Powerful, Emotional Writings: An Aid to Adult Child Abuse Survivors
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Judge Not!

In general, a person who acts on the belief that they know the mind of God or of another man, except in the most basic ...

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What’s an Inner Child?

What's an Inner Child?

It's easier to talk ABOUT the inner child than to actually define him/her. (since we are talking about a part of ourselves I won't use ...

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Logic Is Not Truth!

Logic Is Not Truth!

On my daily walk this morning, I noticed nothing new along my route; nothing new, that is, in the physical sense. Usually I will discover ...

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We The Children

We The Children

We hear adults talking about self esteem. You talk among yourselves, and say that We the Children must have successes in what we do, to ...

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Listening and Trusting Ourselves

Listening and Trusting Ourselves

 I believe answers to our current dilemmas are always found in the present moment through our undamaged, undiluted, unfiltered awareness. I have found this to ...

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Advocacy

Changing the world 1 person at a time!

Judge Not!

In general, a person who acts on the belief that they know the mind of God or of another man, except in the most basic way, diminishes their own honesty and empathy toward others. They may even tell themselves that their criticism of others is Love. They may call it “tough love”, believing their moral criticism of others actually helps them, but I tell you there is only tender Love, that includes empathy, and strives to understand another’s perceived “inadequacies”. More times than not, they turn out to be injuries not moral inadequacy. Love contains no moral judgment! It seeks to find resolution, understanding, and connection. It does not shame or diminish.

 

Recently someone in my extended family harshly criticized my sister for perceived “ir-responsibilities” over the years, and framed it as a moral issue, shaming my sister, despite the fact that that my sister has struggled with something that looks like depression, PTSD, and panic, because of the chaotic and terrorizing environment we grew up in. I was affected in the same way, because I experienced the same environment. I have struggled my whole life with PTSD/Depression/Panic Disorder. I have been gravely affected by injuries received growing up. My ability to “be like everyone else” striving towards all those things in Life that we want, like a good job, nice home, financial standing, etc. has been sorely lacking. I will never “be like everyone else”! My experience is different. My inadequacy is injury. The perceived inadequacies that come from PTSD are normal reactions to an abnormal experience. We have experience that others do not have, and cannot know from the outside!

 

Either PTSD is a real thing or not. Either Depression is a real thing or not. Either Panic Disorder is a real thing or not. You cannot have it both ways and make” inadequacies” that come from those very real medical conditions a moral issue.

 

My sisters and I grew up in a family with a mother who was severely mentally ill. Extreme violence and periodic terrorizing left my sisters and I affected, each of us in our own way. We lived through it, we are the “experts” of that experience and of its effects.

 

We can still love my mother despite her injuries/medical conditions (she was probably suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder), but we do not have to see her as morally deficient, because the truth of it is, that she had injury or disease as well.

 

Nor do we make her behavior normal in our minds, and take upon ourselves the effects of that violence and chaos! Understanding and empathy have brought us to this point, not moral judgment. Moral judgment would have interfered with our quest for resolution of our own injuries from her behavior.

 

I can never be like everyone else because my experience is different. In order to manage my PTSD (manage not control) there are many times when I “look” less responsible than others because I need more downtime than others, or have to withdraw from situations that activate the PTSD. I may be seen as spacey, ir-responsible, confused or lazy. But the truth of the matter is that your judgment of me is all about you, not me. Your judgment of me is none of your business, and the same is especially true for others who grew up in the same kind of environment as my sisters and I did.

 

Quite frankly, abuse survivors should be seen as having the incredible resolve and courage for continuing to find their way in Life, despite how difficult that quest is and we should seek to understand that. In doing so we grow, both in empathy as well as honesty, finding forgiveness in the process.

Absolute Obedience

The demand for absolute obedience from a child is truly a wolf  in sheep’s clothing.

Parents often look at children as if they were just “little adults”. They also treat them as if they were all the same, and expect adult reactions from them.  But like every color in the rainbow, every child is different, one from another. One child is as calm as a lake on a still, sunny day; another is caught in a storm of frenetic activity. One child listens intently; another cannot because their own internal soundscape is too loud. One child is accepting, never questioning what they are told; another is curious and questioning by nature, and must know for themselves. One child is patient and focused; another impatient and scatter-brained. One child is comical and friendly; another is serious and withdrawn. One child is blindly obedient, so eager to please; another senses injustice and powerlessness, and are confused by thoughtless demands, or enraged by angry, dishonest ones. Some children are sensitive; others are not, but the most sensitive among children, are the ones who float on the stormy seas of their parents emotions. Those children will have a very difficult time, indeed.

Too often parents make their children into servants.  That’s different than teaching responsibility.  There needs to be flexibility, when we are dealing with children. Parents do this because “That’s what parents are supposed to do!” Gradually, these “jobs” will “belong” to the children, even when it makes more sense, one time or another, for the parent to take care of that particular “job”. Parents often “bark” orders, reminding the child of past “indiscretions”, threatening punishment instead of pleasantly and calmly reminding a child of their “duties”.  That sets the child up to fail, and “raises the stakes” in a very disfunctional parental game.  A parent sitting next to the front door shouldn’t be demanding that a child on the other side of the room open the door every time, when they themselves are closer. Most children are not stupid, and will see the injustice in that. They will see the inflexibility. Parents who make their children into obedient servants, do this for one reason, and one reason only – because their own parents did that to them. They will tell you otherwise, of course.

But they have to learn how to obey”, is the usual mindlessly repeated retort by protesting parents. This response usually comes from a place of frustration at the least, anger in most cases, exasperation and rage in other cases. If you feel rage because of your child’s disobedience, and especially if you do not give that child adequate time to respond to your often angry or threatening requests, your rage is not about the child, although you do not know that. You are allowing your own past to interfere with your, and your child’s present. Rage is only a proper response to gigantic loss or betrayal. It’s not a response to a child’s disobedience, unless you want them to be injured in the same way you were. Most of us carry our own childhood injuries so deeply inside ourselves, that often we are not aware of the extent of the damage done to us. Those injuries are not silent, however. Often they are expressed in an unyielding, inflexible, enraged attitued directed at our own children, when that rage should have been directed at our own parents long ago. Some of us were never allowed to disagree, or God forbid, disobey our parents. There would have been Hell to pay! That Hell would have been our own parent’s rage, and its consequences, the same rage, we may be directing at our children! This rage is a jealous rage, because it seeks to destroy in others, what was destroyed in ourselves. Like a wolf in waiting, neither parent nor child will ever know when it will attack. Children are led to right action through a calm, patient demeanor.

A parent doesn’t have to beat the “bejesus” (curious expression!) out of a child to do damage.  When a parent is feeling this rage, and their child is experiencing their parent’s inflexible, impatient demands, one child may suddenly feel drained of energy, feel frightened and confused. Another may feel an awful feeling in the pit of their stomach, from the fear of being trapped in an out of control situation, with an out of control adult. (Their awareness is still undamaged, and they see the situation for what it is.)  Some children respond “like a deer in the headlights”. One child may blame themselves for the parent’s rage, asking themselves, “Why am I so stupid. Why am I so bad. Why can’t I control myself”. (That child doubts their own awareness, no longer feeling what they truly feel, nor seeing what they truly see.  They take on the false story that the parent is telling themselves.)  The strongest child may feel rage at the injustice, the dishonesty, the lack of love in the parent’s actions and mood. Woe to that child! It will be “proof” to this disfunctional parent that the child “deserves” this treatment.  They believe the child is challenging their authority, when in essence the child is challenging the dishonest story being presented to them.  It will then become their quest to convince this sensitive, intelligent child, that what they are aware of is not true, that they, indeed are “the problem”! Awareness is eventually destroyed, perhaps losing an Einstein, a Mozart, or a Michaelangelo in the process! The child’s belief that no matter what, they will be OK is destroyed as well. They may carry these tremendous losses for the rest of their lives.

When I see the absolutely honest expression of anger, fear, determination, and sadness on a child’s face after one of these confrontations with a parent who is out of control, I pray the child can hold on for just a little longer. They still know what is true at that point, and still trust themselves. Their awareness is not yet fully damaged.  Eventually, without some sort of intervention, the wolf will get the lamb. The parent’s injury then becomes the child’s, and the child’s birthright of an undamaged awareness is stolen from them.

If you are a parent or child like I describe, I hope and pray that you and they will not carry these injuries for a long time.  Although healing anytime is a wonderful blessing, healing at say, fifty, sixty, or even later in life, brings with it, the knowledge, that an integral part of yourself, a powerfully creative, sensitive, empathic part of yourself, has been missing for most of your life.  We need the “be jesus” in us.

© 2011 Ken Scully and Lowcountry Survivors All Rights Reserved

A Road Less Traveled

Sometimes we are called upon to do the very things in Life that we would rather avoid the most. By saying “yes” to these deep emotional and spiritual impulses, we find that the very things that make us believe we are weak or defective, can become our greatest assets.

Many of us feel a deep call within ourselves to “put ourselves out there” to advocate for a particular issue that resonates within us. For those of us who were previous victims of abuse, whether experienced as an adult or as a child, our advocacy is part of our recovery from that abuse.

Over the years I have written many articles about child abuse, and child abuse recovery, many of which are highly regarded. When I write, I move forward. When I don’t, I feel like I slide backwards, because I am not giving voice to a part of myself that will cry out to be heard as long as I live, and as long as there is someone out there who still does not understand the repercussions of child abuse, or the process of child abuse recovery. Even though this voice inside us cries out to be heard, allowing this voice inside us is also sometimes very painful, and seeing the magnitude of denial in our society is daunting. I sometimes despair, not wanting to put effort into something where I may never see results. But giving up on this voice is an abandonment of my truest, most honest self. I will not do that!

For the second time in two years, I have met a local doctor who confided that he advises child abuse survivors that “They just have to get over it” …. “What are you going to do, let it ruin your life?”, he says. I was shocked that I would run into more than one doctor in the same town who thinks this way. Although his statements were not directed at me (I don’t believe he knows my history), I was very uncomfortable. I knew that although discussion of the subject would probably not be very productive, I also felt my silence would convey assent. I waited a while for an opening (and for my own insides to calm down), and gently responded, with an attitude of “waiting to see what would happen”. I pointed out that a person must be careful when dealing with someone struggling with their past, because we may not know where they are on their recovery path, on a spectrum between victim and survivor. He gave only cursory acknowledgment of this, moving quickly to his next point of conversation. His next point was an intellectual remark about percentages of molesters in churches, and why people shouldn’t worry about a particular church. He had no idea that both my wife and myself were abused by priests when we were children, and that safe clergy are extraordinarily important to us when choosing a church. I guess it never occurred to him that we might be child abuse survivors, or clergy abuse survivors. We are both. Ever since that day in his office, I have noticed a need to write about it within myself that I cannot ignore.

