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Suffering Passed On: Child Abuse

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Only one third of abused children go on to become abusers. Revealingly, the majority of that group deny they had been abused when they were kids. In one study, 75% of adult male abusers described events like being beaten black and blue and thrown into a basement and then said the punishment was deserved because they had been such a bad kid.

To understand their denial, consider the dilemma of a small child confronted by an out-of-control adult. The child is asked to make a Faustian bargain. Either:

  • The parent I am hardwired to love, upon whom I am dependent for food and shelter is a monster with means and motivation to destroy me on a whim. I am completely unsafe and will be unsafe for the foreseeable future. I have no control of this.


  • The parent I am hardwired to love, upon whom I am dependent for food and shelter is a good person who is justifiably angry when I am bad. I am safe and will be safe for the foreseeable future as long as I am good. I have control of this.

It takes a great deal of courage to hold onto the first truth when you're six years old and your abuser is gas lighting you. It takes a great amount of strength, of clarity, of grace to stand against a family who is scapegoating you. Somehow 2/3rds of abused children find the courage to do just this.

For the ones that don't, they find themselves living in a house of cards while the child-that-was-them stays locked in the basement. To go back and dispute the lie is to enter that basement, to go back into terror and powerlessness. The fear of this shuts them off from the courage that it would take to heal. It makes them brittle and dangerous.

They are dangerous because there is a servomechanism in humans that cannot rest until things are set right. This amoral force makes it impossible for us to keep our pain to ourselves; we recreate our unhealed wounds over and over.

Each encounter with a child threatens the house of cards. The mantra gets muttered, the "bad child gets punished", the opportunity for healing and feeling gets postponed until the abuser finds the courage they didn't have as a child.


This is why I traffic in courage.

#abuse #suffering #compassion #courage #parenting #denial

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