DEAR FRIENDS- The ideology that spanking one's child is a healthy and appropriate way to build character and breed respect for parental authority is, tragically, still widely supported. We all know good-hearted, well intentioned people who defend this practice and insist it does no harm. It is telling to note that these same people are easily "triggered" into blind anger when their right to strike their children is challenged. There is a reason for this. I believe that this damaging and barbaric practice- the equivalent of an emotional curse that passes from generation to generation- continues because parents who were spanked themselves are unconsciously re-enacting what was done to them. The pain and anger they once experienced is still within them, and this leads to being numb and blind to their children's anguished responses.
A common sense example I use to awaken people about the complete indefensibility of spanking is this- it is an actual crime, punishable by law, to strike one's spouse/partner. And many relationships end after one and only one such incident. We instinctively understand why this is so- the fear, sense of betrayal and loss of trust can be irreparable.
Society supports such a reaction to physical abuse in a romantic relationship. Yet far worse is done repeatedly to children and is defended as "healthy discipline". The curse of spanking must finally be ended and harmless, effective and constructive ways of setting boundaries- of which there are many for those willing to make the effort and learn- need to be employed.
No child deserves to be physically struck for any reason. In my lectures on child abuse I often stop defenders of the practice with a simple question: "If you were grabbed by a stranger on the street, physically overpowered and controlled , then taken over the knee and spanked- what would you feel?" Of course, people understand immediately- they would feel panicked, humiliated, helpless and enraged. The assault on their physical integrity would bring forth these excruciating feelings and more. The stress of the incident- like the aftermath of any attack- would linger for a long time. And this is exactly what helpless and overpowered children feel.
As a Bioenergetic psychotherapist I have worked extensively with the victims of childhood physical punishment (and other forms of trauma and abuse). I have also worked with families struggling to stop the practice of spanking and heal the damage already done. From the cauldron of these experiences- and through my personal struggle to heal from my own family's violence- I have come to believe that for individuals and society to move beyond this traumatic practice it is crucial to awaken our empathy and compassion and see this traumatic experience through the eyes and heart of the child.
Here, then, is a summary of what a child goes through emotionally from being spanked- and a glimpse into the long-term impact.
Universally, children experience the physical and emotional violence of spanking as a betrayal of trust. In the act of spanking the aggressor changes the relationship from one of love to one of "power over" and domination. Regardless of the conscious intention of the adult, a child experiences spanking as being bullied and overpowered. (In fact, most of the bullying that children inflict on each other is a symbolic re-enactment of their experiences at home). And when children are told that this is being done "for their own good", they have no choice but to believe the parent- upon whom they utterly depend, for love and life itself. The inevitable result is that the child must cut off his/her natural and authentic feelings, becoming emotionally numbed in the process. This is the beginning of believing lies about who we are, rather than trusting what our own hearts, spirits and bodies feel and know.
This loss of connection to one's true self has lifelong consequences. Being spanked creates a lasting state of shock in the body and nervous system because the the agent/s of stress were (typically) Mother and/or Father- the very foundation of the child's emotional security. The child experiences being physically assaulted as a basic betrayal. Why? Because the attacker was the one that the child loved and trusted most of all.
What does a child feel, during and in the aftermath of being spanked? To begin, extreme feelings of shame and helplessness. Fear (sometimes to the point of panic) and guilt. Also a natural rage- even hatred- over being physically attacked and overpowered.
Lastly, the child is left with a deep sorrow. In a powerful way both the self and the parents have been lost. The child's sense of his/her basic innocence and rightness has been broken. "If I deserved that", the child thinks, "something must be wrong with me". And the pure, instinctive trust of the beloved parent/s has been fractured. For millions of children who were repeatedly spanked, heartbreak and the loss of their free spirit is the ongoing legacy.
A child who is spanked over time will repress their painful feelings into their body and unconscious mind. But these feelings don't heal. They persist, deep within, throughout life. The buried feelings, so potent and painful, affect all aspects of life- self-esteem, relationships, health. And the pain is either acted out toward others (spanking/belittling their own children; domestic violence; crime) or toward oneself (guilt, shame, self-hatred, and various physical problems from the buried stress).
As I remarked above, in a marriage/romantic relationship, being physically struck can permanently break the bond of love and trust between two people. Can we stretch our hearts and minds to see the impact on a child- who is far more vulnerable and dependent - of being struck by a parent?
I know beyond all doubt that parents who spank their children do not intend to inflict the damage I am describing. But the damage surely occurs, regardless of the parents' conscious intentions. This stark fact must be squarely faced if we are to bring transforming light and compassion to bear on this practice- and get beyond it once and for all.
From the Core/Bioenergetic point of view, parents who spank were invariably spanked/beaten themselves. Unconsciously, they are compelled to repeat on their children what was done to them. To not do this would tend to bring forth from repression the pain they once went through- and still carry. It is very difficult and requires heroic courage to face that pain.
But it can be done. As a therapist I have worked with many individuals who "walked through the fire" and successfully released the effects of being spanked/beaten as children. And I have worked with loving and heroic parents who not only stopped spanking their children, but in doing so healed the pain that drove them to do so.
My friends, I passionately urge you to open your hearts and eyes to this awareness. If you recognize that you are still angry and in pain from being spanked yourself, receive my assurance that you never deserved it and get the help you need to be free. If you are a parent awakening to the wrongness of spanking, have great compassion both for yourself and your children. There is help for you- reach out for it and work to heal all concerned.
Many years ago, I made a commitment that healed the foundations of my life. I vowed that the cycle of pain stops with me. When millions of us take that vow, our own healing will take wings- and the children of the future will be redeemed. LOTS OF LOVE- BRYAN