Twenty-four years ago, I stood at the brink of choosing recovery. I was drawn out of my protective shell of frozen emotion, self medication, and fear by the weight of the pain I carried, but also by folks who knew how to provide the safety required to draw me out of my self imposed prison. They were proper advocates of recovery. I know absolutely what works because my history reveals what works.

What Works

In order to respond effectively to the needs of adult child abuse survivors, a number of things must be present in order to be effective advocates:

  • An advocate should have a true understanding of child abuse and child abuse recovery. They should be well versed in the emotional nature of abuse and recovery, and understand the monumental task that some survivors face. A survivor may avoid dealing with the abuse that they suffered for most of their lives, because they are avoiding pain that they believe will be too much for them. For a survivor, understanding abuse does not heal them, although it provides a map of where they’ve been, and where they must go, but recovery is truly an emotional process. One must go through the pain to get to the other side of it.
  • An advocate must practice emotional availability without intellectual constraint. They need to be relaxed and present. We are not present if we are involved in complicated intellectual constructs. Language should be emotional rather than intellectual, simple, not complicated. Doing so shows the survivor that you may be a safe person to open up to. Trust is the most important component. All abuse is a breach of trust, and damages our ability to trust.
  • An advocate must have good boundaries. Knowing instinctively where to “tread lightly”, knowing how “close” to be (emotionally, sexually, physically) depending upon the relationship with the survivor is an absolute must, or the survivor will sense the lack of safety.
  • An advocate listens, never lecturing or explaining. The survivor is the expert of their injury, not the advocate. Gentle encouragement toward treatment can be helpful, but only if they are ready.
  • Mirroring is very important. Saying things like “I see you are very angry (or sad, or fearful, or ashamed)” work well.
  • Advocates should be careful with their questions; being willing to give up their controlling need to understand, and allow the survivor to tell his or her story at their own pace, in their own way. Relinquishing controlling behavior often provides a sense of safety to the survivor. Safety is the fertile soil in which trust blooms.
  • Being absolutely non-judgmental about how the survivor has responded to the abuse, where we think they are on their recovery journey, and the speed with which they recover. Response to abuse is individual. Parts of a person’s recovery and the length of time they take before confronting their abuse are individual, and are affected by the environment they are presently in, and the severity of the abuse. Also, recovery is not linear. As a survivor proceeds, they may “revisit” a particular theme or event, gradually gaining mastery, letting go of more pain or fear. This may happen over and over, and is not an indication of where they are in recovery. Recovery takes a long time, and is a process, not a destination. That’s why we shouldn’t judge.
  • From the time I was 4 or 5 years old, I was beaten with an open hand on an almost daily basis. Later, I was punched, kicked, tackled, thrown down, and had things thrown at me. I was yanked by my arms until I thought my shoulders would dislocate. I was tied to chairs, beaten with metal vacuum cleaner pipes, and threatened with a butcher knife. When I was 9 or 10, my mother confided in a rage that she would kill me if she could get away with it. I was sexually abused by at least two men, one of them the parish priest. I witnessed my sisters being chased, screamed at, and beaten. The abuse that I suffered was extreme, but I am fortunate. I entered recovery at a time when we knew very little about how to help victims recover, yet here I am. If you are uncomfortable with what I have to say, then I am sorry, but I think that I have earned the right to be heard.

    I am a survivor. I am grateful for all the help I have received. There are others like me. It took me 35 years to get to a doorway that led to recovery. I have been in the process of recovery for 24 years. I look inside myself, and I see the astounding amount of patience it has taken me to get to where I am. We survivors must call upon that same patience when dealing with those who offer no such patience towards us. Nevertheless, we must speak out until there is no one left who does not understand the journey of a child abuse survivor.

    ©2010 Ken Scully

    Spare the Rod?

    When I read in The Dispatch, that October is National Domestic Violence Prevention Month, I wanted to write a column about Domestic Violence. When I write, I write from my heart, which means that I feel things intensely while I write. To do otherwise feels like a waste of time to me. So I approached my “task”, looking for my “entry point” into the issue. However, this time I felt stymied. I just felt sort of flat. What specifically should I write about? Then I read Margie Pizarro’s column in the October 16 issue of the Dispatch. I liked her column, she writes very honestly, and I like that. She mentioned the ancient adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.

    I cringed inside myself, not from what Margie wrote, but from the misuse of that old adage that many adults use as an excuse for their own out of control behavior towards their children when they misbehave.   In families that experience domestic violence, if there are children, they are affected more than anyone else in the family.   If that violence is directed at a child and rationalized as “punishment”, it is still domestic violence, in fact worse than if directed towards a spouse.

    Years ago I was taught two very important things about that Biblical quote.   Both are good examples of what that adage truly means.

    Long before the printing press, in early Jewish households, families that were well off enough, had religious scrolls, perhaps a copy of the ten commandments, in a holder above the entranceway to their home.   The “rod” may have been a reference to this scroll in a tube above the doorway.   In that instance, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” might have been an admonition to teach our children to follow the ten commandments.   That makes a lot of sense!

    Another explanation that was given to me had to do with a shepherd’s staff.   A good shepherd uses his staff to block any escaping sheep, steering them in the right direction, to keep them safe, and close at hand.   The sheep learn to follow his direction in time, trying to go off on their own less often.   They learn to trust and anticipate him.   He does not beat them with the rod out of his own frustration!   That would be a bad shepherd!

    What I have learned is, that many adults confuse the difference between discipline and punishment.   The word “discipline” comes from the Latin root “disciplina” which means to teach, or to lead.   To discipline a child, is to make them a disciple!   A disciple is lead by example, and they want to be like the one they follow!   Discipline is not punishment!

    • The purpose of discipline is to correct and promote positive moral and ethical development.
      The purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, to exact a “pay back” for wrongs.
    • The focus of discipline is positive future behavior.
      The focus of punishment is past misdeeds.
    • The attitude and emotional makeup of the one doing the disciplining is Love.
      The attitude and emotional makeup of the punisher is Anger, or worse, perhaps rage.
    • The reaction of the one being disciplined will be security and trust, and a desire to emulate.
      The reaction of one being punished will be fear, guilt, hostility, or worse, perhaps terror, shame, and rage.

    As you can see, both parent and child fare better in discipline than in punishment.   Discipline cannot be commandeered by an out of control parent in order to vent their rage and frustration on their own,  powerless children.  Punishment can.   When it is, we make both more victims, and more perpetrators for a world that already has too many of both.

    I Stand Before You

    Not long ago I went to my appointment with a new health care professional. I felt wary and a little defensive because he was new, and I was put into a position of having to trust him. I have trouble with that. He seemed like a nice fellow, with a good sense of humor, and I gradually started to relax. When seeing a health care professional for the first time, I believe it is important for adult survivors to mention that they are child abuse survivors, if they feel that it is important to do so. I attempted to do that, to give him information that I believed was necessary. Survivors often have issues that are reflected in the complaints they take to professionals. Survivors often have issues with touch, with trust, and many have PTSD symptoms that masquerade as physical problems. Survivors often have problems such as depression and panic disorder. Survivors also may have difficulty instituting new habits or regimes, which might affect treatment by a health care professional. Also, because of the non-linear nature of recovery, one time they may be just fine, while another time they may need medication to get through a particularly difficult period, perhaps having panic attacks, severe depression or despair. We can be very different from time to time, although that lessens with the length of recovery.

    He smiled and said to me something to the effect that “I tell people that they have to stop thinking about it” (the child abuse). “All they have to do is stop thinking about it”. Without ever having met me before, and without knowing anything about me except from my medical chart, he proceeded to tell me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you might be using the abuse as a crutch.” “Some people use it as a crutch, telling everyone they meet that they were abused”.

    I immediately felt exposed and awkward. I had a very hard time wrapping my mind around his uncalled for comments. Unsolicited advice is disrespectful. Interjecting oneself into such a very personal, private area of a person’s life without being invited to do so is extraordinarily tactless and hurtful. It shows a lack of empathy and understanding.

    I thought ,”would you say that to a woman who was raped, if she was having difficulty recovering from the PTSD that follows the rape?” I also thought about those who, as adults were hurt in war, and suffer from PTSD and have difficulty recovering from that experience. I knew that it was not ok to say something similar to them. How much more are children hurt than adults! Often the trauma in their young lives happens not just once, but hundreds of times, sometimes more than that. They have neither the skills, nor the understanding, nor the training, nor the stamina that adults might have. The effects are more devastating, and more difficult to recover from, some lasting a lifetime. Often their recovery does not start the next day, but decades later. The fact that survivors are now adults makes no difference, other than the fact that we have more skills and resources. I knew it was not ok to say what he said to me. My anger rose, and kept me from “shrinking” (becoming “less than”).

    I handled this experience surprisingly well. Of course I did. I have 22 years of “training” through various therapies, have read as many books as some “experts”, and have practiced what I have learned through my recovery since I was 35. I am 57 this year. I struggled with the fear, shame, and finally the anger I was feeling. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I struggled with the dissociation that threatened to overwhelm me. I took some calming breaths for a few extremely uncomfortable seconds. My response was simple. I said calmly, “I don’t do that. You needed to know because you’re the doctor”. His response was something like, “We’re all the same as everyone else”, as if that was some lesson he was delivering to me. I felt my anger rise again, and felt like I was in a “power struggle”. I breathed again to give me time to react the way I wanted to. I assumed he didn’t mean it in a negative way. We all have equal value in God’s eyes, and we should in each other’s as well. But in a very real sense, some survivors have experiences far beyond what others experience. They have experiences that can teach others about things that can literally change the world we live in. I am more in some areas, and less in others. That has to do with skills, experiences, but not value. I saw that I knew that, and that he didn’t seem to know that. I said, “yes we are”, holding back the rest of what I knew.

    I did not “get into it” much further with him. I was surprised and somewhat confused that he didn’t know why that information might be useful, or for that matter necessary. Perhaps he believed that the type of abuse I experienced does not exist, or since I seemed rational, it could not have been severe. He could not have been more wrong.

