“Pity is a benign form of abuse!” – Michael J. Fox, Actor
The Psychology of Personal Experience…
The course was called, ‘The Psychology of Personal Experience’ and I was the sessional instructor. It was usually full because it served as an optional elective many students needed for their degree. It attracted a cross section of learners from the various faculties which made it both interesting and challenging.
One day one of the more curious and adventurous participants named Megan, opened our weekly class with this question:
“Ken, you have encouraged us on several occasions to try to find anything in life which does not have both an equal benefit and cost, right?”
“ Yes, I have Megan, the law of symmetry in action…why do you ask?” I responded wondering where this might be going.
“Well, the other day I was reading about another one of those child abuse cases which seem to appear regularly in the media…and it got me thinking about the benefits of child abuse…which seems so bad and tragic…and common in our society. Where are the equal benefits to it?”
About personal empowerment…
“Well, lets first be clear on what abuse means. A common definition is that abuse is the unfair usage or treatment of an entity, usually to improperly gain benefit. So, within human systems, it is the unfair treatment of a person to improperly gain benefit.”
“So what is the gain for an adult who assaults a little child…I don’t get that at all!” Megan said.
“Usually it is about personal empowerment…often it is about an adult who feels powerless in one high risk area of their life so they look for power in another area where there is less risk for them.”
“Ken, do you mean they do this consciously…they are consciously seeking power?”
“Not usually Megan, it is rarely in their awareness…for them it is a survival behavior they bring to the situation from their own past. This is why it is often the abused who become abusers themselves.”
I added, “So abuse is not new and isn’t going to go away, ever. Child abuse is a learning tool for adults who have responsibilities for children. It help specific people learn about many important things about life, relationships, respect and so on.”
It is rarely in their awareness…for them it is a survival behavior…
“Your telling me child abuse is a learning tool for adults…but what about the children who are abused…how does it serve them?” She asked challengingly.
“Remember how beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Well abuse can also be in the eye of the beholder. This suggest everyone, including you and eye, have experienced some form of abuse in the past. It may not have met a legal definition of abuse but we felt abused anyway. So, go find a time in your past Megan, when you felt you were being abused by someone.”
“That would be Miss Milligan in grade three!” She replied immediately.
“Before I ask you to share that story with the class, let me offer you a little more information on the seven forms of abuse which occur.”
Seven ways for kids to get abused…
“You mean there are seven ways for kids to get abused…I didn’t know that!”
“Well, here I will put them on the board for you!”
This is what I wrote.
The 7 forms of abuse:
- spiritual abuse – act this way or I will condemn you
- mental abuse – act this way or I will love someone else
- vocational abuse – act this way or I will punish you with failure
- financial abuse – act this way or I will keep my wealth to myself
- social abuse – act this way or I will reject you
- familial abuse – act this way or I will disown you
- physical abuse – act this way or I will assault you.
You’d think that in this age, especially in the 21st century – especially with all the technology and all the discoveries that we’ve made – that we would figure out how to tackle abuse. – Tori Amos, Composer
It would depend on what was in your value system.
Megan starred at it closely for a few minutes. Then she piped up with this comment.
“So, if I fail this course, even though I believed I worked very hard to pass it, then I could perceive myself as being abused by you or the university…is that what you are saying?”
“Megan, it would depend on what was in your value system. If you valued hard work and being a responsible student and also believed you had done what was required to pass the course, then you could feel abused by not getting a passing grade. It is based not just on the legalities, but also on the value system of the person…which in a way, is their own internal legal system of what is right and wrong.”
“I never thought about abuse in this way before…so while we have legal definitions, we also have personal definitions based on our own values…is that right?”
Abusive events are at least partly responsible for who I am today…
“Let’s take this one step further. You and I are having this discussion and the class is sharing in this. We all have probably experienced some form of abuse in our own past. Yet we are all still here having survived this abuse, regardless of whether it was illegal or not. So, these abuse experiences must have made us wiser, stronger or more resourceful in some important way because we are all still here. Do that make sense?” I asked the entire class.
