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Abuse
including child abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse

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On this page
Definition | Anxiety | Upbringing - what creates a serial bully?
The seven types of abuse | Gratification
Corporal punishment and sexual assault | Pornography
Reporting abuse

Definition

Abuse is defined in the dictionary as "an evil or corrupt practice; deceit, betrayal, molestation, violation" and comes in many forms, eg sexual abuse, physical abuse, child abuse, abuse of power, bullying, harassment, stalking, rape, torture, etc. All abuse is violent, be it physical, emotional, psychological, or a combination. I define seven types of abuse below. The common denominator of all abuse is the collection of behaviours I call bullying.

Anxiety

The abuser is an individual who lives in a state of unusually high anxiety and who has not learnt to deal with that anxiety in the way normal people have. The abuser is insecure, immature, and inadequate, especially in the areas of interpersonal and behavioural skills. If the abuse is of a sexual nature, the abuser is usually sexually inadequate.

The high anxiety seems to be the result of an inability to relate to other people combined with the fear of exposure of that person's inadequacy, immaturity and insecurity. This leads the abuser to want to control and dominate others, having never learnt how to interact with others in normal ways. Often, the abuser is psychopathic (physically violent) or sociopathic (psychologically violent) and despite being fearful of exposure, doesn't show the normal activation of the fight or flight mechanism.

Upbringing

Abusers are usually brought up in a dysfunctional family. The more abusive the adult, the more dysfunctional the family. Often, the father, if present, is violent and abusive. Perhaps the mother is co-dependent, a successful survival strategy when living with a violent partner; however, co-dependency also perpetuates the violence as it avoids dealing with the issue. Usually one or both parents are sociopathic or psychopathic. Occasionally, the child is over-protected, usually by the mother, and thus never allowed to develop as an individual human being. Sometimes, the child is ignored in favour of a sibling.

Before blaming the parents, the reason parents are dysfunctional is because they were brought up in dysfunctional families. The more dysfunctional the parent, the more dysfunctional were their parents ... and so on. Most people are never taught parenting skills. The sole teachers of parenting skills are thus ... our parents. It's not that we actively teach our kids to parent - kids learn by example. We grow up and repeat what they did to us. If all you have ever known is abuse, that is the only way you know how to behave. Human beings do not automatically know what is right and what is wrong; we have to learn it.

The child lives in a dysfunctional environment where abuse, violence or neglect are the norm; as the subject of abuse, the child cannot predict the behaviour of the responsible adults, and therefore has no control. The child learns, usually from an early age, that using bullying behaviours brings relief from anxiety. With so few people able to recognise bullying for what it is, and with strategies of denial, distraction and feigning victimhood perfected by about the age of five, the child has found a successful strategy for reducing anxiety, and thus surviving. Controlling other children through violent behaviour means brings a sense of power (control) to the child; he can't predict or control his parents but he can control other (smaller or less physically strong) children. His targets also become useful objects onto which he can freely displace his own aggression.

Abuse

I identify seven types of abuse:

1. Physical abuse, including assault and any deliberate act resulting in physical injuries, including beatings in the guise of corporal punishment but which are delivered with fists or to the child's head. The work of Lewis and Pincus in the States is relevant here - in many violent criminals, especially serial killers, they've found evidence of brain damage during childhood from parental beatings and accidents which have resulted in a smaller than normal cortex, with consequent lack of ability to control violent tendencies.

2. Sexual abuse, including incest, rape, buggery or any paedophile activity for the gratification of the abuser. The abuser usually has a sexually dysfunctional or unsatisfying relationship with their partner; sexual relations may be violent or inadequate or non-existent, and the child becomes a convenient substitute.