    Many of us have a lack of understanding about the effects that child abuse has on adult survivors. Many of us have a lack of understanding of what “recovery” looks like for an adult survivor. Many of us have no idea of all that a survivor might have to deal with on a daily basis in their recovery, (and inside themselves). Many of us believe that when someone says they are a survivor, that they surely couldn’t be standing intact in front of them if their abuse was severe. Many of us do not understand that recovery is a journey. It is not a destination. Recovery is remarkably personal, and depends on our makeup, gifts and the type and severity of the abuse. Some journey farther than others, some have suffered more than others. There is no abuse that cannot be recovered from. Sometimes survivors “circle” an event or theme of abuse until they are ready to resolve it -sometimes even years. All survivors are looking for resolution, even if it looks like they are not moving forward! Who are we to judge what a survivor’s recovery should look like? Who are we to tell them that we know when it is time for them?

    Another misconception is that if only a survivor changed his or her thinking, then they could get past the trauma. Although how we think, and what we think about, does play a large role in our daily attitudes, thinking mostly is not where we were hurt, and might be described as being in an “outer layer” of our being. Our emotional nature, and our acceptance of how we are, who we are, and where we are on our journey, is what are most damaged. Survivors are always looking for resolution. When they are focused on the past, they are doing so because they have not found resolution, and are looking for their own personal resolution, not someone else’s! Often our thinking reflects what we are feeling, even if we do not know that. Many Survivors have “frozen feelings”, meaning that they cannot get in touch with their deepest wounds. It takes sustained focus on the past to get to these feelings. Unless we go through the pain, feel it and share it, we will not get to the other side of it. It will sit in us festering, looking for expression in our daily lives, rather than describing the events of the past. In this way, the past contaminates the present. Although our outer thinking may influence our outer feeling, it does not affect those feelings near the core of us. In fact, much of our thinking is driven by feelings from our center. Some call this “primacy of emotion”. In my experience, no amount of thinking or not thinking will heal the wounds of the past. Discovering the frozen feelings from our pasts, giving voice to them, fully feeling them, having empathy for how vulnerable we were, and how tenacious – these are the things that lead us into the journey of recovery – no matter how long it takes us!

    I stand before you in a process of recovery, even though I started that recovery 22 years ago. I stand before you relatively intact, although at one time I was completely crippled. I stand before you imperfectly healed. I stand before you not as victim, but as survivor, there is a difference. I stand before you sometimes with a cauldron of feelings that threaten to overwhelm me, feelings that most would recoil from, yet I do not fall apart, nor do I deny or avoid them. I am a survivor, and I am responsible for my own recovery. No one can do it for me, although I have invited God into the process of my recovery. I am proud that I am a survivor, because it embraces all of my past, not just the “acceptable parts”. I stand before you, and I tell you that I am both more and less, not the same as those who have not been abused. I am less in those areas that still interfere with what I want to do, and I am more, because I have experiences that can teach all of us how to behave with each other, so that no one gets hurt like I was. I stand before you so that you may hear my voice. I use my voice so that others may know it is ok to do so also. I use my voice so that others may start their journey of recovery. I use my voice to bring empathy into areas where we have none. I stand before you as a survivor, and it is a badge of courage and accomplishment, not some sort of excuse or crutch to gain sympathy.

    Giving Permission to our Playful Spirits

    Gary Tool’s Column Terribly Wrong in last week’s Community Times Dispatch got me thinking. Two people can witness the same event, and each may see it in a totally different way. Native Americans say that each of us sees from a different place on the Medicine Wheel. I like that imagery. I agree. We each experience life through the lens of our histories, training, strengths, weaknesses, and most of all, our fears.

    Now, I saw the same commercial that the good Reverend saw, yet we each saw two different things. The commercial in question is the one where a little boy shakes a bottle of soda and accidentally sprays his momma, who then joins in with the sprayer from the kitchen sink.

    The good Reverend sees this scene as an example of a dysfunctional family behavior, and as an example of the devil using technology to destroy folks. Now, I don’t want to get into a tug of war over which one of us is right. I do not disagree that evil operates in this world, as well as Good. I do not disagree that folks watch too much TV to their own detriment. Nor do I disagree with the good Reverend’s prescription for better living. However, we did see that same commercial with different eyes.

    As the 2 liter bottle explodes a plume of soda towards his momma, shock and surprise are very apparent on the child’s face. My imagination tells me that he is waiting for the axe to fall’. He knows “he is in trouble now”! As my attention turns towards his momma, I see a look of shock and disbelief on her face. I expect anger next. In fact, I don’t just expect anger; I expect rage, because of my own personal history. But I’m surprised. Her look of shock gradually melts, and is replaced by amusement, as she reaches for the sprayer from the kitchen sink. As she sprays him back, her amusement blooms into full blown childlike glee. His expression of shock and fear is abandoned to one of total playful glee as well. There is no screaming, no tears, no bruises, nor any childhood trauma. There is no adult, anger driven over-reaction that we see so much in our violent society. There is no shaming. There are just two souls, letting go to their playful spirits. How wonderful!

    Now, in my imagination, after all is done, his momma talks to him, and tells him not to shake soda bottles, because even though they had fun this time, next time he would be in trouble. (After all, it is a commercial about paper towels, and whether we know it or not, we have been using our imaginations all along!)

    What I saw in this commercial, was far more functional than what I experienced as a child. I saw real connection between the child and his momma. I saw two souls, who felt safe enough to let go, and really have fun. Granted, we don’t see the lesson “don’t shake the bottle”, but I believe, we see an even more important lesson, despite any evil influences that may or may not be involved.

    Being Emotionally Open in an Emotionally Closed Society

    I had a wonderful Christmas holiday. My son, Shawn and his girlfriend Rebecca visited from California, where Shawn goes to Stanford University. Actually they had visited for part of the week before Christmas, and had to leave right before the actual holiday. I couldn’t shut up the whole time they were here! I found myself more enthusiastic and boisterous than usual. I couldn’t seem to contain myself! My son played the guitar and sang one evening, and I was moved by how unbelievably good he was! It had been years since he had last played for me. Rebecca is an opera singer. That same night she brought us all to tears, so beautiful was her rendition of “Oh Holy Night”! I have never heard a voice like that! We all talked about “real” things, you know, those things that we care deeply about, are deeply moved by, etc. We allowed space and safety (lack of any judgment), so each of us could be fully authentic, playful, and open. It was wonderful! Continue reading

    Be afraid, be very, very afraid.

    I wrote this in response to a minister’s newspaper column in which he promoted the view that people shouldn’t listen or seek out therapists, that all they need to do is read the bible.

    “Be afraid, be very, very afraid”. That is the “mantra” of folks who want to control us, to have authority over us, for us to “stay in our place”, and to think “inside their box”.

    I have often said that I am a voice of experience, rather than one of authority. What I mean by that is that I write about my direct personal experiences, what I”ve learned by my experiences, rather than what other people have put inside me. That does not mean, that I do not listen to what others say, or read what others have written with honest appraisal, or to take in the gift of their experience. Nor do I automatically disregard tradition, culture, or religion. I am a very good listener, and do not automatically discount what anyone else says, nor do I automatically believe what I hear either. I have faith. I believe in God. I believe God, and this journey I am on, have made me a good listener. My history of experience far outside normal experience gives me a unique perspective. For many years I have struggled to develop a rigorous honesty that questions what is inside me, how it got there, and whether it is true or not. In truth, I do not do this alone, but ask God to guide me, because quite frankly, alone, the task would be too daunting and lonely. I started on this journey many years ago, for my own survival and sanity. My trust in God has grown exponentially over the years, but also, surprisingly, my trust in myself. I do not mean that in an egotistical or narcissistic way. What I mean is that I accept that I know what I know, feel what I feel, and am starting to accept myself as I am at this point in my journey, knowing that there are still many miles ahead on this journey. I do not want power, or riches. I simply want the truth.

    I”m sure you have heard of the term “thinking outside the box”. Often those who “think outside the box” accomplish great things for our human family. Sometimes they see what others don”t see, or have a unique perspective or approach to problems that we have that helps us solve those problems. Sometimes they come up with completely new explanations, inventions or theories that shake up the prevailing culture, and its attitudes and beliefs. I believe that this is part of God”s great plan for us. I believe that change is one of the only constants in our experience here, yet we want to hold onto things so tightly out of our fear of change, a fear that is intrinsically dishonest. To be able to think outside the box, we must find our True Selves, that part of ourselves that is underneath what others have put inside us. This part of ourselves is honest and perceptive, beyond what we usually experience in daily life. This part of us lives within the moment, absolutely embedded in the present moment, receptive, and without fear.

    Fear is a great thing when it makes us run from a fire, or keeps us from falling off the edge of a cliff. However, too many of us are stuck in our fear, and don”t even know it. The fear that we are stuck in is a dishonest fear. It tells us that God has no power, that He does not protect us, or provide for us, or guide us. It fuels our black and white thinking, and takes us out of the present moment. Black and white thinking sets us apart from each other. This person is good, while that person is bad. Democrats or Republicans are bad, while their counterpart is good. Baptists are good, while Mormons are bad. Rich people are bad, while poor people are good. The more we see this group as bad, while the other group is good, the more we lose our perspective of the vast majority, the shades of gray between the black and white. We limit our empathy, our compassion, to the limited few.

    Sometimes even our ministers resort to this black and white thinking, using fear to motivate us into living correctly, yet I have the suspicion that God intends us to live our lives with Love as the fuel that drives us, not fear. When fear is a filter through which we see the world, our true perceptions are altered, and we cannot experience the gift of living in the present moment. When we are in the present moment, we are teachable. When we live in the Now, we are good listeners. When we live in the present moment, we have true, non-judgmental compassion for others. When we are in the present moment, we are being as honest as we can be. We see all the shades of gray, not just black and white. We have everything we need in the present moment, because God is there, and we are receptive.

