Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Childhood Trauma: Threats, Abuse, and Punishment

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness



Ender’s Game

I recently finished reading Orson Scott Card’s “Ender Quartet,” consisting of the books Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind. While Card shows through the tale of Ender’s life and adventures that he is an outstanding storyteller, Card also reveals quite a well of wisdom.

One such piece of wisdom, from Ender’s Game, comes as a thought Ender has while at Battle School. Thinks Ender: “A good commander… doesn’t have to make stupid threats.”

Ender notes this to himself after one of his commanders threatens punishment on him for questioning authority and not doing as demanded. The commander is supremely arrogant and sees Ender, who is only a few years younger than he, as a worthless and stupid child. From Ender’s view, it makes much more sense to treat one’s soldiers with respect. After all, they are not the enemy and must be worked with cohesively to succeed. There must be trust all around.

This is a superficial meaning, however, needing not have any relation to a military operation. More immediately, it is (to this writer) about family; it’s about the relationship and interaction between parents and children.

A good parent doesn’t have to make stupid threats.

Stupid Threats

How many times do parents threaten their children with punishment, how many times do parents verbally degrade or physically hit their children, for saying and doing things for which the parents disagree with? And in how many of these instances are the children being threatened or punished for doing the very same things the parents themselves either did when they were children or might still do when their children aren’t around?

Right. What comes around, goes around. It’s familial karma. What’s in the consciousness (at any level) of parents is naturally and (usually) unwittingly passed into the consciousness of their children.

Unless adults have made the very deliberate effort to clear out their own childhood traumas resulting from their parents doing more or less the same to them, adults, as parents, will inevitably pass some form of that negativity to their children. It can be no other way.

And so it comes to parents to clean up the sludge in their consciousness so they cease polluting the world and their children with their inane threats and abuses. It is up to children (of nearly any age) to learn to actively keep themselves free of baggage as soon as they are able. And it is up to various societal groups (such as schools) to learn from those people who truly understand healing—READ: the ones-who-have-been-there-before, not those who’ve read some intellectual theory in a textbook and now believe themselves to be qualified—so that physical, mental, and emotional difficulties can be dealt with appropriately when they've already become trauma and can be worked through consciously when arising in daily life before any actual trauma occurs.

The Argument

Considering the way our society has been since time immemorial, it would be expected for the argument to arise that: If I’m not supposed to threaten or strike my child when he misbehaves, what do you want me to do?

Up front, the note must be made that if your child wants to run out into the middle of a busy street, then, yes, you have to take stronger measures than just sitting there on your porch sipping tea and kindly requesting that he cease playing chicken with the oncoming cars. What these stronger measures are, however, are your own. Solutions will be many and unique, some ideas being listed below. This disclaimer out of the way...

First keep in mind that what I’m suggesting through this writing is a process. If you’ve slapped your son daily for looking at nudie photos every day for the last year, it’s likely going to be difficult for you to not do it again today and tomorrow. So begin by seeing the process of it.

Next, instead of immediately flaring up when you see your son looking at the pictures (or if you do flare up, then afterward), ask yourself why you are flaring up. Ask what is within you that perceives nudie photos to be so bad. Have you, perhaps, suppressed the anger, helplessness, and trauma of when your parents had punished you for doing the same? Figure it out.

Yes, I know. The nudie picture example as flawed, John. Of course it’s wrong, and he should be punished!

Is it wrong? Is it really? Listen… I’m not here to tell you one way or another, okay? I’m here to tell you that you have to figure out what is true for you, what is right and wrong for you.

If you’re slapping your kid for looking at nudie images because your religion forbids it and demands prompt punishment, realize that you’re acting out a rule of a man-made institution. As stated in the Bible: the laws of God are written in our hearts. Before you go reactively walloping your kid, let go of all the extraneous crap and then figure out, probably for the first time in your life: What does my heart tell me about this situation?

Because if you find that your religion is wrong, then your incessant need to punish your child becomes wrong. Similarly but said differently, maybe you would find that looking at nudie pics is okay once in a while. Or maybe your religious ruling does have some degree of validity, but the deeper truth is that you’re subjecting your son to a hell of a lot more trauma and suffering from threats and abuse (and yourself to a lot of unnecessary misery) than if you’d just leave him alone to learn what’s right or wrong in his own time.

And unless you have no heart, certainly you must already know how it hurts you to strike your child every time he misbehaves. Which in the religious case would indicate that there is something seriously wrong with your religion, not you.

And what’s all the viciousness doing anyway? If your son's been doing supposed wrong for 365 days and caught and slapped every time, don’t you think he’d have stopped if your punishment were actually fixing the cause?

Indigenous Solutions

Aside from the suggestions for healing I made in the above section titled, “Stupid Threats,” there are other ways, ancient ways, worthy of consideration.

