Posts Tagged ‘extreme forms of child abuse’

On my blog entry, Child Abuse: Severe Emotional Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I was hoping when I read, “When a person suffers from severe emotional abuse, he might have trouble validating that the abuse was that bad because there was no physical or sexual abuse involved,” that I would read farther and be able to validate my experience as abusive. My “abuser” threatened to kill me (while he had my mouth and nose covered so I couldn’t breathe), to strangle me (while he had his hands around my throat), to break my neck (while he held me up in the air by my head). My abuser threatened to break my arm while he was twisting it behind my back, but in any of these instances he never left a lasting mark. So it couldn’t have been that bad. My therapist says that was abuse and that it was emotional/psychological abuse, but it’s so hard to accept. I just keep thinking that she is a “softy” and doesn’t understand that I just had to be tough in my family and that it wasn’t abuse.

To me, the reader’s experiences were clearly abusive, yet the reader is having a hard time embracing the label of “abuse” for these experiences. This is a common phenomenon among child abuse survivors. My therapist says that mentally ill people try to convince you that they were abused, and child abuse survivors try to convince you that they were not.

I used to share horrific memories with my therapist and immediately follow it up with, “but it wasn’t that bad,” or, “other people have had it worse.” Like this reader, I had a hard time seeing certain traumas as “that bad” because they left no marks on my body. However, some of the my most traumatizing moments did not even involving my being touched, such as when I was forced to “choose” between the life of my sister and my beloved dog and then witness my dog’s execution.

Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery, explains this phenomenon very well. She explains that the abused child needs to minimize the abuse as a coping mechanism. If a child fully grasps how overwhelming the abuse is and how powerless he is to control it, then he will lose the drive to continue fighting to survive and sink into the depths of despair. So, minimizing the gravity of the abuse is actually a coping mechanism that helped you survive.

One way to judge how abusive a situation was is to project it onto somebody else. Imagine that somebody did those things to your child or another child that you love or care about. Would you label those actions as abuse? If yes, then it was abuse.

For some reason, I continue to have a hard time accepting smothering as being physically and emotionally abusive. Even though I almost died from smothering, it left no marks on me. My parents saw me immediately afterward and noticed nothing. All of this has made it difficult for me to embrace this traumatizing event as “that bad.”

And yet I continue to experience body memories from that experience. Why would I have repeated body memories if that experience was no big deal? And if somebody smothered my kid and almost killed him, I would definitely label that action as abuse and do everything I could to get that person locked away in prison. I would also get my child lots of therapy and feel guilty for leaving him alone with a person who would do such a thing to him. So, why don’t I have that same reaction about the abuse toward myself?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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