November 20, 2011
Emotional Abuse : When and Where it all starts
Cultural and Familial behaviors contribute much to the lives of those victimized, and none of it good!
I am finding that for a very long time I was and have been the target of much emotional abuse which sometimes led those whose care I was left in using brutal means to ‘correct’ my less than desired behaviors. This is not something that is new and this is not something that is not generationally accepted behavior.
This is, however, something that needs to be stopped…like, NOW.
Emotional Abuse begins in childhood
It is no secret that I Am a woman of Polynesian decent, specifically Hawaiian decent. All my life I was taught that it was normal behavior for the adults in the lives of some (not all) Hawaiian children to threaten physically painful means for correcting behavior that was and is considered as being less than acceptable. For me to have heard that if I got out of line that I would be disciplined with a belt or a wooden spoon was normal, was something that just was ok and typical, and unfortunately, was somehow acceptable. Not only was I brutalized by one person in particular (a caretaker…we will just leave her name out of this for purposes of not stirring up anymore animosity within the familial circle), but that it was ok that this person threatened me, allowed me to cry in fear for my father, and more, thought it was ok because it would toughen me up and make my skin thicker is somehow the way that a lot of children in my culture are raised – with fear instead of understanding. I could be wrong, but in talking with other hawaiians about this, I find that I am closer to the truth than not. It is a sickness, really.
I am sorry, but how the hell is it that a child between the ages of two years old until ..well…UNTIL whatever age…supposed to know the difference between being abused and being disciplined if the adults in her life are making it ok to pick on her, to hit her with a belt or a wooden spoon, to allow their own kids to mess with her endlessly and to call the wrongly named abuse “discipline”?
The easiest answer is SHE ISN’T, and that is a huge reason, at least in my own story, why, for many years, I have just assumed that the man I married would stop hurting me. He stopped the physical abuse, but there is still the issue of the emotional abuse, and I am living proof that emotional abuse is not something to be ignored, is very real, is very damaging and takes a blot of patience and time for one’s own Self for the survivor of it to recoup their losses, including and especially their very own self-identity. For many years during this ‘marriage’ to this …guy…I thought and believed that the things he’d said to me were really meant as being constructive criticisms, but they were not. As time went on I found myself doubting me, doubting his feelings, and doubting, period. The words were not constructive, but they were criticisms – harsh criticisms. They were hurtful and they made me cry. His words broke my heart and shattered my Spirit for years, and even in this, the last days of his life, he manages to be an ass about a lot of things, and I know now that the reason anyone is the way that I turned out and the reason that anyone finds themselves in such a situation for as long as I have been is because to those people, being emotionally abused is (yikes) normal. Being emotionally abused, I find, has been going on throughout my entire life and likely has been going on for generations before I was born.
One definition for this word is “of sound mind and body.” There is NOTHING normal about being awful to little kids just because you can be and just because you think you have some sort of strange omnipotent power over them because making a child cry out of fear is like shooting dead fish in a child’s sand bucket- not that hard to do. Children, it is said and believed, are our most precious resource. Children remind us of our own vulnerable nature and children are storehouses of creativity and imagination. It breaks my heart when I think about how many children are being hurt emotionally by family members, not just sexually, and it is all because in some cultures it is normal for this sort of thing to go on without any boundaires and allowed to continue unchecked. I am all for disciplining children, and really, I have no problem with giving a spanking to a child if and when the need for it arises, but there is a fine line between abuse and discipline.
My mother disciplined me.
My caretaker abused me.
This is the distinction between the two – one was done out of a need for me to stop being an unruly and less-than-disciplined child, and the other was out of a need to control me, no matter the physical and emotional cost to me. And the caretaker was not the only one who emotionally tormented me. Both grandfathers did, three of my mother’s brothers did, some of my cousins did.
Because it was normal and accepted in my family to just keep a stiff upper lip and not let a tear fall (because we would be threatened with more ‘punishment’), I followed suit with the rest of the kids because I was so damned scared.
I was scared that they would not love me, and I was scared that I would be abandoned by them, and I was scared, period. What is really bad is that I carried that fear with me into adulthood and ended up marrying a man who would be able to hone in on that fear and use it against me for his own need and gain. He compounded the problem. I always felt and sometimes still feel like I am not good enough and it is totally because to this day he still tells me these things. He still tells me that I am a useless, no talent wash out who no man will ever have because I am also a whore. I still am told that I am worthless and pathetic. I still carry that fear of not being Loved or accepted, but these days it is not he who I care will Love or accept me, but it is everyone else who this pounding fear exists for. I used to fear that I would be left in the dust, so to speak, by my friends. I used to fear that the men in my life would also be abusive to me because apparently if it were alright that my spouse did it then it should be ok that others do it, too.