    Miraculous things happen when we are in âthe present moment. I have written on numerous occasions about abuse I survived as a child. I am sure that the abuse I suffered as a child, was never God”s Will. I am sure that He did not condone what was done to me, but I do know that He has used my experience for good. I do know that He led me to the help that I needed. That help included group therapy with others who suffered similar abuse, and two therapists, George and Theresa (a husband and wife team), who I will forever be grateful to for helping me on my journey. During our therapy sessions, I felt God’s Presence many times, and watched Him work miracles in our group. These two wonderful therapists had 25 years of experience, had their Masters Degrees, and all the training that entailed, but allowed their impressions and direct experience to guide their actions during therapy. They did not let their training get in the way. They dropped their fears as best as they could, allowed themselves to relax into the Now, and were guided by honesty, and letting go of control. They let go and let God without any religious pretense, and miracles happened in every session. I cannot tell you how important they were to me, or how important what they do is. I hate when I hear someone proselytizing to folks that are hurting, that they don’t need therapists. God saved me through them. The black and white thinking that presumes to know the Mind of God is arrogant, irresponsible, and ignorant. George and Theresa taught me that absolute internal honesty is how we navigate the maze of prejudices and black and white thinking that we find inside ourselves. In removing more and more of this dishonesty, we find ourselves. In trusting God, we disarm our fears. As we drop our fears, we find the always present Now, and find that we have everything we need. We learn to think outside the box.

    I Try So Hard

    I am not always like this, of course.  However, in the course of my life, I continue to cycle in and out of my issues to gain mastery over them.

    I try so hard to be good. I try so hard, that sometimes, it consumes me. I allow myself no wiggle room, no permission to just be human. Sometimes, I try to anticipate my wife’s bad moods, watching what I say and do, and how I say and do. Maybe I do her thinking for her, so that she doesn’t have those moods, or I might help her do her thinking to get her out of those moods. Sometimes if someone is angry, or going to be angry at me, I do everything in my power to keep that from happening. I am rewarded for this, by others seeing me as “strong” or “together”. I am smart. I am kind. I am respectful. I am attentive. I am empathic, and I am dead tired. Sometimes I am so busy doing all this, and being responsible for everyone else, and everything else, that there is no room for me, inside me. I know why I do this.

    In 1955, when I was 4 ½ years old or so, I followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of neighborhood kids down Circle Drive, in our little town of Trooper. We ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand. After an hour or so, when they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up. Now, a 4 ½ year old kid takes something like that seriously! Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. I was terrified! I thought I was going to die there, all alone, that no one would ever find me. I distinctly remember that being my fear.

    Eventually, my mother came looking for me, and “beat the crap” out of me as soon as she found me. I could make a hundred excuses for her –  she was scared because she hadn’t known where I was, or she was scared that she could be in trouble, or be seen as a bad mother, or any number of other excuses. But the fact remains that at that moment she remained focused on herself, and had no empathy for a 4 year old child’s distress! She put responsibility on me, not herself! She should never have allowed me to be in that situation. Her responsibility was to keep an eye on me, not allow me to wander off with older children for hours at a time! That was her responsibility! This is the earliest memory I have of her beating me. There would be hundreds, if not thousands of more times that her beatings would occur, their force, her rage, my fear, her contempt, and her lack of taking responsibility growing each time.

    At 4 years old, I was a needy, gentle, naive, deeply feeling, intuitive, impulsive child “ just the way I was meant to be. I looked to others for their definition of me. Let me say that again: I looked to others for their definition of me. I looked to others for their definition of me, their acknowledgement, love, attention, and reasoning. I looked to others to show me how to fit in, how to express my thoughts and my feelings, to learn what was right and what was wrong. I trusted that what my mother told me was true, and that how she acted was right. There was no argument about that in my little 4 year old mind. I would have to try harder to be good.

    My mother’s violence towards me, taught me that I was worthless and defective. Her demeaning words of contempt would eventually solidify my view of myself.

    A child has no grasp on their own impulsiveness. They are a cauldron of churning, boiling feelings. Their impulses are fueled by those feelings. How ferociously this cauldron boils is dependent upon their experiences. When they are met constantly with craziness and terror; when their caregivers are dishonest, violent, and impulsive themselves, the “cauldron” often boils over. They are seen as “bad”, defective, or worse, by adults who themselves do not understand either their own or a child’s impulsiveness. They do not understand that children operate by impulse, those impulses fueled by feelings that the children have because of how they are treated and seen by these very adults! How is a child to untangle themselves from such a “catch 22″ situation? They cannot. Often they never will, even as they get older. They mature in years, seeing themselves as these adults have seen them, never understanding the nature of their impulsiveness, seeing themselves as “bad”, defective or worse. Escalation is an integral part of this mechanism. As the adults continue to see these children acting on their impulses, their misguided view of the children is solidified. Their reactions and judgment continue in themselves, and reactions in their children continue to escalate. Often other more favored children are brought into this drama, seeing their brother or sister as the parent sees them. The child singled out for this drama, is completely alone, “knows” that they are different from everyone else, because they see every member of their family treating them that way. Isolated from those who see the child this way, the child is left to their own devices in dealing with the violence and craziness, and more importantly, the feelings they are left with because of it.

    All through my childhood, I could never seem to do anything right. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt growing up with this. I remember feeling listlessness, loneliness, and a tightness in my chest, that seemed to contain something unknown and hungry, something that needed to be filled or satisfied, but never could be. Rather than soft, gentle, warm, fuzzy, happy, content hopeful feelings, I had internalized the TERROR and DESPAIR of being raised by someone who more often than not was out of control. I never knew what to expect from my mother. Sometimes she was childlike and “nice”, while other times, she was like a wild animal, ready to devour me if I said or did the “wrong” thing. It would have been less crazy, if she had been wild all the time.

    Over time, I learned to read her moods, in order to avoid her during her worst times, but my own impulsiveness set me up to do things that got me in trouble anyhow. My language skills grew as I tried to talk myself out of trouble. Nothing I said (or did) made any difference with her. I found better more precise ways of saying things so I wouldn’t be in trouble, all to no avail. I tried so hard to be “good”, but my own impulsiveness would get me in trouble. No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I was never good enough. Nothing I did or said was good enough for her, or later, for me! If only I could just get it right! But always the axe would fall, and I would find myself dealing with an enraged, out of control woman, ready to hurt me. The fact that she could so easily rationalize her own behavior, made her exceedingly dangerous. At any time, she might have killed me. Over and over and over, I was terrified of her, and terrified that she would kill me. Unless you experienced this, you cannot know what it is like. But I am asking you to try.

    As a society, we have grown enough to recognize that it is wrong for an enraged husband to beat his wife. “Just a little hitting” is not OK. We even understand the mechanisms in him that allow him to do this. We understand how his abuse affects her. We understand that he is teaching her that he “owns” her, that she is powerless, in fact even defective and worthless! A mother who beats her children because of her own out of control rage teaches these same terrible lessons to her children. She fills their hearts with terror, rather than love, despair rather than hope, worthlessness, rather than integrity and value.

    As a society, we must stop making excuses for parents who beat their children. I am tired of all the excuses. The Law looks for marks on the outside, but we must learn to see the marks it causes on the inside! We must stop automatically defending the right of a parent to beat their children by calling it child rearing, or shifting responsibility to the child by seeing them as “difficult” and the parents as blameless. “Just a little hitting” is not OK!

    As a society, when we have grown enough to value our children enough to truly protect them, then perhaps, we can turn our attention toward helping so many others, child and adult alike, who have already been injured. That is the one right place to “try so hard”!

    Welcome!

    Welcome to LowcountrySurvivors.com!

     

    The purpose of this website, and my writings, is NOT to imply “I am good, and they are bad”. It is not about character assassination, disrespect, lack of boundaries, irreverence, put-downs, name-calling, or other disfunctional behaviors towards abusers, or others for that matter

     

    Simply put, my writings have been a gateway to feelings I had when I was hurt as a child. Feeling these feelings in their most honest and powerful form, sharing them with others, unlocking deeper, more repressed feelings about my experience as a child, and finding myself going through a very long grief process that had been interrupted as a child; all this has brought me to have empathy for the child I was, to be able to see myself now as I am, not as others saw me long ago, and to gain empathy for children today, in a manner that seems not present in our society at large, a society that in some ways, still condones certain forms of child abuse.

     

    I believe this process of healing that I have experienced, is a natural process that we are born with, but tend to ignore. We are taught to ignore our inner feelings and processes, and our reaction (as children) to abuse reinforces that separation from our feelings and processes! It is very uncomfortable, sometimes, to be in touch with our deepest feelings, but doing so allows us to notice subtle reactions in others, to notice when we hurt others, especially children, which is the way we are meant to be!

     

    Some writings are VERY angry. Some describe my TERROR. Some describe tremendous sadness and despair. Some have a lighter emotional texture. All are expressions of the child I was, so long ago. I have been taught that ALL emotions are OK, they are neither good nor bad, they just are. These are about how it was for me as a child.  There are also many pieces that are about therapy, parenting and child advocacy.  Some pieces are about spirituality and awareness, which grow naturally out of healing.

     

    The more I write, the more I discover about myself; the more I discover, the more I keep changing. Change is good, even though I tried to avoid change for half of my adult life. Change keeps me moving forward, towards whatever God has in store for me. For me, real change only comes after navigating the seas of emotional upheaval. The rise and fall of the waves in this sea are part of daily life, and will forever be a part of daily life. Larger waves were created far in my past, and tell me about how I felt during those past events, and why I am the way I am today. By allowing this natural process, I become more than I am today, because I recover pieces of myself that were lost. There are always treasures in the sea, after a ship wreck!   Ken S

     

    A word of caution: Many of the pieces that you find on this site are triggering. You may find after reading some that feelings arise that you weren’t quite ready for, or didn’t know that you carried. So please be careful, and make sure you have a good support system. Many of the pieces here convey feelings I had as a child, feelings that I went through in my healing, and don’t necessarily represent how I feel now. I had to go through the Rage, Sadness, Terror, or Despair to get to the other side. These are here to help you get in touch with those frozen feelings from the past.

     

    Therapists are welcome to use my writings with their clients, but need to contact me for use in books or any other publication media, including other websites. Those of you who have already asked and received permission in the past, I thank you for showing respect by asking, and I am honored in that request!

