Lately we've been fascinated by documentaries on cults. It's mind-blowing to watch the progression of the human psyche go from trusting and seeking validation to completely closed and shut off from reality. Then seeing the manipulation tactics that cults will use to keep the people who are beginning to wake up completely isolated and afraid.
In the most recently viewed cult phenomenon, the group terrified children to keep them in line. They spanked them with long glue sticks, restrained them, and locked them in small spaces. They staged group functions to preach obedience telling them to obey their parents or "they will be sorry".
One specific case, which I cannot fully describe because it's too gruesome, caught my attention. The story began with the father coming into the room with his belt. Instantly, I was transformed into my five year old self watching my father pull off his long, leather belt, double it, and swing to hit me.
I could feel the fear again of being told I was bad and that I deserved to be physically reprimanded.
I was not a bad child; quite the opposite. But for some traumatizing reason, my father ruled with fear. If he was not getting the desired behavior, he would make sure he got it.
The most unfortunate part of this story is how corporal punishment stayed in the parenting repertoire after I had been abused by a babysitter. The punishment she gave set the stage for the trauma to come.
I was four. My brother was one. My parents were still young. They were ready to get dressed up and get out of the house. And for the first time they were going to leave us with a babysitter instead of our grandparents.
Well I was over the moon! I was going to have a new person to play with me! I could show her my favorite toys and maybe she would let us stay up past bedtime! The whole experience was exciting to my little self.
I quickly realized, however, that this was not going to be all fun and games.
The first time she kept us, she made sure I fell in love with her. She treated me sweetly and let me have extra juice and let me stay up later. I always wanted her to babysit us!
However, the new, fun babysitter had a disturbingly dark side. And she showed it the first time by blaming me for my one-year-old brother's spilling his milk. I remember being shocked that she would make that my fault.
She made me leave the table and follow her to my bedroom. She laid out 3 paddles on the bed and then asked me which one she should use. I was confused and scared. I didn't understand what was about to take place. After timidly picking a paddle, she made me bare my bottom and she hit me with it. Hard. Multiple times.
The tears and whaling instantly hit me. But I remember being mostly confused. Why did spilled milk warrant this harsh response?
The punishments got more intense, and for less offenses than spilled milk! Once I did not say I loved her like I meant it. So, that time, I got to stand in front of our wide open front door, my bare butt to the outside world (or so it seemed in my four year old brain), and be paddled. Those were the most humiliating and defeating moments, and I remember them as if it were yesterday.
She used to say things like:
"This hurts me more than it hurts you."
"Why do you make me do this?"
"Maybe next time you will think twice before you do that."
I remember the whole experience made me less trusting and hyper-vigilant.
Bruised But Not Broken
The day my grandmother saw the bruises from my low back to my calves, I remember seeing her madder than I ever had before (or since). That even terrified me and I did not tell her who had bruised me. I learned damn early in life to never tell on your abuser.
When my parents came to pick me up, my grandmother stood me up on the counter and made me show them my bruises. Naturally, my parents were shocked because they didn't do it. But they knew who did.
Sometime later, I was made to go over the babysitter's house for her to apologize to me. She was back in her room, on the floor against the wall, with her knees up to her chest. You see, she was twelve. She was just a kid too. Walking into her room, seeing her there, looking like a scared little kid, I comforted her. Because in that moment, I knew that she was being "paddled" too.
People always say, "Oh, kids are resilient." Well, okay. Maybe they will survive. But their psyche is impacted significantly. Abuse, humiliation, manipulation ~ these things are not lost on children. They will learn how to survive. But they will not grow up unscathed.
At four years of age, my true nature was to comfort another child. And I think I actually forgave her. But that did not mean I was not already conditioned to recognize abusers.
Sadly, I then had to maneuver the same fear-mongering tactics from my own parent.
Cult of Personality
Studies show spanking does more harm than good. Yes, I just said a generalized statement that demands a link of support. But as rebel and survivor, I will not supply it. Look it up. It's true.
Parents who rule with fear and corporal punishment do permanent harm. It sets kids up for a life of attracting abusers and working out old trauma as an adult. Or they just become an abuser themselves.
I do believe that reprimanding children with force is like being in a cult - fear rules not only the children, but the parents. And when fear rules, everyone loses.
Healing from the Damage
The only expertise I have on this subject is having been spanked as a child. I am positive some counseling around childhood trauma will be more helpful. But let me offer some healing seeds:
If you are a parent - stop hitting your kids. Respect and obedience can be achieved in other ways. For the sake of your child's mental health - find another way.
If you are a parent of an adult child that you hit - apologize. Ask for forgiveness. And offer to help in their healing.
If you suffered this as a child - remember this: your parents were likely raised in the same way. They were broken as children. They grew up fearful. Then as parents, they instilled fear in you, repeating the generational trauma. Forgiveness is your only freedom.
Generational healing will likely be needed. Embrace help to understand how to move through what has happened to you. And make sure the abuse stops with you.
Find a support group, counselor, or even a friend that you feel safe in confiding your trauma. And if you do not have those options, I will listen.
Be Well, Friends