Whenever we become lost in life, whether it be in diet or community or whatever, we can almost always refer back to what certain indigenous tribes from around the world have done. Granted, some of these things are either inappropriate or irrelevant to the modern day. But there are still plenty which, had we the humility to take the practices on as our own, would reveal amazingly positive results for all of us.

The practical wisdom of (some) indigenous tribes are a “proof of functionality” revealing that threats toward and abuse of children (or anyone who’s imbalanced, really) is never necessary and “a good parent doesn’t have to make stupid threats.” When worked properly, personal trauma and troubles potentially to be created in the world at large would be nearly nonexistent.

One example of dealing with unruliness comes from (assuming my memory serves me correctly) an anecdote by Robert Wolff in his book Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing. Wolff tells how in one of the villages of a tribe he’d visited it was known that a certain tribe member was stealing the belongings of others. Everyone knew who this thief was yet no one said a thing. No threat, no punishment. Not even the lightest of chidings. Just zero attention. Eventually, all stealing ceased and all items were returned just as mysteriously as they’d disappeared.

As the natives here showed, attention is energy is sustenance of that which is manifest. What we focus on endures; what we acknowledge and release fades.

There is another tribe I’ve read of which offers a fresh perspective on how to deal with child misbehavior. When such occurs, a number of other family and community members form a circle and put the offending child in the center. The adults then take turns telling the child what makes him or her good, reminds him or her of times when he or she had done well.

How about that? No one flying off the handle. No on placing blame or laying on the guilt. No one giving or receiving threats or abuse. Just immediate acceptance and healing.

Give Them What They Need

Another solution is to give a child what it is that the child needs. Absolutely, this is as open-ended as anything. But I’ll use an example to give you an idea of where I’m going with this.

A close friend of mine has a son (now an adult) who is extremely troubled. He’d spent the better part of his life this way. Recently he was imprisoned for the first time. And, yes, while prison is generally prison, he’s also able to cope with his life for the first time ever. He has a routine; he has food, clothes, and shelter; he’s finally been diagnosed and is being treated for a mental disorder; he’s receiving an education appropriate for his high level of intelligence and for which he is excelling at. Whether his life will ever be roses and sunshine is still up for debate. But it certainly appears that sprouts are shooting up where before there’d only been a desert hardpan.

Sometimes the most straightforward (yet not so obvious) answer to healing imbalanced humans is just giving them what they need, whatever that may be for any given person.

The other day the concept of child punishment came up at the dinner table. My Mom said something to the effect that when I or my siblings were put in the corner we were supposed to think about what we’d done wrong.

I said: “Mom, I never once thought about what I’d done wrong. Ever. I was either too busy making faces at someone in a different corner or being mentally miserable because it was so boring.”

And that's the thing: I think back on all the times as a kid that I was put in the corner or grounded or belted or whatever—and never once—not one time—did I ever think about what I’d done wrong. Maybe I cried, maybe I bitched and moaned, maybe I repressed some more emotional garbage. But never once did I think about what I’d done.

And do you know what? I would do the same thing time and again. If my brother was teasing me and I shrieked at him and called him a penis (as I was wont to doing), I’d be punished for it. And by next week, perhaps, he’d tease me and I shriek at him that he was a penis again. And I would be punished. (...guess my parents don't know the truth when they hear it...)

The same goes of all the other thousands of crimes I’d committed and punishments I’d received as a child. The same goes for the trillions upon trillions of other crimes and punishments of the world’s children (and law-breaking adults).

Why? Because threats and abuse and punishment don’t work.

The only time these things “do work” is when their victims get the shit traumatized out of them and come to fear the potential wrath to befall them should they ever repeat their actions again.

If you want to change what a person does, then you must give them what they need. You must either truly understand why they want what they want and give them adequate reason and personal space to change their mind, or you must change yourself (dropping the inclination toward punishment) and teach the way by walking your talk.

Last Words

You may do well to think about these things, especially if you’re a parent. What you see in your child is nearly always a reflection of something in you. To threaten or break a mirror just because you don’t like what you see, well, a broken mirror simply exponentiates the reflection that was already there and traumatizes the "mirror."

Keep in mind the echo of Card’s advice: To his or her children, a good parent doesn’t have to make stupid threats... or ground them for a month or tell them how horrible they are or belt them or slap them or send them to bed without dinner. All such drama creates trauma, and trauma makes for more karmically repetitive drama.

A good parent seeks to maintain their children’s love and trust, not to physically, mentally, and emotionally traumatize the children and push them away using self-righteous threats and abuses. A good parent seeks out and heals the inconsistencies within themselves before lashing out at the inconsistencies—or seeming inconsistencies—within their children. A good parent uses their children as mirrors to their own self, rather than targets of blame or as punching bags. A good parent honors their children as unique individuals, rather than treating them as robots designed to validate their every belief and behavior.

A good parent treats their children how they would like to be treated.

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