We are all shaped by the things we experience in childhood, our parents, friends, and family all have an influence on us and how we act. As infants and toddlers, our main source of learning is through observation. We learn how to speak by watching and listening to the people around us. As we get older we learn to say “please” and “thank you” by watching the adults in our lives display different mannerisms and how to treat people. During our early adolescence, we are practically just playing ‘monkey see monkey do’, so when we are exposed to atypical, abusive or any other type of negative behavior while we are young, that is what we learn. This can cause adverse effects that follow people into adulthood and throughout their entire lives. Many times these people are then bullied by others for being different and do not receive the care and attention they need to heal. The stigma surrounding abuse, the lack of opportunity to get help and common misconceptions prevent people from getting help. Educating people on the signs of abuse and giving people factual information on the topic is key to helping victims and survivors escape the abuse and the abuse cycle that follows.
There are plenty of statistics and data describing the child abuse cause and effect and how it follows them throughout life. A study done on the long term effects of child abuse found that “80% of 21-year-olds who reported child abuse met the criteria for at least one mental illness”, and according to the CDC, “Individuals who reported six or more adverse childhood experiences had an average life expectancy two decades shorter than those who reported none.” And the statement most commonly heard surrounding child abuse, that if you’re abused as a kid, you’re going to abuse your own kids one day. While it is very common for children from abusive homes to tend to be more aggressive due to there surroundings, there is an entirely different outcome that is on the completely opposite side of the spectrum. Rather than lash out at others, many victims of abuse will suppress it all. They try to make themselves small and unnoticeable, hoping to avoid the abuse because they can’t be seen. As these children grow up, they continue to hide and try to avoid drawing attention to themselves, because in childhood, typically they only received negative attention. It’s just easier to be invisible rather than fight back. According to victims of abuse tend to be more aware when abuse is happening to others and can detect the signs more frequently than people who were not abused. It also causes them to be more cautious, which can affect building relationships of all kinds. It can make things from friendships to finding a job difficult. They worry and overthink. The anxiety can be so severe that they have a legitimate fear of people. New people, unfamiliar people, you don’t know who they are or what they’ll do. In an abuse victim’s mind, the first thought of someone new might be ‘do they want to hurt me?’. It also can cause lower self-esteem and a lack of confidence when it comes to being a parent themself. They fear that they’ll fail their kids, or won’t be able to protect them. They also fear that what happened to them will also happen to their children, or even that they will come to abuse them as their parents had. They feel this overwhelming need to protect others, they want to be someone they wish they had had during their time of need. They want to protect others because they weren’t fortunate enough to have someone protect them.
When talking about abuse statistics, normally the first thing someone mentions is how children who were abused are violent and aggressive. That they are more likely to bully people as a way to cope with their home life and trauma. When these kids grow up and have kids of there own, we hear about the cycle of abuse, and that now they abuse their own children. And this is true to some degree. About 30% of children who were abused or neglected will grow up to abuse their own, but what about the other 70%? Yes the statistic is upsetting, and all children deserve to be safe and protected, but the amount is not even close to the majority. Why is the focus always on the cycle of abuse when more than twice as many people are not a part of that problem? Why not pay attention to the quiet kid? The one who curls themself up into a ball and tries to hide away from everyone, staying still as possible so no one will even notice that they are there. There are kids who go to school every day and are all alone. They’re afraid, they don’t have any friends, and some of them don’t want any because they are afraid of others. Then they go home and continue to be alone. Sometimes the only things these children know are pain and loneliness. All it takes is one person. Someone who tries, who understands. They need a safe haven and someone they don’t need to fear, otherwise, they grow up and continue to live in fear. If the initial fear can be broken in childhood it makes the rest of their life easier. They don’t need to be afraid to ask someone a question, don’t need to become panicked when someone looks at them strangely or for a long amount of time. It would eliminate the anxiety tremendously. The abuse cycle is a serious problem and deserves the attention it has, but just as much, if so more, deserves to go to the other 70%. They exist, they’re problems are still relevant, but no one seems to notice. It is less talked about because there isn’t a ‘problem’ until you’re hurting someone else. Either someone needs to be hurting you or you need to be hurting someone, but if you’re only hurting yourself no one ever bats an eye. Do we blame them because they’re ‘doing it to themselves’? They have no control, no one would choose to be that way, it’s a defense mechanism, it’s for their own protection. And regardless of if they’re ‘doing it to themselves’, they still deserve attention and help. Anyone who is suffering, struggling or in pain in any way shape or form, mental or physical, deserves to be helped. Regardless of the severity, how long it’s been going on, or anything that can argue that it ‘isn’t bad enough’. No one deserves to suffer, no one deserves to be in pain, especially children, the ones who are the most vulnerable, people who can’t defend and/or don’t have a voice for themselves.
