Child Abuse Story From Elaine

by Elaine (UK survivor)
(Lancashire, UK)

I'm now 36, but my childhood still seems "current". My mother had mental health problems (Bipolar Disorder), and I now know I was fostered with relatives until I was 3 because my mother had Postnatal Depression. She always told me I was an "unplanned pregnancy" and that I "got in the way of promotion at work".

Both my parents are Catholics, from huge families. They have their own problems, and were abused by their own parents. My mother spent many years resisting treatment for her mental illness, and used me as her confidante (and eventual "counsellor"). She told me things about her own family that I found hard to reconcile with what I actually saw. She told me that her younger sister got pregnant at 14, and that the baby was brought up by my Gran as my mother's sister (my mother was very confused). She called her sister a "slag" and led me to believe that because I was a girl, I would grow up just the same. All the time that my mother offloaded her problems onto me, nobody asked what I felt.

My parents were very aggressive, and pushy, and competitive. They were not affectionate or emotional. They punished displays of emotion, and I became afraid to cry in front of them. The only attention I could get from them was if I "performed" tasks for them—getting good grades, doing housework. They prized academic performance. I did really well at school, but got bullied by other kids who thought I as a "swot". My parents did not care about the bullying and told me to "grow up". They told me that if I was more like other kids at school I would not get bullied.

My parents always moved the goalposts and I could never meet their expectations. They always made comparisons. Life was always about what other people would think. They could always find someone cleverer, thinner, more athletic, more talented, prettier than me. They never noticed my achievements, only my failures, and spent ages "discussing" these with me.

I continued getting bullied at school, and started bingeing and taking laxatives. My mother has since said she knew about this, but did nothing to help. Instead, my parents argued loudly and publicly. Most evenings at home were arguments. My mum started "walking out" on us as a solution. She'd stay for days with my grandparents, or with friends. She never took me or my brother. She always got the Police involved, which just made my father angrier and the rows dragged on for weeks. My mum used the threat of divorce to make us behave.

I started hanging out at Bars and Clubs, smoking and drinking underage. I became a "Goth". My parents became more aggressive as they hated my clothes, music and everything else. They tried to control what I wore, what I did, who I saw as friends, when I went out. Life was like prison. They listened in on phone-calls and checked my mail. If I got home late, my father called the Police.

It got worst at 14. My father burned all my clothes, and started hitting me. My
parents believe in corporal punishment and that it doesn't harm children. I'd been smacked as a child. This was not smacking. Smacking was only on my legs or bottom. My dad now hit me on the face and arms, and he did not use his palm. Even when I tried to run to my bedroom, he followed. He would keep hitting me until I sunk down between the bed and the wall. Sometimes he grabbed my wrists to stop me doing this. Sometimes he kicked me. My mother would always back him up and believe I DESERVED IT.

My father kept hitting me for things right until I left home. They could be stupid reasons, like being unwell. I would hide in the bedroom cupboard if I was ill so that my parents would still think I'd gone to school or work. They did not believe in needing time off and said I'd get a reputation as "lazy".

My parents told me I deserved "what I got". They told me that because of how I dressed, people would think "I was a slag". They accused me of all sorts of things I didn't do—taking drugs, sleeping around. I continued getting bullied at school.

I tried running away, staying with friends, but I always got found out and punished. The arguments were terrible. My mum would scream and get hysterical, which made my father more angry and aggressive.

I was raped at 16 by a man I met at a Club. I went back to his house because I was drunk, and did not dare go home. I never told my parents. They accused me anyhow of being a "slut" and assumed I slept with every man I spoke to.

I fell head over heels for someone I met at University. We were together five years. He walked out when I found out I was pregnant. I could not face telling my parents, who already said I was "living in sin". I had a termination. My parents found out when I moved back home by going through my private mail. I cannot describe the arguments we've had since. Suffice it to say my father left me bruised and kicked me out of the house. He called me a "f*****g whore" and both my parents said I was a "murderer" and unfit to be a mother.

I now live with my partner of 14 years. I have no children and firmly believe I am a "bad woman" and not fit to have a family. I still have negative feelings about my body, and no self confidence. I have qualified as a Social Worker, to help other people, but still feel worthless myself. I have not spoken to my father for years, and am also estranged from my younger brother. I see my mother regularly, but am only still really her "counsellor", and don't feel like a daughter.

Child Abuse Story From Elaine was originally posted to Child Abuse Stories page October 7, 2007

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Healing Advice From a UK Social Worker

by Elaine
(Lancashire, UK)

First of all, thank-you to the kind individuals who offered their comments and support after my previous child abuse story. I have requested counselling via my GP, but, living in the UK, there is a huge waiting list for this (on average, 6 months). I've also received some support via my employer's Welfare scheme, but it's a slow process. As you can imagine, the abuse that I had written about is only the tip of a very large iceberg - as is probably the case for many of the other individuals who have contributed their stories.

I'd said that I'm now a qualified Social Worker. I chose this career pathway for 2 reasons - to help me make sense of my own experiences; and to use this to help others. Even if I cannot change what happened to me, I might be able to change what might happen to someone else! In the UK it's sad, but issues like Child Abuse never seem to be taken seriously enough.

For that reason, I'd like to offer some advice to anyone who may currently be suffering:

  1. ABUSE IS ABOUT CONTROL...and there ARE things you can do to get that control back.

  2. YOU ARE NOT ALONE...try to remember that what you are experiencing may have happened somewhere else to someone else.

  3. YOU ARE NOT TO BLAME...abusers want you to believe that somehow you are at fault, are responsible. DO NOT allow yourself to internalise this blame. It is the abuser, not you, who is at fault.

  4. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR ABUSE...your abuser may try to find many ways to justify what is happening. They may try to give you numerous explanations as to why the abuse occurs, each different from the last. It is ABUSIVE in its own right to make up these tales. They are an attempt at passing the blame.

  5. SPEAK OUT...abusers feed on your isolation and fear. Tell someone...a teacher, a friend, a relative, your Girl Guide or Boy Scout leader, your Soccer coach, your Church minister...anyone. Find someone you feel safe to talk to. They may be able to help.

  6. GET INFORMED...there are many sources of help and advice. Try the Internet, or telephone Helplines. In some places, there may be self-help or support groups. Youth-workers and Social Workers may be more approachable than you think. So may your GP. The more clued up you are, the better.

  7. LEARN TO TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS...we all have "gut reactions" or get "vibes". If yours are telling you something or someone is "bad" or "odd", "strange" or "doesn't feel right" then this may well be the case. If you feel suspicious, that something isn't "normal", don't worry, you're not being paranoid (yet!) - talk to someone before the real paranoia has any way to set in.

  8. STAY STRONG...try to remember that you are NOT "bad" or "horrible" or whatever else you may think. You are a courageous person, with just as much ability and just as many likeable qualities as anyone else. You are just going through a very bad time, and this makes you feel down, and negative about yourself. Remember, it is your courage and strength that are keeping you going - and they are GOOD qualities, not bad.

This article titled "Healing Advice From a UK Social Worker" was originally posted to Child Abuse Articles page on this site October 9, 2007

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Abuse Breeds Abuse

by Elaine
(Lancashire, UK)

I've written before to tell some of my story, and I have a lot of questions that I'd love to make sense of.

My abuse happened when I lived at my parental home - I'm now living with my partner in my own house, and work as a qualified Social Worker. However, what happened to me in the past still raises issues, and some of these are issues I also deal with at work.

I was made to feel unloved and inferior because I was a girl. I was physically abused and punished excessively for trivial things. I was constantly made to perform "tasks" to gain my parent's affection - my parents had rigid rules, high expectations and ever changing goalposts. They could be overprotective one moment, and neglectful the next. They were emotionally distant, but my mother used me as her confidante. My parents constantly verbally ridiculed and criticised - they hated my clothes, my looks, my hair, my friends. They made unfair comparisons - about exam grades, job prospects. They constantly terrorised me with threats. They always thought and believed the worst.

My parents are both from huge Catholic families; my mom is one of 7 and my dad one of 9 children. They both were abused as children and suffered some horrible experiences.

My dad was a War evacuee, and separated for a long time from his mom and siblings (they were evacuated in small groups). My granddad died when my dad was 15, so his mom brought up all the kids alone, and she was depressed and very poor. Dad hardly went to school, and went totally off the rails as a teenager (drinking and sleeping around). He has said he felt very bitter about his life.

My mom was the oldest girl in her family and left school at 15 to look after her younger siblings. Her family were also very poor and had to rely on Church charity. Mom was bullied at school for having ragged clothes. Her sister got pregnant at 14, and had a baby at 15, which was brought up by my gran. Mom was always told that girls were "useless".

My mom now has Bi-Polar Disorder. My dad has become aggressive, and emotionally detached. This affected the way they brought me up. They seemed to believe that they way they were parented was not right, but they went straight out and did the same thing. My parents found ways of taking out their own childhood frustrations on their own kids. I've read studies that suggest that parents with psychiatric diagnoses or with personality traits that interfere with their ability to parent, have often been abused, and often go on to become abusers. Anyone think this is true?

This article titled "Abuse Breeds Abuse" was originally posted to Child Abuse Articles page on this site October 30, 2007

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Does abuse "disable" us?

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, United Kingdom)

As a sufferer of childhood abuse, I've already shared some of my (albeit less painful!) experiences with you...But this led me to do some thinking...

I'm now employed as a qualified Social Worker in the U.K., and through a combination of my personal experiences, and daily work, I came to the conclusion that abuse happens for a reason, however skewed that may be. It happens because people are a complex bundle of emotions, experiences and personality traits; all of these coexist within an individual, who is simultaneously affected by the external "forces" of society.

In a own experience of abuse, for example, came about as a result of my mother's mental health problems, and my father's resultant emotional and physical "burnout". Abuse is basically the legacy of what is "going on" for the abuser. It is about the abuser. The abuser has "the problem", so to speak!

But what about the victim?

Abuse affects this person; it "changes" them. Since my abuse, I have suffered from low self-esteem, negative thoughts about myself (including the belief that I am fat, ugly and useless), from anxiety and from distinct discomfort when encountering quite a wide rage of what might be classed as everyday social situations. I find it hard to trust, hard to make decisions, hard to make time for myself. I still judge myself first and foremost by others' standards, and put other people's needs first.
I've fought hard against this negative legacy. I've pushed myself to the limits at times, trying to make up for all the opportunities I thought I'd missed; trying to give myself a sense of worth, of stability, of achievement. Trying to distance myself from the past. At times, this has driven me to the point of exhaustion - both mental and physical. I wonder how many of you out there can identify with this?

There's a Social Work theory called the "Biopsychosocial Model" which postulates that we are all the results of our genetics, our environment and our experiences. It argues that unique combinations of these elements give us our individuality. This model has been at the forefront of developments in the law, and has made it easier to champion the rights of disabled people, ethnic minorities, lesbians and gays. You could argue, for instance, that a man in a wheelchair is made to be disabled by a building that does not have ramp access - hence ramps are introduced. Legislation can be amended to take account of the viewpoints and needs of those in the minority, as opposed to the majority.

Where does abuse come into this? Well, not everyone experiences it; and from my point of view, for those who do, it can be a very debilitating occurrence. To be made to feel vulnerable, worthless and low is to be excluded somehow from ones' rightful place in society. Everyone deserves an equal start; this is provided via affirmation, praise, support, care and love. How hard is it for the abused person to "fit in"? Can you hold down a job if you fear authority and feel insignificant? Can you have a fulfilling marriage if you were sexually abused? Do you deserve to be bullied at school because you are the neglected, dirty child? Abuse clearly places the victim at a long term disadvantage, as they do not have a "normal" experience of society.

Surely in an age where we have the Human Rights Act 1998, which gives each and every one of us equal rights, to have been abused is to be disabled. If disability may be defined as the act of somehow being excluded from "mainstream" society, then how many of us might agree that our experiences of abuse have disabled us?

This article titled "Does abuse "disable" us?" was originally posted to Child Abuse Articles page on this site February 12, 2008

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Workers have "hands tied"...

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

Darlene, I've just had to send you this letter after watching on TV the coverage of the harrowing Jessica Randall UK child abuse case.

Baby Jessica died at the hands of her father, who physically and sexually abused her. Jessica's case is being investigated in the Northamptonshire area where her family lived. Her father has now been imprisoned. A report has been commissioned, to detail the findings of the investigation. This notes... "At no stage was Jessica Randall recognised as a child at risk and in need of protection... In recognising that opportunities had been missed to identify signs of abuse we must conclude that the outcome for Jessica Randall may have been different had these signs been acted on" (Local Safeguarding Children Board report, 2008).

As both a survivor of childhood abuse, and a professional Social Worker, I can sadly see both sides of the coin. I spent many years as a child and teenager, enduring abuse at the hands of my parents, abuse which went completely unnoticed by the adults I came into contact with; adults who included Healthcare professionals, Teachers and Youth Group Leaders, as well as the extended family, and parents of my peers. To this day, I firmly believe that had my abuse been spotted then, I would not now be suffering its legacy.

But since beginning employment as a Social Worker, I have begun to ask questions. Many are based upon my own experiences of abuse, and how these experiences have been reflected in those of the people with whom I have worked.

You see, things are never "cut and dried"! Abuse is a shameful and uncomfortable subject to broach, a "Taboo", and maybe for this reason alone, it is "passed over" by many members of society. After all, why would anyone want to believe that abuse occurs, when they can live happy in the blissful ignorance that it does not?

To return to my own case; my parents were respectable professionals, both well educated, both working, both on good salaries. My father had his own Engineering company, and my mother worked as a part-time Civil Servant. She was also my father's accountant, having qualifications in this field. My parents were "social climbers" of a very determined nature, having risen from impoverished (and abusive) childhoods of their own, to having a spacious detached house, two cars, and yearly holidays abroad. They presented to society the image of being articulate, well dressed and ambitious. They met easily with the societal ideal of the "nuclear" family; mummy, daddy and two kids.

Where, amongst any of the above, would anyone spot my parents' potential to become abusers? Would someone spot my mother's hidden history of mental illness; her dependence upon Antipsychotic medication, Barbiturates, and regular consumption of excessive quantities of alcohol? Would anyone spot my father's evil and explosive temper, his constant irritability and volatile moods? Would anyone suspect that my parents' constant emphasis of the need for respect, rules and regulations might lead to their use of constant threats, physical punishments, curfews...? Would anyone notice my parents' inconsistency, their frequent explosive rows, their separations and getting back together, their constant picking of faults, and criticism, their lack of praise and physical displays of affection, their neglect, emotional and physical abuse?

In brief... NO! You see, abusers can be crafty. When someone is presenting to the outside world an image that is all "sweetness and light" then why should anyone imagine it to be otherwise? My parents were clever. Bruises were never obvious; and besides, it was made clear to me that the more severe the "punishment", the more "bad" I had been. I believed this. As I got older, friends were discouraged more and more from coming to my house, and the rigid rules got stricter - I had fewer opportunities to disclose my abuse. But even had I wanted to, the threats were always present. I was told when I cried that I was "putting it on" or "being melodramatic". When I questioned my parent's rules they threatened that without such measures I'd "go off the rails and end up in prison" or that "I'd never get a good job". When I was sick and needed time out, I was forced into school or work with threats that I'd be seen as "a time waster" or regarded as "lazy". My self expression was limited by my parents' constant taunts that my clothes gave off a "bad image" or made me look "slutty". Any contact with boys was deemed a risk, and it was automatically assumed that I was having intimate relations - after all, my mother explained to me "men only want you for one thing".

I ran away from home several times, resulting in Police involvement. But my parents always made it out to be my rebelliousness that had caused the problem. I was branded a problem child. When I finally succumbed to eating disorders as a way to cope, my mother threatened "to have me put in a Mental Hospital that I'd never get out of". I got bullied at school, but nobody seemed to care. It was clear that the problem was me!

How many times had there been a chance for someone to notice? How many times had my outward behaviour been a sign of the torment within? But instead, my parents were able to get away with passing it all off as no more than "teenage behaviour". I smoked, drank, had piercings, became a Goth, truanted, shoplifted... I ran away from home, my "friends" were often experimenting with drugs, and often much older than me... I had inappropriate relationships with older men... I was raped at 15. NONE of this was spotted. Nor was the vomiting, taking laxatives, cutting my arms with razors... How can this be missed?

On several occasions my teachers wrote to my parents to arrange meetings to discuss my behaviour. They wrote suspecting I was taking drugs, as I often fell asleep in class. They noted my weight loss, but tried to force me to eat, making the situation worse. They noted my changed appearance and behaviour. But never did they sit down and ask ME what was going on. Instead, they made assumptions, and believed my parents.

This leads me to the present day... After working for Social Services and the NHS, I can see the other half of this picture. Due to funding and resource restrictions, staff training is often infrequent and inadequate. Staff are overworked and under-supported. I have personally held complex caseloads of over 30 individuals, all with high levels of need and risk. I have had to do my job in offices which are short-staffed, with poor morale. I have had to "hotdesk" and share computers because of lack of office space and facilities.

The major problem is that there is too high a demand for services than can be adequately met. As a result, mistakes occur; corners get cut. There are too many conflicting demands on workers. Workers have to meet the demands of turnover (i.e. waiting lists), of budgetary constraints, of ensuring client confidentiality, of ensuring risk is managed, of giving good levels of care, of meeting the patient's needs, of balancing the patients' needs with family/carer needs and with budgetary constraints... The list goes on. Legislation changes. Rules, policies and procedures change. Somewhere, the poor old worker gets left behind! They feel unsure and out of their depth. They aren't aware which procedure to follow, as it might have changed so many times as to have become confusing. Methods of reporting may be inconsistent from service to service, area to area, sometimes even ward to ward. Faced with all of this, some workers may opt to do nothing, rather than risk "doing it wrong". And besides, there often isn't enough time in a working day to be asking enough of the right questions. The pressure to meet demands in terms of paperwork and hands on work with patients is overwhelming. Managers are often busy, distant figures who are unavailable when assistance is needed. Too many difficult decisions fall upon the shoulders of under-qualified staff (think Victoria Climbie).

There is somewhat of an issue of "worthiness" about this whole healthcare debate. You know, there are hundreds of services and charities out there for Cancer, or the Blind... but not for the Schizophrenic, or the HIV sufferer. Special needs babies will always receive more funding and support than elderly dementia cases. Why? Perhaps because people are by nature nothing like as altruistic as they would like to seem, and Governments are much the same. A baby is "cute", it's "media friendly" - an old, toothless "wrinkly" is not! Cancer can't be seen easily as the victim's fault - but what about substance misuse?