    A Gift of Honesty

    Everyday, I hear something on the news that “makes me” mad. Notice the quotation marks around “makes me”. That phrase is in quotes, because it’s something we say in polite conversation, but it’s something that’s totally untrue. Nothing can “make us” feel anything. If something happens to us, one time we might be sad, while another time we might feel angry, depending on what is already going on with us at the time. Our reactions are our own responsibility. We are making decisions to react or not react inside ourselves all the time, even though we may not notice that subtle subconscious landscape. A more honest way of saying the same thing would be: “I feel angry when I hear some things on the news”. That way I “own” my own anger, I am responsible for it, not the news. I use this as an example of how pervasive and un-noticed our dishonesty is. Let me start over –

    I often feel angry when I hear dishonest things on the news. I feel angry, when people are being dishonest with me. When people are being dishonest, they are usually attempting to manipulate others, and that is what I get angry about. Manipulation is an attempt to force someone to think, feel, or do something, and I don’t like being forced! They may not even know they are doing it! Folks have a terrible time with honesty. They also have a terrible time avoiding the impulse to manipulate others. Worse than either of those two is the fact that folks often have trouble noticing dishonesty and manipulation. When I watch the news, I see people in power trying to manipulate us, and they succeed handily! Government officials, political pundits, various authorities in religion, education, business, foreign affairs, and economics all push their particular views – or more correctly stated, the views of their organizations. They use faulty logic, lies of omission, and various other techniques, and quote others using the same tactics!

    The news is a maelstrom of dishonesty. On every side of every issue, people attempt to manipulate how we think and feel about that issue. Whether the War in Iraq, Global Warming, or the latest mistake made by some politician, people on both sides of every issue tug at our minds and heart-strings in order to get us to “see it their way”. Most of us can sometimes see the manipulation that goes on by “the other side”, but do we see the manipulation that goes on in “our own side” as well.

    Advertisers know how easy it is to manipulate us. The more one has been manipulated, the easier it is to be manipulated! Governments know this principle, and use it. Those in power within those governments attempt to make us see things with their particular slant. It allows them to consolidate power, and to do what they want, whether their motives are good or evil. It is a terrible danger to us as a society.

    Why are we so easily manipulated? Why do we have such an awful time with honesty? It is because of this rule: The more one has been manipulated, the easier it is to be manipulated! Most us of were introduced to manipulation and dishonesty when we were children! I don’t mean to imply that all parents are “bad”, that all families are “bad”. Many parents are unaware, sometimes, of what they feel, think, or sometimes why they do what they do. What I am trying to say, is that to a certain degree, deep, penetrating, internal self honesty has been lacking in most of our families to one degree or another, and it causes us to become accustomed to manipulation and dishonesty long before we are “out in the world” ready to be influenced by the forces there. We all are still operating in the “trance” that was created in our families. We only see what this “trance” allows us to see, and we react in predictable ways, based on the tenets of our family trance.

    For quite a while, many family therapists have been aware of this. In Transactional Analysis, also, therapists have been aware of this dynamic, as well as those therapists who treat addictive disease. We have all heard of the term “denial”, and have heard about how dishonest and manipulative active alcoholics and other addicts can be. Perhaps we have heard that addiction is a “family” disease, that all members are affected. The forces that bind members in a good way can also be forces that bind them in ways that are not so good.

    There is a teaching tool that has been used to describe the processes that bind us in families and similar groups, and keep us in a state of denial (keep us dishonest, or unable to recognize dishonesty and manipulation). This teaching tool is called “The Drama Triangle”. The powerful processes of “The Drama Triangle” train us to be victims. I won’t get into The Drama Triangle’s dynamics here in this article, but if you are interested, do a search for it online.

    In all families, children fall into roles that provide stability or credibility to the family, and that role then overshadows their “True Selves” (who God wants them to become). A good example of this is when an older brother or sister becomes the pseudo parent of their younger sibling because of some lack in that family. They can become more responsible than a child should be, and lose touch with their own true child needs and desires, because the role that they have to play in the family becomes foremost in how they see themselves, and how they “act”. Now, for the family, and perhaps sometimes for the little sibling, this can be a good thing, but for the one who takes on the role, they become actors in their own lives, completely unaware of that happening to them. They become super responsible, always striving, but completely unaware of their true feelings and intuitions. Granted, it is a good thing to be responsible, but it is a very bad thing for them to be forced unconsciously into that responsibility, because they lose touch with their own innermost feelings, intuitions, and desires, their “True Selves” . Living out the scripted responses of a family role in this unconscious way, is dishonest living, even though the child never chose to be this way. Another good example is the “black sheep” of the family. No matter what that child does, parents and siblings see him or her as defective: stupid, bad, dirty, disgusting, irresponsible, etc. The more they are seen that way, the more they act and see themselves that way, and the more the family continues to see them that way. But it is all a lie, a scripted role created for them by the family! They go on to continue to act out that role in adult life.

    I was the “black sheep” in my family. The remaining members of that family still see me that way. So be it. That is a betrayal. I am sad, and I am angry about that. The forces of their drama still control them, and even though they describe me in all sorts of negative, contemptuous ways, I see me differently! Those who truly love me, see me the way I truly am! Although sometimes, I have very strong feelings about the poor treatment I received as a child, and how I am seen by estranged family members now, I am blessed. I am blessed not because of the abuse that I suffered as a child – that was most definitely not God’s Will for that to happen to me or any other child, but because He provided everything I needed in order to start unraveling the extraordinary dishonesty that was put inside me, and has allowed me to see how these fascinating and powerful forces work. I have spent many years of my adult life (in my 30’s and 40’s) in therapy, with some of the most genuine, loving, intuitive folks, who have been able to give me what my parents could not, and I will be forever grateful to them, and to God for that! For a period of 15 years I read everything I could get my hands on, in order to find my way out of the prison that was created for me. You would be surprised to find out how common that is, for abuse survivors to become experts in the forces that formerly bound them!

    I speak from experience rather than authority. These forces that are in all our families to a small degree in some, an enormous degree in others, are what cause us to be so easily misled by those who want to manipulate us. When we live in a sea of dishonesty, dishonesty doesn’t catch our eye!

    So what do we do about this? How can we undo this tendency in us that allows us to be manipulated into believing what is not true, buying what we don’t need, supporting those who would hurt us or others by their policies? We have to rigorously cultivate deep, penetrating, internal self-honesty. We must learn to question everything, to not take anything for granted. Just because we have “always” believed something, doesn’t make it true. Most of what is in us was put there by others. Much of what we find will be untrue. This is an extraordinarily uncomfortable process, and most people are unwilling to even attempt it. We are not very patient, and find anything that takes a long time difficult. Also, we have been taught to protect our deepest beliefs, but if they are true, they need no protecting! When who we are, what we feel, what we do, and what we believe is truly and authentically our own, what is inside us needs no protection. There is no uncertainty, except that which is supposed to be in us – we are not omniscient! We do not know everything, and never will. We are human, and will always have some vulnerability, but we were not made to be manipulated by others. We need community, but need to be uniquely and authentically ourselves inside any community. We need to be aware of any community that promotes the value of community over the value of the individual – both are equally valuable. Any group or community that sacrifices the needs of the individual for the needs of the group cultivates the same forces that have created these injuries, or vulnerabilities in us.

    Those of us who are believers (in God) may be frightened that our relationship with God might be affected. I started out my journey, by trusting God to lead me on this journey, and quite frankly, I never expected that journey to take me where it has. If anything, my trust in God has grown exponentially during this journey. I started out having trouble trusting anyone. Now I trust both myself and God more than I thought I ever would.

    Finally, like many things we seek to develop inside ourselves here on this Earth, this journey is a journey without a final destination, and on this journey our constant companion (along with God) must be vigilance. We must constantly watch what we say, and think, to start rooting out anything that is less than honest. As we do this, not only do we find much that is untrue, but we will start to notice how much of what we hear out in the world that is untrue as well!

    There’s Something Wrong With You

    “God-damn-it! So help me Christ, I swear there’s something wrong with you, you rotten son-of-a-bitch”, she screamed. I see her in my mind’s eye, above me, always above me, glaring at me, red-faced, her mouth full of teeth, sharp and somewhat yellow-stained, ready to throw more bony fisted punches if I dared to challenge her omnipotence. She said things like that to me in a voice tinged with hysterical rage. Actually, not tinged, (if the truth be known), but filled with rage, overflowing with rage.

    I never knew how far she would go, how much she wanted to hurt me, how much she would allow herself to inflict on me, or how long she would continue. Her rage became my terror.

    Her “disgust” of me was convincing, I know she believed her own lies. Unfortunately, my sisters and I learned to believe them too.

    I wonder why she started on this crusade to convince not just me, but the whole family, that I was dirty, defective, broken, lazy, bad, stupid, and maybe even crazy. She started when I was 4 or 5. I was a child, and children do “bad” things, especially when they are getting the crap scared out of them by an out of control adult like my mother. I think she needed me to be “wrong”, so she could be “right”. I had to be scared, so she could feel powerful. I had to be “bad” so she could feel “good”. She must’ve done that to me 10,000 times if she did it once. Back in her childhood, she had felt a lack of power, and she was bound and determined as an adult to feel that power that she had missed.

    My sisters believe that my mother loved them (and me). They believe that I should believe that too. They tell me that I should focus on the “good times”, and all the “good” things my mother said. I don’t remember her telling me too many “good” things!

    I can imagine that after just one terrifying episode with my mother, I was probably immune to the next 100 compliments (if they would have been available.) That’s not a defect in me, that’s just a fact of life!

    I learned to not trust adults because she, quite frankly, was untrustworthy. There has to be trust for a compliment to do its job. A compliment is like food for our emotional system. As children we need many each day for us to feel OK, competent, strong, loving, and calm.

    Looking back, I believe often she hated me, and barely tolerated me other times. For some reason, she saw all the bad things in herself, when she looked at me. There was no reason for her to do that, other than the fact that I was an innocent, intelligent, sensitive child, with all the self-centered needs that all children have. She taught me to see myself in the awful way she saw me from the start. I didn’t have a chance to see me any other way.

    Not Love

    A mother who loves her children.

    -is a mother who beats her children with her fists?
    -is a mother who screams like a wild animal while she beats her children?
    -is a mother who calls her children “rotten sons of bitches of bastards” while she beats them?
    -is a mother who continuously tells her children that “there is something wrong with you”?
    -is a mother who tells her children that she wishes they were never born?
    -is a mother who continuously tells her children that they are “disgusting”?
    -is a mother who tells her children “you make me sick to my stomach”?
    -is a mother who beats her son with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe?
    -is a mother who ties her children to a chair?
    -is a mother who tells her 9 year old son that she’d kill him if she could get away with it?
    -is a mother who unleashes her unbridled rage on her children, and blames them for it?
    -is a mother who does all these things countless times, while pretending to be the victim?

    Honesty demands that we say “No!”

    Honesty demands that we acknowledge that a mother, who does all those things to her children, does not truly love her children, perhaps through injury, she cannot.

