Dear Mr. Riak,
Like many Americans, I too was subjected to "spankings" as a child, though I prefer to call them whippings and beatings since that's what they really were. My mother's "paddles of choice" were thick leather belts, large soup spoons, and what she called "cherry switches" (thin branches!).
She seemed to take great pleasure in the humiliation aspect of the beatings. We had to have them bare-bottomed, of course. And when she chose to use a cherry switch, we had to go outside and pick it ourselves. If it wasn't large or "good" enough, she would send us back out to pick another, and give us extra swats for "trying to get away with it".
Mom would give beatings out for only one reason: when she was dissatisfied somehow regarding chores. Say I dropped a glass while doing dishes, or left my toys lying about, or my eldest sibling (mother's pet, who escaped all beatings) hadn't done her own duties- then out would come the belt. That is actually one of my most vivid memories of childhood... getting pulled out of bed at one in the morning (when my mother got home from being out) and being beaten while finishing my sister's undone chores.
It's very odd, because in all other respects my mother seemed to be a decent and respectable person. She was fun-loving and open with us. She did not call us names or hit us for other reasons. She held a high-paying, extremely well respected position in the community. Meeting her, one would probably never guess that she inflicted abuse on her children in that one small, strange area of life.
For many years I was very, very angry, but now I am trying my best to forgive my mother for what she did. For I've discovered that she has her own history with "spanking", and it is hauntingly similar to what she did to her own daughters. She was raised by an alcoholic father and an unattached mother. As the least favored child she was regularly whipped, often for no reason other than her parents were in bad moods. It is so true that spanking affects far more people than just the poor child who receives it.
To this day my mother defends her parents' evil behavior and refuses to accept that what they did was heinous abuse. I guess their cruelty warped her mind so terribly that it is all she knows of being loved. That is so sad and pitiful. I will never excuse the way she hurt us, or pretend I understand it, but I do want to get past my anger.
How can "spanking" advocates not see what this violence does to people; how it trickles down through the generations and hurts us all?
Now in the present day... the effects of my childhood have been ongoing, as you may have guessed. I have suffered from depression and low self-esteem regularly. I am completely unable to walk away from a mess or job that needs to be finished- never in my adult life have I left dishes in the sink overnight, or saved the vacuuming for another day. I still have an incredible fear of leaving a chore undone. As a result, my doctor suspects I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Futhermore I have extreme difficulty in speaking up for myself- it makes me feel ashamed to draw attention. Yet in bizarre contrast, I suffer from terrible rage and have had to see a counselor to deal with it. When I become angry or threatened I feel an almost primal desire to physically strike out at whoever has bothered me. I have not hurt anyone and probably never will, but the feelings and what those feelings do to me are bad enough. I am a person who acts meek but has horrid, violent urges all the while.
I am glad to say that my family's cycle of violence stops with me. I have NEVER hit even one my six beautiful daughters, NEVER. Not once. I've had a lot of counselling, and help from my husband, and sometimes medication, to keep me from lashing out at the girls. I have managed to never act on my deviant thoughts.
But, it breaks my heart to admit that the thoughts are even there. When I get angry or frustrated, that desire to hit them still surfaces. Even through all my effort, I can only keep from acting on my feelings- I cannot prevent them from coming into my mind. This hurts and disgusts me more than I can possibly explain. The idea of hurting my children (or anyone else) repulses me, yet my subconscious is so deeply branded by abuse that it still wants to do it.
I'd like to say that, obviously, my mother's abuse was different than most well-meaning parents' "spankings" are. She obviously had more issues than many parents. But people must understand that the underlying message is the same, regardless of the reasons for the hitting. Whether the cruelest whipping or the so-called "gentlest" spanking, all tell a child the same thing: "hitting is okay and you should use it to get your way". Every time an adult strikes a child, it gives him or her the idea that violence is an acceptable response... and I guarantee that not every child who learns this falsehood can resist acting on it in adulthood.
Again, thank you so much for the work you are doing. And thank you for giving me a place to get this out of my system. It was difficult to write, and it amazes me how deeply ashamed I still feel talking about it. Deep inside it still feels like my fault, my inequity, my failure somehow.
I cried reading your website, especially other survivors' experiences. I cried realising that, for every one of us who manages to stop the cycle of abuse, there are others who give in to the violent impulses that their parents instilled in them. But I also felt hopeful that other people are learning about how bad "spanking" is. I am going to do all I can to work towards a day when no child is subjected to violence.
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