Abuse of children is an uncomfortable issue that many do not want to be confronted with. Whilst it remains such a social taboo, ignorance pervades. Who'd feel comfortable talking in the Pub about child abuse? Who'd talk openly about it at school? When something is hard to talk about, it remains shrouded in mystery. It also remains a topic lower down the list of priorities for professional services to deal with. At the end of the day, the Health and Social Services are driven directly by public demand, and therefore will prioritise the need to meet those demands that the general public are most openly concerned about. These syphon away funding from less publicised issues.

Perhaps we all need a "wake up call". Burying one's head in the sand may seem a way of distancing oneself from issues, but it won't make them go away. Yes, we can blame Social Services, or Hospitals. Yes, we can blame Schools, the Police, Youthworkers... It's true, they all do have opportunities to notice and act upon cases of child abuse. But we all have a wider responsibility. To accept that it happens, and to call for more to be done to help fund initiatives to stop it.

This article titled 'Workers have "hands tied"...' was originally posted to Child Abuse Articles page on this site February 15, 2008

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"Pandora's Box"

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

Darlene, just to say thanks to you, and any others, who have commented upon my previous articles. Food for thought...

It's good to have a site like this, to trade stories, ideas and opinions. It also provides invaluable advice and support; and is a safe space for individuals to finally open up about the trauma that they have experienced. Sometimes just the act of speaking out for the first time can lift a huge wight off one's chest! I guess that's just a part of the child abuse problem... abuse is about secrets and about making someone keep them. It can be very tiring and emotionally draining carrying that sort of baggage around... Here, you get the chance, if you wish, to vent some of that frustration, to offload the weight... To open "Pandora's Box", so to speak!

The feedback I have received on this site has been thought provoking. It's made me realise that I too have preconceptions that can be challenged. I agree, for instance, with your comments that people around may have been aware of the fact that I was being abused, but chose to overlook this fact. I guess that, over time, it was always easier for me to convince myself that they "did not know". How many times is that excuse trotted out? I've said myself that people often refuse to acknowledge the unpalatable - perhaps I need to accept that this happens across the board... That teachers at MY school DID suspect, but through fear, or ignorance, did not act.

I guess you've highlighted to me that healing is a slow process, and that you cannot expect too much too soon. Sometimes, it's easy to convince yourself that you've made more progress than you actually have. Maybe it's that old "needing to get to know yourself" issue again.

You see, my problem is that thinking and analysing comes naturally to me. I've always been the sort of person to look at things from every angle. But, at the same time, I have to acknowledge that sometimes I can still be afraid to act... That there is still occasionally that little, scared, abused girl in me who fears to take things further, to do things for herself. Then, the thinking and analysing can just form another barrier, a defense, a way of my playing for more time.

Thanks for reminding me that you can never know yourself fully. That we are all infinitely subtle, and capable of infinite change. That whilst our negative experiences were debilitating at the time, it is our lasting perception of them that is disabling. But perception can be changed...

I described abuse above as a "Pandora's Box". It's the thing that is there, but not discussed, avoided... not openly acknowledged. Why? Fear.

Fear is the weapon my abusers used against me. Fear is what still gets in the way of my fulfilment personally. Fear on a wider scale is what prevents society from openly recognising, acknowledging and discussing abuse. But then, somewhere inside me was a strength that got me through the abuse, got me qualifications, a career, a loving partner...

That same strength is in all of us. Maybe, Darlene, an article discussing how we tap into that strength, how we make the two sides of our character (the weak and afraid/ the strong and resilient) whole, could be interesting? Maybe we all need to keep talking, discussing, and championing this site? Maybe we need to keep prying that lid off Pandora's Box?

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A Poem for the Reader

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

"What Makes Me Special?"

I set out on a quest, as did once Knights of old...
Yet the prize was not splendour, or power, or gold.
Still, my quest was important; I could not let it fail,
For the goal was my personal, ultimate Grail.

At the start of my venture, I wandered alone,
Feeling unloved, unwanted, unneeded, unknown.
I battled my demons and dragons for years
(Each fight with my parents, it ended in tears).
On my quest, I fought Giants, and Ogres fought me
(My dad, when he hit me, was bigger, you see).
I rallied with Witches, their curses and spells
(My mother would taunt me, with blame for her ills).
It was during my battles I felt most alone,
As though, with no-one to help me, my troubles had grown.
Was I ugly, or stupid, too fat or too thin?
Should I carry on trying, should I stop, and give in?
Could I ever be clever, would I ever feel good?
Might somebody love me... oh, try as I would,
I never felt wanted, I never felt free
From the taunts, from the torment... Oh, someone, help me...

I was years on my travels, when I met a young man
Who said, "Stay, let me help you. I'll do all I can".
Slowly and surely, I learned how to care,
I learned about trusting, about loving, and needing to share.
There were two to fight demons, and two to have fun,
Two still together when the fighting was done.
Over time, I met others, each on quests of their own.
So we slowly joined forces - no more questing alone!

Years later, and old lady asks, "What of your quest?"
"Did your search find an answer; did you put it to rest?"
I reflect for a moment on all I now know.
Though my quest is not ended, it has not far to go.
For I know in my answer that my quest did not fail
(For I am that lady, and I'm clutching my Grail)...
The answer, dear readers, is now plain to see...
"What makes me special?", the answer is "ME".

by: Elaine Riley, 2008.

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Parental Expectations, Stereotyping and Abuse

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

Having a child is meant to be a momentous experience. The desire, and need, to reproduce is enshrined as a societal "norm", a "given"... that is what couples do!

How many times have we been confronted with the image of the expectant mother, blooming and glowing in pregnancy, who can't wait to give birth to her longed-for child? What about those lovely couples, with their perfect 2.4? Their "little darlings"? How many of us know that eager mother at the school gate, desperate to show us her "baby photos"; or the workplace colleague, desk crammed full of photos of the kids; or the newlyweds who do little other than talk about their plans to start a family?

O.K.! So maybe I'm exaggerating, just a little! But then, stop and think a moment... We are bombarded daily with images of the "ideal family". We all know it... "media land" is chock full of references to that old stereotype, the nuclear family (mummy, daddy and their two lovely kiddies, one girl, one boy). And it doesn't stop there...

Since the advent of the media (for this, read magazines, advertisements, T.V., and newspapers), the stereotyping of societal roles has been heavily reinforced. Just look at the images of babies on T.V. Are they ever soiling a nappy? How often are they vomiting, having "wind", crying, teething? Not very pleasant, I admit... but babies DO these things! No, the T.V. baby is a gurgling, grinning, blonde, chubby and cherubic little creature. Oh, and T.V. children don't break household ornaments, get in trouble at school, fall over and dirty their clothes, fight... unless you're talking about the children featured in melodramatic "soap operas", who do these constantly!

Society has, for thousands of years, defined expectations of the male and female role. This is relayed via the socialization process. Psychologist G.C. Davenport states "by the age of one year or so, gender roles are already being learned" (An Introduction To Child Development, p. 283). The boy child wears blue, plays with cars and building blocks, is good at maths and sciences! The girl child wears pink, plays with dolls, and is best at English Literature! Girls are gentle and placid, they cry when upset; boys are energetic and feisty, they should "stand up for themselves"! The male child aspires to being a footballer, mechanic, astronaut, or lawyer; the female dreams of being a ballerina, a fashion model, a wife and mother...

Frighteningly, we are all more than aware of these stereotypes, and do little to challenge them on a regular basis. Sadly, many of these stereotypical notions are subconsciously, or even consciously, incorporated into our expectations of the parenting experience. This incorporation may well have a significant influence upon parents' propensity to abuse.

Sigmund Freud described a process during the socialization of the child called "identification", where the child is seen to take on the attitudes and ideas of the parents, mirroring the parents' beliefs and personality traits. Research has suggested that parents eventually may come to value a child higher, if that child is seen as "good"; this basically translates as a child who closely agrees with the parents' beliefs and behaviour. The rebellious, or independent child - who does not conform - is labelled as "bad". Parents use "reinforcing" behaviours such as rewards and punishment in order to shape a child's behaviour into that which they consider "good".

Child abuse may be considered to be symptomatic of family dysfunction. This might be of a significant, and obvious nature - divorce, bereavement, parental unemployment, illness, substance misuse, parental mental instability... However, it may also be of a more insidious, and difficult-to-spot, nature. How does the parent react to the child who does not fulfill their expectations? Surely the excessive imposition of one's expectations upon a child, to the exclusion of the child's own interests and personality development, is tantamount to abuse?

Many stories of abuse on this website feature "favouritism", or "scapegoating" behaviours, where siblings are not treated equally. All children make interpretations of their parents' behavior. All children require a safe, caring and loving environment, where they are encouraged to learn and explore. Yet the child who is regarded as least likely to meet the parents' expectations may also be least likely to receive this kind of support.

At this juncture, I hasten to add that all of this is merely my supposition, my hypothesis... But I add the following... Much research has been conducted in order to establish the nature of "personality" and of "individuality". In sum, this would indicate that some personality traits are innate (we are born with them), and some shaped by our environment. Therefore, different children, in the same family, can have different temperaments. And parents cannot "force" a personality onto the child. Abuse may occur where "abnormal traits in children bring on negative responses from parents" (J. Paris; BPD, A Multidimensional Approach, p. 96). To me, normal is not easy to define, but here, "abnormal" can be translated as anything which does not fit with the parents' expectations. Hence, a "tomboyish" daughter may be singled out for abuse. The boy who questions his Catholic parents' religious beliefs may be abused. Parents may find a highly active child a "handful", and "punish" this behaviour...

Is it too unrealistic to ask that we live, and let live? We cannot make another individual what we desire. We cannot mould our husbands, friends, wives, relatives... so why our children? Food for thought...

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Childhood Abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, U.K.)

Hi! I've been away from this website for a while, 'cos in the U.K., as soon as we get the first signs of fair weather, we get out and start the gardening (well I do, anyhow!). It's amazing how fast weeds grow... they've swamped a lot of the newer plants I'd put in the garden last summer. Some radical overhauling was needed!

Anyway, "Charlie Dimmock" stuff aside, I've had some space to do some thinking... and it's lead me to this article...

In my line of work, you come across loads of interesting reading material; real food for thought - periodicals, journals, books, research papers... You name it! Anyway, there was this interesting one on the subject of Workplace Bullying, that really got me thinking (not least because I've just been subjected to a really nasty episode of it, myself!). The article suggested that individuals who experience bullying in the workplace react to it in much the same way a soldier might react to being in a war zone! Sounds a bit far fetched? Yeah! I thought that too, at first, but then I read further... and things started to make sense. You see, the article was all about individual's experiences of traumatic and stressful situations, and of how they react to these. It went something along the lines of this...

(Information taken from the "Bully OnLine" website...)

Bullying has been found to trigger COMPLEX POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD), and anything which induces recollections of the bullying will cause the sufferer to experience the following (which can be found reflected within the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for PTSD):

  1. When exposed to either internal or external trigger factors, any of which are reminiscent of the original trauma, the individual will experience severe psychological distress.

  2. The aforementioned will also induce psychological reactivity.

  3. The sufferer may well want to avoid any thoughts, feelings, activities, people, places... that could remind them of the original trauma.

  4. The sufferer may find that it is difficult, or seemingly impossible, to recall a significant aspect of the trauma.

  5. The sufferer may find it hard to concentrate.
    We must be careful to remember that PTSD follows in the wake of a seriously unpleasant experience, and is a perfectly normal, natural emotional reaction to this.
Traumatic events trigger the body's "fight or flight" mechanism, inducing a massive surge of Adrenaline, aimed at priming the individual, at ensuring that they can either stand up and fight, or else flee the situation very quickly. Initially after the event, a sort of "shutdown" can take place, affecting both memory and recall. Again, this may have to do wit the release of brain chemicals such as Endorphine and Serotonin, which have a calming, soothing effect. The process CAN have beneficial effects, allowing for a "window period", a "gap" in time during which the individual can begin to feel "normal" again after the initial shock. This can aid in the recovery process, and if used effectively, "Talking Therapies" such as Counselling during this time can aid an individual to make sense of the event, to discover how they coped, and to plan how to deal more effectively with similar events in the future. They can additionally help ease the sense of "responsibility" that an individual may have for their part in the "drama".

This is not unlike the often-reported reaction to childhood abuse, and could go some way to explaining why signs of abuse are sometimes missed, and why abuse generally may be under-reported. The problem appears to be in respect of this "fight or flight" response! Where it is not physically possible to either fight or to run away (as in the case of childhood abuse, where the abuser is usually the more powerful), then the body must still take some form of protective measures. If it is not physically possible to "flee", then certainly it is mentally possible! The individual may consciously, or subconsciously, wish to distance themself from the event, especially where it is too unbearably painful to accept that it happened. This may be particularly likely in childhood abuse, where the relationship of victim to abuser is frequently a very close one. Therefore, the victim goes into "denial".

Unfortunately, it is not so easy to simply erase one's past! Eventually, the individual may recognise that something is wrong. Quite often, feelings may be be mistakenly identified as "stress" or "depression", where they actually mark the onset of PTSD. There may, or may not, be treatment implications in this; much will be dependent upon the understanding of your G.P. (or preferred choice of assistance). Sadly, medication is all too frequently offered, and may well not be the answer. As PTSD may be classified within what are known as the "Anxiety-related Disorders", then it is important that the correct identification of the disorder be made, and that treatment be appropriate.

Whilst the initial "denial" of the traumatic event may help briefly in the healing process (for example, if you've just broken your leg falling from a horse, then it is so much better to be able to concentrate just on healing the leg, without unpleasant memories of the accident), in the longer term it becomes problematic. Eventually, the individual is forced to lead an increasingly constricted life. Much of the sound advice offered by this website concentrates upon the need to seek assistance with ones problems, and in the case of childhood abuse, to seek the help of a qualified Counsellor. This should afford the opportunity to talk through what has happened, to re-evaluate the event, seeking reassurance that you are not to blame. It should attempt to lay to rest the issues of "guilt" or "responsibility", asking the individual concerned to accept that others may have been responsible for the occurrence, but without encouraging a cycle of "blaming". The Counselling ought ideally to allow for reflection, and to look at how an individual coped, encouraging them to see the strengths in themself, where otherwise they might be self-deprecating and lacking in confidence. Eventually, the individual is to be encouraged to look positively at ways in which, should such an event, or similar, occur again in the future, they can prepare for it and cope (or better, learn to read the signs that it may happen, and take preventative measures). Only then can the real healing process begin.

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About Me, My Family and My Life - The Background

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

Well, here goes! I've been holding back from writing this for some time, despite REALLY WANTING and NEEDING to do it... Writing is a very cathartic experience. If done correctly, it can challenge you, force you to open your eyes and ears to new experiences, force you to open your soul. That's what it's like for me! It's about putting in heart and soul - facing up to reality! I guess deep down inside we ALL know the truth about ourselves, good or bad. But it can take others to help us to reveal and explore that truth, to make sense of it... Life is a journey... And journeys are often better shared...

Like I said, I NEEDED to write this, as it's about things that, I guess, lie at the very heart of the abuse I experienced as a child. And to write about it means having to face it... having to recognise, and to "own" those experiences. It also means having to assimilate them, making them truly a part of me. To do that with YOUR help, is far better than to do it alone. After all, here, I can receive the insight and wisdom of many who know...

I've told a little of my story previously, but I'll start by "fleshing things out". My parents are Catholics, and that's an important fact. They are from HUGE families, my mother one of seven, my father one of nine. My mother is the eldest girl in her family, and my father the youngest boy. These, too, are significant facts. My parents' families were not well off. My parents have experienced much trauma, and abuse as children. My dad was a wartime evacuee, and he lost his father aged only 15. Dad migrated to Lancashire from Essex, working on the Fairgrounds. My mum was taken out of school aged 15 to care for a brood of younger siblings (an unpaid nanny, so to speak). Her mother was often ill, and the family lived on charity from the Church. Her younger sister got pregnant at 14 or 15.

I've told you these things about my parents, as I believe they're somehow important. Somehow, they formed the "bedrock", the "backbone" of my upbringing, and of the abuse that went on in my family.

I am the elder child, and have a younger brother. Being Catholics, my parents were disappointed by this. They firmly believe that "boys are better than girls", and that God is somehow bestowing a punishment if the firstborn is not a boy. I think this has something to do with the fact that, as Catholics, my parents believed that boys could "look after themselves", whereas girls had to be "protected, kept safe and chaste". In my household, you can translate "protection" to mean "smothering and surveillance".

We lived in a tacky seaside resort in the North of England, famous for sex and smut. A place of high unemployment, and low morality. It's main stock-in-trade is tourism, mostly "stag and hen parties" coming to visit the many bars and clubs, to gamble at the casinos and amusement arcades, to buy "kiss me quick" hats and fake breasts, to get drunk and fight on the streets. This is it on pretty much any evening of the week, and definitely at weekend. "Home" is full of sex shops and lap-dancing clubs. By the way, it is also notorious for its close associations with the BNP (British Nationalist Party), and intolerant attitude towards ethnic minorities.

Now, I've deliberately anonymised the name of where I live, but let me tell you, there are many places like this the world over. Many towns and cities have a sordid side. Go to the suburbs; the ghettos; anywhere, and you'll see the TRUTH, the hard grit of life as it really is for so many. Not the glamorised, sanitised glass skyscrapers, prestige shopping arcades and tree-lined parks of many city centres; but suburban semi-detached, Council estates, high-rise flats, unemployment, vandalism and dirt. This had an effect on my upbringing. Living in a place like this made my Catholic parents all the more determined to police their little girl's behaviour.

My mum has mental health problems, Bi-Polar Disorder, to be precise. She has had this in all probability since before I was born. Her illness was not talked about, it was a family secret, shared initially by my mum and dad. As a child, I was aware that something was wrong... that my family was not like others. From the age of about eight onwards, I would give my mum her tablets whenever I made her a coffee, placing them in the saucer for her. She called them "HRT". I'm pretty sure now that they were Anti-psychotic medication. But at the time, I did not know of any formal diagnosis, and none was told me by my parents. I think my parents thought they could keep mum's illness secret. That this would somehow help the situation! But they seemed ignorant of the fact that their own children might be aware; that they might notice that things were amiss, and suspect. Family secrets are NOT good! They divide and damage, causing pressure and upset...

