"And those that create out of the holocaust of their own inheritance
anything more than a convenient self-made tomb shall be known as Survivors."
- Keith Jarrett, The Survivor's Suite.
The term has entered our vocabulary with an eerie everyday familiarity.
It is an enemy that we can all rally against. Good people everywhere
unite in their condemnation of the few evil, sick individuals who abuse
children. We talk confidently about the need to protect our children
from these weird, trench-coated strangers who lurk about schoolyards
with molestation on their minds. We create programs that teach kids
not to accept rides or candy from strangers. We assume that we know
what child abuse is.
At the same time we create an image of the perfect family. Television
shows and movies portray wise, caring fathers and loving, nurturing
mothers imparting decent values to their children in an atmosphere of
trust and openness. When problems arise, Dad has a fatherly talk with
Sonny and gently guides him to the path of reason. Mom sits on the edge
of Sis's bed and talks about her own childhood, dispensing motherly
wisdom liberally laced with hugs. Or the family sits down together at
the dining room table to solve the little problems of childhood through
easy communication and folksy stories. We create a fantasy of family
life and then we believe our own creation.
We assume that we know what family life is.
If you have decided to read this book, it is likely that your own What
Is Abuse? experience was dramatically different from the ideal. If you
were abused as a child, your memories of family life present another
picture. Dad's "fatherly talk" with Sonny was anything but reasonable,
and his guidance far from gentle. Mom's own childhood memories may have
been of violence and sexual abuse. And mealtimes were occasions to be
endured or avoided. You may remember absent, unavailable or nonprotective
parents -- unable to help you because they couldn't help themselves
-- as abused children or adult victims.
A family evening at home might have included screaming fights, bouts
of drunkenness, episodes of physical violence, cowering children hiding
in fear, nightmares, tears, confusion, stony silences, unreasonable
blame, ridicule, repeated beatings, missed meals, helplessness, attempts
to protect a parent or sibling ... or sexual abuse. Your memories may
include not being believed and having no source of protection. You may
have little or no detailed memory. of your childhood, positive or negative,
and wonder why you can't recall those happy times -- those "golden childhood
Some of you pretended that it was otherwise, imagining that your family
was happy, wise, healthy, and harmonious. In this way you attempted
to protect yourself from the abuse, holding on to the fantasies as long
and as tightly as you could manage until reality forced its way into
the picture. You may still find yourself tempted to rewrite your family
history to bring it more in line with the way you wish it had been.
As a society and as individuals, the images of family life that we've
created are pleasant and comforting. It is no wonder that we cling to
them so fiercely -- that we defend them against the intrusion of a harsher
reality. Even when we are in the midst of an abusive situation, it is
often easier to pretend that it is otherwise. In fact, your fantasy
of an ideal family may have been the only refuge available to you as
Realizing this makes it easier to understand a child's insistence --
in the face of blatant evidence of abuse -- that nothing is wrong. In
my clinical practice I have heard many people tell heartrending stories
of brutality and violence, only to have them react with surprise when
I referred to their childhood as abusive. This begins to make sense
only when we combine misinformation about the nature of child abuse
with the mythology about perfect family life.
"The Family" is a sacred concept of American culture. Politicians are
elected on the basis of their commitment to Family Values. Educators
and clergy decry the "erosion of Family Life." No one is willing to
risk violating the sanctity of The Family. Along with the value placed
on the family, Americans cherish the concepts of Privacy and Independence.
"A man's home is his castle. " Within this castle, the King and Queen
can rule absolutely. Few people are willing to make suggestions as to
how children should be raised, let alone interfere in their treatment.
It is seen as solely the parents' responsibility. This combination of
cultural values leaves parents (who may themselves be products of abusive
childhoods) isolated in dealing with the stresses of family life. It
produces an environment wherein children (and often wives as well) are
seen as property. "Ownership" of a child confers license to treat him/her
as one wishes.
Our respect for independence and diversity provides leeway for a wide
range of parental behavior. The importance that we ascribe to individual
and family privacy allows some harmful and shocking forms of behavior
to go unnoticed (and extremes of abuse to go unreported). It is only
very recently that the need to protect children from abusive parents
has begun to be recognized. But change is slow and tentative. Interference
with the family by child protective agencies is viewed with suspicion.
Experts debate the boundaries between education, discipline and abuse.
The reality is that abuse exists. It is real and it is common. It takes
many forms, some blatant and others more subtle. The spectrum of child
abuse ranges from neglect to physical violence. It includes torture,
beatings, verbal and psychological maltreatment, child pornography,
and sexual abuse (ranging from seductive behavior to rape). The abuse
of children is seldom limited to one of these manifestations. Abuse
appears in varying combinations, durations, and intensities. What all
forms have in common is their devastating, long-term effects on the
Aldo had this effect on people, he was bad news, a catalyst. To be
around him was to feature in the daydreams of a blue-ribbon psychotic
and no-one, but no-one, was ever the same again. Once the spiral arms
of his paranoia had embraced you, you were suddenly possessed, you were
his property. Certain minds are capable of exerting such witchcraft;
certain fantasies can be a form of real abduction. These were realities
that strengthened him.
What aperitif is more intoxicating than innocence?
His universe was one of unnecessary complexity, one in which all was
refashioned to justify his every behavioural excess. It was insanity
and it was unbridled. There was no pattern to it and there was no plan.
And perhaps it was this very lack of logic that rendered this madness
so persuasive: the dominion of passion! the dominion of will! His victims
were always too busy trying to understand his actions to refute them
with any eloquent conviction.
Who argues with a storm? And to what end? They were seduced, swept
off their feet by his audacity, irrevocably tainted. He had the black
ability to pervert the purest thought.
Through his rage he made himself a god and a god who wanted sacrifice.
Pain in the present is experienced as hurt. Pain in the past is remembered
as anger. Pain in the future is perceived as anxiety. Unexpressed anger,
redirected against yourself and held within, is called guilt. The depletion
of energy that occurs when anger is redirected inward creates depression
The emotions that frighten us are the complex ones, because they overwhelm
the natural release mechanism. You cannot simply release guilt or depression.
They are secondary formations that arose once you forgot how to release
Music is metabolized in the same way as narcotics in that it creates
the release of endogenous narcotics in the body. Exhilarating music
creates natural anti-depressants in
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