“Speak roughly to you little boy and beat him when he sneezes. He only does it to annoy because he knows it teases.” – Louis Carol
Severely punishing ones children by beating them was considered the appropriate behavior for a long time. Most especially among those in the Abrahamic religions. Unfortunately this is still true today far too often. The psychological consequences of which are still denied by those who practice it. In fact they will defend this behavior quite vehemently. As Brian Enright says in this article.
In my years as a family therapist I talked to hundreds of parents. One of the biggest brick walls that I would frequently run into was the fact that MANY parents of children who had emotional/behavioral problems believed STRONGLY in, and defended, the practice of regularly “disciplining” their children by hitting, even beating them.
I’m not talking about an occasional light tap on the butt.
These parents couldn’t seem to understand the difference between discipline and abuse–both physical and verbal. Most of them fiercely defended their behavior. And they seemed totally blind to the negative effects that such behavior had on their unfortunate children.
It turned out that many–if not most of these parents–had been hit or beaten themselves when they were small. I remember one man who almost proudly told me, “My father hit me with a wooden two-by-four and it did ME good!”
Was this an example of unconscious “loyalty” to their own parents?–not wanting to admit or believe that their parents were abusive?Was it an unconscious “defense mechanism’ in which the child unknowingly denies and buries his pain from his young memory and blindly “identifies” with his abusive parent, only to later take it out on others, like his or her OWN children?
George Santayana wrote that “When experience is not retained those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
One wonders about why so many people grow up with a “lack of empathy” for others. That, and the lack of a conscience, are the chief characteristics of what we call “sociopathic” behavior. Researchers now now say that many people–not just ruthless criminals–display sociopathic behavioral traits.
Alice Miller wrote that Adolph Hitler once told his secretary how, during one of the routine beatings that his father gave him, he had managed to stop himself from crying, TO FEEL NOTHING and to even count the thirty-two strokes that he received.
What permitted Hitler to later–without any show of conscience or pity–act out such hatred and violence toward others? Is it perhaps because he had buried his own childhood abuse?
That he had never learned to empathize with his own pain? That he had had no parental figure available to empathize with him as a child?
One thinks of sexual predators–many, if not most of them, who were once sexually abused themselves.
How many of us were raised in “authoritarian” households, by parents who used power and fear to raise “obedient” children? Studies have shown that many adults who are raised by such parents tend to become authoritarian themselves when they grow up.
Or they tend to admire or and be submissive to leaders who, like their parents, have authoritarian personalities.
This kind of parenting behavior is most prevalent in those who adhere to a very fundamentalist Christian view, using the bible to justify it. I myself have see the results of this kind of abuse. And the mental and emotional abuse is even worse, believe it or not. Interestingly enough children who are spoiled – given their every hearts desire – often turn out exactly the same. Since these children are given “things” as a substitute for love and empathy and compassion. The author goes on the suggest that his may have something to do with why some people see no problem with extreme interrogations such as water-boarding.
I believe that many of those people who were raised with–let us call it “tough” parenting–tend to believe otherwise, that only such aggressive methods as waterboarding are effective ways of getting others to “obey” and “tell the truth”.
I believe that such things as water-boarding also serve as an excuse to vicariously act out one’s own long-denied fear and anger by”punishing” the prisoner’s evil behavior.
As it was with most of the parents who I treated in therapy–who reacted with defensiveness, anger and even rage when I confronted their beliefs in corporal punishment, tried to explain the ineffectiveness of such behavior and persuade them to use less abusive parenting strategies–I expect that many of my readers will also angrily disagree with and fiercly attack the validity of my beliefs.
That is why I don’t believe that there will ever be an end to the debate over such things as water-boarding.
But this is but one factor. There are many others to consider. One can only wonder whether this kind of behavior is behind other beliefs of the right wing and even some who profess to be on the left as well. As a society can we really justify this kind of behavior on religious grounds or the sanctity of the family ? We used to allow the burning of witches and other horrendous acts this way but they are no longer permitted. Should we still be allowing this now that we are fairly sure of the consequences ?