It was a recent occurrence that got me thinking this. I live now with a long term partner of 14 years. I don't miss living with my parents. But mum had a relapse. She became very unwell, and, just as in the past, it fell to me to sort things out. It was just a chance happening, but I phoned my mum one Saturday morning, and the woman that answered the phone was ranting, screaming and crying. Knowing something was wrong, I drove to my parents' house. My mum had locked and bolted both doors, and pulled all the curtains shut. I was forced to communicate via the letter-box, and when I opened this, I could hear that mum had turned all the electrics on in the house - the T.V., radio, washer, dryer, stereo, food mixer... I could still hear her laughing and crying hysterically. After about 45 minutes of communicating via the letter-box, mum let me in. I rang the emergency G.P. and sat with this hysterical, shouting woman until my dad returned late that evening. Dad had, as was often the case, been working away that day. He played things down, failing completely to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. It appeared that mum had not taken her tablets for a while, having been told by the G.P. (at an appointment which was one of many my dad did not attend) that her medication was to be changed. She had apparently got "the wrong end of the stick" and convinced herself to go "cold turkey". It would appear that my parents had not thought through the consequences, and that neither was aware what might happen if mum was not medicated. Her symptoms, by the time I arrived, were at full strength; mum was ranting and raving, believing someone was going to "get at her", and that she had to barricade the house. She could not speak coherently, her words were rapid and stumbling, and she fumbled to make sense of herself. Dad was merely dismissive.

The incident had repercussions for a long while afterwards. I was angry towards my father, whom I have never viewed as reliable or emotionally supportive. We argued, and then again ceased speaking. Mum, knowing I was a trained Social Worker, sought out every opportunity she could to pester me about her symptoms, and possible treatment, while still trying to bypass appointments with the G.P. and Psychiatrist. This was something she had done to me for years, ever since I had reached "double figures", using me as counsellor and confidante, telling me things that only her Psychiatrist, or a trained professional ought to have heard. I have had always to deal with a relationship where I felt that I was the parent, and my parents the children. My mother has told me much of her younger sister's pregnancy at 14/15. Of the fact that her sister was forced to marry the father, and ran away from home threatening suicide. Of the repercussions for mum and her siblings, growing up with a niece they thought was a sister. All about her illness, symptoms, rows with my dad. I was a "counsellor" aged 12, and through no choice of my own. I was told that I was an unplanned pregnancy, and ruined mum's career prospects. I was told that she had Postnatal depression, and that I stayed with relatives until I was 3 (sort of "fostered", but informally). Did I really need to hear all this, with no way of dealing with it?

I hope this sets the scene, as this is important. Parents bring with them lots of different life experiences, some of which may combine to form a propensity to abuse. As a Social Worker in Forensic services, I worked in this way, piecing together people's backgrounds, to see how they got to where they are now... It's called the "Bio Psycho Social Model", and it may be significant...

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About Me, My Family and My Life - Early Years: A Life in the Making

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

I hope that this makes sense, and that it's easy for you (whoever you are, reading this), to understand that this follows on from my first article of a similar title...

Anyhow, my early childhood years appeared "normal", inasmuch as I understand that normal is hard to quantify, with everyone having differing experiences... But, suffice it to say that my parents did pretty much what might be expected of parents of little kids. They played with me, read to me, took me to the Zoo... things that I can imagine parents of little kids the world over doing. Nothing untoward in that! My parents seemed to be present in my life for a lot of the time, and reasonably interested...

Perhaps, if I'd looked hard enough, and knew what I know now, there were "signs". Little things, insignificant perhaps in their own right, and easy enough for a Primary school-aged child of no worldly experience to overlook. These were the things that were to "pave the way" to later, full blown abuse.

As I've said, I was cared for by an Aunt and Uncle whilst my mum recovered from Postnatal Depression. Both she, and I, had been very unwell (I had a serious respiratory disorder), and spent some time in Hospital - mum spent her Birthday and Christmas there (I am a Christmas baby, my Birthday being exactly one week after my mother's, and one week before Christmas). I can only imagine my mother's unhappiness at being in this situation, and at being unable to take her baby home for Christmas. At what should have been a happy time, she was at her most miserable.

Psychologists might say that my mother and I "failed to bond". When I was returned to her, she was an anxious mother, and I was an attention-seeking baby. Mum says I cried a lot, which she hated. She has told me she used to shut me out of the house in my pram if I cried. Mum tried to sever contact with the relatives who had "fostered" me, and when we did have to see them, it was tense. They had a happy, healthy, beloved daughter, born only weeks before me, and I knew as I grew up, that mum could not bear this. That somehow it made her feel a failure!

Coming from huge families, my parents had been brought up in a competitive environment, and they thought it perfectly normal for a child to have to fight for its parents' attention. They were not emotional, demonstrative, "touchy-feely"; they neither treated each other like this, nor their children. Hugs, kisses and positive affirmation were DEFINITELY NOT a feature of our family. But they WERE obsessed with "keeping up with the Jones's"; as children of poor families, my parents were dedicated social climbers - at any expense. Life was constantly about what other people might think of us; about setting ridiculously high standards, about being "the best". As I've said, the little signs were there... My parents chose my activities, my friends and my clothes, laying an outfit on my bed for me to wear. I was not allowed crisps, sweets, biscuits or sandwiches - not for health reasons, but because my mum could not abide crumbs! Refusal to abide by these rules was NOT tolerated. My parents dealt swiftly with this; any refusal on my part to be submissive was seen as a "tantrum", and tantrums got punished! My parents have always believed in smacking, and have felt it necessary. They would probably argue that children cannot be reasoned with. And, besides, my parents believed in a very "old-fashioned" type of parenting. The Victorian "children should be seen but not heard" type. They demanded respect, but did not give it!

A pattern emerged early on, with my mother being more "hands on", and my father distant, only really involved in the giving of "discipline". We DO have family photos, the very early ones of which seem to show caring parents (mum holding my hand, dad buying me ice-cream), but even the photos are a record of something I am only now coming to comprehend. You see, there are NO baby photos of me; only of my younger brother. The only exception is one posed picture, clearly taken at a Studio, of my parents together with me as a tiny baby. I reckon this must have been taken as some sort of consolation for my fostering. There are tons of my brother, in his pram, on holiday, at home... My brother is just over five years younger than me.

I do have fond memories of my early years. Most of them are of time spent with friends from Primary School. I did extremely well at school, being an academic high-flyer. This set the scene for my parents, and they habitualized only showing affection in response to my having "performed" for them. As I got older, the emphasis was more and more on academic achievement. As I got older, the bullying I received at school for being an academic achiever grew worse. Strange to say, but the bullying had started as a result of my mum's illness! The woman who kept secrets from her own children had confided elsewhere, telling parents of my friends, and teachers about her problems. Maybe she felt she could not avoid this, as another bout of her illness had meant that I had to start school early for my age (I started Infant School aged just over three, joining the class a year older then me, but eventually being "held back" to wait to join the class representing my correct age group). Comments had been circulated by neighbourhood gossips that my ability at school was a result of "tutoring", and that my family were "corny" and "crummy". The fact that my father had worked on fairgrounds, coupled with my family's dark colouring resulted in name-calling such as "Gippo" and "Witch". It was assumed that because my mother was unwell, and my family background poor, I should automatically be "thick as a plank" and stupid with it! Unfortunately, gossip often reaches its victims. Unprepared as I was for it, I tried, as my parents did, to laugh it off.

Family life at home was o.k. When I look back, it does seem that dad would have preferred a boy, and brought me up much as one. I played cricket, and learned to be very outspoken, getting me into much trouble at school. My father was a vocal and aggressive man if angered, and swore violently at home. My brother and I quickly picked up this language! Meeting with relatives were uncomfortable and fraught - family feuds proliferated. Being Catholics, my family were numerous. I have cousins on my father's side of the family old enough to be my parents! I have relatives I've never met!

Any meetings that DID take place involved competition and open jealousy. Sister competed with brother, Aunt with Uncle, cousin with cousin. Competition took many forms - who was oldest, who was tallest, who was prettiest, who was cleverest, who was richest. Conversation was about little other than what school one might go to, what University, what job one might get, what it paid... My parents, Aunts ans Uncles constantly tried to upstage each other; where they could no longer "trump" each other's actions themselves, it became a matter of doing this vicariously, through the actions of their children. "So-and-so is prettiest", "so-and-so is going to Oxford", "so-and-so is joining the Royal Ballet", "we're buying our daughter a pony", "we're getting our son a car". Slowly, it became painful and embarrassing. After all, I wanted to get to know these people for who they were, to have happy, regular, loving relationships with my relatives.

Then the "bombshell" was dropped! My Gran, my mum's mum, who I had doted on, had ABUSED my mum! (I never had much contact with my paternal Grandmother, who was elderly and frail). Things changed when I reached puberty, about the time when I was ready to go to High School. It was as if my parents somehow felt I should be an adult now, fend for myself, "grow up". My mum now had her "little helper", someone on whom to offload all her troubles - to tell about her sister's pregnancy, to tell about her own bullying at school. She had someone, too, to help about the house as she looked after my brother. History was about to repeat itself...

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About Me, My Family and My Life - Teenage Years: A Life in the Doghouse!

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

It was never really my intention to write so much of this in so few "sittings", but now that the start has been made, it's as if everything else just naturally wants to follow. The words are there, forming sentences and flowing, almost of their own accord. It's as if the pressure of wanting to be let free has allowed my thoughts to break through the "floodgates"... I guess if it needs to be said, it HAS to be said...

My teens were dreadful years. I know that's probably true for so many people. The teenage years are never easy to deal with. They're a time of awkwardness, of trying to find out where you fit in, of outgrowing childhood, but never being really sure if, and when, you're an adult. They are a time of trying to assert your own personality, of getting used to a constantly changing body, of taking on board new and often frightening levels of responsibility.

I can imagine that for some teens, those with supportive and caring families, these transitional years are made more bearable. There is a wealth of experience in ones' parents, which, if tapped into, can help to make sense of this difficult phase. After all, it's fortunate if you are able to benefit from the knowledge of those who have done it all before!

But in my family, this really wasn't to be the case. It was as if, somehow, as soon as I was old enough to go to High School, I was also considered old enough to fend for myself. The change to High School was not easy. My parents made my responsibilities very clear - life would be all about getting good grades, a good job, and so forth. No more fun! My parents entered me into examinations to try out for a sponsored place at Public School, but despite my getting through to the second round of tests (to decide whether I got a Scholarship, or Bursary), they withdrew me, not wanting to take the risk of having to pay anything for my education. I was very dejected, as I could not comprehend this decision. I was the only child from my Infant School to have entered these exams and passed! This was a clear sign to me that I would never be good enough!

My life became a daily bout of arguments, with my parents trying to make all the decisions for me, and me desperate to assert myself. My relationship with my father tailed off after I showed little interest in pursuing Science subjects to University level. It was clear that my parents did not see MY interests as relevant. They could think only of what they saw as a "good Degree", a "good job"... The fact that I achieved more highly in Arts subjects such as English and Music was a problem in its own right; after all, to my parents, these kind of subjects were "namby pamby", they "did not get you a proper job".

I think something about my mum changed after she had my brother. It was as if she was more strained, and this triggered resurgence of some of her illness. She spent most of her time on my brother. Dad worked long hours, and was rarely present to provide care. He appeared to think that all he had to do was give my mum money, and that was his "caring" done! Mum worked part-time, and then got home, cooked tea for me and my brother, bathed my brother, put him to bed... All before dad got back from work, by which time his tea was expected to be on the table (if not, all Hell broke loose).

I was expected to keep out of the way, despite needing to finish my homework. Dad would move me from the table, shouting if I was not fast enough. He cared little if he was noisy, putting the T.V. or radio on very loud. I could not concentrate on my homework, and did not have a desk in my room, so had to make do with the floor. If I asked dad to turn the noise down so I could finish my work, he deliberately turned it UP. This was a regular occurrence, which he continued doing, taunting me into arguments that ended with a "good hiding" for me being "rude". If I didn't finish my homework, this meant further punishment. If I got in dad's way, needing the bathroom when he wanted it, asking to use the table while he ate, this resulted in shouting matches and fights. Mum never stepped in to stop it.

Mum seemed constantly tired, so I took on many of the household chores. This did not help my situation; rather, it was taken for granted. Mum drank a lot, although I suspect that on her medication, she should not have. It was a huge embarrassment to see all the empty bottles lined up behind our garage - Vodka, Wine, Bacardi... About half a bottle, or at least four glasses per night! She spent much of every evening asleep! Funny that my parents never saw this as problematic, despite frequently lecturing me about the evils of drink!

Lectures were a regular occurrence. Despite their "laissez faire" attitude in respect of providing emotional support, my parents never ceased to bark out orders, and to lay down "rules". I could not talk to my parents, or confide in them; they were distant in an emotional sense. They did not talk about relationships, or sex, except to describe them as "bad". I was not allowed to ask questions, or "talk back". When telling me to do something, my parents always stated "because we said so"; they never gave proper reasons and became aggressive if challenged. Mum screamed, or became hysterical, crying and yelling at the same time. She could always turn on the "waterworks" to get her own way, but if I cried, I was accused of "melodrama" and smacked. Dad generally had little to do with me, other than punishment. This included shouting, yelling, threatening me and hitting me. I tried to hide in my room, but dad followed, hitting and kicking me if he caught me. He would pin me between the radiator wall and the bed, grabbing and twisting my wrists (like a "Chinese Burn") to stop me getting free. My parents would shove me and shake me. On one occasion, my dad even pushed me out of the house, down the steps and slammed the door in my face. I felt my feet come off the ground, and I was crying at the time. This was because I had dared to ask the reason for something I was told to do. A friend's mum noticed bruises on my wrists, but did not act.

Life was like prison. I had friends, but they rarely came in the house, as my parents were selective about this. Only "friends" who achieved at school came in, the rest sat on the garden wall! Most did not want to come in as my parents openly argued and shouted in front of them, and mum moaned about mess. It was painfully embarrassing. We were seldom allowed to my room, as we might make a mess. My parents punished me in front of friends, who often had to take their own leave of the house.

I had no privacy, as my parents entered my room whenever they pleased. Mum used excuses like "just checking" and "seeing if there are boys in here"! I was not permitted to decorate my room, or have pets - again to do with mum's phobias, and obsession about dirt. My phone-calls and mail were checked. One occasion, after I had bought clothes my parents hated, dad raided my wardrobe, burning and binning items he wished to "censor". Clothes were a frequent source of argument, as was music. To assert my personality, and detract from how unhappy I felt, I became a "Goth".

My unhappiness was deep-seated, and due also to continued bullying at school. I struggled to fit in, and to feel "wanted". Life felt full of punishment, no matter where I was. I could not meet my family's expectations and ever-moving "goalposts", but if I did well at school, I was picked on by jealous kids. I felt I identified with the "Goth" scene. I could dress in black, and hide behind clothes which took on the form of "camouflage" for me. "Angsty" music reflected my mood. Piercings made me feel less inhibited about a body and face that I believed to be hideously ugly.

But to my parents, especially my mother, my changed appearance and behaviour was a source of nightmare. She derided my outfits as "tarty" - I dressed like a "slut". As far as she was concerned, this was what I had become. She warned me that boys would only want me "for one thing". It was assumed that if I smelled of smoke, not only was I smoking, but drinking and taking drugs too! If I was heard phoning a boy, it was assumed I'd had sex with him! After a while, I began to feel that if this was what I was to be accused of, then I might as well do it! (Continued...)

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About Me, My Family and My Life - Teenage Years; the Memories I try to hide

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

Strange, this... my teenage years were only a short period of my life, but I remember them as one of the longest! They seemed interminable, dragging on for ever...

Let's be honest, I wanted to get away from home as fast as I could. When every night is "fight night", you would, too!

I think I'd jumped ahead a little bit when I told you about the Goth stuff. That came about really because of the joint pressure of bullying at school, and the "atmosphere" at home. I reckon I was a "late developer". I was so upset when my best friend got a bra at 14, and I didn't. I was still teased as "fried egg tits" and "Kate Bush" (a reference to my pale skinniness, and unruly long hair). My best friend was the school "fat girl", and bullied too, but I stood up for her. She turned out to be one of the worst bullies of all, having hidden years of jealousy, and waiting to unleash it on me, her unwitting, skinnier victim.

This came about in the MOST HIDEOUS way, and is something which to this day I blame myself for. You see, as a result of my own unhappiness, I'd taken to binging and purging; stuffing my face on calorific junk food, then making myself sick. I abused laxatives, too, having "discovered" their wonderful ability to "rid" me of the effects of a particularly gut-busting binge! It was not long before my best friend had joined me in this behaviour, and it felt great to be together with someone in this secret activity. I think she enjoyed the effects of the laxatives even more, and soon became obsessed with diets and calorie-counting. Despite my frequent warnings to her not to go too far, lest we be discovered, she persisted in her binging behaviour. This drew attention to her... and my... yo-yo'ing weight, and we were soon being monitored both by her mother, and staff at school. I hated most being forced to sit on the "Teachers' Table" as they scrutinized what I ate, forcing me to clear my plate. I continued to skip meals at home.

My best friend also became involved in the Goth scene. I think I served as an inducement to many of my more "straight-laced" friends to go "off the rails". Despite never being a popular kid at school, I think I had some sort of "bad girl mystique" which attracted other misfits, and kids with identity crises. Most of these "friendships" were short-lived - kids were either warned off by their parents, or put off by my own erratic behaviour! But my best friend fell out with me over boyfriends. Knowing that if she reported to my parents that I had a boyfriend, she could get me into trouble, this was exactly what she did! My parents, true to form, took her word over mine. They had never been particularly interested in my side of any argument, and weren't about to change. I was given the regulation "good hiding" and then "grounded".

Living with my parents was anything but pleasant at this time, and they certainly did not require any encouragement to view me in a negative light. Strive as I might to achieve at school, my grades were never praised, as my parents would always make comparisons with my cousins, who they saw as better. Life was very much about "why can't you dress more like...", "why can't you look like...", "why can't you be like...". They could always find the example of some perfect child somewhere, who, as far as they were concerned, was everything a parent might want, did everything they were asked, and never "talked back".

