There is a prevailing falsity that, while some of us seem environmentally prone to psycho-physiological dis-ease, others better reared or parented, are relatively immune to inadequacy. This inaccuracy, perpetuated by those who purport to have a more stable upbringing, be it liberal or fundamentalist, sets the standard for the us versus other estrangement, an illusory and unhealthy divisiveness. It is prudent and essential to realize that we all suffer from certain incapacities and ineffective productivity. None of us is immune to anxiety and uncertainty; bewilderment and ineptitude. Our search-for-happiness, acceptance, and meaning is ubiquitous. Accepting this universality can make great strides in eliminating any stigma of less-than.
But I was never abused as a child. I had wonderful, caring parents.
The primary, all-inclusive, and ever-prevalent cause of moral turpitude, maladaptive behavior, and dis-stress ostensibly stems from childhood abuse, a generic term used to describe a broad spectrum of offences. Patterns of abuse, perpetrated by the parent, caregiver, or respected authority are subsequently embraced by the recipient agent as adolescent and adult. But I was never abused as a child. I had wonderful, caring parents. What is rarely taken into account is the relevance of ‘perceptual’ abuse for which no one is necessarily responsible. The American Psychological Association (1993) revised their definition to categorize child abuse as “nonaccidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child”. In a paper published by the American Bar Association, Steele (1995) expanded these abuses to include
any non-accidental events that interfere with the optimal physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of the child. It is subdivided into physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and various forms of neglect, all of which can occur alone or in combination.
Childhood abuse through even minimal and unintentional detachment, exploitation, and/or abandonment can cause the recipient to experience chronic depression, and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and unworthiness; repetitive patterns of shallow relationships; a general disregard or apathy for the feelings, rights, and welfare of others; an inability to trust; enhanced aggressiveness; and the “persistent need for human relationships coupled with a tragic inability to be intimate and make a commitment to an enduring relationship” (Steele 1995). Add to these, manifestations of debilitating anxiety, codependence; feelings of insecurity, isolation, the loss of control over life, and a resistance to new experiences. We are all affected by some degree of emotional turbulence; no one is immune.
The common perception of child abuse is that it is something that only affects a small percentage of children and adolescents. Social science dwells on the flagrancy of such actions―physical violence, sexual misconduct, the deprivation of nutrition―and ignores emotional exploitation as insignificant.
Maslow’s (1943) original hierarchy of needs listed five stages of human motivational development: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization. (In later wisdom, he added self-transcendence.) In order to reach a homeostasis of self-actualization, the child must be able to experience basic physiological safety, which includes a requisite amount of sleep, food, and exercise. The subsequent psychological realms of belongingness and love require a physically and emotionally safe and stable environment. Achieving true self-actualization is a utopian endeavor but that should not deter us.
The common impression of child abuse has been that it is something that only affects a percentage of children and adolescents. Social science dwelled on the flagrancy of such actions―physical violence, sexual misconduct, the deprivation of nutrition―and ignored perceptual exploitation as insignificant. In true fact, all of us suffer from some form of child abuse, whether consciously imposed through pathological perpetuation, unconsciously as a result of normal or ambivalent parenting, or perceptual as result of childhood innate selfishness and neediness.
Children who are emotionally abused and neglected face similar and sometimes worse mental health problems as children who are physically or sexually abused, yet psychological abuse is rarely addressed in prevention programs or in treating victims, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association. (Childhood 2014)
This is not a generic implication of parental intent or action yet none of us is perfect. We impose our own immature behaviors on our children. We ignore them when they interfere with our solitude; we vent our exasperation; we blame them for our own disappointments; we demand they compensate for our own inadequacies; we belittle them when they do not live up to our expectations. We raise our voice in anger when under stress, or for emphasis. We teach them survival skills through negative reinforcement.
Demands which cannot be met or no demands, suppression of conflict or sidestepping of conduct, refusal to help or too much help, unrealistically high or low standards, all may curb or underestimate the child so that he fails to achieve the knowledge and experience which could realistically reduce his dependence upon the outside world. (Baumrind 1966)
Child abuse factors itself onto the perceptual reality of the child, no matter the intentionality of the parent, caregiver, or respected authority; it is a normal consequence of child-rearing.
The phrase ‘child abuse’ implies intentionality, and the APA emphasizes this with its emphasis on the term “nonaccidental”. I posit that child abuse factors itself into the perceptual reality of every child, no matter the intentionality of the parent, caregiver, or respected authority; it is a natural consequence of normal child-development. A child who has been perceptually slighted will experience a sense of abandonment or separation, insignificance or inconsequentiality, deprivation, humiliation, feelings of unworthiness (four of the five major fears of humanity). Even rarer is the child who comprehends the justifiability of discipline, which is often just educational or conditional restraint―necessary components of child-rearing. In other words, what may not constitute abuse by the parent or authoritative figure can easily be perceived as such by the child.
Baumrind provides three types of parental authority. The ‘Permissive Child Authority’ that allows the child to be self-regulated can result in apathy and impulsiveness. The ‘Authoritarian’ provides strict boundaries that often produce defiance and retribution, while the ‘Authoritative’ method can manifest a child of low moral virtue. None of these authorities connote intentional or nonaccidental child abuse; yet the results of such rearing effects can be devastating.
