We were victims of childhood abuse in our differing ways and here we'll share something of what happened to us.

Your comments and contributions are very welcome - and if you're a Survivor of childhood abuse then please, share your story with us.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Breaking the cycle

I think it's time to get some debate going here. With counselling (assuming it survives budget cuts) getting nearer I find my thoughts turning increasingly towards the events of my childhood and adolescence. This isn't an entirely bad thing as long as I don't get 'out of my depth'.

One of the mitigating factors often put before a court when a child abuser is brought to trial is that he or she suffered similar or worse abuse themselves in their childhood. Now, I try to be fair minded and I can see that certain behavioural patterns can be reinforced by childhood experience but I find it hard to quell a surge of anger every time I hear this plea. I'm not a saint and I don't presume to judge but my personal journey demonstrates that the chain can be broken.

When I was in Lower Sixth Form I expressed an interest in teaching as a career after getting my Music degree (that was the plan at the time). I already taught beginners classes in violin, that was considered an important part of my own development as a musician, and enjoyed the feeling that I was passing on some of my expertise to a new generation. There can't be a much more compelling reason to teach can there?

One of my Masters arranged for me to spend one afternoon a week at a local primary school to gain some 'real' experience in teaching. Most of the time I'd be unsupervised (bear in mind that this was 1970) and he wanted me to discover if my trademark temper could be kept under control in a classroom situation. I had a different concern because the Headmaster of the primary school wanted me to help with swimming lessons and then supervise the boy's changing room afterwards.

I thought about the implications a great deal in light of my personal experiences and decided that this would be my own 40 days and nights in the wilderness. I duly turned up for my first session and found myself trying to bring 15 or so naked 10 year olds under control and persuade them to get dried and dressed so education could commence. I was relieved and delighted when I realised that I had no desire to be anything other than their teacher; the one in charge.

Sadly my plans got derailed by the ultimate collapse of my relationship with my parents and university didn't happen, neither did teaching; education's loss I'd venture to suggest. What I did bring from that experience was the knowledge that the cycle can be broken.

Being abused does not have to make you an abuser.

Would anybody like to add their thoughts?


FreeFox said...

As someone who's been on the recieving end of the penal system I can only say that anything must be better than that. If someone cannot control themselves from harming others, yes, then keeping them seperate (hopefully while getting help to them) is maybe necessary. But punishment is never a good thing. It isn't good with kids, and it isn't good with peeps who never got to learn being responsible adults either.

I hope I have broken my vicious cycle. But yes I do think that this is about heeling not retribution, about closure, not assigning blame. And while past suffering must not in all cases lead to future abuse... I do believe that all abuse is rooted in past suffering. It is a curse that is being passed on. Anyone who breaks one bit of this circle adds to the hope and light in the world and that is a good, an encouraging thing. But those of us who had the fortune to find the strength - of enough only due to the help we recieved ourselves, from friends and from strangers - let us not scorn those who fell.

I can say from my own experience - (I never committed sexual abuse, I hope, but I certainly hurt enough peeps, those I knew and total strangers) - that it doesn't feel good to be a bad guy. Oh we can put on a tough guy face we can tell ourselves we are just taking what is ours or that we don't care. But to hurt other people hurts your own soul, and deep down you can feel it. Actually, for some of - for me that certainly was the case - that may be part of why we do it... that feeling of chipping away at my own humanity to rid myself of compassion and of the yearning to rejoin normal society... the wish to burn that bridge and be forever banished to the outer darkness just so that at last I could give up on that confounded, agonizing wish... that was part of what motivated me.

But I am certain that deep down every abuser would like to return to the light. Some may be beyond help, some may be beyond allowing themselves to be helped, and so for the protection of innocents they must be kept apart.

But for as long as we can, let's allow the fallen to remain human and not force them to be locked in their masks as monsters, lets keep doors open for the penitent, let's lower the barriers that keep them out rather then raising them.

I discovered that I only could come to terms with what happened to myself, when I learned not to forgive my abusers... but to forgive myself for what I experienced as the shame and weakness of being abused. And once I succeeded in accepting that I FELT that shame, and once I could forgive MYSELF... frankly, those who did it became somewhat unimportant to me. Pitiful, even. Peeps I had surpaced. Weaker ones, still lost in that darkness, that if anything I should try to help, not kick.

Malcolm said...

FreeFox, a tremendous response and very much what I was hoping would happen.

I'm not a proponent of punishment as the default method of addressing abuse; it entirely fails to take into account the underlying problem. Similarly there seems to be little thought given to the abused and how they might develop as they get older. Thus the cycle continues.

Of course there has to be some form of proscription against those who abuse and there are some who simply cannot be "saved". All too often the offenders are just tossed into prison and no attempt is made to help them see that there is another way.

I can almost hear my Mother saying "but, Malc the Good Lord gave you the intelligence to understand" but that's not a satisfactory answer either. Abusing is not the exclusive domain of the stupid. What I was able to do was understand that by visiting my anger on younger children I would actually be damaging myself, there had to be a better way.

You're absolutely right that learning to forgive yourself for BEING abused is the real key to emerging from the darkness. No child volunteers for abuse and the sense of shame when it happens is overwhelming. Where the real danger lies is in the great conspiracy that refuses to discuss abuse and its effects openly and honestly. Each abused child lives in a world of silence and guilt which in many cases results in them conforming to the abusive pattern.

I'm lucky (!) in that I came to an early understanding of the dangers facing me. I did visit my anger on others; my parents, my sisters, my teachers and children at school who tried to befriend me. I hate what I did but at the time it seemed the only way to survive. More than once I've been tempted to report what happened to me so that I can watch my abuser get his just desserts. He hurt me and, by extension my family. What would be achieved by that vrief moment of revenge, though? Would I be any less abused and harmed? Would my family have suffered any less? Revenge is such a meaningless thing when you come down to it.

As it happens evidence has come to light that my abuser was himself abused by his father and while I cannot forgive his actions it makes them a little more explainable. Of course it will never answer the question that I, and so many like me have asked over the years "why me?".

Billy said...

That was a wondeful response by FreeFox. I don't think I can add anything to that. Maybe just that, yes, it starts with individual responsibility, but we can't expect that alone to be enough.

Malcolm said...

Billy, that was a great response from FreeFox wasn't it? I want to get some serious discussion going on this and other topics because these are all issues worthy of proper debate.

My own views are actually very similar to those of FreeFox and it's a constant source of disappointment for me when my emotional reaction undermines objectivity.

I would agree with you that individual responsibility is the beginning but there are those who've been so extravagantly harmed by their own childhood experience that they're no longer capable of that. Those are the people that we should be helping; tossing them into prison and hoping they'll go away is not the answer.