3. Tactile abuse, where there is little or no physical contact between parent(s) and the young child, and any contact tends to be violent, punitive, unjust and inappropriate. Physical contact seems to be especially important in the first five or six years. Some children enjoy a cuddle into their teens. Sadly, with abuse coming into the open, many parents (especially fathers) now fear that physical contact with children may be regarded and misconstrued as abuse (Note: with malicious accusation, it is invariably the accuser who is guilty of the abuse - see projection on the serial bully page). For further information on the importance of touch, see the work of the Touch Research Institute.

4. Existence abuse where the existence and rights of the child are ignored

5. Religious abuse or cult abuse

6.  Emotional abuse, including

7.  Psychological abuse, including

Violent adults tend to be those whose childhood was characterised by experiencing the above behaviours on a regular basis, combined with lack of affection and lack of expressed love. The three influencers of stress, namely control, prediction and expectation are pivotal (see section on stress response on the health page). Where a child is brought up under these constant conditions, those areas of the brain which deal with interpersonal, behavioural and social skills simply fail to develop normally. In many cases of violent offenders (eg serial killers), their brain's frontal lobes - which modify and mitigate violent urges - are measurably smaller than in normal people. See the work of Dorothy Otnow Lewis and Jonathan Pincus for further insight into violent adult behaviour and its origins in childhood.

A child who is subjected to regular abuse, even if entirely non-physical, needs an outlet for their consequent aggression; frequently they will act out their violent impulses on another child at school (bullying), or sibling, or family pet. Being violent towards others because they are violent towards you combined with the fact that you are unable to deal with other people's violence is called displacement aggression. Violence towards animals (eg torturing the cat or killing the dog) is now recognised as a common early warning sign of forthcoming violence in adulthood.

We're all guilty of some of these things (especially the emotional and psychological abuse) some of the time, either unwittingly or when we are stressed. However, children are resilient and if you avoid physically punitive responses (eg use restraint and the promise of a bonus or reward for good behaviour rather than punishment for bad behaviour), educate them in how to show dignity and respect, teach them the skills of assertiveness (which include psychological self-defence), talk to them and assure them of your love regularly, they're likely to grow up to be normal, well-adjusted and intelligent people - who will then pass on these benefits to their children. For ideas on better parenting see and follow the links on the pages http://www.cei.net/~rcox/nospan.html and http://www.erols.com/nlsaltz/Spanking.html. I recommend Michele Elliott's book 501 ways to be a good parent (Hodder & Stoughton, 1996, ISBN 0-340-64903-8).

For dealing with verbal abuse I recommend The verbally abusive relationship: how to recognize it and how to respond, Patricia Evans, Adams, ISBN 1-55850-582-2.

The UK NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) is running a campaign to put an end to child abuse. See their web site at http://www.nspcc.org.uk/

Anyone in the UK wishing to share any concerns they might have about a child at risk of abuse can call the NSPCC Child Protection Helpline 24 hours/day on freephone 0800 800 500.

Gratification

The aggressive anxious adult learns that bullying results in relief from anxiety, which produces that nice warm feeling called satisfaction. Gratification is the indulgence in the feeling of satisfaction resulting from relief from anxiety brought about by bullying. Bullying is therefore emotional and psychological displacement aggression. Gratification is a behaviour loop in which the adult is trapped, and is the common denominator behind most forms of violence, especially sexual abuse and sexual violence.

Corporal punishment and sexual assault

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Article 5, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948

Corporal punishment, the "English vice", has been a feature of the British education and class system for over a century. Only recently (mid-1998) was corporal punishment in schools finally outlawed by the UK Parliament. Incidentally, this is a century after Parliament decreed it illegal to beat animals.

Corporal punishment is usually administered on an intimate part of the child's body, usually the buttocks, which are often undressed or partly undressed for the purpose. The child is forced, by a person in a position of authority, to adopt a submissive pose, eg bending over, so that control, subjugation and humiliation are absolute. The feeling of power and the ability to inflict pain on their victim is, to the abuser, sexually stimulating.