    All those things are Not Love.

    K.S.

    Experiencing Terror

    Sometimes a news story has the opportunity to teach us that the way we experience the world is enabling terrible things to continue in that world. Often times those terrible things are happening to children. I’m sure you all have heard about the two boys who were rescued last week from the hulking 300 pound pizza parlor manager, turned child kidnapper. This past week, pizzeria worker Michael Devlin was charged with kidnapping Shawn Hornbeck, 15, who had been missing for more than four years when he was found on Friday (1/12/07). Devlin already had been charged with kidnapping Ben Ownby, a 13-year-old who had been missing for four days when he was found with Shawn.

    On all the TV networks, commentators kept asking questions about why Shawn didn’t run away, or use the telephone or computer to tell someone where he was. They said that he seemed to make no overt effort to escape, even though he spent a lot of time unsupervised. Commentators had experts on Stockholm Syndrome giving heady, intellectual dissertations about this PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) reaction that is commonly seen in people who have been abducted. I don’t dispute anything that these experts were saying, but they, and most of our society, just really don’t get it. You can’t get it by looking at it intellectually. You have to get it with your heart, and truly “getting it” with your heart is a shocking and overwhelming experience! Most of us just can’t quite wrap our minds around TERROR. To really imagine what a child would feel in a situation like that, to truly empathize, we would have to FEEL those feelings inside ourselves. Either memory or imagination would have to bring those feelings alive in us, if we have the capacity to do that. Most of us can’t do that. We either have never truly felt a child’s terror (if that’s the case, then thank God for that!), can’t imagine being in such a hurtful situation, or we have purposely forgotten, and don’t dare go near the memory of it for fear of feeling it all over again (if we have suffered trauma as children). But I can, I’ve been there. I fully remember what it feels like. TERROR is this sudden lightning bolt, which explodes inside us, shattering everything we know in one single moment of time, and that moment feels like it will last forever. In a sense it does. Time stops, we cannot breathe, move, think, or feel anything but this overwhelming sense of dread and repulsion. We are suddenly locked and trapped in an isolation chamber more secure than any other on Earth. Nothing else exists, while terror is in us. Terror threatens to destroy our very existence. TERROR is the most awful, most absolute, most overwhelming, life-changing, mind-numbing, psyche-shattering, lonely experience that there is to have. It changes us forever, in ways that are both personal and unpredictable. It changes us profoundly at the core of our being. We understand this in only a general way about troops in combat. Even that understanding only just barely touches the surface of the soldier’s experience. A child’s experience of terror is a hundred times more powerful than that! It is as profound an experience as meeting the Devil himself, face to face. There truly are no words which convey the profound nature of the experience of terror by a child. The most important thing I have to tell you all today is that it doesn’t take a kidnapping by a stranger, or anything that seems to us adults as extreme as that, for a child to have the experience of terror. Repeated physical abuse within a family can have the same enormous impact on the child. Adults often do not see this exactly because they cannot truly wrap their minds around the experience of terror. When parents and other care-givers beat their children out of their own anger and rage, their children will most probably experience terror during those beatings. These children will have the same type of personal, unpredictable reactions to the terror that they experience. Some of you will say, “Oh, but I was beat by my parents, and I turned out OK”! Some of you may even say, “I was beat by my parents, and I deserved it”! Both statements are dishonest and arrogant! The first statement is arrogant, because it implies superiority, and knowledge of the unknowable. We only have a very general understanding of how a child reacts to terror. One child reacts one way, another child reacts another way. No one fully understands the dynamics of this, and no one can predict the outcome for a particular child. We often don’t really know ahead of time how we are going to react as adults in certain situations. If that is true, how can we know how a child might react? The second statement is worse. A child never deserves the experience of terror. To say, “I was beat by my parents, and I deserved it”, is to deny either the experience of terror itself, or its effects on the child. It is this attitude, this dishonest, arrogant lack of empathy, which allows child abuse to continue! Allow this discussion about how kids react in extreme situations to touch your hearts. Please know, that without having a similar experience, you can’t really know. Please know that all of us have a certain amount of dishonesty and emotional resistance inside ourselves. No one is exempt from that! Absolute internal honesty imbues us with humility. Humility strengthens our internal honesty, and both help us to experience our world without so many biases and emotional defense mechanisms. Allow your hearts to move you minds. Allow your hearts to change your minds, and change the way you experience our world! As we do this, slowly, our world changes!

    Logic Is Not Truth!

    On my daily walk this morning, I noticed nothing new along my route; nothing new, that is, in the physical sense. Usually I will discover a rabbit on the run, an injured turtle, a basketball in a ditch, certain plants or trees that I especially enjoy or that grab my attention, and are symbolic of a theme or idea that I take home to write about. This morning, my whole attention was directed toward my inner “landscape” instead of the outer landscape. Last night I watched the 5th episode of “Into The West” on TNT. It is a powerful historical drama that I have made every effort to follow. Deeply moving and historically accurate, its many stories within a larger story grab one’s attention fully during each 2 hour presentation. Last night’s episode was no exception, and it was my memory of a theme in last night’s episode which had grabbed my attention during this walk.

    The scene I see in my mind’s eye is that of a young Lakota warrior at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879. Fierce in spirit, his strength and rebelliousness are apparent. The idea of the school was to “civilize” Native American children, so that as adults, they would have the skills necessary to cope with an ever expanding white society. The idea however was far removed from the reality. The first step was to crush the wills of these young children and take what was most unique and intrinsic out of them, to be replaced by the prevailing European “Christian” values. The logic of this approach seemed apparent at the time to even those among the White settlers who still had some degree of empathy and compassion left, but that logic removed them from their empathy. Logic is not Truth. Native Americans of that era saw the White settlers as having a culture that seemed crazy and out of control. However much their Native American Hearts told them to protect their children, to keep them away from the encroaching settler’s culture, the logic of the idea that their children could do better than themselves by learning the White man’s ways obscured what their Hearts told them. They also fell for the trap. Logic is not Truth!

    The scene that kept playing and replaying in my mind has this young warrior, (and I call him a warrior because he fought on with such Heart in the face of impossible odds), this 11 or 12 year old warrior struggling to keep some small part of his dignity. He has been forced to take a name that is not his own (George). He has been forced to wear uncomfortable, foreign, clothing that has no meaning or use to him. He has been beaten, screamed at, and has been placed in a world in which none of the rules make sense to him, and where there is not the smallest amount of support, comfort or compassion. It is a world of rules, with no true Love, compassion or empathy, which have been overshadowed and dulled by the logic of the quest to “Civilize” these children. His very psychic emotional and spiritual life is at stake. Each male child is having his hair cut, not with the goal of refinement or presentation, but to “kill the Indian in them”. He watches each child’s tears as their hair is cut from their heads without the slightest bit of care or tenderness. It is a violent act being used to crush each child’s spirit, to break their will. It is a type of rape, although the instrument of that rape is the barber’s shears. It is too much for “George”, and he bolts. After a prolonged chase he is corralled by all the adults at the school, and sits down in defeat and exhaustion on the grass. A few of the adults of the school seek to comfort this child warrior (those who have empathy returning to their Hearts). But the Headmaster makes those few compassionate adults leave. This child warrior sits alone for hour after hour, hurt, angry, afraid. His tribal elders had sent him to the school to protect the other younger children. His grief is not just his own, but for all the children! He realizes that he receives no compassion from any of the adults at the school. He is alone in his misery. Hours go by, and yet he sits, staring at the sky, waiting. Finally it is night. He sings his heartfelt prayer, to God, over and over “God, be compassionate to me, God, be compassionate to me!” Then he cuts his own hair in his grief, the way his own people do. He acquiesces to their demands, but on his terms, without giving up that which was most important to him. (Native American warriors only cut their hair at times of tremendous grief). He acquiesces, in order to survive, but in a way in which he keeps a small bit of his own heritage, power, and dignity. All the other children watch through the windows of the school, and are moved by his strength. The two empathetic teachers watch, and are moved by his strength. The Headmaster watches and is furious. Both my wife and I sobbed during this. I have not been able to shake the need to write about it. I have not been able to shake the feelings that it has brought up in me.

    This was a despicable time in our history. Yet it is one story inside a larger story. We never truly consider that our entire present civilization has been built upon the evil that was done in the past. There are not many of us who, in our daily lives, consider and remember that Logic is not Truth. This lack that we have, this “Hole in the Heart” that we collectively have is in every part of our society, it is in our dealings with other countries, and it is in our own child rearing practices that seek to perpetuate this same “Hole in the Heart” on new victims. I wonder how many folks out there who watched this episode, who watched the atrocity of what we did to those young children, and did not weep. Or if they did weep, how soon was their empathy lost and forgotten? I wonder how many of us see that so often we do the same monstrous things to our own children, with this idea of crushing their Wills.

    A child’s willfulness, when directed with empathy for their struggle, and their dignity, preserves their will, which becomes their perseverance and strength later on in life. A child’s willfulness when crushed by power and control, or by violence and lack of empathy becomes despair. That despair later becomes depression. Then the anger and rage from that experience goes on to destroy other wills in future children. Yet those in Authority still argue that we must break the wills of our children. They argue this only because their wills were broken when they were children, not because it is true. Logic is not Truth!

    I empathized profoundly with that young warrior. A husband and wife at the school found their empathy and helped direct his willfulness. They helped him find compromise. They helped him see that it was important for him to survive, so that he could pass on his people’s history and traditions, and so that he might tell his story. They acknowledged his struggle, and tried to help him “steer” or moderate his will, rather than crush it. They allowed him to be who he was, and to remind him he had a voice, even if it had to remain silent for a time. They did not try to “kill the Indian in him”.

    Although separated by a century and a half, his story and the stories of many children today have the same themes. This young warrior’s story is a small story inside a larger story. Every child today, or yesterday, or tomorrow, who has an adult in their lives who believes a child’s will must be crushed or broken is a small story inside the larger story of our society and its “Hole in the Heart” and it’s need for power, and its lack of empathy.

    I know that it is especially easy for me to identify with this young warrior, having been abused so violently when I was young. I also know that silencing the victim is especially symbolic of the conquest of a person’s will. You will see this in every type of abuse, even today. Finally, I also know that giving “Voice” to the child I was has been the key to regaining much of what was either broken or taken from me, and that ability in me has allowed me to survive. You see, the stories are the same, only the characters are different. Also, speaking the Truth about what we do, gives us a chance to stop those practices that still hurt others. Doing that is a moral mandate! A mandate from the Heart.