I became very frightened to behave as myself, and gradually also confused as to just what I was like, anyway. Most of the time, I just wanted to keep out of my parents' way, and not incite their anger. I felt unattractive and unwanted, and the messages I got seemed to confirm this. I was not good enough! Alone in my room, I spent ages pondering over what it was that I had done wrong, to make people so unhappy with me. At least I could control my food intake, hiding any weight gain, or loss under long, baggy black clothes! I was desperate for attention, and even time spent listening to my mum confiding in me about her own miserable past, and the cause of her illness, was better than nothing. I could do little to gain the attention of my father, save for when I got him mad! Somewhere along the line, I somehow "got used" to all the arguments, the shouting, the rules and punishments. I grew to expect life to be about feeling bad and worthless. I started to believe that I was "good for nothing" and deserved to be hit, shouted at and criticised. I could see little other happening to me while I remained at home.

15 or 16 marked a turning point. I was raped! To avoid being at home, I'd taken to staying with friends, and eventually just staying with anyone I'd met recently at any of the Pubs and Clubs that I visited underage. You see, I told you that living in a tacky seaside resort was significant. It was so easy to get into Bars underage! I smoked at 14, and, well, drink was accessible at home from any age! Hanging out with people older than me, bikers and the like, made me feel "cool". But I guess I was SO naive! And when a guy asked me to his place for "coffee" I believed that was what he meant. Already drunk, I continued drinking at his flat. Anything seemed better than going home; and anyway, it made me feel special and cared about to have men take an interest in me. Besides, my parents already treated me as a slut! Being drunk, I had little power over my actions. I remember very little, other than acute embarrassment at waking up in some guy's bed, and not really knowing where I was!

Some "friends" dabbled in drugs, one even taking an overdose at a party. He'd locked himself in the bathroom, and passed away not long after. I appeared in all the local 'papers. Obviously, I never sought my parents' consolation after this event. Nor after the rape. Nor on the many occasions afterwards, when, feeling worthless, I dated a serious of violent and abusive men. One of these even pushed me headfirst into a parked car, following a jealous outburst outside a Bar. They would flirt in front of me, criticise my weight, and two-time me... but if I even so much as looked at another guy... Most of these men came from troubled backgrounds, and I was often attracted to them through feeling sorry for them. Sometimes, they felt the same towards me. Whatever, it did not make for healthy relationships.

I have been hit by my parents, hit by "boyfriends" and slapped and nipped by my "best friend". Bullying occurred both at home and at school. For most of my teenage years, nowhere seemed a safe haven. But I held onto the fact that, through academic achievement, I might better myself. I attended University in the hope of it making a difference. But, as usual, my parents were in full control. They had dictated my choice of Sixth Form, following major arguments about my having wanted to go instead to a local College (not good enough!). They dictated my choice of Degree, and when I requested to change subject, threatened to disown me. This was something I truly feared, having been told many times before that I could be "sent away" or "kicked out of the house". When my mum had discovered my eating problems, she'd threatened to have me "locked in a Mental Asylum".

The abuse continued on and off throughout University, as I was obliged to come home at Holiday times. I found I could not get on with my father, and still got slapped. My brother, now older, had "problems" of his own - taking "E"s, and self-harming. I blamed myself in part for this, too, wondering if the effects of my arguments with dad were upsetting my brother.

I had a long term relationship at University, falling hopelessly for the guy concerned. Again, he was someone to make me feel special. He was also my one source of support when a very close friend, who I had known from Sixth Form, died tragically of cancer. Once more, my parents were not there to console me, even following the funeral.

Unfortunately, I also fell pregnant in my final year, and, unable to face my parents, decided on a termination. My boyfriend did not wish to be a father, and we parted company, so I felt utterly alone. Despite having tried to keep the matter secret, it was discovered by my mother again going through my private mail. My parents, who had always thought me a "tart" now felt vindicated, their suspicions "confirmed". Nobody thought to ask me how I felt. My decision had been one based solely upon terror - fear of being alone, a single mother and unable to cope, and fear of a further beating by my parents for having "let them down". I'd used contraception, but felt sure my parents would still think matters "my fault".

For years I've lived with this inside, but now it's mostly out. It's a huge relief to see it spread before me, and to know I'm still here. Maybe now, I can finally lay the ghosts to rest, and in doing so, help myself, and others along the way...

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About Me, My Family and My Life - Revelations and Learning

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

Strange, but it's somehow a huge relief to have got here! Well, you may be asking, what on Earth made me so keen to speak out? What made it so important that I write so much about my experiences?

I guess it's a multi-faceted thing! The motivation was primarily twofold, but went on to have many more cascading effects than anticipated. Some were, perhaps, selfish... purely about me. These included a desperate need to "vent"; to offload all the pent-up emotions, to have MY side of the story heard, to "dump" some of my "baggage". And believe me, once this process is started; once the initial fear of disclosure is overcome; matters take on almost a "life of their own"! It is as though the pressure of wanting and needing so much to relieve oneself of a "burden" breaks through the "floodgates"... once the words start flowing, they practically form sentences for themselves! After all, deep inside, any of us who have been abused know this - we know our own truth, and know that we WANT IT TO BE HEARD.

And that's just a part of it. We, who have been abused, been victims and been silent for so long, WANT and DESERVE a voice. Speaking out releases that voice. It gives us back POWER. This is the power to be heard; the power to have our experiences recognised, validated. It is the power that comes with ownership... ownership of our experiences. We assimilate our past, and in so doing, learn from it, learn to cope. We grow STRONGER.

My own learning and growth has been a gradual thing. It has included the need to face up to past experiences which I had deliberately kept hidden, put away in a recess of my mind, marked "dangerous, do not open!". But this just added to the "pressure cooker" effect! Stuff too many things into a box, and keep cramming more, then it becomes impossible to keep the lid on! So, rather than just letting things spill out, I took the lid off the box, then had a good rummage, and WROTE!

By looking at matters afresh, and with the eyes of experience (which nearly always accompanies "hindsight"), I could begin to unravel my experiences, analyse them, and learn...

I learned a fair bit, I think! Start with my mum... Here we have a woman, abused herself as a child, brought up in a strictly religious family. A woman "brainwashed" to believe in "Original Sin" and the fact that girls aren't as good as boys. A woman taken out of school to care for siblings because she WAS a girl. A woman who, had she been offered the chance, was more than clever enough to go to University. A woman who felt obliged, because of her religious upbringing, to marry and have children as opposed to solely pursuing a fulfilling career. A woman who developed a Mental Illness...

This woman gave birth to two children, boy and girl, and brought into her role as a parent all of her negative past experiences. Besides, her first child (me) came unplanned! Suffering Post Natal Depression, mum never really "bonded" with me, and perhaps it was this fact that singled me out for abuse over my brother.

Like my mum, my dad had come from a poor, neglected background, being the youngest boy in a fatherless family. He learned early that he had to "look after himself", again leaving school early to get a job, and provide his mother with a source of income. From this experience, coupled again with a religious upbringing that stereotyped male and female roles, dad probably came to view "breadwinner" as a man's only role. Men did not provide affection and emotional support - they did not hug and cuddle, that was "sissy"! Having lost his father, my own father never really had a male role model, to help determine the sort of father he might grow into.

You see, adults (and parents) kind of "make it up as they go along". They have to make difficult, sometimes on-the-spot decisions, but as adults must be responsible for these. They are only human, and don't always get things right. They may learn some of their parenting skills from their own parents. Hence, bad parenting repeats itself. ALL of OUR parents have had experiences BEFORE they became parents, and they bring these with them, into the family. Some have learned well from these experiences, and make a good job of parenting... some do not.

My parents, having lived unfortunate early lives themselves, chose later to live vicariously through their offspring. This included an expectation that we, their children, would do all the things that they had not. Unfortunately, it DID NOT take account of whether we wanted to. My parents attached excessive importance to things that, for other more balanced individuals, would have been trivial. They needed desperately to prove that they had risen above their poor backgrounds, had achieved... and in doing so, forced upon their children the same obligations - to compete, to prove. But as individuals in our own right, we, the children, had NOTHING to prove; and should not have been living with the after-effects of someone else's problems.

My father never really learned to control his temper... his anger, bitterness and frustration (which I bet is all based in the loss of his dad). My mother, with mental health issues, perhaps found it difficult to take responsibility for her actions, and to know reality, to distinguish fact from fiction. Many people with mental illness are the last to be aware that they ARE ill. Others around them see their bizarre behaviour, their irrationality... but for the person with a mental illness, the delusions, the hallucinations, seem real. And so the person acts as if they ARE real!

Being female, and the elder child, I became the focus of my mother's delusions. Perhaps she found it hard to distinguish between me, and her sister (who had become pregnant in her teens), believing ALL girls to be like this? She has often described it as "her mission" to prevent me becoming like her sister. Clearly, mum's illness had an effect on family life; whether it was in enforced secrets, discomfort around relatives, difficult interactions... As a Mental Health Social Worker by profession, I firmly believe that greater levels of support need to be offered to parents, especially those with mental health issues. Also, the "taboo" that surrounds mental illness should be lifted, making it easier to talk about, making people less scared to ask for help. Closer monitoring, and effective co-working between professionals, patients and families should encourage sufferers (and carers) to be more aware of symptoms and the need for treatment.

I cannot excuse my parents' actions, but I can try to recognise and understand. There is an overall need for recognition of abuse, and its effects. This is where Darlene's little gem of a website comes in. It gives me, and others, a voice. It brings together the experiences of SO MANY people who silently suffered childhood abuse. It allows us to share experiences and offer support. It draws attention to abuse - its effects, how to recognise it, how to seek help... Most of all, it champions the survivor...

For everyone who's written in to this site IS a survivor. A person who, despite their past, is now trying to live a good, full, ordinary life. And that's just it! NEVER believe "ordinary" - it hides so much. Behind EVERY "ordinary" person's exterior is SPECIAL, PRECIOUS, BRAVE, COURAGEOUS, LOVING, KIND, CARING, SENSITIVE... ANYTHING BUT ORDINARY. We are none of us ordinary. We are INDIVIDUAL. WE ARE AMAZING!

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Our Animal "Buddies".

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

Busy week at work, this week! We're making dramatic changes within Social Services, re-evaluating the way that we deliver care, and finance it. We're also being asked to look at ways of improving the computer systems that we use daily to process requests for this care. I've been asked to take part in a "little project", which looks at the processes a worker uses in order to make an assessment of an individuals needs, and to provide care to meet these. It seemed so easy at first... until I realised that this meant deconstructing a whole working day; breaking down every little task into its individual components, and then LISTING them as a FLOW CHART. Now, I don't have much patience at the best of times!

Anyhow, every evening, I've been glad to return to the peace of my own home. I've always been delighted that my cats have been there, waiting for me. I've been able to make myself a cup of tea, feed the cats, feed myself, and then settle down on the sofa with a cat curled on my knee, to watch T.V., and cuddle. With six cats, there's always one who'll want attention, and a bit of a fuss making over him/her!

This got me to thinking, just how wonderful this interactive experience can be. You see, there are benefits for both parties involved... The pet gets food, warmth, company and attention. The "owner" (for who really knows who owns who?!) receives in return love, trust, companionship, attention... There's something very relaxing, and spiritually uplifting, about cuddling a warm, furry little body. Something soothing about stroking a pet's fur. Whatever the stressors of that day, they gradually melt away. No wonder medical reports are now being produced, which state that keeping a pet can help a person remain less stressed, and to live longer! I'd vouch for the fact that there clearly ARE health benefits!

But what's this got to do with childhood abuse, you ask? Well, a lot more than may first meet the eye, is my reply...

Our relationships in life are very important. They provide us with support, intimacy, love... Relationships can be of the human kind - partners, husbands/wives, family, friends, colleagues... These people are ALL significant to us; ALL have an effect on how our lives unfold, and can thus affect our well-being. But relationships can be of the animal kind, too.

For someone whose life has been blighted by the trauma of abuse, it can seem very difficult to form relationships with humans again; to trust them and to want to "open up" to them. Whilst an affectionate relationship with a pet cannot replace, or make up for, a damaged relationship with, say, a spouse, or a parent, it CAN still be a help. It can provide a source of comfort to an individual who might otherwise feel alone. Not only that, but the relationship one has with ones animal friends is not usually fraught with as many tensions as that with a human - it is uncomplicated. Animals appear to provide an affection that is unconditional. They do not demand, "do your Homework, or you'll get a smack!". They do not order, "turn that telly off and get to your room. Stop being so noisy!". They do not cruelly tease, "don't play with the fat girl!"; or sarcastically say behind your back " ugh, look at him, speccy-four-eyes!". No! Provided that they are fed and watered, and provided with clean and comfortable housing, they are content to be around whoever, whenever...

This leads me to my next point... Having read many of the stories on this website, I've seen time and again a similar comment... "My abuser hurt, or threatened to hurt, my pet." Another is... "My abuser won't let me have a pet."

Childhood abuse occurs because the abuser has isolated the "victim", has "zoomed in" on their vulnerabilities, and then, with continued threats and bribes, has induced such fear in the "victim" that they are unwilling or unable to protect them-self. Terror of reprisals keeps the "victim" from speaking out; and, besides, they have been made to feel lost and alone.

The bond between a child and their pet is often a very close one, based on having grown up together, based on a sense of sharing activities together. It is also often a very strong bond, with the child feeling loved and protected by the pet. For a child who has few other means of support (a child possibly experiencing abuse) the pet can feel like their only "lifeline". The pet may "stand up for" the child; barking, clawing, scratching at, or otherwise intimidating the aggressor. The pet may become a "confidante", "someone" who shares the experience of abuse, "someone" to discuss it with. The pet is a "shoulder to cry on". The pet becomes a constant companion, "someone" to talk to, "someone" who still loves them, no matter what. For the child who otherwise feels unloved and unwanted, this relationship with their pet can be very much of a "be all and end all" nature. It may be the one thing that gives them the inner strength to endure their abuse, and to "come out the other side". The continued bond with the pet can be an incentive to turn a life around.

No wonder, then, that abusers wish to isolate their "victims" from pets, too! No wonder that threats of harm to a child's beloved animal companion can be so efficient and effective a form of torment! If the abuser cannot directly harm the child "victim", or wishes to do so in a more insidious manner, then targeting recipients of the child's affections will more than suffice!

Abusers are frequently reported as enjoying the sense of power that they gain through abusing. Therefore, the targets of their abuse will predominantly be in a situation of lesser power. For this reason, children, and some ANIMALS, are often ideal. They are small, generally docile, trusting and affectionate. These are all qualities which the abuser will want to manipulate.

It is my belief, therefore, that where ANIMAL ABUSE is taking place in a family household, it is a good indicator of potential domestic violence and/or child abuse. Evidence from research which is currently ongoing, would appear to indicate similar links. Organisations such as the R.S.P.C.A. and the Women's Aid Federation, in the U.K., are beginning to take very seriously the issue of the links between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence.

You see, for many of us, our "animal buddies" are an integral part of our social network. They are a source of companionship, support and affection. If I know this, and you know this, then we can be pretty certain that an abuser will know this, too! That is why it is so important that Aid Organisations recognise this.

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Mental Health Issues and the Links to Abuse

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

I've got a big "bee in my bonnet" about this issue, both personally and professionally. You see, I really think that much more ought to be done about mental health than is currently the case, both in terms of treatment, and prevention/education.
Mental illness is an internationally recognised phenomenon, but also apparently an international "taboo". Generally, we find it a difficult and unpleasant issue; one which presents many challenges. How do we talk openly about it? How do we address the "stigma" and embarrassment which has become attached to it? How do we dispel the many myths that have arisen, due in the main to our general level of ignorance concerning this subject?
As the daughter of a parent with mental health problems, and a qualified Social Worker, I've seen "both sides of the coin". I am more than aware of the devastating effects that mental illness can have on a family. I have lived with the legacy of my upbringing by parents plagued by this issue. I have also spent time providing assistance and care for those hospitalised under the Mental Health Act, 1983.
There are many problems in the way that we currently deal with the issue of mental illness. To an outsider, it can still seem a scary, rather "seedy" prospect. Many are the images that abound, of the psychopathic axe-wielding murderer; or the gibbering "down-and-out" ranting and raving about hearing voices! We are often lead down this path by sensationalist media articles, a minefield of misinformation and prejudice.
Historically, we've always had a problem with the mentally unstable. Even the terminology we use can be degrading. Would YOU like to be known as UNSTABLE? How about PSYCHOTIC? Or NEUROTIC? Or HYSTERICAL? GA-GA anyone? NUTS? LOON? MORON? LOOPY? BATTY? Funny, when you look at them, how many of the terms we used to describe the mentally ill are also general INSULTS!
So, in the past, we've wanted to hide these people away. After all, why would a society want to be faced with having to accept that not everyone is "perfect"? It was shame and embarrassment which brought about the construction of Asylums and Workhouses - places where the mentally ill so often ended up. It was fear and shame that lead to the "discovery" of "treatments" intended to make the mentally ill "normal" again (by the way, what is normal?!). Treatments which were so often invasive, traumatic and risky - such as E.C.T. and Neurosurgery (e.g. Lobotomy). Before such things had been ushered in by the Victorians, bastions as they were of "morality" (a morality which was very questionable behind closed doors - the Victorians might well have invented "hypocrisy" - corsets, anyone? How about a nice tablecloth to cover your table legs, to avert your gaze? Don't want to be caught staring at legs; even those of a table! How about a bit of Church? Followed by a "what the Butler saw" slide-show?)there had been other ways of punishing the undesirable... "Scolds Bridle", anybody? Stops your nagging wife from chattering! How about "Witch-hunts" and "Ducking Stools"? Fancy being branded? Or made to wear a "Chastity Belt"?
I kind of figured your answer to the above might well be NO! But these treatments, and more, were meted out frequently to the mentally ill, and to those suspected of living their lives in a way that did not easily meet with conventional ideologies of the time.
But while we continue to hold on to outdated and incorrect notions of what mental illness means, we fail also to take on board the reality of the situation. Not ALL people with mental illnesses are dangerous. And of the ones who are, they are MOST OFTEN a danger to THEMSELVES.
Now think about the implications of this in relation to child-rearing. I ask you, at this point, to take account of the fact that many people with mental illnesses are totally unaware that they are ill. In Psychiatric Services, this self-awareness; the ability to recognise that one is NOT rational, that one has problems; is known as "INSIGHT". Not all sufferers of mental illness have insight. Unfortunately, lack of insight and a poor prognosis are more often than not linked.
I hope that you are now beginning to realise that this is a MUCH MORE complicated field than might initially be envisaged. I hope, too, that you are beginning to understand that the implications of mental illness in relation to child abuse are manifold.
Mental illness can be both a RESULT OF abuse; but also a PRECURSOR TO abuse. It is a well-documented fact that trauma in childhood (i.e. abuse) can bring about mental illness, such as Depression, Anxiety and Eating Disorders (amongst others).
However, mental illness may also CAUSE some individuals to abuse. A small minority (hopefully) of these will be the sort of cold, unfeeling individuals who become labelled as "Psychopaths"; people for whom the "everyday" range of emotions which we take for granted are almost impossible. Others may be suffering from "Personality Disorders", where an individuals personal ideologies have become distorted, and their overall personality traits interfere with functioning. Often, such disorders are seen as hard to treat, and can lead to significant problems, including "antisocial" behaviours, and an inability to empathise with the feelings of others.
But the majority of individuals may, behind the illness, be genuinely well-meaning, caring people. However, the nature of their illness means that delusions, feelings of persecution, grandiose ideologies, lack of self-esteem (to name but a few issues) interfere with their ability to relate to others. Such people may be utterly unaware, therefore, of the way in which their problems affect their children. Delusional belief systems can be extensive, and encompass family members, friends, workplace colleagues - all of whom might be much more aware of the effects of such beliefs, than the person actually experiencing them.
Whilst I am in no way excusing those who abuse their children as a result of having mental health problems, I AM suggesting that there ought to be much more scope for addressing such issues in a pro-active and sympathetic manner. Many individuals with mental illnesses present one "face" to the outside world, and another to those close to them. The strain of keeping up this pretence means that cracks are likely to show at home. They may even (as can my mother) be able to fool many Mental Health Professionals, who only see them for occasional reviews.
It is a difficult balance. The individual who is mentally ill may be genuinely unaware that their behaviour is having negative consequences for those around them. They may truly feel, in their own skewed way, that they are acting in others' best interests (e.g. by preventing their child from playing outside, they can stop them being abducted - a possible fear for those with persecutory delusions). Professionals need to be much more aware of the "what happens behind closed doors" scenario, and there should be greater input into providing resources aimed as much at preventative action, as at crisis resolution (where action is often too late). We need more dedicated workers, who can engage with families from the outset, monitoring problem behaviours, giving advice and support, educating about the need for compliance with treatment. We also need more seamless service delivery, with the ability to coordinate care between Health and Social Services staff, sharing of information, quick assessments... to name but a few improvements that COULD be made.
Remember the Child Protection rule - "the rights of the child are paramount". Only by correctly educating everyone about mental health can we ensure that society is able to keep children safe.

