Punishment’s Hidden Lessons
By Holly Bridges, executive director
In my last blog about parents losing their cool with their children, I did a little foreshadowing about how parents’ choices to discipline or punish their children have reverberations well into the child’s adulthood.
Before we get to that, though, let’s take a brief look at the difference between “punishment” and “discipline.” These terms are not interchangeable.
Punishment is all about the adult’s emotions. Discipline is all about teaching the child. Punishment requires the adult to act as judge, jury. and executioner. Discipline creates dialogue and communication with the adult acting as teacher. Or as parent educator Amity Hume Grimes puts it, “Punishment is revenge for the child’s blowing it,” while “discipline is teaching them to do it right.”
When parents choose to punish—whether it’s with physical force, withdrawing affection, giving them the silent treatment, or other ways of threatening abandonment—it leaves impressions on the child’s psyche that play out for years.
Experts in the area of intimate-partner violence point to an insidious pattern frequently seen in victims of abuse. If they were punished as children, the victims of abuse may internalize a belief that they deserve to be hit or deprived of, well, lots of things—autonomy, sustenance, shelter, money, protection. The adult in their childhood likely said something like, “You made me angry. Look what you made me do.” Therefore, little one, you deserve what you got because you provoked me.
So when this child grows up, it’s not unusual for her to equate physical or psychological abuse with an expression of “love.” After all, that’s what she experienced from people who claimed they loved her, or held roles as guardians of the child’s well-being. And if this personal and private abuse is accompanied by a wider cultural acceptance of abuse, it’s going to be pretty hard for an individual to deescalate violence and demand respectful treatment.
According to Amity Hume Grimes, one of the most important messages for victims of abuse to hear is, “You didn’t make that person angry. They made the choice to express their anger this way. You didn’t make them hit you. You might just have been in target range. Even if you did do something, you yourself never make someone hit you and you never deserve abuse, physical or psychological.”
The roots of abuse flourish when there’s an imbalance of power—physical and otherwise. A weaker person—more diminutive in size, social standing, economic resources, political voice—is vulnerable, of course. But the dynamic can change. We have access to vast resources to heal and empower ourselves and our communities—one person, one family, one school, one village at a time. Check out a few of these resources, which will lead you to others.
For parents: http://www.yourtango.com/experts/kim-olver/10-reasons-why-spanking-never-good-idea-expert
For caregivers, teachers, survivors, families: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/childmaltreatment/consequences.html
For adult survivors: http://www.ascasupport.org/
From Picture Alternatives’ resources page: http://picturealternatives.org/resources/