    In the last scene of this episode, the young warrior sits at the typewriter, giving “Voice” to his soul, and telling the stories of his people. We sobbed even harder.

    Ken S.

    Break The Silence!

    Special note to readers:

    * I wrote this piece quite a few years ago. Mostly, I have left it as I wrote it, with a few, very minor changes. I have grown in remarkable ways since I wrote this, and have found that the little boy in me needs to tell his (our) story less and less as time goes on. He has learned to trust me (the adult), and I have learned to take good care of him. I never would have believed, four years, ago, that I would be where I am today! Warning! This piece is very triggering! I encourage you to pick a safe time to read it, and would also encourage you to use your support network if your “buttons” get pushed. Thanks, and take care!

    Break the Silence, Break the Cycle

    * I listened to a news report about a neighborhood, in which a number of neighbors called police when they heard a mother screaming and cursing, and hitting her child. The police arrested the woman for assault. I started sobbing uncontrollably when I heard this report, and I realized I was crying both in relief for the child, as well as in overwhelming sadness because no one did that for me, when I was a little boy. I heard also, in the news, that one child every ten seconds is abused in our country. My God!

    * I have also read of the growing movement in parts of our country, to reinstate corporal punishment for nonviolent juvenile offenders. I look at those sterile, detached words, “corporal punishment”, with a shudder, and I ache inside, when I think of the number of people in our country, who do not see corporal punishment as violence, or as a violation of a child’s most basic, God-given rights – to own one’s own body, and to expect others to acknowledge that ownership!

    * Violence is a coward. It hides inside families that look “fine” from the outside, and causes both victim and perpetrator to hide from the outside world. In reality, both are victims of its clutches. Violence is a liar. It tells both victim and perpetrator, that its use is justified, until eventually, they both believe its cunning lies. Violence almost seems to have a life all its own, drawing others into its addictive and mesmerizing clutches. Violence uses the logic of insanity.

    * The continuation of violence in our families can only happen if we keep its secrets, and protect those who wield it. Families heal, only when members speak out, and tell their Truth. Our greatest wounds become our greatest gifts, because in the telling of our wounding, others may be moved toward healing, and perhaps, still more may be moved back into recognizing violence when they see it. (Many have eyes that are blinded by tears that were never shed!). I believe violence is inherently evil. I believe there is a line we cross, when we accept violence in any form other than self preservation. I believe that when we cross this line, we move into a territory that is comprised of greater and greater dishonesty, and less and less compassion and empathy. I believe that violence breeds more violence, and that its use is addictive, and progressively uncontrollable. When violence has been used on us as children, we may not recognize some of its forms, as an adult. We cross a line, leaving the Truth behind, to live in a world of denial. Many of us have crossed this line. I grew up in a family that had. Neither of my parents ever crossed back. But I have crossed back over, by both the Grace of God, and by the enormous strength and courage, and resilience of one very special little boy. A special little boy, who wants you to know how wrong violence in any form is. I know that if you listen to his story without running from his feelings, you will cross back over that line too. Listen to him now. Listen with your Heart!

    * My mother was all sharp edges: teeth, and nails, and tight muscles, and clenched fists. She had a rage that consumed her, and turned her into skin and bones. Her rage consumed us as well. First, it was just me, and then it was my sisters too; mostly, though, it was just me. She was quick to go off the handle. It seemed like forever until the first blow, and a year of forevers until the last. Every time, I thought would be the last; not because I thought she’d stop, but because I thought she’d kill me. I lived in that terror for years, until I forgot I was living in it!

    * It started when I was four or five years old, and didn’t stop until I was fourteen or fifteen. Ten years of terror and despair. Ten years of loneliness and isolation that turned into forty without my knowing it.

    * Other times she took me into her confidence, indoctrinating me into her way of seeing my father, men in general, and worst of all, myself. She had crossed the line, the first time that she hit me, and told herself that there was a good reason for it. At a point in my teens, I realized that she was crazy. That didn’t make it any easier.

    * Giving in to violent urges always leads to greater and greater violence. It did with her. The most frightening thing about her beatings, aside from my certainty of being killed, was her shrill, out of control scream: a screeching carnivorous sound. She used her fists, where she had used her open hand. Ten or fifteen blows. I never counted, though, That would have been impossible.

    * One thing that was worse than being beaten like that, was not stopping her from hurting my sisters. I have felt guilty for that all my life. First I felt like dirt because she beat me and convinced me that I deserved it; then I felt worse when she beat my sisters, and I stayed frozen in terror. We all believed her that we were no good and deserved this treatment. There were some things that we never did again, because we had been beat, but in this process, whatever was real, and authentic, and spiritual in us, was all but destroyed!

    * I remember this one time when my sisters and I were washing and drying the dishes. We were fighting about something, (I used to hate it when we fought). All of a sudden, she came storming into the kitchen. She was screaming and cursing at the top of her lungs. We all backed away from the sink, ready for the first blows, not knowing who would get them. Instead, she grabbed a butcher knife, and came after me! There was no where to go! I thought about the back door, which was behind me, but I didn’t want to turn my back on her. I just stood and faced her, frozen, and ready to die. I knew that she hated me enough to use the knife, she certainly had told me enough times before. I wanted to cover every part of my body, but I only had two hands. She stood above me, teeth clenched, screaming and growling from the back of her throat, arm raised. Every part of her shook. I don’t know how long I held my breath; sometimes I’m still holding it, even now. All this happened in about thirty seconds. She spun around and took off after my sister Karen. Both my sisters started screaming; their screams still echo in my head when I think of it. Somehow my mother never used the knife, but it left a wound in me that is only now healing.

    * I believe that the door to my heart was nailed shut, that day. It had been closed tightly from countless spankings, then beatings and other forms of violence, as my mother got worse. I couldn’t remember the terror of that moment until this year. It was too much. I’ll be forty three in July. Sometimes, now, even after eight years of recovery, I may still feel defective. No matter what I do, there are times when my heart is closed. Sometimes, I can lose the ability to feel close to others. Sometimes I lose the ability to trust anyone -even God. Sometimes I can still feel like an outsider, even when I am with trustworthy and accepting friends. I have no control over these things! I especially hate it when these feelings come back, because it feels like evil has won; because the things that I’m feeling, are the very things that I was told as a child (that I was defective, unloving and un-lovable). But, Thank God!, I find that the door was only jammed. I go back to the way I want to be, the way I really am. Eight years of recovery have at least pulled the nails in that door!

    * We must remember that violence always echoes forwards in time, to haunt us later. I believe that one of the worst things to come back from years of violent abuse, is the loneliness. So intense, it can push one to the edge of despair. When I was a child, that loneliness pushed me right over the edge. The only thing that took that feeling of loneliness, and of despair away was drugs and alcohol. It is no wonder I became an addict. Loneliness and despair to a child, are a universe unto themselves. A continuum that stretches forwards and backwards as far as one can “see”. At least it was that way for me. I suffered my loneliness and despair in my bedroom, although I carried it everywhere, even, and especially, into every relationship, into all plans or outlooks of the future, into every area of my life. My room as a child was both sanctuary,as well as torture chamber. It was where punishment was doled out. Many of “my” beatings – Hell! – their beatings took place there, and yet it was where I went to escape. My room had no door, which meant that I had no privacy, no boundaries, no rights, and no escape. I’d lay in bed, interested in nothing, knowing that I couldn’t escape them, wanting to escape their violence, desperately wanting some kind of attention or stimulation other than pain, and terror, and gnawing emptiness. Any time they’d start to come up the stairs, I remember my sharp intake of breath, and the jolt of terror that I’d feel, like an electric shock, moving upwards to stop my heart. Beatings were the norm in my house, not beating hearts!

    * Eventually, my father was drawn into the violence as well. During those periods of time when their lives were not going well, beatings were an almost daily occurrence. I remember, also, the horrible feelings of betrayal, horror, and sorrow. These feelings merged into something more terrible than anyone could stand. I remember moaning from the deepest part of my belly, wailing with such intensity, that I thought my chest and belly would split open. That sorrow, and betrayal, and horror, were bigger than me, bigger than the room, bigger than the whole world. That is how I experienced it. While I was in this continuum of agony,(for that is what a child experiences when confronted with violence,), writhing, and whimpering, and moaning, and choking, I wanted to die, if only I knew how. I do not know how I survived, I really don’t.

    * What I do know, is that now as an adult, these feelings and others come back to visit. Feelings that seem overwhelming, or never-ending, are often messengers of the past. They are a cry from the past, to listen to the story of a valiant little child’s attempts to deal with forces that were overwhelming to him. That little boy tells his story not in words or pictures, but mostly through feelings. Feelings that get more intense, the longer we stay with them. When we stay with them, no matter how painful it gets, in the end we understand the story they tell. Violence does exactly the opposite. It goes contrary to Life and Healing. It is the child that we were that will tell you that! In no other way can you know the true damage that all violence does. The child in you tells you every day that it is wrong!

    * A long time ago, the little boy that I was, suffered long, suffered silently, and suffered alone. I lived in a war zone, where there was no cease-fire, there was no Geneva Convention, there were no treaties, no victories and no allies. It wasn’t right then, and it never will be. But the little boy that I was, needs to tell his story. He has every right to tell his story to anyone willing to listen. I have given him that opportunity, and have embraced him and the wonderful gifts which allowed him (and me) to survive. Listen to this child! He has found permanent sanctuary, not in an unsafe bedroom with no door, but in my heart, now beating with Truth, and Life, and Love.

    We The Children

    childrengroupWe hear adults talking about self esteem. You talk among yourselves, and say that We the Children must have successes in what we do, to feel good about ourselves. You equate what you do, with who you are. We wonder why we were not welcomed and accepted fully, when we came into your world. We wonder why We the Children should have to do anything in order to be loved. In truth, your love was dependent upon what we could do, and you taught us to do the same thing to ourselves! You taught us to love ourselves, according to what we could accomplish! How could you do that to us? To be accepted and loved just the way we are, was God’s plan for us here! We came here to follow our deepest inner promptings, for the good of all, but those promptings are lost to us if we are constantly self monitoring, in order to receive your love and acceptance, and later, our own! How wonderful our world might have been if we had been allowed to unfold, becoming ourselves, instead of what you wanted us to be! We the Children wonder if we were not allowed to become ourselves because you were not allowed as well. You believe that the children you once were are gone. That is untrue! We still exist! We were forced into hiding, some of us deeper than others, but we exist! Indeed, some of us were forced very deep into hiding by the violence of adults. When we the Children saw that some of our caregivers would choose to inflict physical pain, while witholding their love, the horror of such a notion was too much for our gentle and sensitive spirits! Now we reside behind a protective psychic wall within you, whispering to you in moments which you often consider “weakness”! Like angels’ breath, our voices speak to you from deep within your secret heart. We speak to you of hopes and dreams, and connections lost or yearned for. We are your connection to desire, emotion, and intuition. We help you to connect to that part of you that helps you know what’s true, and revels in the artistic and spiritual. We are your potential, waiting to be. We are the children of God. We the Children live inside of you. Listen to our voices. Acknowledge our presence, and protect that same presence in those who are children in body, as well as spirit. So much is at stake!