Hawaiians are known for our brute strength and our size. I am not your typical Hawaiian woman in that I am not “thick.” I am tall, thin and athletically built. The person who was my caretaker as a child was and still is a thickly built woman. I recall being terribly afraid of her, to the point that I would voluntarily hide in a hallway closet and pretend to be playing a game of hide and seek with her kids and my imaginary friend, Gabby. Sometimes I would be in there until my father came to take me home, which would be hours and that was ok by me. I was safe in the company of the sheets, towels, blankets and “Gabby'”. I grew up very needy for the Love and affection of others, and I always felt like I was somehow not good enough for that Love which made me think that I had to beg for Love, beg for acceptance, beg for the things that normal people just get to have. I was different. I was strange. I saw things out of the corner of my eyes that no one else did and instead of telling me that I had a wild imagination, they instead told me that I was a liar, that I was trying to get more attention that I did not deserve.
Even now there are people with whom I share DNA and a set of grandparents who probably still think the thing that they told me I was when I was younger – an attention whore and a liar because I am too sensitive. I am not too sensitive. I am also no longer letting them tell me what is normal. I know what is normal. This way of being is not normal. Scaring the hell out of little kids – not normal. Disgusting, but oh SO not normal.
They were terribly wrong, not only about me, but about how I was treated, how my cousins, at least some of them, were treated, about so many things that they just made out to be right and acceptable because that is the way that they themselves were raised. If I had known differently, had known that I did not have to go through what it was that I went through, I would not be sitting here today championing survivors of abuse everywhere.
My Mission in life, I am finding, was carved out of the fear that I experienced as a little girl and that fear carried on throughout my lifetime. It is of little wonder that I ended up this way, ended up with who I married, and I find that the things that I went through were also done to my very own mother by the very same people who’d done it to me. If these things were not done to her then they would not have tried to do to me what was done, I would not have gone through it because it would not have been normal to her.
Of course, my dad’s dad was as abusive toward us, but it was never normal for my dad, no matter how long he’d lived in Hawaii – it was not ok for my grandfather to pick on me, on us, ever, and Dad made it known to him. When I was older my baby sister called me when the old guy was visiting to tell me that the old creep was saying some awful stuff to her. I understand now that the reason I was there with a swiftness was because I did not want Napua to have to endure the same level of abuse I had by that man.
We do not realize the level nor the severity of abuse that we endured as children by the adults in our lives when we are children because we are told that what we are experiencing is normal and acceptable behavior. Anymore now I know the difference between discipline and abuse, between what is OK and what is so, so not. I think back to the things that I have gone through with and for people whom I no longer have contact or a desire to be in contact with anymore, and I know that the reason that I put up with John’s nonsense all this time is because I have been abused emotionally for the bulk of my almost 42 years and that throughout my life I have been emotionally abused, making his cruelty normal but totally not acceptable.
We cannot allow this to happen, the acceptance of emotional brutality within the confines of the family just because it is and has been generationally accepted as normal. We cannot make it anywhere being ok for adults to talk to children as though what they tell them will not be carried on with said children throughout the bulk of their little lives. The world cannot afford to continue to turn out children who end up being afraid of everything and mistrusting of everyone in their lives, because in doing so we allow the monsters in the closets of our minds to wreak havoc and run amok in the world through the people who were once emotionally battered children. I come from a culture which is simultaneously rich with beauty and love as well as the harshness of abuse and addiction,a culture which keeps silent the thing that is accepted as being discipline when in reality, when left unchecked, amounts to the emotional brutalization of generations of children who grow up and for whom said abuse is normal and accepted that way.
No more, I say!
No more threatening children with the boogeyman visiting them in their dreams at night if they do not listen to their caretakers, because when that happens it is automatically the caretaker who becomes the boogeyman, the monster who refuses to stay in the closet. We cannot allow this to go on, and it is not just because it is not ok to scare kids into doing what we want them to, but more because if we allow it to go on unchecked we will willingly be raising another generation of victims of domestic abuse and violence.
And we all know what happens to those victims who are not given the opportunity to see things as they really are and truly should be…
Those victims end up, many times more than not, victimizing people, too. I know this, because the piece of garbage my spouse used to call “Dad” is one such…rather, was, thankfully, one such victimizer…thankfully he is gone, just as his namesake is on his way to being, too.
I Love You All !
(Rev. Roxanne Cottell is a Freelance Writer, Speaker and Spiritual Counselor residing in Southern California. For inquires regarding the Ka Wahine ‘Ui dance program for survivors of domestic abuse,or any other inquiries. please contact her by clicking here . Her latest book, “Goddesses, Priestesses and Queens” can be purchased at lulu.com and amazon.com