The Difficulties of Recognizing and Reducing Child Abuse

I’ve written about the classification of child abuse in one of my previous articles, and I’ve talked about child abuse and its results many times before.

Most people tend to deny or downplay the epidemic of childhood trauma and its results. This denial, which also transforms into projection and acting out, manifests on a personal and social level. On a personal level it takes various forms of neurosis, addiction, delusion, dissociation, dysfunction, depression, irrationality, misunderstanding of what’s healthy, confusion about one’s identity and boundaries, chronic fear and anxiety, irresponsibility, warped self-esteem, unhappiness, self harm, physical illnesses, and other psychological and physical problems. On a social level it is evident in such phenomenons as wars, rape, violence, predation, lack of rationality, harmful institutions and social structures, exploitation, mass delusions, unhealthy relationships, oversexualization, extreme lack of empathy for others, enormous immaturity, insecurity, dependence on others, etc.

This continues from generation to generation for thousands of years now. Children who have been abused grow up and act out their unprocessed traumas in relation to others. Because the majority of people have been severely abused, we live in a very sick society. It is better that it was 100 or 200 or 500 years ago, but it’s still extremely unhealthy. It’s a little bit sad that in times where we have spaceships, computers, cryptocurrencies, and nanotechnologies we, as society, psychologically and emotionally are still extremely primitive.

If you’re a child, it’s difficult to get help and empathy altogether, even if your caregivers overtly abuse you physically or sexually, because some people still don’t think of children as human beings and ignore or minimize their feelings and experiences. It’s always simpler for people to recognize physical abuse, like beatings or rape, because most people agree that this is very harmful to do to another person, therefore abusive. It’s easier to empathize with that. Also, if somebody beats you up, you have marks of it, and people may feel sorry for you or try to help you. But if you’re abused mentally, you don’t have any physically visible wounds; it just messes up your mind. Also, physical wounds heal much easier than mental. 

In cases where a child is abused by their caregivers mentally, not to mention if this abuse is very subtle, it’s pretty much impossible for them to get real help and validation.

Mental abuse includes yelling, manipulating, fear mongering, shaming, creating false guilt, forbidding to feel certain feelings (like anger), convincing that you have to feel certain feelings and act accordingly, name calling, isolation, threatening, imposing false and irrational beliefs, etc. Furthermore, all forms of abuse (e.g., physical or sexual) are mentally harmful, too. 

In today’s society, child rearing is considered to be a very private manner. It’s common for a parent to say, "(S)he is my child, and I raise them as I see fit." Or, "The way I treat my child is none of your business!" There are some relatives, social workers, organizations, institutions, programs, and campaigns who claim to try to prevent child abuse and protect children. But even with the best of intentions their approaches often are inefficient, superficial, and not that rarely some of them even do more harm than good. These people often are on the abusive parents’, teachers’, schools’, and other authority figures’, institutions’ and social structures’ side, instead of being on the child’s side 100 percent. They explicitly or implicitly invalidate and minimize a child’s experiences and feelings of being abused and try to fix the child by teaching them how to adapt to the unhealthy environment, or put them in an even worse environment.

Therefore in many cases the child is unprotected and helpless and feels fear, confusion, shame, guilt, self-blame, hurt, injustice, and loneliness – instead of feeling clarity, safety, support, confidence, and that they are protected, supported, and really nurtured, and the harm have been restituted as much as possible. The child feels that he or she is the problem and that they have to do something to earn love and nurturance. But it’s not the child’s fault – and it’s every parent’s intrinsic responsibility to be a loving and nurturing guide to their child.

One of the main functions of a caregiver is to protect their child from harm. Caregivers are supposed to be a child’s protectors – yet very often they are the ones who do harm or fail to protect them. This is the opposite of protection. Furthermore, this is extremely confusing and harmful to a child’s psyche. To get protection, originally a child by default goes to their main caregivers – but if your alleged protector is the one harming you or supporting the harm, and deep down you know that fundamentally your survival depends on them, then your brain short-circuits. This is when dissociation, splitting from one’s true self, and denial – the foundation of trauma – happens and the Stockholm syndrome starts to develop. (You probably have seen a situation where a child who gets hit by their caregiver runs away from them, but then immediately runs back and tries to hug them or do something similar. Such a child feels terrified, confused, and completely helpless.) This is also why later in life children don’t tell their caregivers that they need protection or guidance – you didn’t protect and help me before and sometimes even hurt me for being hurt, so how can I trust you?

If a child is allowed to feel his or her true feelings (especially anger towards people who in any way hurt them) and has someone who would validate them, the possibility to recover from the trauma significantly increases. On the other hand, if a child is not allowed to recognize, express, and get validation of their feelings of anger, betrayal, injustice, hurt, disappointment, then they grow up feeling insecure, scared, lonely, dissociated, and confused. This unavoidably leads to a myriad of in the first paragraph mentioned problems in their adult life. Because child abuse and childhood trauma for the most part are unrecognized, ignored, overlooked, or minimized, most children grow up into adults who deny, ignore or minimize childhood trauma and its results. Firstly their own true feelings and childhood experiences – and therefore, by extent, other peoples’, too. It is excruciatingly common; hence the society that we have today.
It’s a vicious and toxic phenomenon that spreads both vertically and horizontally. To effectively reduce child abuse and social dysfunction, first we have to recognize what it is and how prevalent it is. The first step is awareness and clarity. Then we can change something – starting with ourselves.

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  1. Sadly, many protective parents are then mistreated in family court, where the abuse continues. Too often, mental and verbal abuse towards children are denied and the courts do NOT protect children but force them to stay with a parent, or have significant time with a parent who is abusing and severely harming the child.
    It's a horrible world indeed.

  2. I feel a bit annoying with my comments but, anyway, just say that I really like the way you write and talk about childhood trauma.

    This is very well put:

    "To get protection, originally a child by default goes to their main caregivers – but if your alleged protector is the one harming you or supporting the harm, and deep down you know that fundamentally your survival depends on them, then your brain short-circuits. This is when dissociation, splitting from one’s true self, and denial – the foundation of trauma – happens and the Stockholm syndrome starts to develop."

  3. Hi Anonymous,

    yes, I'll definitely agree that the justice system we have today is ineffective or useless at best and very harmful at worst.

    Hello paseosinperro,

    thank you for your feedback -- and I'm glad that you enjoy my writing. Cheers, man!


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