Adults who suffered from child abuse are left with the legacy of a deformed self-image
Victims of child abuse do not report that they are being abused for many reasons.
The main one is that a child hardly understands what is happening, especially when it comes to sexual or emotional abuse.
Children who are beaten are aware of the violence to which they are subjected, as they experience, in addition to fear, physical and emotional pain. Still, as physical violence comes from parents or guardians, it is often naturalized -- in a child's view, if adults know everything, they certainly know what they are doing, leaving them to blame for being beaten.
Love and pain are mixed, and often victims of physical abuse justify the abuse through their own behaviour as if they deserved the punishment. This perception not only distorts the understanding of what love and care are, but it is also often repeated in future generations, perpetuating a cycle of transgenerational violence that is very difficult to break.
"They internalize punishment as a reflection of their personality, and not as an expression of the lack of control and unpreparedness of the adult who attacks them"
It is very common to hear that a child, when beaten, does not hate the adult, but learns to hate herself. They internalize the punishment as a reflection of their personality, as a sign that there is something wrong with them, and not as an expression of the lack of control and unpreparedness of the adult who attacks them.
In these cases, not only is their self-esteem weakened, but their self-worth is distorted, leading them to accept abusive relationships at work, in friendships and in love in adulthood.
Children who are beaten learn, from an early age, that the socialization process takes place through the slap. Punitive education deprives them not only of respect, but of the notion that the adult exists to support them. Without this notion, there is no possibility of asking for help, and it is common for the child to come to see any adult as both an authority and a threat.
It is a breach of trust that compromises faith in human beings at all stages of life. And if the adult who's supposed to take care of her can't be trusted, why should anyone else be?
In sexual abuse, the dynamic is different.
"Fooled by the seductive manipulation, the victim does not understand that the supposedly affectionate act is actually a great violence"
It usually occurs through seduction, through an adult's emotional mastery over them. More than 70% of cases of sexual abuse happen in the family or by someone close to the child. Because it is presented as a form of "affection", this type of abuse confuses and perverts the notion of what affection really is. Fooled by seductive manipulation, the victim does not understand that the supposedly affectionate act is actually a great violence.
Although it causes embarrassment, sadness, shame and often disgust, child sexual abuse, when it does not involve rape, hardly causes pain, which makes it difficult for the child to report it. In addition, the abuser usually has a strong affective bond with the victim, and is able to silence them via emotional blackmail or threat.
At other times, the victim is too small and doesn't even know how to name what happens, because sexual abuse is an act completely foreign to their repertoire. How to tell someone what you can't define?
However, it is very common that, even being able to describe sexual abuse, the victim does not find an echo from those who should protect them. Often, when disclosing it, the child or teenager is discredited, largely due to the mythology created about the abuser by the media in general.
"The figure of the paedophile has traditionally been portrayed in cinema as a 'monster', as a misfit and without social graces from whom it is good to keep distance. But in real life, he is very different from it."
Pay attention to movies and soap operas that depict this form of abuse. Most of the time, the abuser is the neighbourhood weirdo, a lonely, eccentric man to whom no one wants to get close. The figure of the paedophile was traditionally portrayed in cinema as a "monster", as a misfit without social graces from whom it is good to keep distance. But in real life, he is very different from it.
The abuser, in most cases, is the father or stepfather, uncle, grandfather, cousin or older brother, neighbour or family friend. Although less common, women also sexually abuse, with equally devastating consequences for victims.
Contrary to what we see in movies, they are good citizens, friendly and well-integrated into the community. The monster next door, in fact, could be an exemplary father, funny uncle, cousin, helpful doorman, or beer buddy. And yes, they know exactly what they do when they abuse a child.
Another factor that interferes a lot in the disclosure of sexual abuse is the lack of preparation of adults to accept this complaint. It is common for people to doubt the victim, especially when the abuser is someone dear to the family.
"The natural attitude of any child or teenager who feels insecure about an adult's support is to silence"
The denial mechanism protects those who should be protective and revictimizes the victim, who, in addition to the weight of abuse, has to deal with the pain and humiliation of being belittled. The natural attitude of any child or teenager who feels insecure about an adult's support is to silence. Abusers and families remain protected, while silence worsens, even more, the consequences of abuse.
Denying that someone we know has abused a child or teenager just because the person doesn't "look like" an abuser is a common reaction that protects adults from having to question their role in this story. Or having to face the fact that their family is dysfunctional, that they have failed as protectors and that they may have even facilitated the occurrence of abuse.
It hurts. It shakes up family structures. Furthermore, it often requires changes that will affect the family's financial life, their comfort, and their status, and no one wants to go down that road. The choice of denial is also coward because it saves adults and condemns the abused child to double loneliness - that of abuse and that of silence about it.
"Treating a child coldly, or cruelly, whether through passive-aggressiveness or open abuse, is like steamrolling a child's self-esteem"
With emotional abuse, the difficulty of seeking help is even greater. Treating a child coldly, or cruelly, whether through passive-aggressiveness or open abuse, is like steamrolling their self-esteem. Everything negative that is said, and all the affection, care and attention they don't receive, are internalized as if they were consequences of their personality.
Children called dumb, lazy, clumsy or dramatic believe that they are stupid, lazy, clumsy and dramatic, and start to behave in a way that confirms their self-image. Children who do not find acceptance and understanding believe that they are not worthy, and spend their lives looking for the affection that they did not have in childhood in other relationships - or accept, very early, not being worthy of affection, and resign to relationships with little or no emotional intimacy.
All forms of child abuse carry within them a gigantic incongruity, the use of force and power by an adult over someone unable to react. But it's always good to remember that you only know how to protect yourself if you were properly protected early on. KS