The person who uses corporal punishment, especially males, will later use the memory of administering the punishment as part of his visualisation during sexual activity, including masturbation. Anyone who advocates corporal punishment, and especially anyone who practices it, is almost certainly - and unwittingly - revealing their propensity towards sexually abusive behaviour.

The child who is physically punished, especially if regularly - and parents who hit their children (perhaps describing it as "tapping", "smacking", "correcting", or some other euphemism to disguise the violence) often repeat the hitting, especially if it has the desired effect, which it frequently appears to in the short term. The child is wholly dependent on their parent(s) and the parent(s) possess, in the eyes of their child, a god-like status; in the eyes of the child, the parent can do no wrong. Therefore, when the child is smacked, he or she is unable to say "I am being unjustly sexually assaulted by a grown-up person who hastily resorts to violence because they have never learnt (or been taught) how to help me develop positive behaviours and correct inappropriate behaviours in a non-violent way". In many countries, including the UK, the child might add "Whilst there are laws against hitting animals and grown-up men and women, there are no laws protecting me from violence if my parents choose to call it 'smacking' or 'discipline'." Without this vocabulary and insight the child resolves the injustice by coming to believe that "I am bad and I am therefore being justly punished by my good parent". Later, the child may add "...and when I grow up I am going to punish bad people in the way I've been punished". Well, it never did me any harm. This line of reasoning has also failed to make a crucial distinction: no person can ever be bad; it is their behaviour which is bad. We have control over our behaviour and can modify our behaviour at will, but we cannot change the person we are.

For many, relief from the pain - or memory of pain - of corporal punishment during the person's own upbringing can only be achieved by inflicting it on others. This is known as displacement aggression; he hit me and I can't hit him back so instead I'll hit somebody else. Pass on the aggression, repeat the cycle. This is evidenced through the justification "It never did me any harm" - except to convince the person that it's OK to abuse children through inflicting pain. Whilst corporal punishment may appear to work in the short term, it is merely control by fear. The lesson that it teaches in the long term is that violence is an acceptable solution to any problem.

Jordan Riak's excellent web site at http://www.nospank.net/ makes some of the most disturbing reading on this subject you're likely to find, as does Tom Johnson's page at http://www.nospank.net/sexdngr.htm.

For a photograph of the horrific injuries inflicted on thousands of American (and other) schoolchildren every day see http://www.nospank.net/whacked3.htm

Pornography

Pornography has always been a traditional outlet for sexual frustration, and probably always will be. It's acceptability is determined by current social values. Whilst most people do not object to "soft" porn (and may even secretly indulge occasionally, perhaps just to see what they are missing), many doubt the value and wisdom of "hard" porn (except those who make their living from the profits thereof). However, the harder the pornographic content, the more abusive it tends to be.

It could be said that an individual's need, and hence dependency, on pornography is directly proportional to that individual's inadequacy. Others may regard it as a substitute for lack of opportunity.

Reporting abuse

Why don't targets of abuse report their abuse? There are many reasons:

B4. intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolise or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event
B5. physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolise or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

as well as

C1. efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma
C2. efforts to avoid activities, places or people that arouse recollections of this trauma
C3. inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
D3. difficulty concentrating

PTSD is a normal and natural emotional reaction to a deeply disturbing and shocking experience. It's possible half the population suffers PTSD to varying extents; mostly it is diagnosed as "stress" and "anxiety". Many supposed mental illnesses are probably symptoms of PTSD resulting from abusive experiences in childhood and should more properly be regarded as psychiatric injury.

Recovery from PTSD is described in David Kinchin's excellent book Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: the invisible injury.


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Violence, rage, abuse, discrimination and issues related to bullying
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Bullying by neighbours | Bullying by landlords
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Bullying and whistleblowing | Bullying and stammering
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Transsexuals and bullying | Bullying and disfigurement
Bullying and adoption | Bullying and eating disorders
Bullying and racism | Bullying because you're seen as overweight or fat
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Bullying and business ethics | Toxic management | Bullying and fat cats
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