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Emotional Abuse: a Child's Perspective. Some Family Do's and Dont's.

by Elaine Riley
(Lancashire, UK)

O.K. So I'm writing this as an adult... but, let's get it straight... I've been there as a child...
I grew up in a family where bitchiness and competitivity were like "pastimes", accepted as "natural behaviour". Coming from large, Catholic families, both my parents bought into this way of thinking from an early age. "He's the cleverest", "She's the prettiest", "He's the tallest", "She's the thinnest".
My parents did not openly display their emotions; nor was it encouraged in me, or my brother. Come to think of it, this is not strictly correct! They did not openly display POSITIVE emotions. NEGATIVE ones, such as shouting, rowing, arguing, bitterness and anger were a daily family "free-for-all". Hugs and cuddles were a strict "no-go area", as was the notion of positive reinforcement of behaviour (i.e. praise and rewards). Life was about "keeping your head down" and hoping that you did not incite a public display of somebody's wrath!
My parents ruled with iron fists, and obediance was simply expected. My brother and I did not really learn about the concept of earned respect, but rather about enforced discipline. Had Charles Dickens been around today, he would have recognised my family's "parenting style"! It was the "children are to be seen and not heard" concept! Discipline was enforced through a regime of threats and coercion (usually the threats were enough, but they were more than often followed-up anyway, "for good measure"). I learned quickly about "a good hiding", and "a smack", but never really that much about "please" and "thank you".
My parents were keen to ensure that my brother and I behaved in the manner expected, and again, this was done through coercion. It was also achieved by the systematic eradication of all that made us unique. Comparison was a useful tool ("why can't you be more like..."), as was feigned disappointment, "the guilt trip" ("you've really let me down"). If all else failed, then use criticism ("that skirt really makes you look fat", or "you look like a tart in that!").
I get thoroughly annoyed by the old excuse that emotional abuse is difficult to spot and hard to prove. This is far too often trotted out by Social Services, and the Judicial System, often when a case of abuse has been left to get out of hand...
Not only that, but the very demeanour of the child involved will serve as "living proof". Emotional abuse is cruel; it strips away all that makes the child individual. It is a personal attack upon their very integrity. It therefore has a clear, and very evident result.
If you suspect emotional abuse, you CAN follow a line of inquiry. Look at the child. Look for a child who is timid, and lacks confidence. They will most likely have little, or no, self-esteem. They may shy away from involvment, not wanting to be "in the limelight". They may demonstrate anxious behaviour when faced with public shows of affection, or report that they do not believe that this sort of behaviour is "normal". They will be a perfectionist, setting impossibly high standards for themself, and living in constant fear of "letting someone down". They may describe themselves as "stupid" or "ugly" or "useless", and may, if asked, find it much easier to describe their negative, as opposed to positve, attributes (e.g. "I'm fat", but never "I'm clever"). They may be constantly attempting to ingratiate themselves; or could simply wish to "disappear into the background".
Try to encourage them to open up about family life. Try to gauge what they think is "normal". Do they feel it's acceptable for arguments to be public? Do they have a large vocabulary of curses and swear-words, which they report they learned off their parents? Do they rarely have friends round to tea, etc.? Would they describe themselves as in any way "ashamed" or "embarrased" by their family life? Do they report that they are a "carer" for a parent or relative; or do they state that they undertake an inordinately large number of the household chores?
In my experience, all of the above are clear signs that emotional abuse may be taking place within a family environment.
It is NOT acceptable to permit emotional abuse to continue, unchecked. After all, it is one of the cruellest, and most insidious, types of abuse that can occur. This is because it may take place as "stand-alone" abuse in its own right, or may accompany other forms. For this reason, I've compiled some simple, but effective, do's and dont's...

DO think and plan ahead before having a child. It's one of
the most significant decisions you'll ever make (not just
for yourself). Be prepared for what parenthood involves;
children are NOT idealised. They are REAL. The worst thing
a child could ever hear is "you weren't planned"; "you
were an accident"; "we regret having you". I should know!
You may as well be saying "I wish you were dead".

DON'T expect perfection from your child. Nobody is perfect.
You aren't. Your child isn't. End of subject!

DO be realistic. Your child WILL make mistakes. They may
fall over and skin their knees. They may drip ice-
cream down their best clothes. They may get dirty while
playing in the snow. They may knock ornaments over in
the house, and break them. KIDS DO THIS. It's a part of
growing up. Get over it! Children are NOT like the
squeaky-clean paragons of virtue seen in adverts!

DON'T bear grudges. It's cruel to keep reminding someone
of an error made. You would feel "nagged" if your
husband/wife/partner kept repeating that you'd
forgotten to put the bins out; or forgotten their
anniversary; or reminded you frequently that you got
embarrasingly drunk at Uncle Fred's Birthday party! You
can "nag" a child, too. Things only need saying ONCE.
ONCE ought to be enough!

DO reward and encourage invividuality. Your child is unique.
You should celebrate this.

DON'T ever shout and swear in front of your child, if you can
at all help it. Children, even very tiny infants, have a
vast memory, and a huge capacity for learning. Why teach
them the wrong things? It may come back to haunt you!

DO feel free to lavish hugs and kisses. Children need these
obvious signs of affection, in order to feel safe and
secure. They need to be able to recognise positive emotions
and their natural expression. Besides, a family devoid of
hugs, cuddles and kisses is truly a miserable family -
after all, research has proven that such open displays of
affection reduce stress.

DON'T encourage competitivity and comparison. Children are NOT
there for your entertainment, nor for you to live your
life vicariously through. If you force children to
compete for your affections, or show favouritism, you may
sow the seeds of resentment, and fuel longstanding family

DO try to remain positive, and offer words of encouragement at
every opportunity. There is nothing sadder than a child who
is afraid to try something new, for fear of failure.

DON'T be tempted to become over-critical, to be dismissive,
patronising, or downright "bitchy". Your child will
remember these unkind remarks, and may take them to
heart. After all, you would not like to be called "fatty"
or "worthless", or a "waste of time". Nor would your

DO attempt to give of your time, freely and willingly. A child
should not be made to feel like an intrusion, a nuisance,
or an inconvenience. Parenting is NOT all about your needs.

DON'T resort to threats, or to coercion and bribes in order to
maintain "discipline". Children are NOT stupid, and learn
both to be fearful, and manipulative of inconsistent

DO remember to let your child know how proud you are of them,
and that you genuinely care. No child ever comes with an
instruction manual, but take note, if all else fails,
hold onto the fact that you love that child, and they love

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Back After A "Blip"

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancshire, UK)

Hello Darlene... Hi everyone...
Seems like ages since I last contributed anything to this site...

Truth be told... it IS ages!

I could really do to update some of my personal details, it's been that LONG. A break of over 2 years, if I'm correct!

Well, I've now reached the big four o (40, to be precise!). Not nice, but could be worse. Most of my bits are still pretty close to where they should be. I tend to subscribe to the theory that everything starts to go south when you hit 30, so some slippage is to be expected!

Got married end of 2009 - I've been with the poor guy since 1995, so it was long overdue. Friends and family I think had given up hope. Still...

It was a nice wedding, all things considered. I say that for a reason. I guess everyone who gets married is biased in that they believe that THEIR OWN wedding was the best ever. Mine, I admit, wasn't quite like that...

On the day, I had a serious chest infection. I was so dosed-up on Antibiotics that I never really got the chance to experience pre-wedding jitters! How I managed the rest of the day, I'll never truly know. Several glasses of "bubbly" and grim determination, I think!

And that, i.e. GRIM DETERMINATION, has been pretty much the story of my life these last couple of years. It's been one of those phases where anything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. Husband's dad died end of 2006, and following that, came one catastrophe after another.

My own mother has had some serious health problems, which began around 2007, when she had a major relapse (she has Bi-Polar Disorder). There seems to have been a mix-up over her medication, and she stopped taking her tablets. What followed was a nightmare, so I'll say no more. Mercifully for her, she managed to avoid hospitalisation under the Mental Health Act - though I'm still not sure how. A good old family feud ensued, as my father had failed to spot any signs of mum's deterioration until the very last minute. He remains "in denial" concerning her illness to this day, and refuses to be educated about her medication and side-effects, or her relapse indicators. Good old "dad" prefers to stick his head firmly in the sand! This is where I usually come in, as mum tends to offload all her baggage on me. Nine times out of ten, she'll have told me something completely different concerning her health, as opposed to what she's told my father. I've simply come to view manipulation as one of the symptoms of her mental illness...

Still, it's not been quite so easy for her recently. Sadly, she was diagnosed with chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis, following a fall at the end of 2007. She has been in constant pain since, and her mobility has deteriorated. Mid 2009, she underwent surgery to replace her left knee-joint with an artificial one. She is currently awaiting similar surgery on her right knee. This has had a significant effect upon family matters, as my father has had to do so much more for my mum, and this has made him face up to the fact that she IS unwell, both physically and mentally. I've helped out as much as I can, with household chores and the like, but it's been great to see, for the first time that I can ever remember, my father doing something caring for someone other than himself.

2009 was a dreadful year. Not only did it coincide with a deterioration in mum's overall wellbeing, but I also lost my Uncle, and my Godfather (also my Uncle by marriage) to cancer. This was very painful, as I had not seen either of them for a long while, and missed them terribly. (Family dynamics have caused a lot of trouble in my past, and as a consequence my parents had severed contact with many relatives). Furthermore, the loss of my Uncle was a shock, in that firstly he had looked so healthy and the cancer spread so fast; and secondly, it was made clear to me that this was the Uncle that I had been fostered with when little. It took AGES for everything to sink in. I was in so much shock, I didn't even attend the funerals.

So, in 2009, I lost 2 potential father-figures. That really got me thinking, as my relationship with my own father is not the best. Probably due to grief, I dwelt on the matter a huge amount - to a point where it maybe wasn't healthy... And, besides, mum became so very talkative following her Bi-Polar relapses (there were another 2 or 3 minor ones following the first, in 2007). She seemed to want to give me her whole life story, but in record time, and offering me no control over how she passed the information on. I felt bombarded! I've ALWAYS been aware of family problems, and secrets, and feuds... But to be told so much about them in so short a space of time was overwhelming...

Yes, 2009 was a dreadful year. By early 2009 I was already struggling, anyway. My own health problems were a significant issue, in that they had become progressively worse. I'd had surgery in 2008 to address both bowel, and menstrual, problems. I'd also had hormone treatment, and been fitted with a Mirena Coil in the hope of controlling some of my symptoms. Nothing had worked. From about 2005 onwards, I'd suffered from repeated ear, nose, throat and chest infections. I was also Anaemic, and had very heavy and painful periods. Worse still, I had the symptoms of what was thought to be Irritable Bowel Syndrome (say no more!), and chronic fatigue. I FELT ILL. REALLY ILL! Some days I struggled to get out of bed, as I would feel dizzy, nauseous and achy. During my monthly period I often fainted. My bowel problems crippled my social life. Add to this, the stress of everything mentioned above... I had what I can only term a "stress burnout". I must have been off work for months.

The end of 2009 was a turning point. My employers had not been at all sympathetic or supportive. It was as though they felt that, as a Social Worker, I was only there to sort out other people's problems... SO HOW DARE I HAVE MY OWN! I parted company with Social Services in December 2009, having decided to return to student life.

So, I'm now back at University, studying Postgraduate Psychology. I'M LOVING IT! Initially, I had a few nerves about returning to study so long after the last time (I'd been a Social Worker for over 7 years). I was also worried about being such a "mature" student. Going back to University at 39 was weird... but good. I think it's positively healthy to reinvent yourself every now and again. Besides, I'd been through such a terrible time, I needed something special. This was my incentive, my push, my goal. It felt again like things made sense. I was back doing something I liked, and could finally begin to process everything that had happened to me, in my own good time. Also, I think I wanted to prove to myself that I was still capable, still worthwhile, despite all that I'd been through. I'd started to believe that everything around me was somehow tainted - that EVERYTHING was bound always to go wrong. I'd grown to EXPECT it! Returning to my studies, I could challenge this negative perception of the world. Challenge myself. I could kick the old brain cells back into action. I could achieve... I WANT TO achieve. I've decided on an action plan of sorts...

It goes like this:
1. Get good grades so I can register with the British Psychological Society
2. Qualify as either a Clinical, or a Forensic, Psychologist
3. Get a job I enjoy
4. Come to terms with the bad things that have happened, and move on
5. Accept the relationships I have with friends and family (and accept that I cannot change some of them)
6. Have fun and be happy - enjoy my home, my hobbies, my husband and our cats
7. Learn to like (or even love) myself a little more each day

There were others, but I rejected them as self-defeating. Why set a target that you can never achieve? After all, lose weight and have a body like Angelina Jolie is a little unrealistic for someone my age. (And besides, I bet even Angelina resorts to Botox and Lipo when she hits 40!).

So, in a nutshell, I'm back! A little bruised, a little battered, but perhaps better for it. It's all in the perspective! At the end of the day, I've learned a lot recently... I'm lucky. I have a husband who supports me. A good man, someone I can turn to for affection, and good old commonsense advice. I have six adorable cats. My house is comfortable, and reflects my furnishing taste. I've rediscovered some old hobbies - painting and writing poetry; and developed some new - D.I.Y. (don't ask!). O.k. so my family have had some problems. Don't they all? My face is o.k. and my body still works (most of the time). It's a start. It's not all bad, is it?

And I'm in charge of my own destiny. I either pass this course, or fail. And that's up to me. I know that if I work hard, it should fall into place. So... watch this space...

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

I hope you'll follow me on:

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by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

To Darlene, to Mrs. R., to Linda, and to anyone else who takes the time to read these pages...


It's great to realise that people take the time to read and pay attention to what others say. Darlene's website is a true gift, reaching out to people in distress, and giving a voice to those with something to say about its cause.

SOCIETY needs to pay attention to the danger of child abuse, and associated problems. We consider ourselves to be enlightened, educated, progressive. Far from our primitive ancestors. Far from the "dark ages". Far from our prudish, Victorian past. Far from the times of serfdom, of witch trials, Workhouse and Asylum.

But how much REALLY has changed? Ostensibly, we're a fast-living, technological "whizz" of a generation. Yet behind all the glamour (I use this word in the sense, to mean "trickery" or "deception" - to "glamour" someone is to "cast a spell"), we hold on to many outdated and ignorant notions. We consider ourselves forward-thinking, but have our feet firmly planted in the past when it comes to so many aspects of our daily lives. We have had to invent LAWS to try to stop people picking on disabled individuals, to try to end racism, sexism, ageism. Yet many people continue to view ethnic minorities as a problem, they still see Gypsies and Travellers as dirty and lazy, still see disabled people as useless and unable to work. All utterly untrue; but insults like "Gippo" and "four eyes" and "Paki" are still common in everyday usage. What does that say about our society? We have all this technology, but we still find it embarrassing to talk about certain "taboo" subjects. How many kids giggle nervously in school at the thought of Sex Education class? How many people change the subject when someone mentions the problem of debt, or the recession? Who can talk openly, honestly and comfortably about domestic violence, or AIDS, or teenage pregnancy, homelessness and drug or alcohol misuse? How many people don't feel happy about the issue of mixed-race marriages, or adoption? How many people would still feel uncomfortable if they found out that their neighbour, or best friend, or a relative, even, was a lesbian, or homosexual, or got divorced, lost their job, or had an unplanned pregnancy?

People NEED to be able to express themselves, and to have the chance to feel that they can BE THEMSELVES ("warts and all" as Cromwell is alleged to have said!). To be able to do this comfortably, we have to be able to talk about all the things that make us who we are, whatever those things may be. Otherwise, we can never begin to overcome fear and prejudice.

