to say about the effects of childhood sexual abuse:
Children and adolescents who have been sexually abused can suffer a range of psychological and behavioral problems, from mild to severe, in both the short and long term. These problems typically include depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, sexual dysfunction, withdrawal, and acting out. […]
The initial or short-term effects of abuse usually occur within 2 years of the termination of the abuse. These effects vary depending upon the circumstances of the abuse and the child's developmental stage but may include regressive behaviors (such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting), sleep disturbances, eating problems, behavior and/or performance problems at school, and nonparticipation in school and social activities.
But the negative effects of child sexual abuse can affect the victim for many years and into adulthood. Adults who were sexually abused as children commonly experience depression. Additionally, high levels of anxiety in these adults can result in self-destructive behaviors, such as alcoholism or drug abuse, anxiety attacks, situation-specific anxiety disorders, and insomnia. Many victims also encounter problems in their adult relationships and in their adult sexual functioning.
Revictimization is also a common phenomenon among people abused as children. Research has shown that child sexual abuse victims are more likely to be the victims of rape or to be involved in physically abusive relationships as adults are.
[... ]Some children even report little or no psychological distress from the abuse, but these children may be either afraid to express their true emotions or may be denying their feelings as a coping mechanism. Other children may have what is called "sleeper effects." They may experience no harm in the short run, but suffer serious problems later in life.4
3 The National Children's Advocacy Center. http://www.nationalcac.org/families/for_workers/abuse_indicators.html 24 JAN 2011
4 American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/sex-abuse.aspx. 24 JAN 2011