    1996 Ken S.

    (previously published in the Dissident, 11/96)

     

    Keep Speaking Out!

    (first appeared in the Ellsworth American, June 1996)

    Everywhere we look, we see newspaper stories or segments on
    the local news program about incidents of child abuse. Yet child abuse continues
    to happen. Why does it continue? How can we get it to stop? Both of these questions
    are huge, but they do have answers! The answers are painful, however.

    Locally, we had the Ardolino trial (a little boy was brutally
    killed by his father). Dr. Steven Dunton, pathologist and pediatrician, testified
    for the defense. He stated that a 9-year-old child is strong enough and quick
    enough to elude a person who would repeatedly beat him. Dr. Dunton, a “supposed”
    expert, is a wonderful example of what allows child abuse to continue- the complete
    lack of empathy and understanding of the plight of children everywhere. .

    Children, when faced with someone violent, powerful, and larger
    than they are, will often become compliant. They will not even fight back during
    the abuse. The abuse is over quicker, and the abuser most certainly will not
    allow the least bit of defiance on the child’s part. You see, it is the power
    to say “No!” that the abuser is trying to destroy. The ability to
    say “No!” is a child’s vitality. With it, he can learn to protect
    himself, and later, others. With it, he can learn to tell on his abuser, and
    later, he will have the power to confront other abusers. With it he can recognize
    that it is the actions of the abuser that are bad, and not himself. Later, he
    can recognize abuse when he sees it, even though others may not. I understand
    this in a way that one cannot from books. I was that child, I have remembered
    how I felt, and I can now say “No!” again.

    The answer to the first question (why does it continue?) is
    that often, our family histories keep us from seeing and responding to abuse
    that is right in front of us. We minimize the impact on the child, because to
    recognize his agony, would be to recognize our own, from when we were children.
    To continue to feel that as children would have been too much. We repress it,
    putting it on the backburner of our unconscious, until we have a safe enough,
    and supportive enough environment. Many of us remember beatings, without remembering
    their true agony. We walk around feeling like something is missing, never truly
    enjoying life, lives of quiet desperation. What is missing is our power, our
    vitality, that ability to say “No!”. We see today’s world through
    the “filter” of our past. This “filter” is called denial.
    We are indoctrinated by other people’s denial, as we grow up. We come from a
    society, which has in the past, been built with denial. That, at least, has
    changed some, (I emphasize the word some!). To sum up the answer to the first
    question: abuse continues because we are not willing to face our own pain. .

    The answer to the second question (how do we stop abuse?) is
    frustrating and elusive. Abusing, and nonabusing adults must confront their
    pasts and heal the pain they carry. Unfortunately, denial keeps them unaware
    that they even carry that pain from the past. Many, having confronted some of
    that pain, have not yet reclaimed their power- that ability to say “No!”.
    But many have, and still more will. We are taking baby steps now, we will take
    giant steps as time goes on! There is a quiet revolution going on, and it will
    succeed! Its weapons are honesty, openness, empathy, mutual respect, and a sense
    of community. Slowly the tide will turn. In the meantime, we must keep speaking
    out!
    1996 Ken S.

    A Call To Action

    (July 6, 1996 various NE Maine newspapers)

    I often feel frustrated and sad when I take time from my busy personal routine, to become aware of how we, as a society, still treat our children. When I feel frustrated, it is because of a sense of confinement, a feeling of powerlessness. I do not like that feeling, and have a tendency to look away from the cause of that powerlessness, in order to avoid the feeling.

    The TRUTH that as a society we mistreat our children, is self evident to me, and to others who have had to recover from mistreatment as children. The heroic journey of recovery from childhood abuse involves replacing denial and repression with an ever growing reservoir of TRUTH. It is a heroic journey, because we choose to journey through pain, that would have killed us, or made us go crazy, when we were children. We add courage to our fear, power to our powerlessness, fortitude to our despair, connectedness to our alienation, and self-esteem to our shame. Most importantly, we regain empathy for the child we once were. Empathy comes when we acknowledge the TRUTH. That TRUTH grows until it is too large for its container (the container being ourselves), and demands expression.

    A child will watch the actions of an adult, to determine whether the adult is safe or unsafe. The Child within us does no less! To be “at one” with ourselves, the Child within us has to see that we are as committed to other children, as we profess to be. The actions that we take to protect other children in the world, show the Child within ourselves that we are really deeply committed to him or her!

    Recently I attended a conference on stopping childhood abuse. The keynote speaker did his entire presentation, without any emphasis on the feelings that a child might experience during abuse, and used few “feelings” words himself. Many people in the audience (many of them helping professionals), laughed during a film depicting situations which were clearly painful to the children in them. Besides disappointment, I was both scared, and frustrated by what I had seen at this conference. Most of the people attending the conference, were the very people whose jobs are to protect and advocate for our children!

    Last night, on the way home from work, I came across a large group of teenagers, the audience for a fist fight between two of them. A car in front of me slowed, but did not stop, once I pulled in. I was counting on the adults in that first car, for possible support. The Child within me is both frightened of, and outraged at, any form of violence. The entire atmosphere of grinning teenagers, watching, and enjoying the fight, and the deadened look in all their eyes, made me shudder. Fortunately, my very presence was enough to break up the fight. To “help them along”, I pointed out the inevitability of the arrival of the police. These children, (that’s what a teenager is!), were no strangers. They were members of my own community!

    Violence is learned from exposure to violence. To enjoy, or receive a “thrill” from watching violence take place, tells me that these teenagers lacked empathy. There is a schism between their thinking and feeling natures. Adults with little or no empathy for children, pass this same lack on to their children! Abuse begets abuse. Violence begets more violence.

    The adults in that first car, ( who chose to leave the job of stopping the violence to “someone else”, and to leave that “someone else” alone with the problem), are symbolic of our society, in general!

    This experience cemented a decision that I have been trying to make for a while now. My growing frustration has been leading me in this direction all along. Ever since the conference on child abuse, with the lack of empathy by some of the professionals, and through my contacts with agencies at both the state, county, and local levels, I have thought of the possibility of adults in the Downeast Maine area, who are recovering from childhood abuse, joined in an organization whose sole aim is to work toward ending child abuse in our area, any, and every way possible. With our immense reservoir of talent, personal experience and empathy, we would be uniquely qualified to tackle the problem of ongoing child abuse in our area! It is time to pool our resources! We are in a position to help educated society about the subtle, as well as gross forms of abuse. We have to put ourselves on the line – together!

    I have learned many things this past year. I have learned that parents have trouble advocating for their children in schools and other environments outside the home. Sometimes the intimidation is too much. I have seen the “catch 22″ system of supposed safeguards at the state level. I have seen the growing backlash of sentiment that seeks to blame “permissive upbringing” for all our social problems. Nothing is further from the TRUTH! Many people are still clinging to the notion, that hitting children can do some good. Discussion to the contrary meets what Alice Miller, in her book, (“Breaking Down the Wall of Silence”) calls the wall of silence. Just as the Berlin Wall was torn down by ordinary citizens, so will the “Wall of Silence” crumble! Hitting children will be seen as the crime that it is, as it is treated in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Austria. When we have torn down this wall, and have made significant strides toward ending assault against children, we will look back at how our society used to treat children, and as Alice Miller describes: “Then it will finally be visible, to the great majority of people, that a human being comes into the world as a highly sensitive creature, and that, from the first day of its life, it learns the nature of good and evil- learning faster and more effectively, than it ever will again. Only then will we realize with horror, what these tiny sensitive creatures did learn, and learn indelibly, as they were treated like so much inert matter, that their parents- our forefathers, sought to mold into malleable objects. Hammering at this creature as they would a piece of metal, they finally got the obedient robot they wanted.”….. If we are to solve our many problems, we will have to start with the task of making fundamental changes in both how we treat, and how we view our children! We must see them as the Gift that Life gives to Itself! They are a Sacred Endowment!
    1996 Ken S.

    Choosing a Therapist or Group

    QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT YOUR THERAPIST

    1. Are all your feelings OK to express with your therapist, or are there some that are not OK?

    2. Are you allowed to cry, even encouraged to if that is what you need?

    3. Are you allowed to have your fear, and not be judged for having it, or does your therapist talk about ?rational? and ?irrational? fears?

    4. Are you allowed to have and express your anger, without the therapist pushing or encouraging you to ?forgive? your abuser?

    5. Does your therapist acknowledge that no matter what your feelings are, they tell a story of some sort, and are healthy and normal?

    6. Does your therapist show his or her own emotions, and allow everyone else to as well?

    7. Do you feel safe and uncrazy when you are with your therapist? Do you have their attention, without undue interruptions? Do you feel respected?

    8. Does your ?gut? tell you that your therapist is the right one for you, that ?you have come home? to heal?

    IS YOUR GROUP A SAFE GROUP?

    1. Is cross-talk (interrupting) discouraged, so that everyone feels heard, and has everyone elses? attention?

    2. Do the others in your group have similar issues, and have progressed to the point where they can do the ?work? that is required in group?

    3. Does the group have rules about time limits, and is there a consensus about what ?work? is, and that gossiping, or idle chat is to be left outside of group?

    4. Is time allocated in such a way, that many of the members of the group get time?

    5. Is a couple minutes of time per person set aside at the beginning of group for each member to bring other members ?up to speed??

    6. Do the therapists (or therapist) set clear boundaries, and step in quickly but respectfully, when someone violates those boundaries?

    7. Does your group function like a functional family, not a dysfunctional one?

    8. Do the members of your group empathize, not strategize?

    9. Do you feel loved, respected, and safe in your group? Do you get what you need?