The Blurry Line between Discipline & Abuse
It's my hope that in this day and age, most people understand that there's a very definitive line and difference between these two terms (and I'm happy to report that most parents I meet nowadays do!), but the truth is it's this very question that has most people believing that mistreatment and abusive behaviours are, instead, discipline. This is why a lot of issues go unreported and unaddressed, and I can tell you for a fact that this is the reason why I never believed I was abused when the truth is that I was.
The reality is that we're coming off of the generations that believe being slapped, belted, you name it, is a normal way to discipline a child. But what does it teach them? It only teaches people that it's okay to physically enforce your opinion, beliefs, and expectations on others. The only thing this accomplishes is the creation of more people that will go on to cause domestic abuse & sexual assault, the fostering of a narcissistic mindset in a child, and above all else - an adult who can easily revert to feeling & acting like a scared little child when faced with any kind of confrontation in the home, workplace, or with friends. If you need more facts and examples to further determine this for yourself, read on...
I have to share some stories that I've personally encountered in order to help you understand how deeply impacting these actions are. Words (yelling, cursing, threatening) and emotional toying (guilt trips, supposedly not doing the right things or doing enough) were enough to make me constantly retreat to my bedroom, obey every command, and basically stay "out of sight, out of mind" when I was younger. But the context in which ALL of that was delivered was that I was "the child" and therefore, regardless of how I felt & thought, and how hard I worked to be good in school & stay out of trouble, everything would go the way my parents dictated it should be. If a peer or teacher introduced us to something we wanted to bring home & discuss, it would turn into an argument against it. If other kids at school were participating in activities we wanted to try, asking about it would start a fight. But to top it off, my father was rather militant in his parenting style and would threaten to kick us out & disown us, threaten to send us off to military school once we became of age - and would always be throwing a temper tantrum of his own while delivering these words.
It didn't matter that we (children) were already so repressed that we had no friends, were getting bullied and beat up at school, actually didn't cause trouble at school or home, and were completely obedient even when we reached the age where hormones saw us beginning to question and argue back (which undoubtedly made these situations worse, which caused us to back down quickly).. it always came back to us feeling like we couldn't do a single thing without walking on eggshells. But what kind of life is this for a child?! Where's the nurturing? Where was the room & opportunity to learn; as every child is supposed to? Instead of being worried about school activities, friends, and what interests we had, we were anxious & depressed and required medication & therapy by the time we hit our teen years.
And you really need me to point out the problem with this situation? I think it speaks for itself...
I was so emotionally scarred and just generally afraid of my parents that I retreated... but my sibling was one who acted on their anger from an early age. This person was the one who would get pulled into the bedroom, have their pants & underwear taken down, bent over the knee, and slapped repeatedly with a belt. And when this person first cursed (in response to an argument my father started), they were dragged by the hair into the bathroom where a bar of soap was held in their mouth as a means to "wash it out". My parents always left the doors open for this - leaving these images burning in my brain and haunting me to this day. But what's the reason why I'm sharing these details? Well, there are two reasons, which are both important to this conversation..
(1) When the dust settled, yet we were crying, shaken, and carefully trying to question why it was "okay" to be treated in those ways, it was explained to us that it was "normal childhood discipline", because it's the child's responsibility to only listen to their parents, and that because they (our parents) had endured such interactions & actions in their youth, it was perfectly acceptable that they do it.
Thus, causing us to have the belief that all that happened to us was "normal" and "discipline". We went on with life believing this, all while fostering anger within that gave us a knowing that we were at risk of being abusive to ourselves and others anytime we were pushed over the edge. Let's face it - it becomes a learned behaviour and since we were told it was okay to have happened to us, we start to think it's okay to do it to others.
(2) Further to the point I last made, there were red flag moments in our adult lives that caused me to start waking up. I thought that as an adult, it was not only acceptable to just get angry and run away from all issues, but when pushed to the brink, I'd lash out at the ones I loved. The first time I did became the last because it was a wake-up call, but unfortunately for my sibling - who endured more physical abuse - it went further. The day I caught them chasing and screaming at their significant other, and was face-to-face with the situation just as they were winding a fist back to deck the significant other in the face - but instead landed the punch on a door, likely because I immediately interrupted - I realized the full extent of the damage caused by our childhood.
Longer story short, which is actually (and sadly) true to how things went in our childhood - there was a big "kiss and make up" apology conversation once everyone had calmed down and the unacceptable behaviour was excused. Despite the fact that the two of them had only been dating a few weeks, a conversation patched it all up and it pains me to consider what else may have occurred in the months-years afterward in that relationship. While I hope that thought isn't at all true, it's the point I'm trying to make -- hands-on / physical "discipline" breeds the potential for physical abuse later in life.
The worst part of it ALL is that when we're young and still learning/developing - and basically don't know any better or different - we are taught that the worst things that can possibly happen to us are able to be swept under the rug, excused, and normalized. But like when I was sexually abused as a child and unable to talk about it because it, too, would be excused or denied (as being what it actually was), there's unfortunately little we can do except try to go on with life the best way we can. This is why it isn't until later in life when repressed memories call for our attention, and/or we hit an "awakening" point that calls for us to address/heal the past, and/or we start to see our addictions & habits make us forget while continuing to suffer mentally, we eventually realize we never deserved it and that it damaged us in more ways than we could ever imagine.
What it boils down to is that discipline isn't supposed to be any words or actions that would hurt someone. Think about how discipline is in the workplace - it's a formal, calm, and constructive conversation of "this isn't how this goes, please improve by doing ___, here's your warning because your actions are affecting how the business runs so if you continue it that way, we can't continue to have you doing this work". Most people take that kind of thing to heart and improve, but it's never something that threatens & changes your life, damages your psyche, and causes emotional & mental turmoil. Discipline comes down to set rules that everyone understands and is on the same page about - and when it comes to kids, they need to have it explained or shown to them why they shouldn't do something that would have a negative impact. It's not a case of "I don't like that you're doing that or thinking that way, so I'm going to scream at you or spank you to change you" -- in fact, that kind of reaction has the opposite effect!
So if you're doing a life review or simply just in a period of considering how to discipline your own children, keep these points in mind. Some people may think they're shaping a child by instilling fear through discipline, but the only thing that does is breed hate, anger, and the high likelihood that the child will act out in school and turn to abusing substances, themselves, and other people later in life. And if you have any reason to believe you've endured any mistreatment or neglect in your youth, accept my heartfelt sympathy & love, accept your gut instinct on those truths, and seek the help you need!
Ashley Tilson is a Holistic Trauma Recovery Specialist basing her methodology and services on her personal journey of overcoming childhood abuse, changing her mindset, breaking free from negativity, healing her Inner Child, and embarking on a new life that she previously thought she could only dream about.