So - a big thanks to everyone who supports this site, and supports me in what I want, and NEED to say. To Darlene, to Mrs. R, Linda and to anyone else reading this website, I say...

take a good, long look in the mirror. The person you see looking back at you is... frankly, YOU. Whoever you WANT to be. YOU are unique and individual; there will NEVER be another YOU. Remember, we can never truly know another person. Never truly know what lies beneath the exterior - what they see, feel, or experience. Unless we are prepared to share. ANYONE and EVERYONE can have problems, bad times. WE can ALL feel at times that we are wrong, that we are to blame, that we have failed, erred and "made a mess".

Remember that. When we look at others, they are looking at us the same way (mostly!). They can never truly know US. So, we can CHOOSE what we want others to see. No matter what anger, or hurt, or shame we have inside us; it does not have to be the only part of us that we show to the world. It does not have to consume us. It does not have to be the only thing that the world knows us for. When life throws something rotten at us, we may well find it difficult to deal with. It IS difficult. That's why it's so rotten! But, if we come through it, then that surely says something about us. It says we're TOUGH, STRONG, RESILIENT, CREATIVE, RESOURCEFUL, PATIENT, COURAGEOUS... need I go on? Why should I "big you up" when you can do it for yourselves?


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Child Abuse - The Lasting Legacy

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

Abuse is an immediate thing. It happens at a specific point in time. If you are being hit, you KNOW you are being hit...

The effects of this abuse are devastating. Obviously, there are instant repercussions. If you are injured by an abuser, you may end up in Hospital, or visiting the G.P. You may become unwell as a result of neglect.

But abuse is much more complicated and problematic than just this. The immediate effects are serious, and a major cause for concern. Unfortunately, childhood abuse can have much longer-lasting effects; and these can be the source of trouble for many years after. Such effects are often overlooked, or under-reported and infrequently investigated. Often, the links between earlier abuse and later problems in life are missed.

A child brought up in an abusive environment is subject to many factors. ALL children require specific conditions in which to thrive, many of which are absent for those experiencing abuse. Abusers require specific conditions in which to operate, and it is the effects of these, combined with the overall trauma of the abuse itself, that can have such devastating long-term consequences.

Children need love, attention and a nurturing environment in which to do well. They need caring parents who are responsible and readily available. They need positive feedback, praise and encouragement. Such factors are often absent for the abused child. A child who is physically harmed, or emotionally tormented; a child who is repeatedly made to feel at fault, deficient, or to blame; a child who is told they are ugly or stupid or unwanted - this child may well grow up with a chronic lack of self-confidence. Our self-esteem is hugely affected by comments made by others, and by insensitive and cruel behaviour towards us. The more we are told we are "bad", and the more we are physically harmed as a result of "deficiencies" that others perceive in us, the more our self-esteem is undermined.

Signs of such low self-esteem often appear as eating disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive or ritualistic behaviours. The person may feel compelled to behave in a certain way towards others, often to try to "win" affection. They may be very "needy" or, conversely, very distant. They may abuse alcohol or drugs in an attempt to escape the reality of their world. They may be the sort of person who has to constantly put the needs of others before their own. They may be obsessed with what they believe to be their "failings" - being "fat" or "unattractive", being "stupid", "lazy", "thick", "weedy", "smelly"... any number of things. MOST, if not all of these "deficits" will be things that the abuser told them.

Lack of self-esteem can be a very debilitating problem. It can lead to stress, or to feeling constantly "low". Many people attempt to over-compensate, putting on a "front" to hide behind. They fake nonchalance, they pretend to be outgoing. At what cost? This mask is hard to sustain at all times. Never being allowed to show one's true self means being constantly on guard, constantly alert to threats. This means that many sufferers of low self-esteem have trust issues. They were abused in the past. Will EVERYBODY take advantage of them?

If one has low self-esteem, it gets in the way of so much. Does the fear of being on display prevent one from socialising? From having hobbies? If you feel you are good for nothing, do you stop trying new activities? Often, the answer is yes. You restrict yourself to the familiar, for fear of feeling out of your depth! But familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt boredom. You are effectively stopping yourself from reaching your full potential. Why? Fear of failure. You have been told so many times that you are "rubbish" or "useless". Why do anything that might confirm it?

Besides, having been abused as a child, you haven't had the best start in life. Abused children often miss out on so much. Their education may be disrupted, leading to bad grades, or worse. They may feel that they are always playing "catch up" in life. Had they received support and affection, then they might have done better. At the time of being abused, many children are struggling to cope. They may react by withdrawal, or by "acting up". Either way, it MUST be difficult to focus on regular activities at the same time as coping with abuse. How does one function at school, or at Scouts, for example, if one is being abused at home? Where is the head space to deal with both? Where is the emotional maturity to deal with both? The abused child only has limited life experience, and limited resources. Often they fear the repercussions of seeking outside assistance, so keep the experience of abuse to themselves. Sometimes, they find it difficult to get help, because people about them find their behaviour off-putting. Many abused children give out "signals" that may be misread. They may be attempting to seek assistance in the only way they can - by acting in a manner that otherwise they would not. Sadly, this can be mistaken for "naughtiness", for "disruptive or attention seeking behaviour", or worse still, passed off as "just a phase".

Abused and neglected children do not always receive the same opportunities as others. Children whose parents are neglectful may lack adequate healthcare, thus becoming more prone to absence from school as a result of untreated infections and the like. Besides, some conditions, if left untreated, may become chronic, and last well into adulthood. Children may not receive adequate nutrition, adding to the burden. They may be poorly housed, or poorly clothed. Not only does this again lead to health problems, but it has the effect of attracting the school bully, whose actions may further damage the child psychologically.

Often, an abused child may be a carer for a parent or other family member. This leads to numerous stresses. Children who are carers have little time for their own activities, and their personal space is often invaded, by pressure of caring duties, and also by Social Workers, Nurses and the like visiting the family home to "check up". The child may well feel the need to grow up too soon, as they take on an increasingly adult role at a very young age. Schoolwork may fall behind, and social life suffer.The child may feel resentful towards the person they care for, but unable to voice this. They may be distressed by the invasion of their home by, albeit, well-meaning service-providers such as doctors, nurses and the like. They may be bullied at school due to their unusual home circumstances.

Unusual home circumstances are part and parcel of childhood abuse. A parent may have mental health issues, or learning difficulties. They may be physically disabled. They could have substance misuse issues. All of these the child will see, and will experience the outcome of. Children also see the effects of separation, divorce, single parents, parents working long hours. Some may be fostered or adopted out. Some experience domestic violence in the home. Any, and all, of these issues stick with a person and become part of their life experiences. They learn from such experiences, and base future relationships and coping strategies on them. If all of one's experiences have been negative, then it does not bode well for the future.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

I hope you'll follow me on:

Email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses AND website/blog URLs in submissions and visitor comments are STRICTLY prohibited. Please don't include them, as they will be removed.

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Are You Abused, Or Deprived? Or Both?

by elaine ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

I've never been very proud of my place of origin. You may have noticed that I never give it's name!

My place of birth is a nasty little Northern town - a one-time seaside resort on the west coast of Britain. Well past it's sell-by date and with little more to offer, it's derelict buildings with their faded facades, empty shops and closed businesses are a sure sign of the times. This is a town in recession!

My place of birth is a source of shame. It is publicly acknowledged as one of the worst towns in the U.K. (listed in a book of the same title). The statistics are not good. The chair of the local PCT has made an open acknowledgment, via the pages of "Lancashire Life Magazine", that the town has some of the worst (i.e. highest) figures in the U.K. for deaths from suicide, and from major cancers such as liver and bowel, also for deaths from heart disease. Figures for teenage pregnancy are "off the radar", as are the number of people in the town with mental health, or substance misuse issues. Obesity is rife, and domestic violence a major issue. Crime does not fare much better, with high numbers of acts of antisocial behavior being reported (often "drunk and disorderly"), as well as muggings, assault and robbery. Finally, to add insult to injury, the town is in an area of very high unemployment, with a large proportion of the population reliant upon welfare benefits. Many people come here after retirement, and there are multiple residential homes and the like, catering for the elderly and the infirm.

Where we come from, and where we live is very important to us. It can make, or break. We are reliant upon the facilities and support available to us, in order to get the best out of life.

So, what if we live somewhere that is "struggling"? An area of high deprivation? An area where there are many problems, and few resources? Little support?

Where people are not given opportunities to make the best out of life, it is to be expected that they will identify two possible outcomes. Either that they leave, and look for better opportunities elsewhere; or that they effectively get "stuck". If this IS the case, then an already deprived area stands to suffer more, as many of the people who might have benefited it have left. The ones remaining will find themselves firmly entrenched in a vicious cycle. They may be aware of a lack of support, a lack of opportunity - but feel powerless to do anything about it.

Surely children brought up in such areas are at greater risk of potential abuse. The parent who feels unsupported, who feels inadequately catered-for, who senses a lack of opportunity and little means to change it - this parent will most likely engender such beliefs in their child. Besides, to thrive, families NEED resources. They require access to high-quality educational facilities. They need excellent health and social care provision. They need good quality, safe, secure housing. Parents need jobs. They need access to reliable child-care facilities. Families need to be able to relax, to spend quality time playing or exercising at recreational and sports facilities. They need to be able to meet their practical needs, with access to a good range of shops and services such as plumbers, electricians and the like. They must feel safe, and know that the streets are adequately Policed, to prevent crime.

In places where services are failing, where unemployment is high, where crime is rife... people DO NOT stand to benefit from any of the above. Children who receive a poor education struggle to compete for work with those better equipped. Lack of job prospects compounds the problem, making many people simply give up on the idea of bothering with school, and qualifications, at all. Poor health and social care provision can have devastating consequences that directly affect quality of life. People may have to wait much longer to receive referrals to specialists, or to get treatment. GP surgeries may be overloaded with patients, and have too little time to offer thorough consultations. There may be some individuals who miss out altogether on receiving the care they require. Hospital waiting lists may be excessive.

In deprived areas facilities and services are often lacking. This reflects high unemployment figures, and lack of spending power. Often, the result is further cuts, made by local authorities seeking to rein in spiralling costs. Recreational facilities are often first hit, with Libraries and Parks being closed, or play schemes and sporting activities for children being decreased in number. Places with poor facilities fail to attract new residents and new businesses, so often they lose other vital services. As shops and other businesses close or move area, locals are left with a dwindling pool of resources, and a semi-derelict town centre. Crime is only to be expected...

So, I suppose what I am saying is that although abuse can never be excused, the reasons behind it need to be more fully explored. We cannot expect to understand, or to eradicate, abuse if we do not see its links to other societal problems, and fail also to address them. Deprivation, especially during a global recession, is a HUGE problem. And deprivation can spawn abuse.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

I hope you'll follow me on:

Email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses AND website/blog URLs in submissions and visitor comments are STRICTLY prohibited. Please don't include them, as they will be removed.

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The Forefeit

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

You've never seen me until now!

You've never seen me until now!

Strange, isn't it, how at times, you find yourself reflecting on past events, without even having intended to do so. Maybe it's an inbuilt support mechanism, that all humans have - when the time and mental space are available, then we can dedicate them to analysis of our memories to try and make sense of the past. Well, that's how I like to think of it! Otherwise, it becomes much too complicated! Although, I have to admit that, at times, I DO feel as though this "mental trawling", or whatever else you might want to call it, occurs unbidden. Then, it's almost intrusive; as though there is a memory there which is DEMANDING that I readdress it, come to terms with it, understand it...

That's how I ended up writing this. You see, things haven't been great recently - health problems and all that stuff. I've just had surgery, and been diagnosed with Endometriosis. And my respiratory problems have kicked off again. So, in between all the Hospital appointments, and trying to get my coursework in on time for University, I've been doing a lot of thinking.

Some of the thoughts, I've had before... but this was definitely one of those situations where a lot of it felt out of my control. As though my brain were insisting that NOW was the time to make sense of everything; that things HAD to start to make sense, in order for me to move on.

Mum wasn't well after she had me. (I've mentioned often enough her mental health problems.) Somehow, she got permission from our Local Authority for me to start School a year early, as she wasn't coping with me at home. The details are hazy, but I know I thrived, and was a bright, intelligent kid. But, for some unexplained reason, I was not allowed to progress with the year group in which I commenced - I was held back a year, to study with kids my own age. I remember this distinctly, because I spent a whole extra year at School bored and frustrated, repeating lessons I'd already done, and - because I was so advanced for my age - teaching other kids to read! I remember feeling insulted. And this is where the bullying started. The other kids knew I'd started School early... and some knew why.

I was bullied right through School. Some of it was to do with my health (I had respiratory problems), and some to do with my family. Teachers did nothing to support me. I was prevented from joining in many classes, and was put on a "reading ban" because I was so far ahead of the other kids in my class that the teachers did not know what to do with me. They wanted other kids to catch up. How demoralising is that for a little kid? What had I done wrong? I got picked on by kids for being advanced for my age, and by teachers alike. I even got comments from some kids' parents, saying things like "Oh, she can't be that clever, she must have a Tutor - her mum is mental", and "Her family are corny, they are charity cases". My parents raised these issues with the School, to be told that the School had decided that they must implement a policy of "not showing favouritism" to me. How was allowing me to be bullied part of this? I came top of my class year after year, but never got a prize, or compliments for this. I felt punished for my mother's illness.

Nothing changed right through Secondary School, and Sixth Form. Teachers were well aware, I believe, of my difficult home circumstances, but instead chose to treat me as a difficult child. I had nobody to confide in about my caring responsibilities, or about the problems I had at home. My reaction was to rebel - smoking and dressing as a Goth. Teachers just viewed this as symptomatic of "growing pains", or worse still, insisted that it was evidence of my being "bad". I felt constantly in trouble, and dreaded both School, and home. Where to turn?

University was a somewhat better experience - probably because I lived away from home. But I never felt supported, or able to confide in an adult member of staff about my family problems. Besides, I'd been brought up not to discuss mum's mental illness, or the difficulties of my family life.

I have never felt that anyone recognised or rewarded me as a bright, academic individual. I never felt that the effort I put into my studies, despite the problems I experienced at home, was appreciated. Instead, I felt as though I had to work doubly hard to compensate for the fact that I came from a "problem family", and that I had to prove the bullies wrong. I felt as though all people saw was a "weird kid" who dressed strangely, and not a clever girl who got really high grades. In fact, I was made to feel as though my high grades were part of what made me "weird" - they were something to be ashamed of. They drew attention to me - attention I didn't want. Attention from bullies.

Today, I am an adult. A grown woman, with 9 O Levels, 4 A levels, 2 B.A. Honours Degrees and a Postgraduate Diploma behind me. I am studying a Masters. Despite EVERYTHING. Does this make me feel proud?

NO. IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE CRAP! I look back over my life and see that I have had to fight tooth and nail for everything. Nothing has run smoothly. I have had to battle against bullying and prejudice. I have felt the need to apologise and excuse myself over and over. That I am not good enough. That I must do twice as much as everyone else just to get recognition. That I have to prove myself. That I have to convince people I am "worthy".

A perfect example was my last job. No sooner had I told my employers that I provided support to my mother, who has mental health problems, than I found myself open to unwanted comments. When my own health deteriorated, and I realised that surgery was necessary, was I supported at work? Oh, no! I was subjected to "formal" questioning. "Was I depressed?" "Did I have what my mother has?" "Had I had counselling?"

What? So because my mother is "mental", then I am? Her illness by default makes the whole family "mental"?

I've always felt this. That somehow this is how people view my family.

Having a family member with mental health issues does NOT make a family "rubbish". It does not make the relative with the mental health problems "rubbish". Yes, there may be problems in the family; but they are NOT something for other people to latch onto. They are not a "label"; a pigeonhole. They are not the only things about that family.

Problems can exist within ANY and EVERY family. And they are not there for other people's titillation. For the spreading of salacious gossip, or to make other people feel better at whoever's expense.

I have lived with problems in my family, and I have lived with the effects of how other people have reacted to them. I have lived with the consequences of poor decision making by my Local Authority, who chose to ineffectively address the problems by sending me early to School. But they then compounded them by holding me back, and exposing me to bullies. I have lived with lack of recognition and support, by teachers and other authority figures. People who, had they opened their eyes, could have helped. I have been wrongly labelled "bad", or "problematic" - as have my family.

Too often, people just stop at what they think they see, the superficial. Is it because they are scared to get involved? Because they don't know what to do? Or because they can't be bothered?

Was my life a forfeit for that of my mother? She was unwell; so I, as a child, could compensate? Did the authorities, and powers that be try hard enough to understand, to help find a viable solution? Neither my mother, nor I could help our positions. My father, at work full time, was just never there. Who should have stepped into the breach?

Isn't this a perfect example of why EDUCATION is so desperately needed! If those in positions of authority, or in caring roles, such as Teachers, Council Officials and the like had been better educated, might they have spotted what was going on? Might they have stopped the bullying? Might they have praised and rewarded my academia? Might they have helped my mother out at home, or monitored her symptoms more effectively? Who knows... Only I know they FAILED.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

I hope you'll follow me on:

Email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses AND website/blog URLs in submissions and visitor comments are STRICTLY prohibited. Please don't include them, as they will be removed.

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A Life Changing Event?

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK.)

NOW you know what I look like. Or do you? Is this even the same me?!

NOW you know what I look like. Or do you? Is this even the same me?!

