Dear Mr. Riak,
I first want to say "thank you" for doing all the work you are doing to stop the practice of spanking as a form of child behavior modification. Spanking certainly DOES modify child behavior, but not in the way our society assumes. The traumatizing event of being spanked has an impact on the child's forming brain, and also on the child's body, causing many problems later in life.
Long-term Damage to Sexuality
I was spanked by both parents with objects ... my mother used a spatula and my father hit me with his belt. I recall both types of spankings, but my father's were the most humiliating and painful.
He would unbuckle his belt and whip it out of the belt loops and come at me with fury in his eyes. He would grab my arm and hit me on the buttocks and legs. He would use his full physical power in the blows. My father is 6' 2" and he weighed about 190 lbs. when I was a child. The first time he ever hit me I was 2 years old. Those early spankings were with his hand, but from about age 4 to age 9, I was hit with a belt.
He also hit my brother and sister with a belt. I recall being 10 years old and watching him beat my 4-year-old sister, Cindy with a belt. I cried. I just felt her absolute terror and I was powerless to stop it.
I think that perhaps for me, the earliest spankings, where he used his hand, were as traumatizing as when he used his belt, because I was so young when it started. But the belt spankings are the ones I remember the most vividly, and they carry the most emotion in my memory. The belt spankings did not happen frequently, perhaps 5 to 8 times in my whole life, but they were horrifying and impacted me very much.
My father was very dominating and would use the threat of spanking often. He would say, "I am going to take my belt off." (To me there is an element of sadism to those threats. There is also sexual symbolism in the act of unbuckling a belt … and rapists unbuckle their belts before the act of rape.) My father used swear words frequently, and was angry a lot of the time. I was very afraid of him.
When I was a teen, I was considered "too old" to spank, but that did not stop him from resorting to violence. One day, I disagreed with him about something, "talked back," and he hit me across my face with full force. The irony is that if he had done that to my mother, it would be called "domestic violence," and she could have called the police to have him arrested. Yet children's bodies are not protected from violence if it is considered "discipline."
Spanking impacted my body profoundly. Both my sister and I have had spinal problems related to a "hunching" posture. The experience of being spanked caused an unconscious reflex towards a fetal position for self-protection. Bioenergetics pioneer Alexander Lowen has written extensively about how the human body stores memories in the form of posture. Even one's lungs and breathing are impacted by past abuse.
I also had a stuttering problem as a child and I unfortunately still stutter sometimes in conversations.
But the thing that brings me the most sorrow is how spanking impacted my sexuality. This is so personal to talk about but it is necessary. The sexual aspect of spanking is something that is not addressed by many anti-spanking activists.
When a female's buttocks are struck, blood rushes to the vulva. There is a sexual component to something that is supposed to be about "discipline" and making the child "mind." I wish those parents who spank would become aware of the sexual-abuse aspect of it. Maybe that would make them think twice about resorting to this form of punishment.
It is particularly humiliating for a female child to be spanked by an adult male. There is a profound feeling of violation at having one's genitals struck by this man who is supposed to protect you. It can prompt a female to either seek out abusive males later in life, or develop a lasting fear of/ aversion to the male gender.
The way that my body reacted to the spankings was to tense up. The upper part of my legs and my buttock area became very hard -- frozen. Through the years I dissociated from the sexual part of my body, and was out of touch with my body in general. The profound physical effects of spanking as well as the sexual humiliation aspect of it impacted my body's ability to orgasm. It took years and lots of body therapy to begin to heal that.
I could not orgasm with a partner or alone until age 31. I was only able to finally achieve that goal after getting help from a cranial-sacral therapist, who also helped me work through emotional issues of anger relating to my father. Only after that intensive work, did my muscular and nervous systems reintegrate enough to allow the relaxation necessary for orgasm. I am certain that the vast majority of women who have orgasm problems were spanked.
And conventional psychiatric approaches to human problems have ignored the very central role of physical punishment. Freud ignored or covered up the two of the most significant factors correlating to later adult problems: sexual abuse and corporal punishment. I had an eating disorder as a teenager, and the psychiatrist I went to was interested in all kinds of symbolic issues, relating to sexuality or my relationship with my mom. But she never once asked me about early trauma, like being hit or spanked. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence about spanking. This must end. I really feel that the anti-spanking movement is where the anti-wife beating movement was 30 years ago. We still have to convince people that something so ubiquitous is wrong!
Unfortunately, many people who were spanked as children block out the memory of pain and humiliation, and do to their own offspring what was done to them. The cycle continues through the generations. For example, my grandfather was beaten by his father with a strap (grandpa had residual feelings of hatred for his dad, according to my uncle), then my grandfather used a belt on his children, including my mother. So my mother thought that corporal punishment is ok, and she married a man who hit her children with a belt. Let's end this destructive "gift that keeps on giving."
A legal right needs to be established that children's bodies are off-limits to violence. Some European nations, like in Sweden, have outlawed corporal punishment. I hope and pray that I see that development in the US in my lifetime.
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