A child’s retaliatory, compensatory, and imitating responses to abuse develop into adolescent maladaptive behavior―lapses of moral virtue evidenced by acting out, white-lying, filching, and other venial aberrations. Recipients of child abuse are subject to meanness, non-cooperation, impatience, disrespect, and irresponsibility. Any sense of fairness is jeopardized, trust becomes uncertainty, empathy lost to indifference or hate―all feelings cognitively incomprehensible to the pre-adolescent yet often prevalent behavior in the adolescent and adult.
There is an important distinction between the actions of the child and those of the adolescent―that of intentionality. Ironically, it is the younger subject whose preoccupation (albeit implicit) with retaliation and compensation impels reactionary impulse.
While Sartre’s (1989) view of existentialism asserts that the human person is responsible for everything he or she does “from the moment that he is thrown into this world”, it is not until the passive child matriculates into the active grade of cognitive, emotional, and social development … when the now adolescent develops “the ability to think logically and systematically and to understand abstractions and the concepts of causality and choice” (Trimbur 2015) that the developing agent can be held accountable.
There is an important distinction between the actions of the child and those of the adolescent―that of intentionality. Ironically, it is the younger subject whose preoccupation (albeit implicit) with retaliation and compensation impels reactionary impulse. These impulses are considered “states with respect to which [the child is] passive”, and “are to be contrasted with other motivations that are directly up to us, such as choices and decisions” (Wallace 1999).
So when and under what circumstances does the agent acquire the level of comprehension necessary to make appropriate decision-making? At what stage does the individual become the responsible party? The age at which one is considered mature is rooted in a mix of culture, language dependent perception, psychobiology, and historical precedent. Understanding the concepts of casualty and choice is the foundation for an appropriate understanding of one’s personal liability to self and society.
To iterate, I do not claim that all children suffer from intentional child abuse generated by parent, caregiver or respected authority. I posit that all children are subject to perceptual realities of abuse, including those youngsters in Piaget’s ‘formal operational stage’, when the adolescent has acquired the freedom “to choose between various actions depending on a desired outcome” (Trimbur 2015).
In any case, a healthy subject-in-maturation must eventually assume personal responsibility for personal conditions. It is mandatory that her or she, in order to determine the cause(s) or circumstance(s) of the reactive behavior, take personal accountability for choices made, which―unlike the abuse for which the child cannot be held responsible―are the responsibility of the adult and, to variable extent, the adolescent. As Berkeley philosopher Wallace (1999) concludes, “We have departed from the simplifying assumptions that addictive behavior is non-voluntary and that the impulses generated by addiction are irresistible”. Moral impairment and subsequent behavioral idiosyncrasy instigates, to degree, a withdrawal from the norms of society, intolerance towards the well-being of others, a predilection to assign blame, avoidance of or inability to confront the truth of the impairment, and the continuance of the behavior despite efforts otherwise.
In order to accommodate transformation, the subject must address the primary cause(s) of the abuse that led to adult reactionary behavioral difficulties. As humans, we are inherently motivated to search for answers; ignorance of those events and circumstances that underscore the structure of our being promotes internal discontent and agitation. A certain calm urgency is recommended in order to grasp at the things that instigate moral inadequacy. This requires ambitious and confrontational determinations of the situational causes(s), which provides us with knowledge, experience, and understanding of our psycho-physiological status. Our grounds for behavior are so intrinsically interdependent and intertwined that the precedents, seemingly separate and distinct, must become recognizable as cumulative associations that affect each layer of our behavioral trajectory model. It is not the delayering of the artichoke to get to the heart, it is analyzing the seemingly inexhaustible seeds within the pomegranate.
Long story short; we are all subject to the natural infirmities that affect the body complex―the harmonious homeostasis of body, mind, and spirit. Not only is there no shame in addressing our natural, prevailing imbalance, it is a comforting and necessary panacea for living-well with pride, empathy, and self-affirmation. We must continually strive for our purest identity because it is our very reason for being.
Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior. Child Development, 37(4), 887-907. Retrieved from http://arowe.pbworks.com/f/baumrind_1966_parenting.pdf
Maslow, A. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation (originally published in Psychological Review, Vol. 50 #4. Washington, D. C.
Sartre, J. P. (1989). Existentialism is a Humanism. From Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre. W. Kaufman (Ed.). New York: Meridian Publishing Company.
Spinazzola, J. (2014.). Childhood Psychological Abuse as Harmful as Sexual or Physical Abuse. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/10/psychological-abuse.aspx
Steele, B. F. (1995). The Psychology of Child Abuse. Family Advocate, 17 (3), 29-23. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25805697
Trimbur, C. (2015). Theories of Developmental Stages – Stages of Development. Psychology Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/183/Developmental-Stages-Theories.html
Wallace, R. J. (1999). Addiction as Defect of the Will: Some Philosophical Reflections. Law and Philosophy, 18 (6), 621-624. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3505095
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ReChanneling is a positive motivational program that encourages the individual to consciously replace maladaptive behaviors with those of positive and comparable value while addressing the integral influences of the mind, body, and spirit.