Hi, everyone! Just got back from a long weekend in London, so a bit tired from travelling...
Anyway, I'm going to come clean about something. Sorry! You may have noticed the upside-down photo in my last submission... O.K. it WAS deliberate. Thanks to the people who commented. Comments were interesting.
You see, I'd wanted to evaluate the matter of FIRST IMPRESSIONS, and how people react to what they see. Most people spotted the obvious. I was upside-down! Perhaps some then went on to ask why; whilst others maybe just dismissed it. What I wonder is this... How many people actually spent time and made the attempt to view the picture from different angles? Perhaps working out what I looked like?
How many people made judgements, and drew conclusions from what they saw?
And therein lies the analogy; and the lesson! Do we simply take a first impression, and make our mind up there and then? Or do we try to look beyond? Do we ask ourselves questions about what we think we see? About why it is as it is?
Now for the link...
Like I said, I've just been to London. It was for one of the first family gatherings I've been to in ages. My mum's side of the family had all decided to meet up; I think because the realisation had dawned that cousins, half-cousins (and more) existed who hadn't met in ages - some hadn't met at all!
It was weird. My family aren't the most comfortable together, and that at times was clear. There was a lot of alcohol circulating, and that certainly didn't help, but I gained an insight into a family full of rifts, of competition, of jealousy and secrets.
On Saturday I met cousins I'd not seen since I was tiny! One is older than me, and four younger. All appeared to share the same sense of discomfort that I did. There was a lot of desperately attempting to make a good first impression! You know the thing...
It went somewhat like...
"Hi. And you are?", said tentatively, with a nervous smile.
"I'm -------. I know, it's weird; I'd never have recognised you. Must have been six when we last met!", said apologetically.
"So, hate to sound ignorant, but what do you do now? Are you married?"
"Gosh, where do I begin? Erm..."
And from there on in, the desperation took hold. There were demonstrations of affluence. The old "I've got a big house/posh car/brainy kids/good job/lots of cash/aged well..." sort of stuff that people always prattle on about when faced with the opportunity to talk about themselves. There was a lot of hushing-up of divorces/illegitimate kids/ill health/failures. A lot of bigging-up of careers/homes/incomes. Showing-off about educational qualifications/holidays/looks/success. Embarrased silences following uncomfortable questions, or slightly over-perceptive comments.
You see, the truth is, that when asked questions about themselves, people are given options:
a. Be honest about who you are/what you do etc.
b. Lie blatantly.
c. Blur the truth a little.
And, sadly, the fact is, that whoever asked the question will never know whether the answer they received was a, b,or c.
Exchanges of conversation rely on certain things happening. They rely on people talking. They rely on the speakers taking in information. They rely on the processing of this information, and its exchange. BUT, they also take certain things for granted. That the exchange is open and honest. That there are no hidden agendas...
In reality, we should all be aware that hidden agendas DO exist. That honesty, integrity and openness are not always adhered-to. That humans, like other animals, have a desire to dominate; to see themselves as superior, as better than others. The animal instinct is for survival of the fittest. Humans have subverted this somewhat. They can no longer (legally) fight things out. So they use somewhat more underhanded, covert tactics. They lie about themselves. They take pleasure in others' failures (schadenfreude). They percieve flaws where they do not exist. They make themselves look, or sound, better than they really are.
ALL are defensive mechanisms. They are a way of putting on a front; a semblance of capability, of success, of dominance. They stem from what is, in essence, fear. Fear that the person standing before them may actually be better, cleverer, prettier, more successful, more highly paid...
This is human nature. Abusers are absolutely no different. They put on this veneer. They want to appear superior. They want to dominate. Because, otherwise...?
Quite simply; remember that first impressions are not always accurate. We will NEVER truly know anyone else. We only see what they wish us to. That is something we all manipulate.
For those of us who have been abused, this is an important lesson to learn. We can control what others see of us. We can therefore be whatever we wish to be. We can present different "faces" to different people.
We must remember that abusers know this. It is the exact same tactic that they have employed. They fear the fact that we could respond in such a way as to alter their perception of us.
We can choose whether to hide, or whether to show, our true self to the world. The decision to reveal our true self is based upon trust. Trust is built via incremental revelation of the truth. Where the reaction to our true self is negative, trust cannot be.
We can take time, to build and to earn trust. Or, we can judge on first impressions alone. First impressions are not always accurate, as I've said. Therein lies the lesson...

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"Does My Bum Look Big In This?"

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

Don't laugh! The above is me - all dressed up and ready to go out! Meal with hubby, or girls' night... can't quite remember...

Anyway, there's a reason for posting this pic; and for the title of my piece. I'll get to it, in my usual roundabout way!

How old would you say I look in the photo? 18? 25? 28? 30? 35 plus? Younger? Or older? Can't really tell?

Do the clothes that I'm wearing influence your response? Or the way I've done my hair? Perhaps my make-up? Or my pose?

Now to the nitty-gritty. I said there was a point to this! You see, I'll bet that many readers weren't entirely certain as to my age. AND I'll bet that many responses were influenced by my appearance. You see, I'm reckoning that most people assume certain things when they see a female dressed in a certain way. And for want of better words, that certain way of dressing is what I'd call "glammed up", or "in the glad rags", even "tarted up" or "sexy".

I'll accept the fact that most (if not all!) women want to look good when they go out. They want to look good full stop! But when did looking good come to mean dressing in a specific manner?

There are, generally accepted, two genders - male, and female. It is a fact that there are biological, hormonal, physical, and other, differences between these two genders. That cannot be denied. But, then things become a little more difficult. There are also suggestions that there are clear emotional, intellectual and behavioural differences between males and females, and that these, too, can be attributed to specifically biological, hormonal or physical factors. However, this I have to question...

Bowlby (1969,'73,'80) discussed in his "Attachment Theory" the influence that strong parental, familial and peer bonds had on human personal development. He went on to suggest that antisocial behaviour could be influenced by ones personal attachments. Mead (1934) wrote about the process of socialization, in which the genesis of the self is interpreted as being one and the same event as the discovery of society. Thus, what I am trying to suggest, is that human behaviour is also influenced by society. Through our associations with others, we are encouraged, and "trained" to behave in a certain manner.

So why is it that current society appears so obsessed with encouraging the female gender to behave in a manner that is, to me at least, so questionable? Let me give you an example...

Imagine a class at Primary School (Infant or Elementary School, for those more familiar with such terms). The children, aged about 7 or 8, are to have a Christmas Party. It is to include party games, and a "Disco". So far, nothing unusual, you might think. Well, hold that thought! Ever questioned the suitability of a "Disco", which is essentially an adult phenomenon (after all, there are no Night Clubs that I know of specifically for pre-pubescents!), for little children?

The kids turn up... Now, who would ever think of sending their 7 year old son to a School party dressed in tight leather trousers, "muscle vest" and biker jacket? What?! You'd think me ridiculous even to suggest it! No... the boys will be wearing jeans and t-shirt, sweatsuits, or footie shirts. They will talk about their favourite car, about food, toys, computer games, their favourite football player, or T.V. programme. I don't doubt for one minute that some of this talk may verge upon inappropriate subjects - for example explicit music videos and/or lyrics, or perhaps violence in video games. But I suspect that not a fraction of it will be as unacceptably over-sexualised as...

The girls... They turn up for the party (aged 7 or 8, remember!) in cropped tops, glittery high heels, sequinned hotpants, frilly miniskirts, fishnets, hair piled high and faces caked in makeup. They giggle and flirt, and make eyes at the boys. They chatter about their favourite popstar, and about how they want to be "WAGs" or Glamour Models when they grow up. They simper knowingly, comparing each-other's outfits, and likening them to "Jordan", Kylie, Beyonce, or Cheryl Cole.

WHY? These are LITTLE GIRLS that we are talking about. They should be chatting about ponies, and dolls, and LITTLE GIRL things. They should be in age-appropriate clothing.

What is going on? Are our high streets, and our Governments, misguidedly sanctioning this covert form of child abuse? Why are we so blatantly and ridiculously over-sexualising the female gender? Why start it so young?

Look about yourselves. Clothing stores selling women's, and more disturbingly, girl's outfits are full to bursting with teeny-tiny hotpants, short skirts, boob-tubes and other sexy garb. Shoe shops sell high heels for pre-pubescents. "Anne Summers", and other flirty underwear shops trade openly on the high street. Bras and skimpy knicker sets can be purchased pretty much anywhere, again some of these being aged at girls who are not yet even teenagers. Makeup is widely sold for, and used on, Primary School aged girls.
Little girls, sometimes even toddlers, have pierced ears, painted nails, and permed hair. It's BIZARRE!

Worse still, music videos and song lyrics openly exploit female sexuality. Hardly a popstar nowadays goes by without using the gimmick of scantily clad women dancing about to sell albums. Manufactured bands proliferate - stereotyped "hunks" and "bimbos", the women squeezed into microscopic outfits, shoehorned into tiny clothes that would barely fit a 10 year old, let alone an adult woman. Singing is a "talent" they rarely posess - the only "talent" these women seem to require is euphemistic in nature!

"Lads' Mags" have steadilty promoted the rise of the Glamour Model, and of celebrity pinups. Again, most of these would appear to be stereotypical "bimbos", valued not for their intellect, or personality, or academic achievement - or, in fact, anything worthwhile at all. They are valued only for their looks; and a very specific look, at that. Generally blonde, big (fake) breasted, pouting and covered in fake tan. Think demented, pneumatic "Benny Hill"-styled girls!

Ditto "WAGs". These are little other than glorified celebrity "gold diggers". Perma-tanned, fake breasted, fake hairpieced, botoxed and liposculpted; they want little more in life than to "bag" themselves a celebrity hubby. Preferably a rich (but probably gullible!) footballer, racing driver, cricketer, rugby player... They want to live in luxury, doing little other than shopping all day. They want to live OFF a man!

What about fashion models? Yet again, I have little positive to say. They seem generally to be pitifully anorexic, fake tanned, and artificially preserved. In an industry where one is paid for one's looks, I suspect most fall for the lure of cosmetic surgery.

Films are full of sexualised female imagery... Look at "Lara Croft", for example, in "Tomb Raider", or films like "Pretty Woman", or "Legally Blonde". Television series have for years cashed in on the over-sexualisation of the female. From "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" to "Desperate Housewives" via "Sex And The City", ALL such series have often reduced female characters to little other than stereotypes. They have frequently used stereotypical attributes to make their female characters more "screen friendly". Again, we see the busty blonde, the predatory "man eater", the "cougar", the sexy naughty schoolgirl... STEREOTYPES! ALL OF THEM!

The Media and our Governments ought to know better. They are promoting a society in which women - the very same gender who fought so long and hard as Suffragettes to gain rights - are again second-rate citizens valued for little other than their "decorative qualities". Images of what females "ought" to look like are so forced down our throats, that little girls as young as 7 or 8 are suffering Anorexia Nervosa. Bullying in Schools is often fueled by competitions between girls, fighting over the best outfit, or for boys' attention. More and more females are opting for the "cop out" of cosmetic surgery. Even my own sister-in-law (a large woman, I will admit) decided to bypass healthy eating and exercise, and had a Gastric Band instead. Several years on, despite all the pain of surgery that she endured, she is still a big lady (at least size 18) and now suffers digestive problems. Was it worth it?

And that's what I ask. Is it worth it? Is our over-sexualised image of the "perfect" woman worth pain, Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders, cosmetic surgery and all the risks that carries, dodgy internet diet pills (that sometimes contain Amphetamine), depression, self-hatred and possibly suicide? Is it worth little girls endangered by paedophiles, who think nothing of the age of a female in a short skirt? Is it worth spiralling teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases?

If you were the person who, like me, stated that you would not be happy to send your 7 year old son to the Primary School party in tight trousers and a "muscle vest"; then surely you too ask why are little girls of the same age dressed up so inappropriately?

Society's treatment of women amounts to little more than abuse. And where that female is a minor, then this must be CHILD ABUSE.

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Ghosts and Voices

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

I have a ghost in my house.
I have a voice in my head.
And I couldn't tell you,
If I'm alive, or I'm dead...

There are things in life I've wanted,
And, oh, how I've tried.
Seeking love, care, affection.
Seeking success, attention.
How many times have I cried?
Where did I go wrong?
What did I do?
Won't somebody tell me?
I can't think it through.

When I thought things might be working,
And, oh, how I've tried.
The voice cried out "useless!".
The whisper said "hopeless!".
I could have curled up and died.
Where did I go wrong?
What did I do?
Won't somebody tell me?
Are the words I hear true?

When I felt I'd reached a breakthrough,
And, oh, how I've tried.
The ghost came to haunt me,
A spectre to taunt me,
And I had nowhere to hide.
Where did I go wrong?
What did I do?
Won't somebody tell me?
Is my fate overdue?

I need to silence this voice.
I need to exorcise my ghost.
I want to live the life I crave,
And need my freedom the most.
But I cannot fight alone, for I'm afraid to recall
Who it is that haunts my thoughts, fills my head and chills my heart.

I have a ghost in my house.
I have a voice in my head.
And I couldn't tell you,
If I'm alive, or I'm dead.

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Are We Allowing Society To Abuse Our Children?

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, U.K.)

Food For Thought: >br>It seems to me that we live today in a society where many things are taken for granted. However, there are occasions where "taken for granted" is not such a good thing. Taken for granted implies many negative qualities - at least as many as it does positive. It implies that we do not stop and think. That we do not question. That we make assumptions, and judgements based upon few, or no, facts. It implies that we somehow believe that there is a given "status quo"; that things are the way that they are, and that this is o.k. It implies that we do not see a need for change; or that if we do, we do not ask for, or expect, change to take place. It implies that we do not expect reasons, or justifications.

I am a firm believer that people should NOT take anything for granted. That we were all given brains, and voices for a reason. That we should develop inquiring minds, and never be afraid to ask questions. That we should seek reasons and justifications for the way things are, as opposed to blindly following like sheep.

Today's society holds hidden dangers for the child. Dangers that I would call abuse. And these dangers are often sanctioned; if not actively promoted; by our Governments, by big businesses, by the media, Schools, healthcare organisations that we generally believe we can trust.

Here are a few examples for you to think about. I do not wish to tell you what to think, believe, or feel. But I DO wish to encourage you to QUESTION:

1. JUNK FOOD. Where do I begin! As adults, we are, as a rule, able to make informed choices. These include choices concerning our diet. We are able to make ourselves aware of the damaging effects of junk food upon our health and self-esteem. Children, on the other hand, are often NOT. Junk food is that food which is high in calories, sugar, or fat content - but little else of significant nutritional value. It includes such things as chocolate, crisps, burgers, chips, fizzy drinks, many takeaway meals such as "McDonalds" or "Burger King", cakes, sweets...funny how appealing these sound! These foods are ADDICTIVE. They create a rapid and short-lived increase in our blood-sugar levels, and often raise endorphin levels in the body. This makes us feel good for a short amount of time. Then the blood-sugar levels fall, endorphin levels return to usual, and we feel "low". We basically get a "sugar rush". And this is addictive. We are trapped in a cycle of craving the "feel good" sensation. And junk food manufacturers KNOW THIS! So do the people who sell the stuff! Too much junk food is aimed at children, who do not know the dangers of eating it. This marketing is deliberate - kids are a captive audience. "Pester power" is a buzzword of the advertising industry. Junk food is fattening, unhealthy, and leads to poor nutrition, obesity, health problems, bullying and low self-esteem. So why does society allow it?

2. "PESTER POWER" MARKETING. I've mentioned this briefly above. Just why is it that so many media advertisements are aimed at making our children want something? No! DEMAND something! Quite simply, the answer is that children are easy targets. They are easily convinced. They do not have life experience, or reasoning abilities commensurate with adults. They cannot understand that if the money is not available to afford a new toy, they cannot have it. They simply WANT it! And they will pester, sulk, and cry, etc. until they get it. Children cannot always comprehend the concept of saving up for something. They cannot always appreciate that they cannot have every new fad or gadget out there. They do not see that one doll is very much the same as the next. Instead, they are caught up in the glitz, the glamour, the excitement, the drama. They want it because it's new, it's "trendy", it's the latest model, they haven't got it yet, it's part of a collectible series...advertisers use all the tricks in the book to persuade kids that they have to have this latest product. To me, this is little other than "brainwashing". It is bullying. It is telling someone what to think, how to behave. It is WRONG. It is not fair to use marketing strategies that leave a child feeling inferior if they do not have the latest toy, gadget, fashion, etc. So why don't we question it?

3. OVER-SEXUALISING. I wrote a whole piece on this (so read it!). It annoys the hell out of me! Surely it's enough to say that kids are kids - and we should LET them BE kids. Little children are not fashion accessories, to be dressed at the whim of designers, in inappropriately sexy and adult garb. Whilst there is no excuse for paedophilia, there is also no excuse for a fashion industry that allows girls as young as 12 to become models. That allows "Baby Beauty Pageants". That fills shops with high heels and miniskirts aimed at pre-pubescents. There is no excuse for a media that sells semi-pornographic music videos to children, that allows explicit lyrics, that markets manufactured bands based upon looks as opposed to vocal ability. There is no excuse for "Glamour Models" and "Wags", who promote nothing other than the message that little girls, in particular, are to rely on their looks for a living - as opposed to intellect, personality and the like. Women who make a career out of marrying for money, not love! What kind of messages are children receiving? Why is this permitted?

4. COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION. I am a firm believer that children are all individual, with differing ability levels. "One size fits all" is not an education system that I wish to subscribe to. Nor do I feel that it works. I had some of my worst experiences ever at a Comprehensive School! Children need to be nurtured and encouraged, and rewarded for doing well. Comprehensive Schools, to my mind, do not do this. It is no good placing children of mixed ability levels all together in one school. Especially when some have passed the Eleven-Plus examination, and some have not. This only creates jealousy. To then go on to divide the children into "streams" dependent upon grades and ability is just compounding the matter. This creates further bitterness, competition and jealousy. The high-flyers, and at the other extreme, the struggling children, are singled-out. They then become the target for everybody else's bullying. At Comprehensive Schools, the largest number of children are in the middle - and this gives them power by strength of numbers. Those who are not in this "mass" are vulnerable. I was, myself, placed in the top stream at school, and spent all my time there being bullied by those academically below me. Comprehensive Schools encourage jealousy, and this breeds bullying. Children should feel safe and secure in the knowledge that they can learn at their own pace. Not everyone is alike, and being "different" should not make someone a target for bullies. Bring back Grammar Schools!

5. BULLYING AT SCHOOL. Again, I touched on this above. My own experience of bullying was awful! Twelve years of utter hell, that left me feeling victimised; that achievement was a bad thing; that getting good grades was somehow wrong. What I cannot to this day understand is how bullying seems to go so frequently unnoticed by teachers. Even where it WAS made known, little was done to alleviate the problem. Most often, teachers appeared to blame the victim, telling them to "grow up" or "stop fussing " or to "stop telling tales". Parents, too, would often just dismiss the matter with a trite "well, why don't you fight back?". It was rarely taken seriously. I wonder, how many teenage suicides are the result of bullying? Bullying IS SERIOUS. It is ALWAYS SERIOUS. It demeans, it ruins self-esteem, it wrecks lives. It is vicious, and nasty! Left unchecked, it can spiral out of control. Bullies have so many "excuses" to bully. Jealousy (she's/he's prettier/cleverer/taller/thinner/etc. than...); rivalry(we both fancy...); competition (his/her clothes/toy/bike/etc. are better/faster/newer/etc. than...); inadequacy (his/her grades are higher than...)...the list goes on. But ALL of these issues are the BULLY'S problem; NOT the VICTIM'S. Bullying is about vicariously making somebody else suffer for one's OWN shortcomings. Why is it still happening?

