I must confess the stress and dangers of the times have left an abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind.
H. G. Wells, at the conclusion of The War of the Worlds.
… and I started seeing therapists when I was 18,19, and it wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that someone used the word abuse to describe what had happened. So, once it was named everything shifted.
From a CBC radio transcript regarding sibling abuse. (see footnote)
Got abuse knowledge?
Sometimes you don’t need to know the theory for you to be practical. Our ancestors thought electricity was like a water current. It’s not, it’s electrons, but that didn’t stop them from lighting up their cities, and making frog legs kick.
They thought human nerve tissue was like solid electrical wires. Actually, the nerves have numerous gaps where particles are released and go across. But that didn’t stop good medical work.
Sometimes you don’t even need science theories. Hey, would you like to abuse your cult followers, so you become a millionaire? Science has studied some cults, and come up with practical observations of how they work. (Such as deprivation of protein and sleep) But the first cult leaders had no science.
Out on the mean streets, to my knowledge, there are no learned texts on how to abuse a stable of women in order to make them controllable… but pimps seem to be doing quite well without any science.
One morning my housemate came down the hall telling me she must have gotten a black eye in her sleep. A lie. She was “abused into thinking” that being struck by her boyfriend-pimp was OK, even if this was also something to be hidden from me. She later became a streetwalker. I remember her crying while saying she didn’t understand, just didn’t know how she had been manipulated by her boyfriend into turning her first trick, but somehow it happened. Then more tricks. Eventually, “we lost her” because her pimp transferred her to a distant city, to have her far away from any emotional support from we who knew her. This is standard practise, but not something a vulnerable girl is going to find out from her local library.
I don’t know of any scientific proof or medical explanation for how abuse could conceivably, possibly, have any lasting effects whatsoever—but maybe I don’t need to know. What prompted this blog essay was a man writing in the essay collection This I Believe that his father (whom he went fishing with weekly) would strike him in the face, and that he lacked self confidence… but he didn’t draw a bold connecting line between those two points. I was angry, not at him but at his surrounding society, our society where people don’t want to connect the dots.
Although I am here using “abuse” in the context of human against human, while noting the lack of applicable scientific theories, it is instructive to consider “alcohol abuse.” The highly trained medical establishment, back when my parents were children, had barely made a start in creating knowledge for curing the scourge of alcoholism… and then some untrained stockbroker created the program of 12—Steps of recovery. The 12—Steps worked much better than the efforts of doctors with Ph.Ds, despite the fact that nobody knew why. Some years ago my university chaplain said to me, speaking theoretically, as neither one of us were an alcoholic, “You know the problem with university guys like us? We want to know why, know exactly how the program works, before we are willing to get started.”
As I see it, our society doesn’t “get it”: doesn’t realize “why” abuse has consequences, and doesn’t even realize how little it knows about the gruesome, monstrous effects of abuse. Lacking a scientific theory, not knowing how abuse works, we use our alleged “common sense.” If only walls could talk I might hear talk about a boy or girl: “Abuse doesn’t mean anything.” … “She shouldn’t be affected.” … “It never happened, and anyways, she deserved it.”
Without science we may believe, or pretend to ourselves we believe, “Once she grows up and leaves our Abusive home she should instantly snap out of it, and be a fine credit to our family.” Actually, I’m making that up: Because a family wouldn’t use the “A-word.” No, it seems to me that a father, mother or sibling who is weak enough to abuse, is also too weak to admit the effects of abuse, and too weak to feel guilt or shame: Easier to blame the victim. A family voice that sounds falsely strong from expressing anger and scorn may conceal a pathetic weakness. “My wife is so stupid, she makes me so mad, that I have to hit her.” In other words, blaming and thinking “she is so stupid” can happen after the first abuse, not before.
Decades ago, society made a huge breakthrough with a phrase for raising consciousness: “blaming the victim.” That sure opened a lot of windows! My concern is when victims of abuse blame themselves. My concern is when, without science, they come to minimize, to think “nothing very bad” happened: Thinking that, in fact, they should instantaneously be as fully functional as anyone who was never abused. And then feel guilty. I say: “Come on, get serious. Don’t you think recovery will take at least a day or two? A week or two? Seasons? Years?”
I can’t scientifically prove it, but this I believe: It is natural for an abuse victim to lack confidence in the world, and to lack confidence in other people, too.
Society, as embodied in that “mythical successful businessman,” might claim that phrases like “self-esteem” and “recovery from abuse” and “positive thinking” is woo-woo southern California nonsense. Strange, then, how that same businessman will evaluate job candidates for self-esteem, and insist his salesforce have positive thinking. In other words, at some level, we all know. We might abuse our children by saying, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!” but we know. When we bully, we know. We just don’t want to admit it. I’m amazed at the ten-year high school reunion where a grown adult didn’t think his high school victim would still remember, let alone have any hard feelings— and I’m disgusted.
I’m not going to wait for stupid scientists to finally do their research. No. I think it’s quite practical right now to “act as if” verbal, emotional and physical abuse—three separate things—are like a blow against a person, just as much as the onrushing blow of concussion from artillery.
Regardless of whether a blow is physical or figurative, it still happens. To quote a former soldier, now back in civilian life:
“… I felt horrible… I lost my self-confidence and stopped believing in myself. I also constantly panicked during conversations, and afterwards I always felt guilty.” (p. 208)
“My goal for the future is to get better and to became a “better person,” not to feel guilty anymore, to be calmer and relaxed.” (p. 213)
(As reported in When the War Never Ends
The voices of military members with ptsd and their families
By Leah Wizelman)
Well soldier, me too. …I’m much better now…
On the lone prairie,
Someone asks me: How do I know if was abused, or if, these days, I am being abusive to others?
Easy: Anything that is not nurturing is abusive.
“Ya but Sean, isn’t there a vast middle ground?”
~The adult former bully is quoted in my essay of innocence, Saving Tomorrow Land archived August 2015
~H.G. Wells is quoted in my PTSD essay, Poetics of H.G.Wells, archived November 2015
~The soldier is quoted in my book announcement, posted as Voices of PTSD, archived June 2012
~That first trick? My housemate and her boyfriend had visited a prairie city three hours away, across the cold barren plains, and then the boyfriend told her they needed cash for the fare home.
~Here’s a link where someone turned abuse and complex PTSD into a science fiction novel. If the cover looks a little ugly, well, it’s an ugly topic.
~What I loved about my self-help group, where we mainly looked normal and had jobs and marriages, was how we could tell each other stories society would never believe, and we would believe each other. …Otherwise I might still feel like poor lonely Sarah Connor in the scene where she jumps over the desk screaming, “It happens!”
~Not sibling rivalry, not just bullying, but abuse: Here’s a link for a CBC radio program, with transcript, about the horror of sibling abuse. It happens.