The Mentality of an Abused Child

April 26th, 2007.

Something has been bothering me lately.

You see, I do read the comments people make about my site. Not all of them, mind you, because I eventually get bored reading about myself. But I do read the first couple. Not only that, but I’ve seen my site linked on all sorts of crazy websites. Gun enthusiasts seem to get a kick out of my fighting articles and feminists freak out when I make fun of pregnant women. Everyone seems to have a theory about who I might be or what my oh so secret motivations are and one guy even wrote something that hit so close to home that I actually blushed a little. This tickles me. Not enough that I’d obsessively scour thread after thread for hours, but just enough that I’ll take a quick peak if I see something repeatedly appear in my stats. I can honestly say I’ve never been bothered by anything that’s been said about me, no matter how vicious and over the top the accusations have been, until just very recently.

When I wrote my Teenage Runaway story, I fully anticipated the backlash. I knew I’d be called a liar, a fake, and I’d have people accusing me of fishing for sympathy. I also knew that there would people out there who would understand. I was OK with this. After all, that’s the way of the world, isn’t it? No matter what you do, 99% of the world doesn’t give a shit about you or your feelings. That’s life and that’s beautiful. After all, it’s the opposing viewpoints, personalities, and morals that make this planet interesting.

With that said, I have finally stumbled on a few comments that have made me feel a little squirmy inside. On multiple places on the Internet, I have seen people comment about my Teenage Runaway story and related it back to my story about Daniel and his Father. They all say the same thing. They say, “If she was abused herself, how come she didn’t easily recognize what was happening to her friend? Why didn’t she instantly believe him? How come she never picked up on the signs? She should have known better.

This bothers me not because I’m prone to letting people on the Internet make me feel guilty. (Trust me; no one could make me feel worse about that than I already do anyway.) What bothers me about these questions is it is glaringly obvious how little people understand about the mentality of an abused child.

What? Do you think abused children sit around and collaborate?

“My Daddy broke my leg!”

“So? My Mommy set my hair on fire!”

Uh, no.

Sorry folks, but it doesn’t work that way. Each child in an abusive home spends the majority of their lives working like hell to keep what they’re going through a secret. Hell, in my case, there are things I kept secret from my own brother and likewise things he kept secret from me. The main motivation behind this is embarrassment. Children are constantly force fed the ideology that their parents are their perfect protectors and the only people in the world who will offer them unconditional love. So when they don’t receive that love from their Mother or Father, they immediately blame themselves. They wonder, ‘What is wrong with me that my own Mother hates me?’ They sit and agonize over ways to become a better kid, foolishly believing that a good report card or an immaculately cleaned floor will end their abuse. They stare in the mirror and wonder if an ugly face is what inspires disgust in their guardians. They shy away from other people because they are afraid if they let anyone get too close, their secret will be discovered. That secret always being, of course, that they are flawed. They are unlovable. They are broken.

I find it amazing we live in a world where grown, logical, healthy adults (of both sexes!) can suffer a brutal rape and keep it a secret out of shame and embarrassment and there will always be people who understand. Yet, when a child suffers years of abuse and trauma from the very person he has been socialized to believe as the only person who is capable of giving him unconditional love, we expect him to be brave enough to tell the world! A grown woman can hide her black eye behind a pair of sunglasses and we offer her our sympathy. A child can hide decades of pain and we snap, “Well, you should have said something!”

Not only that, but we expect children to know the difference between right and wrong when their only moral authorities have failed to teach them so. The truth of the matter is, even if you’re a drunken idiot with quick fists, your child will spend the majority of his childhood assuming that you’re perfect. All his life, he’s been told, ‘Listen to your Mother! Listen to your Father! They know what they’re talking about!’

This reminds me of my grade school friend, Jason. Not only was Jason my next door neighbor, but we were also in the same class in school. One week we were studying illegal drugs and the entire school was preaching a ‘Say No to Drugs!’ campaign. Every day after school, while Jason and I walked home, we’d discuss the campaign and how fun it was to get out of regular classes for a change.

Jason would say, “When I grow up, I’m never doing drugs!”

I’d quickly agree, “Me either. Drugs are stupid.”

Then Jason would say, “Except crack. I might smoke crack someday.”

“Isn’t crack a drug?”

“No, I’m pretty sure it isn’t.”

“But the teacher said….”

“My Dad smokes crack. He told me it wasn’t.”

“Oh well, I’m sure your Dad would never do drugs, so crack can’t be a drug.”

Do you understand the mentality here? Kids are raised to believe parents are perfect and even when they are faced directly with information contrary to this belief, they will figure out a way to justify it. But the reality of the matter is that even a parent with the best intentions will make mistakes, so it is folly for us to treat any human being as omniscient. The greatest damage any parent can do to a child is to raise him to believe they are incapable of screwing up. This ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and ‘because I said so’ attitude is particularly confusing. The worst parents of all are always the ones who don’t have the guts to look their kids in the eye say they’re sorry.

Of course, this Mommy-can-do-no-wrong mentality will fade as a child becomes a savvier teenager, but by then, the damage has already been done. Their anger and hatred might cause them to lash outward, but I can assure you, the lashes they turn inward are far more violent and desperate. Outwardly, they might rage for hours about how much they hate their degenerate abuser (Without actually ever telling you why) while simultaneously secretly blaming themselves for being the cause of their parent’s fall from grace. All teenagers spend a period of time feeling varying levels of self disgust, but a child who grows up with a monster for a parent feels downright self hatred to frightening degrees. Being a teenager in an abusive situation is a confusing, dark time that seems to last forever.

This is why I’m so amazed by the people who read my story and said, “Why didn’t she know what was happening to Daniel? She should have seen the signs!

Fuck you. How come you never saw the signs? I was a fucked up kid so wrapped up in my own personal tragedy that I couldn’t see anything outside of my own pain. What’s your fucking excuse? How many abused children do you walk past every day without noticing the signs?

These comments I’ve read on the Internet from what I assume to be grown, healthy, somewhat functional adults frighten me more than anything I’ve ever experienced in my own childhood. Because when I read them, I get the sneaking suspicion that people really believe that abused children are fully capable of saving themselves.

With that attitude, these kids are doomed.

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