I continued, “When I think about my own history in detail I realized I experienced all seven forms of abuse. Since I am here these abusive experiences must have helped me to survive. This means these abusive events are at least partly responsible for who I am today, what I do and what I have achieved. So let me cite a few examples both legal and illegal, to show what I am talking about.
- spiritual abuse – I was indoctrinated by my parents, parish and community into a spiritual belief system of rituals and rules which had little basis in reality; but this motivated me to evaluate all assumptions and seek my own proof of what is true in life.
- mental abuse – I was threatened and bribed by parents, relatives and other authority figures; but this motivated me to learn to value myself and my own independence.
- vocational abuse – I was threatened and bribed by educators with promises of success if I followed a certain path but this motivated me to understand the real meaning of education, success and to seek my own path to the future.
- financial abuse – I grew up in a poor family of ketchup sandwiches and ice in the toilet bowl; but this motivated me to work hard, earn my own money and learn sound financial management skills.
- social abuse – I was skinny, sickly and not athletic; but this motivated me to build a stronger body and pick my friends carefully.
- familial abuse – I was a middle kid in a pack of nine with an alcoholic father; but this motivated me to learn how to parent children and manage alcohol.
- physical abuse – I was assaulted by my father; but this motivated me to learn both emotional and physical self defense.
“I’ve overcome neglect and deprivation, abandonment and abuse.” – Tatum O’Neal, Actress
Tell us about Miss Milligan and what you learned…
“So you are saying abusive experiences are common and they enable us to learn important things for our future survival, eh?”
“Don’t believe me…be skeptical, it is healthy and promotes your learning. Check your own personal history Megan…tell us about Miss Milligan and what you learned which has served you well since?” I asked her?
“Ho…Miss Milligan was the worst grouch in ‘Grouchland!’ The day I remember most clearly was when we were practicing our cursive writing…doing the alphabet. She was walking around the class inspecting our work and she stopped at my table. I remember looking up into her face and seeing it twist into an ugly scowl. She reached down and literally grabbed my note book and held it up for the entire class to see, She said to my entire Grade 3 class…while I sat there humiliated,
“LOOK AT MEGAN’S PRINTING CLASS…THIS IS HOW NOT TO DO IT…THIS IS SLOPPY, WITH POOR SPACING AND LOOK AT ALL THE ERASING…THE MESS MEGAN HAS MADE IN HER WORK…REMEMBER MEGAN’S WORK CLASS AND DON’T DO IT LIKE THAT!”
She dropped the book in front of me and walked on as if I didn’t exist…I will never forget how embarrassed I was at that second.”
“Now Megan, what did you learn at that moment from that experience, which you felt was abusive, which you have used ever since?” I asked her.
I decided I was going to become a teacher and show kids…
Megan looked at me with a slight flush in her eyes and said, “Ken, that was the day I decided I was going to become a teacher and show kids the respect they deserve. I am in my fourth year and determined to be an educator…until today I never thought about Miss Milligan was connected to my career choice.”
“The pain of embarrassment was very real back then but so was the learning…an important career choice for you…a life changing event. That is a perfect example of the two sides of abuse!”
“Going back to your original question about the two sides of child abuse…I would suggest our community has some of the most effective child protection laws in the world which regularly protect many children in our communities. This benefit is due to all the child abuse incidents in our past which motivates us to constantly strive to protect our kids more effectively….and thanks Megan for asking your question!”
“What distresses me at times is that I meet a lot of people in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, who still say they’re a victim of child abuse.”- Dave Pelter, Author
Next time we will continue our exploration of other forms of abuse. In the meantime, find your abuse experiences and identify what you learned which changed your life.
If you have any specific questions about any mental heath issue, feel free to contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Abuse is it is the unfair treatment of a person to improperly gain benefit.
- Abuse is generated from a feeling of powerlessness.
- Abuse creates a sense of personal power.
- Abuse is an important human learning tool.
- Abuse comes in at least seven unique forms.
- Abuse, like beauty, is determined by the perceiver not the perpetrator.
- Abuse enable us to learn important things for our future survival.