Posts Tagged ‘physical abuse’

Man on swing (c) Lynda BernhardtAs you can probably tell by reading this blog, I do not have any trouble labeling myself as a survivor of sexual abuse. I can even “own” the label of being a survivor of ritual abuse. I have no issue with the label of emotional abuse, either. However, I have a hard time with this when it comes to “owning” the label of physical abuse. My sister, who endured the same abuses that I did, also struggles with this label.

Perhaps the reason for this is that we did not spend our lives hiding our physical bruises from others. We never went to the hospital for unexplained broken bones. I never worried that my parents were going to kill me by inflicting physical pain. About the worse thing either parent did physically was to slap me across the face when I was around eight years old. It wasn’t pleasant, but it hardly rises to the level of being beaten with a belt or having my bones broken.

However, I did suffer from physical abuse. S, my most sadistic abuser, would suffocate me with a pillow as “discipline” for my sister (and vice versa). One time, S took it too far and smothered me until I passed out. She had to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to bring me back to consciousness. If that is not physical abuse, then I don’t know what it. Nevertheless, it is hard for me to think of myself as a “survivor of physical abuse,” even with this history.

I have no explanation for why I resist that label. It is not because the other forms of abuse were “worse” or anything. In fact, I struggled with body memories for years of “tasting” cigarette smoke, even though I have never smoked, because S had smoked a cigarette recently when she performed the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When hub used to jokingly put a pillow over my head early in our marriage, I would freeze up and be unable to “fight back” or even move until he removed the pillow. Clearly, this was a traumatizing event in my life.

However, that is pretty much the only direct physical abuse that I can point to. Perhaps it makes a difference to me that it only happened that one time. However, if that only happened one time to my own child, I would have no problem labeling a smothering as physical abuse. I truly do not know why I struggle with this.

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Microscopic View (c) Lynda BernhardtMany child abuse survivors ask the question, “Which type of child abuse is the worst?” I guess child abuse survivors want to figure out where they fall in the pecking order of pain. Some might want to reassures themselves that their abuse really was that bad while others are still trying to convince themselves that it wasn’t.

I asked my therapist this question. He replied that there is no value in comparing abuses. Pain is pain, and all pain hurts. I agree with him that all abuse is bad and that even “just one time” is enough to damage a child’s spirit. However, the question still remains: Which type is worse?

As someone who has experienced most forms of abuse, I can speak intelligently to this question. Physical abuse is hard because it is physically painful, leaves your body sore as a reminder of the abuse, and is terrifying because a much larger person is manipulating your body. You have the fear of losing your life at the hands of a much larger person.

Sexual abuse is hard because the abuse moves inside of your body to a place where you thought you were protected. Sexual abuse feels as if the person is reaching inside of you to harm your spirit. Also, the body can “betray” you by responding with positive sensations as you are being harmed, causing you to question whether you have any right to complain.

Ritual abuse is hard because you are being abused by “professionals” who have a calculated plan of how to harm you. There is nothing impulsive about the things being done to you. It is hard to work through knowing that these people conspired to break you.

When I looked back over my child abuse memories, the emotional elements of all of these abuses have been the hardest for me to heal. While my body would heal from the physical abuse, the emotional scars remained. The sexual abuse left no marks anywhere except on my wounded spirit. What made the ritual abuse so bad was the emotional element: That is where my ritual abusers put their greatest focus.

So, my answer to the question, “Which type of child abuse is the worst?” would be emotional abuse, and emotional abuse is present in all forms of abuse. This brings us back to what my therapist said when I asked him this question: All abuse is bad.

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Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Physical child abuse is anything that a person does to a child that involves harming his body. This can be anything from beating a child, breaking his bones, burning his body, or doing anything else to physical harm a child’s body.

Many people believe that physical abuse must leave physical marks on the body, but this is not necessarily true. While many types of physical abuse do leave marks on the body, some do not. For example, smothering a child with a pillow is clearly physical abuse, even though the pillow is unlikely to leave bruises on the child’s face.

Physical abuse is often inflicted as “discipline,” but it is way out of proportion to the child’s “crime.” No childish misbehavior justifies breaking a child’s bones or leaving bruises up and down his back. There is always a better way to handle disciplining a child, even when a child is strong-willed.

Because physical abuse is frequently presented as “discipline,” abused children often wrestle with believing that they are “bad.” If they were only “good enough,” then they would not be suffering the abuse. This line of thinking is actually a coping mechanism because it gives the child the illusion of power: If he is only “good enough,” then he will have the power to stop the abuse.

Unfortunately, the truth is that an abused child cannot be “good enough” to stop the abuse because the abuse is not about his behavior: It is about his abuser’s “need” to offload his self-loathing onto another person. However, to accept this truth is to give in to utter despair, so the continued abuse drives home the lie that the child is “bad.”

Even after the physical wounds heal, the emotional wounds remain open and bleeding. The physically abused child grows into an adult who continues to wrestle with feelings of being “bad.” Abuse survivors often loathe themselves and continue to punish themselves even when their abusers stop.

The way to heal these emotional wounds is through learning to love yourself. If you were physically abused as a child, you were not responsible for your abuse. There is nothing you could have done as a child to justify the way you were treated. You should have been loved for being the precious child you were. You deserve to be loved as an adult, and the key to being loved is in learning how to love yourself.

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Spiderweb (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Unfortunately, there are many ways to abuse a child. No matter how a child is abused, the child walks away with a damage soul, repressed emotions (and often repressed memories, too), shame, and self-loathing. The key to healing from any form of child abuse is learning how to love yourself.

Adult survivors of child abuse often minimize the damage they suffered. My therapist once told me that “crazy” people try to convince you that they were abused, and abuse survivors try to convince you that they weren’t. I see a lot of truth in that statement. Minimizing the severity of the abuse is a coping mechanism that abused children use to survive. To recognize the severity of the abuse would cause the child to fall into despair.

Unfortunately, many abuse survivors compare what they suffered to what others have suffered and conclude that they did not have it that bad because it could have been worse. If you were ever abused, even only one time, it was “that bad.” Even “just one rape” or “just one broken arm” is traumatic to a child and is enough to sever his ability to trust.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is a part of every other type of abuse and, in my opinion, is the most damaging component of abuse. Broken bones heal, but the emotional impact of having your bones broken does not without a lot of work. Some people “only” suffered emotional abuse, but their emotional wounds look very similar to the emotional wounds of people whose abuse was also physical. Watching another person slaughter your beloved pet is going to emotionally damage you, even though you were never touched.


Neglect is abuse by omission rather than commission. Neglect can include not feeding a child or providing him with medical care.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any form of abuse that harms your body. Many people think that physical abuse must leave marks on your body, but many forms of physical abuse do not. Suffocating a child is a good example of a form of physical abuse that does not leave physical marks but is physically abusive.

Ritual Abuse

Ritual abuse is abuse inflicted by “experts” in abusing children. While other forms of abuse seem to be “crimes of passion” as an abuser offloads his shame onto a child, ritual abuse is more of a “crime of intent” in which the method of abusing the child is well thought out. The abuser often forces the child to do things that violate his moral code with the goal of breaking the child’s will and dominating him. All of the other forms of abuse are often used to this end.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can be perpetrated by men or women, and it is not limited to rape. Forcing a child to watch pornography is one form of sexual abuse that does not involve touching the child.

Other Forms of Abuse

Other forms of abuse do not fall neatly into any of these categories. For example, neither burying a child nor locking him in a box for hours falls neatly into any of these categories, and yet both actions are clearly abusive.

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