We Are Survivors 

This blog is dedicated to the tens of millions of adult survivors of child abuse and neglect who get up every day and try to work and function in a world that seems to not care about us.

What Does Abuse Look Like?

There is a major problem in America in that many people either don’t recognize abuse or they deny the amount of violence and abuse occurring in their families. Let’s first talk about some of the characteristics in the family that contribute to violence.

  • Inadequate knowledge of appropriate child rearing practices;
  • Parental substance abuse;
  • Failure to bond with the child;
  • Marital problems:   disconnected, withdrawn, and problems frequently left unsolved;
  • Emotional needs unmet like attention or affection;
  • Presence of rigid traditional roles; and
  • Blaming other people for their troubles.

We can talk about this issue by identifying three behaviors that are the most damaging in families which are the acts of manipulation, domination and neglect.

Manipulation

  • Making or carrying out threats to do something to hurt members of the family;
  • Using looks or gestures to frighten;
  • Smashing things;
  • Calling each other names;
  • Humiliating family members;
  • Controlling who members can see or talk to; and
  • Shifting blame.

Domination

  • Treating members of the family like they are property;
  • The husband acts like he is the king of the castle; and
  • Putting members of the family down.

Neglect

  • Being emotionally unavailable;
  • Being unresponsive; and
  • Failing to meet a child’s physical and psychological needs.

These characteristics can be as subtle as acting as if nothing is wrong and putting the blame on another person in the family to family members just not talking to each other about what is bothering them. If these behaviors persist long enough, they can escalate to more serious problems of actual abuse.

To better illustrate patterns of family behavior, it is helpful to think of a continuum.

Healthy Families

Research has found that there are 5 basic characteristics found in successful families.

  • Problem Solving: Healthy families are able to identify and develop solutions to problems in a way that isn’t harmful to the functioning of the family.
  • Communication: This area involves both the verbal and nonverbal messages that are exchanged within the family. Families who are able to express their feelings are also better able to solve problems.
  • Family Roles: If members have clear but flexible roles, they are better able to handle life’s changes as they come along. For example, it is the adult’s role to be the caretaker, not the other way around. Too many times a parent expects the child to take care of him/her.
  • Affective Responsiveness: This deals with the issue of the family’s ability to respond emotionally to other family members appropriately. Families need to be able to share and experience together feelings of love, tenderness, joy, fear and anger.
  • Behavior Control: This is concerned with how flexible or rigid the family is in dealing with family situations.

Next on the Continuum

Going back to my discussion on problems with manipulation, domination and neglect, families all too often display these characteristics:

  • Family members constantly turn the tables of blame on others and make people in the family acknowledge their tormentor’s superiority;
  • Members display explosive feelings or rage;
  • Members manipulate others into proving their love all the time; and
  • Too many times members are just cold and ruthless but use a lot of charm to win people over.
  • People in the family are made to feel invisible by showing that your opinions aren’t important.
  • Member’s efforts and accomplishments are belittled.
  • You are told you are too sensitive.
  • You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
  • You are told your ideas aren’t good enough.

These types of behaviors are common in a lot of families, but they wouldn’t describe themselves as abusive. These are abusive behaviors and can lead to more serious violence.

Further on the Continnum

  • Members of the family receive both verbal and nonverbal messages that are loaded with threats of punishment and violence.
  • Expressions of anger and fear usually mean uncontrolled abuse.
  • Teenagers looking for warmth and attention sexually molest their siblings.
  • Parent’s behaviors toward each other and the children are humiliating and hurtful, both physically and sexually.
  • There are rigid roles and no help is allowed from outside the family.

All of these behaviors within families are characteristic of men and women at all levels of society – from the Board room to the janitor. All too often family violence is equated with people living in poverty. I knew several people who had the best childhood money could buy, and yet they lived in violent homes.

We need to start talking about this openly. There needs to be a dialogue in every home, every town, and all across the country. Until this dialogue starts, family violence will remain a secret and will continue to cause problems in America.

 

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APA Position on Child Abuse - Part 4
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