“The initial trauma of a young child may go underground, but it will return to haunt us.” –James Garbarino
I am coming to understand a few things very clearly: child abuse is definitely multi-generational, denial allows it to continue, and abusers don’t always understand what they’ve done – they should, but they don’t.
There are those in my extended family, along with Pat, who are reeling – what they’ve read here has induced a kind of panic, a frantic need to hold on to their denial no matter the terrible personal cost today. They will stop at nothing to avoid facing the truth.
Their truth is complicated and painful – it involves accepting that they were, in fact, abused children themselves, and that they went on to become abusive parents. This two-fold denial has become a shield protecting them from tremendous emotional pain and anguish.
When you are a child living in an abusive home, denial allows you to survive. My parents told me I was bad and that I deserved to be beaten, it was all my fault; believing them provided a sick kind of comfort – a way for me not to recognize them as the monsters they truly were. Our Abusers teach us to deny – denial is ingrained for victims of child abuse.
For the victim turned perpetrator, denial becomes the ultimate protector of the mind; locked inside are secrets so terrible they have the power to cause tremendous emotional upset and pain, perhaps even destruction.
Ed accepted a long time ago that he was a terrible father, but he didn’t know just how terrible he was until he read this blog. His awareness pre-read was vague; it was there, but it was not clear. He has also understood for some time now that he, himself, was abused as a child. He wasn’t in touch with his own childhood reality in time to break the cycle for his children, and therein lies the tragedy; it is this understanding, this acceptance of our own childhood pain and trauma that allows us to successfully disengage from abusive patterns and behaviors – it is the key to breaking they cycle.
I remember how I felt as a child – the physical and emotional pain delivered by people who should have loved me and cared for me. I remember the feelings of betrayal and the intense vulnerability. I remember the rage I felt in being their victim. I remember knowing there was nothing I could do about any of it. And I remember the conscious choice I made to stop denying; I hadn’t deserved any of it …
It is not easy to see your parents for who they are when who they are is so terrible. It takes immeasurable strength to disavow everything they stood for. To embrace your own philosophy and confidently proclaim your belief that hitting and love are antithetical. To know that abandoning your child is harmful and wrong on every conceivable level. To understand no parent has the right to play with a child’s feelings, emotions or mind – or attempt to make him hate the other parent no matter what the other parent may have done …
There are no easy answers here, but abuse and denial go hand-in-hand; to end one, we must end the other.