Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Breaking the cycle of child abuse

A version of this blog was published in myRepublica of 24 February 2015
e-paper version Go to editorial page 6 
web (light) version

The term “child abuse” in this article should be understood as physical and emotional abuse.  “Physical abuse of a child is when a parent or caregiver causes any non-accidental physical injury to a child”. “When a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development, or causes severe emotional harm, it is considered emotional abuse”. The definitions of physical and emotional abuse have been burrowed from www.childhelp.org.

(Photo: myRepublica)

This story is partly based on my personal experience. It is intended to stir-up the outlook towards how our parents and the society in general are acting and behaving when it comes to children. Being a parent to two children and as a survivor of domestic abuse in my childhood, this topic is very close to my heart and mind. It has been a long-time coming and difficult to open up because it is so personal.  I have long held it in my heart occasionally peeping into the skeletons in the closet. After all, I am a part of this society that has taught me to act like a man. I am supposed to be able to deal with these “trivial” matters that are part of growing-up. I have discarded many drafts of this writing for many years on paper and in my mind.

Children add a different dimension to one’s thinking. I am no exception. I have finally gathered courage to write about this topic and be vulnerable by openly talking about it. Thanks to Dr. BrenĂ© Brown’s book Daring Greatly, I have learned how to be shame resilient. I regret what has happened but I have learned the skill of not to be shameful about it any more. It is surprisingly therapeutic. I am at more peace with myself than I was when I had shut any avenues to it, including revisiting the flashbacks in my head. I sincerely hope at least the parents who read this will think twice and start discussing about the message. Instead of brushing aside, this needs to be a topic of discussion at every household, gatherings and policy level. It is time to bring domestic child abuse into active discussion and start taking actions at all level to tackle one of the worst social malaises before the cycle of abuse is transferred to yet another generation.

Once upon a time not so long ago, a dad (1st generation) got a little too carried away in “disciplining” his son (2nd generation). The 2nd generation boy is now in adulthood and also a parent himself. The 2nd generation boy, while growing up, somehow just managed to figure out how to heal the scars he had received in his childhood. He managed salvation only after many long sessions of deeper soul-searching. Sadly, our 2nd generation new parent is now finding himself perpetuating the cycle of abuse upon his little ones (3rd generation). The cycle of abuse has now become inter-generational. The methods and degrees may vary but it is still abuse. One only wonders, what happens with the 4th generation children of this family?

The 1st generation dad used to thrash his boy with cane or whatever random tool. Occasionally, the tool got as worst as puncturing the delicate young skin using nettle branches, mature branches wetted in cold water (sinsno paani) for maximum effect. Verbal abuse and passive aggressiveness, such as silent treatment, were the most prevalent method. Fe and far between the 2nd generation boy used to be thrown into confined dark space as a means to tame, punish and “teach a lesson”.

The poor boy, now an adult, recently had a first hand experience of claustrophobia while visiting a cave. The cave experience was not only frightening for him but it was more painful to trace the source of the phobia – the feelings of fear and betrayal endured when he was thrown into confinement by the person who was supposed to love him the most. The skeletons and dark images still haunt him in his adulthood and it is difficult for him to contain the emotions associated with his childhood experience. One only wonders what happened once the lights went off in his childhood bedroom.

It is not that the 1st generation dad did not have good time with his son. There were often laughter and joy shared frequently like the ones that every parents share with their kids. However, they were blighted with the occasional incidents of horror. No one knows why the 1st generation dad did what he did. He must have his own demons to deal with.

The 2nd generation boy, on his journey to parenthood, had promised himself and in front of gods that there is not going to be any room for continuation of what he endured in his childhood. He was confident that he would make sure the cycle of abuse would end with him. Sadly with pressure of parenthood and life, or whatever excuses, the self-proclaimed strong man soon succumbed to the demons from his past. His dark demons started to creep into his parenting skills. He started to give into abusive behaviours. Though his choice of tools is non-physical such as shouting and shutting down, they are still abuse. His is the world of passive aggressiveness. Thanks to his childhood demons, he at times could get seriously withdrawn inside a silent black hole.

All this was a shock discovery to our 2nd generation parent. He considered himself learned and strong. But where did this “strange” personality come from? A serious soul-searching has begun. His conclusion after many rounds of reflection is that – we tend to do to others what we have endured ourselves. This is sadly true also in the case of domestic abuse.

Our 2nd generation boy was exposed to child abuse from a very young age until adolescence. Gradually it must have sunk in the boy’s head that “this is how kids should be brought up – yell at them, beat them up, dismiss them, ignore them. Throw them in the darkness. Lock them in a confinement”. Oh, my oh, what a tragedy of epic proportion in the making.

But there is hope. The silver lining is that the 2nd generation parent is aware about what is going on. He takes responsibility for his own actions and is taking steps to correct his behaviour. He wants to put an end to the cycle of child abuse in his family. He does not want this to be passed on to the 4th generation.

Practicing corrective behaviour has been a difficult task for our end generation parent. It daunts him that abusive behaviours have been ingrained in his DNA. To make the matter worst, he grew up amidst prevalent practice of abusive means in all institutions of the society – school, administration, politics; you name it.

At the heat of the moment, sadly, the default habit kicks in. Which sadly has its roots in his childhood experience. Our new parent has not given up and is continually motivated to correct the mistakes of the past. He has forgiven his dad for his mistakes. Although nobody knows if the two have had a heart-to-heart opening-up about what had happened in the past between them. One hopes that has been the case. Our 2nd generation parent is conscious of his actions and is open and willing to work on his problems. Let us wish our 2nd generation parent all the best and hope that this ugly cycle of abuse ends here. Let there be no room for this shameful practice in this family’s 4th generation.

To all the children who have suffered physical and emotional abuse from their parents - May you have courage to overcome your shame and guilt of the feeling of being un-liked when your parents abused you in the name of disciplining. May you forgive and be forgiven. May your and your parents’ journey towards the healing process reach a meaningful conclusion and closure. May you all have a happy and nurturing parenthood.

 Thank you for reading. Please also visit: http://bibeksheelraj.blogspot.co.nz

1 comment:

  1. Great post dai. I believe issues like child abuse and ragging (in colleges in India and Nepal) at their cores, both stem from the urge to bully. I have found 'The Naked Ape' by Desmond Morris very insightful that delves into such human urges and reasons why they are actually part and parcel of our evolutionary history.