Tag Archives: Child abuse

Systemic Trauma in our Culture

When living in England briefly after the turn of the century, I had the honor of hearing a distinguished psychoanalyst,  Dr. Juliet Mitchell, speak in London on the subject of trauma.   One point she made etched itself deeply in my heart and mind— that a victim of trauma has suffered “the perforation of a membrane around their soul” which then allows a cascade of old brain fears and anxieties to cascade forth.  And with some trauma, such as sexual abuse, the real psychic pain is spiritual as down in the depths of the child’s heart, he/she is realizing that the person who purported to love him/her is stating with action, “I don’t give a shit about you.  I want what I want and I’m gonna get it regardless of how much damage it does to you.”  This trauma tells the child that he/she has no value to the perpetrator as a person.  And trauma never goes away.  The clinical task in my past life was to facilitate the grieving process and teaching adaptive responses to the anguish which would always lurk in the depths of the client’s heart.

But trauma can also be institutional and cultural.  This systemic traumatization is even more challenging as it teaches its victims on some level, “This is the norm.  Get used to it…and possibly learn to like it.”  Dr. Bruce Perry, the chief of psychiatry at the Texas Children’s Institute in Houston, has spent his career working with trauma victims and in the current edition of the literary journal, The Sun, he is interviewed and shares about the neurological wounds that take place, particularly when the victim is too young to even begin to process what is happening/has happened in “rational” terms.  He also explained how the systemic trauma inflicted upon the lower socio-economic classes is very real and creates a core identity of deprivation, giving them problems like addiction, learned helplessness, and aggressive behavior.

Trauma usually comes at the hands of those in power who are always tempted to be seduced with the prerogatives of their power and the tyranny of their assumptions.  For example, in some families I worked with in my clinical practice, the sexual abuse was multi-generational, in some sense a “family tradition” and men, when but young boys, learned that women were property, “things”, and that by virtue of their masculinity they were entitled to use “things” as desired, even if they were your own children.  And this does not mean these men have no redeeming human values but their sense of prerogative and entitlement is so pervasive that when sexual desire is on the table it over rides little niceties like “the teachings of Jesus” which they are “devoted” to most of the time.  The real issues in life, individually and collectively, are always unconscious.

Entitlement is a core issue in any tribe.  Those who have climbed to the top of the heap, i.e. the “patriarchy” in contemporary vernacular, see the world through the template of their own unexamined values and wishes and feel perfectly comfortable manipulating individuals, and even the whole tribe, to accomplish their end.  And, once again, I’m not going to say these power mongers are necessarily “bad” people but they are unconscious and have a built-in resistance to even considering the phenomena of an unconscious.  It would be too troubling.  And out of the unacknowledged dark recesses of our heart always flows “bad.”

Perry’s observations accentuated for me the importance of the economic divide that is egregiously apparent in my country today.  The wealthy “One per cent” are so trapped in their own narcissism that they cannot see the harm they are doing to the whole country, even to themselves, by not giving due attention to the middle and lower socio economic classes.  And now my country has a president elect who could be the poster boy for Narcissists Anonymous as his disregard for “otherness” and the attending “self-reflectiveness” is sorely lacking.  The trauma has already been inflicted on the dispossessed classes but now an administration is being set up which appears to be designed to further their alienation and hidden despair, leaving them with nothing to do but “cling to their guns and religion.”

So often Bible verses come to my mind at this pivotal time in history.  “Where there is no vision, the people perish” just flashed on my radar.  When I approached life literally, I never really understood the meaning of this though, of course, I thought I did!  The lack of “vision” that the Psalmist had in mind is the dilemma of the narcissist as he/she cannot see beyond the end of his/her nose.  They see things only in terms of their own immediate interests and have no understanding about the long term effects of what they are doing.  And I don’t think Trump has any interest or capacity to ever venture into the “dark” when he is so comfortable in the glorious light of his own narcissistic splendor.  Nor do his devotees.

( Link to Dr. Perry’s interview in The Sun—http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/491/the_long_shadow)




Please government, please intrude!

Michael Pearl and his wife Debi were in the news last week for their controversial publications which encourage corporal punishment and do so with an emphasis that the punishment inflicts pain. One couple took their teachings seriously and actually beat one of their children to death for which they are now looking at decades in prison. Their web site is entitled No Greater Joy and if you check it out it is apparent that there is not a whole lot of joy around that domocile.

Pearl and his ilk represent one of the extremes that our culture permits to the great detriment and abuse…and even death…of our children. One essential theme in that mentality is that children belong to them, especially the father as the “head of the home” and that it is his responsibility as head of the home to “train up a child in the way he should go.” And, an important dimension of this is that to “spare the rod is to spoil the child.”

Now it won’t be in my lifetime and probably not for a long time thereafter but we are going to have to realize that children, in an important sense, belong to all of us and that we cannot allow them to be abused or even born into abusive, stupid, hell-holes like that of Pearl and his ilk. Yes, yes, yes, this will involve “government intrusion” but there are circumstances where government does need to intrude. We did it with domestic rape! I remember when the notion of “domestic rape” was just being toyed with and was, in my youth, given pause with the reasoning, “Well, doesn’t a man have the right to have sex with his wife?” Well, now it is a no-brainer to myself and to most people that “No” he doesn’t if she says no. Why was it ever otherwise? Well, the answer is that women were property and being a sex object was a huge part of their role in life. But our government has intruded and in doing so has changed reality on the issue, by and large. And what about race? When I was a child, blacks were inferior and were looked upon with scorn in the deep South where I was raised. The government intruded and changed reality and had they not done so blacks would not have the equality that they have today.

Yes, government intrusion can go too far. But there are instances in which it does not go far enough. And when it comes to child abuse and maltreatment, I really think we should get heavy-handed about it.