Now some may bring up the argument that they never see these types of cases and never see these types of behaviors in children who were abused. Most probably couldn’t understand how someone could be afraid of people, but a fear is a fear, and they are there for a reason. Someone could be bitten by a dog and then fear dogs their whole life, or fall off a high place on the playground and always be afraid of heights. Other people just cause a sort of discomfort, the severity of which varies from person to person. For some people, it is just a slight nervousness or a bit unnerving, but for others, it can be almost unbearable. They fear themselves in a way as well. They’re afraid that one day they’ll have kids of their own and they won’t be able to protect them, or even that they would be the ones putting them in danger and harm’s way. I have experienced all of these thoughts, all of these fears. It’s painful, and it’s lonely. I remember even as a preschooler, I had trouble making friends and I didn’t want to make friends really. I just wanted to be by myself. I wanted to be unnoticed, and I continued to try and blend in as best as possible for the majority of my life. I was, and to some degree, still am afraid of people. New people make me feel this type of uneasiness, I’m more alert and aware of how they act. I always have the thought in the back of my head that they want to hurt me, sometimes I think that even with people I’ve known for years and know would never hurt me. Friendships and relationships have always been hard, building trust and actually believing people, believing what they say and when they say they won’t hurt me. A lot of the time I’ll find myself questioning the future. When I think about my life and what I want to do, I know that I want to have kids at some point, but I worry that I’ll fail them, or even worse, I worry that I’ll hurt them. I take that abuse cycle statistic and the entire concept of the abuse cycle itself, and I worry that it is what I’ll become, just another statistic. I grew up with a warped sense of reality. What was normal to me was not normal at all, but how would I know that? I was just a kid. I didn’t know better, and I had no way of knowing better. I wish I had known. I wish I had had someone to tell me, someone to help me. Maybe if someone had stepped up and stepped in, things would have been different. But no one did, and things aren’t different, but I have the ability to make it different for someone else. I notice these things, I recognize kids like me. I try my best to be the person I wish I had, and if more people did what I do, more kids can be helped and changed for the better.
Acknowledging a problem is the first step to fixing it. If we are able to recognize the warning signs past aggressive behavior and lashing out, more children could be helped. If an intervention was made early on, it could offset the effects and possibly make them go away or prevent further development. It could take some of the fear out of their lives. Not only that, but it would give them a trusted and safe person, which to many is a foreign concept, especially when it comes to trusting adults. All it takes is one person. Someone who puts the effort in to build trust, because trust is something they have never known. Or primarily, someone who notices them in the first place, someone that recognizes the signs, and sees them even when they try their hardest to not be seen. That one person could change everything. Instead of growing up timid, shy and afraid, they can be broken out of the shell they built around them. They can make friends and have conversations, they can make positive memories to help combat the negative ones, rather than just living with constant pain from the past. It could give them the ability to grow up and develop normally. It could give them the confidence they had always lacked. These kids just want to feel love, they want to feel safe. The quiet kid with no friends deserves attention too. In fact, he or she might need attention more than anyone else.