6. STRESS AND PRESSURE. Why are children nowadays under so much pressure to perform? There are endless tests and examinations. Testing now takes place at INFANT schools. Why? Do we not realise that fostering competition amongst children is stressful for them? And what about the "hothousing" of youngsters? Forcing kids to become precociously competent at a specific "talent". Examples include Vanessa Mae, Charlotte Church, Drew Barrymore. And what do these children, as adults, have in common? A recollection of their childhood experiences as misery. Fractured families. Drug and alcohol problems. How is that good? Many children are "hothoused" in this way to fulfill a need for the PARENTS. Usually, this "need" is MONEY! Look closely at the world of "Showbusiness" and you will see many sad tales of child "stars" treated in this way. Judy Garland. Macauley Culkin... Children are not there for someone else's benefit. They deserve to live their own lives. Putting a child under pressure is abuse! Children are not there to compete in "Pageants" to glorify their parents. They are not there to become the athlete their father never was, or the math genius grandad always wanted to be, or the ballerina that mother could not be. They have lives of their OWN. Let them live them!

I could go on... But I hope that just with the above, I've given you some food for thought. We should not turn a blind eye to matters as important as these. Society should be a good place for ALL of us to live in. And it is up to us to make it so.

Oh! And I'll probably continue this with some more (controversial) food for thought in another article. But, for now, this should be enough to keep you going!

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The Abusive Family

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

O.k. So this isn't quite what I promised... I know I've deviated. But I had to get this down on "paper", because otherwise I'd forget.
So, what it is that leads some families to abuse? What is it that makes them abusive?
I've asked this many a time, I suppose because I always felt that the abuse occurring in my family did not just happen because of one person, or one thing, alone. There was some kind of "dynamic" - a motivating force behind all that happened. There was something about my family make-up, my family set-up, that permitted abuse; that allowed it to take place, that did nothing to stop it.
I don't know if all families are alike; I suspect not. However, I witnessed something recently that got me thinking on a deeper level...
You see, I know what kind of family I came from. I know my mother, my father, my brother. I am related to them by blood. Don't get me wrong! This is not any kind of suggestion that I think I KNOW them - like, really, truly KNOW them. I firmly believe that you never TRULY know anyone. You only know what they want you to - what they choose to let you see. Sometimes, and often by accident, you happen across something a little extra. Something unguarded. Something you weren't meant to see, or to know. And (this is only in my experience, mind) people seem to get uncomfortable when this happens.
People are as much about faking it as they are about truth. And when the fake is exposed, all Hell breaks loose.
So, I reckon that by extension, families (made up of people) are also about faking it. They present one, acceptable face, to the outside world. Something different exists within.
Abuse, to occur, relies on the fact that it remains hidden. It is a dirty, dark secret that no family wants to expose to the "outsider". That is why so many victims of abuse are coerced or threatened into silence. Heaping guilt trips onto them ensures that they feel so responsible, and to blame, for the abuse happening that they fear speaking out. They fear reprisals. They fear worse to come.
I understood this dynamic in MY family, even as it was occurring. Yet something that happened this weekend past made me look again at matters...
I am married, to a lovely guy. But there is one question that I have always harboured, ever since I first met him. He is youngest of three brothers. Nobody in his family (and this includes his father) ever did anything other than let his mother have her own way. My mother-in-law is, as a result, somewhat of a vain and self-obsessed woman. Yes, I am related to her by marriage - but I cannot like her. There is something about her that has always made me deeply uncomfortable. Something that reminds me of my own parents, and their behaviour.
My mother-in-law has little empathy for others. She always expects her needs and demands to be met, no matter what. She always expects to come first. She always hogs the limelight. She does not understand that other people have their own lives, and need their own space. Everything revolves around her. She visits unannounced, and never quits calling, and cannot understand that people don't want visitors just as they are going out. She demands to take up people's time, with her constant fussing, endless health concerns, and general gossiping behind people's backs. She is nosy and interfering. She constantly criticises her daughters-in-law, and spends every moment of her time with us telling us how she thinks we should do things.
I have mentioned this frequently to my husband. He does NOTHING to challenge it, and when I have stated that I will challenge it, TELLS ME OFF, as though I am insensitive towards his mother.
Now, this has puzzled me, up until this weekend's conversation with my husband. It all came out. In a nutshell, the sons were brought up to put "mummy" on a pedestal, because this is what their father did. A pathetic, and weak, unemployed man, he never questioned his wife, never stood up for himself, never had a point of view. Whenever a quarrel occurred, his wife was always allowed to win, otherwise there would be screaming, tantrums and "waterworks" from her. I have seen her behave like this, but never realised that was how she'd ALWAYS been given free rein to behave!
Now, understanding this about my husband's family and behaviour, I applied the same logic to my own. What I came to understand is that in families, parents set the guidelines for how things will be. It is the parents who, by behaving in particular ways, create the template - effectively dictating "rules" by which a family will operate. They have the power to encourage and condone certain behaviours, to reward particular acts. They can also punish and discourage others. As a consequence, their children come to learn what is expected of them.
And what about abuse? Well, I figured that this must work in a similar way. That the parents tacitly, or otherwise, give their consent. Yes, there may well be one parent who is the main perpetrator of abuse (or this may be another family figure, e.g. a sibling); but there is also collaboration. There is often another family member, or members, who are effectively "enablers". For example, the wife who witnesses her husband beating her son, but does not step in to halt it. Or the sister who encourages mother's verbal abuse of a sibling by adding snide remarks of her own.
The "enabler" is the person who, for some reason, may be aware of abuse happening, but permits it. This may be because they, too, fear being harmed if they speak out. Or, it could be because they have been brought up to feel that the abusive behaviour is "normal" - they may, as a result, even fail to recognise it as abuse. They may be the sort of person who gains a vicarious, indirect thrill out of watching somebody else be harmed, even though they could not carry out direct abuse. They may genuinely be a weak, and submissive individual; this could well be the reason that the abuser singled them out as "enabler".
So, the abuser can abuse, safe in the knowledge that the victim is too fearful to speak out, and safe in the knowledge that the "enabler(s)" will turn a blind eye.
All relationships between humans involve the existence of some kind of dynamic. There has to be an agreement into which the individuals concerned have entered, willingly or otherwise, which governs the way they interact. This is no different whether one is talking of a couple, a family, of affection or abuse. The interaction that takes place may well depend on a number of factors, such as personality, age, status, gender, physical build... But, what we all have to remember is that these interactions can change. Nothing is set in stone. We can change, and, as adults, can make choices about how we go on to interact with others. Whether these choices are positive or negative depends a good deal on one's level of self-awareness.
So, and you've probably heard me say this a lot, DON'T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED. ASK QUESTIONS. THINK ON THINGS. As adult survivors of abuse we have a lot of negative past experiences. But they are still experiences we can learn from. We do not have to repeat such "mistakes". We can look at ourselves as adults from a fresh perspective. We can learn to accept ourselves as "separate" from the abuse that occurred. That we are not the reason for it. We can build lives and have families of our own, where we write OUR OWN rules - ways of behaving that do not include abuse.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

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Child Abuse - Does It Ever Go Away

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

Right, I'm going to admit it straight out. This is not something I'd usually do. But, desperate circumstances need desparate measures...
I've had a bit of a "blip" recently. O.k.! Not really a bit! Not a blip! So, I'm fibbing! It's been a 'mare! A real nightmare! And I'll openly confess that my coping ability has just deserted me. One minute it's fine, and the next... My coping has just completely run out!
I don't know whether it would be fair to say that things have been building up. That my husband and I have had a run of really rotten events over the past few years that, ordinarily, and each on their own, would be difficult to cope with, but not impossible.
2004 (late) - move house to a renovation project; an old Victorian house that hubby and I want to do up.
2005 (mid) - I started getting really nasty symptoms of menstrual and bowel problems. Also under pressure to have children. Not conceiving.
2005 (late) - my mother had the first major Bi-polar relapse in a long series.
2005 (late) - father in law gets cancer back after remission. I'm now under even more pressure to have kids before he gets too ill to enjoy them. Start planning Wedding.
2006 (early) - I change job to work closer to home because I believe that my family need me. This means giving up a job I love.
2006 (late) - father in law dies of cancer after long illness in Hospice. Mother in law distraught. My now husband and I cancel our Wedding because of the death in the family. We loose the deposit already paid. It seems inappropriate. I'm getting bullied at work.
2007 (all) - still getting bullied at work. Mum having more problems. Her relapse turns out to have been caused by the G.P. messing up her medication. Mum then gets diagnosed with chronic Osteo Arthritis.
2008 (late) - I have surgery for my menstrual condition. It does not get better. I'm told I have fertility problems.
2009 (early) - I get the news my Godfather has died of cancer. I am also told my Uncle (father's older brother) has cancer. This disrupts Wedding plans again, as I have just got back in touch with these family members after years, and losing them seems too soon.
2009 (late) - uncle dies of cancer. I learn that my cousin has breast cancer. She is only the same age as me, poor thing. The Wedding goes ahead this time as everyone feels the family need it. Also, my husband and I choose not to have Wedding presents, but make donations to charity instead, as do our guests. The charities are the RSPCA, Mind (Mental Illness) and Macmillan Cancer Fund. On the day of my Wedding, I am seriously ill with a chest infection and on my second course of Antibiotics.
2010 (early) - make decision to go back to University. I've wanted to continue my Postgraduate study for ages, but it's never been the right time. I can no longer stand the bullying at work, and I really NEED something for me. I want so desperately to go back to University as I really feel my confidence needs a boost. I also commence Tribunal proceedings against my ex boss for bullying and disability discrimination.
2010 (late) - mum has surgery to replace her right knee joint as her Arthritis is so bad. My own symptoms are getting much worse, and I'm told I'll need surgery, too.
2011 (early) - I have surgery, and miss all my exams at University. I am diagnosed with Endometriosis and adhesions (damage!) to my bladder and bowel. I am told my uterus is also abnormal.

Darlene, I have to admit, this looks on paper like a catalogue of disasters. I think I've managed by pretending it's not happened. I'm crying typing this. I can't believe everything that HAS happened. My life feels like it's changed so much. It feels out of control.
And that's how I end up here. I wonder if this is why all the bad memories and feelings have come flooding back. I have the same old feelings of being "bad" and "worthless". Like I'm some sort of "disaster area" that deserves bad things happening. Like I attract them! I feel that I have no other way of explaining to myself why else things have happened in the way that they have recently. My head keeps telling me that I MUST have done something to cause it.
I'm wondering if these feelings were always there in the back of my mind, but that because things seemed to be going well for a while, I was able to suppress them. Is this what happens when you've been abused? When something really gets to you it all comes flooding back? Like it never really goes away?
I've never felt so lost. Like I've lost an identity I've spent so long, and worked so hard to piece together. A person I finally liked. She's gone again. And in the place is just someone so empty I cannot even begin to describe her. And the emptiness just wants to fill itself up with all sorts of negative thoughts. Like it has a mind of its own.
If this is "depression", then I can sure tell you what it feels like to be inside it. I feel like when I needed it most, my body has let me down. It has failed. I have failed as a woman. I'm NOT a woman. Just "half" a woman. Why does my husband want a wife who cannot have children? Who has bowel problems? I feel ugly and dirty and untouchable.
I know these feelings so well. They are like old familiars. They almost feel comfortable, I've worn them so often before. Right now, I feel like the person I'd become after leaving home was a "fake". That the "real me" is the rubbish me. The one who gets hurt, and punished, and works hard for nothing. Everybody's punchbag and lackey. Is that REALLY me?
I feel confused. I want to fight this. I worked hard to be happy. Worked hard for what I have. I thought I'd left the hurt behind. I don't know HOW I get through this. I think I know why I feel this way. Why it's happening now; but I cannot seem to stop it.
Could somebody maybe help me pick my way through this, and make sense of things? This website has really helped me in the past. Helped me be happy as me. Helped me open up, and accept change. I could really do with a bit of help to put this to rest.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

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An Insight Into How The Abusive Family Operates

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, U.K.)

I'm sharing this with you, quite simply because I think it's an eye-opener. It's still very fresh, and I've only really had a day to think things over. I suspect it gives a good insight into the workings of the abusive family, and the mind of the abusive parent.

Yesterday evening, my mother telephoned. Superficially, that seems fine. Most people's mothers 'phone them, don't they? Well... Yes. That's very true; yet I've tended to find that MY mother rarely telephones innocently. Anyway, things went much like this...

Mum: "Hi, it's mum. Not heard from you all week. Everything fine, is it?"
Me: "Yeah. Sorry, was meaning to call you. Not got round to it. Been busy sorting out at University. Remember, I'm in Hospital on Monday."
Mum: "Got everything sorted for that?"
Me: "Fine. It's fine. I've got a Laboratory Report due in, but my personal tutor has been really good about it. I've sorted out arrangements with her to hand it in later - when I'm getting better from the surgery. The University have been o.k. about it all so far."
Mum: "So you're o.k.? Not anxious or anything?" (This question now takes on a new tone. Prying and accusatory).
Me: "About what? Hospital? NO. What's the point? I've got to have the surgery, so might as well get it out of the way. University has been fine, so it's not as though it's majorly going to affect my work, or anything."
Mum: "So, you've got to be there early? Dad's picking you up at eleven?" (Dad is having to drive me to the Hospital, and husband is picking me up - my surgery means NO driving!).
Me: "No! We discussed this last week! Dad is picking me up at NINE. I've got to be at the Hospital for eleven. Can you make sure he knows that." (Horrified tone).
Mum: "... Mmm. Right." (Seems vague and confused). "Sorry. I wasn't listening. I was just eating some chocolate."
Me: "Whatever! Anyway, it's sorted with dad. So don't worry yourself." (Resigned tone).
Mum: "Did I tell you about cousin M last week? Can't remember. Anyway, Aunty J rang last night. Oh, no. It wasn't Aunty J - I just thought it was her voice on the 'phone. Anyway, it was Aunty M from Canada. Ringing from Canada! God knows why! She said she'd meant to phone me earlier. D'you know, her husband is in London?"
Me: "Sorry?" (Confused by garbled change of subject).
Mum (butting in): "Well, d'you think cousin M is gay? What d'you think? Aunty M says she thinks he's homosexual?"
Me: "What?"
Mum: "Well, Aunty M says he spends too much time with his mother. He seems really drippy. You know? Wet? Well, he never seems to be away from his mum. It's not like normal boys."
Me: "Normal boys? What on earth d'you mean? Where d'you get this idea from?"
Mum: "Well, he never seems to do much. And he has dance classes. Doesn't play football, or anything. Always hangs round his mum."
Me: "Hang on! That's not strictly correct. The way I see it, he has no choice. Who says he wants dance classes, or to always be stuck with his mum?"
Mum: "But he goes everywhere with her! He's nearly sixteen! Normal boys don't do dance. Look at your nephew."
Me: "Don't start that." (I don't enjoy discussions about my brother or his family). "Cousin M might not get a choice. It doesn't look that way. His mother clings to him. She won't let him out of her sight. Remember, Aunty J doesn't like the idea of M going places on his own. She brings him on holiday with her - he comes to all the family gatherings. And you can see it's not his choice."
Mum (thinking): "And his father is very clingy, too. But, still, he's very sissy."
Me: "Mum! You can't say that. Nobody has any idea how he'll turn out. But even if M was gay, who cares? Eh?"
Mum: "Well, he's not like your brother's son. He's a proper boy. He wouldn't do silly choreographed dance sessions. He'd run wild." (The last comment said as though running wild was something to be proud of!)
By now, I can sense that we are straying into the usual territory. A family b**ching session, with mum playing off one person against another. Whoever she chooses to pick on, WILL be found lacking!
Me: "Well, leave the poor boy alone. It's up to M what he wants to do."
Mum: "But your Aunt M in Canada thinks he's gay, too. And I asked your brother."
Me: "What did you do that for?"
Mum: "Your brother says he wouldn't have a kid like that. You know, your nephew is much more natural." (What on earth does that mean?).
Mum (continuing): "Your brother rang this week. We talked all about it. And your dad had a big chat with him about the strikes."
Me: "What? You mean the Public Sector Strikes? It's up to my brother what he does? What was dad getting involved for?"
Mum: "Well, he think's it's ridiculous. Why should the Private Sector have to suffer? After all, these Public Sector workers are earning a FORTUNE. Their pensions are massive. Why should they get it all?" (This said by a woman who is an ex-Civil Servant. Hypocrite!).
Me: "Not everyone in the Public Sector earns loads. D'you think I did? Or my brother?" (Mum knows she can annoy, as both my brother and I are Public Sector. Dad is a jealous Private Sector worker. He has spent his life moaning about his pension).
Mum: "But there are people earning thousands as pensions. Your dad says... Blah. Blah... (Here, I switched off! I come round to hear the following)...
Mum: "Well, your father thinks strikes are silly."
Me: "It's up to my brother. Anyway, not all Public Sector staff are in the same position. Us at the bottom, we don't get a choice. We signed up for specific pensions, and they should be honoured."
Mum (irate): "Well, your father doesn't think he should pay towards them."
Me: "Fine. If he thinks he can do without Nurses, and Teachers, and Social Workers... Fine. Could he survive without the Police? And Doctors? That's whose pensions will be crippled! People he CANNOT live without."
Mum (changes subject quickly. Her dig at me and my brother has not worked): "Well, what about your cousin?"
Me (surprised): "What?"
Mum: "It's odd for a boy. Doing dance, and all that."
Me: "Oh, please! Let it go. Does it matter what he's like?"
Mum: "Well no boy of mine would be like that."
Me: "Look, remind dad about picking me up at nine on Monday." (By now, I just want to end the conversation).
Mum: "And you've finished all your University work? Are you in next week?"
Me (puzzled): "I'm hardly going to be in University when I'm in Hospital, mum! Anyway, that's ALL sorted with my tutors. It's fine."
Mum: "It's just you can't let it affect your grades. Postgraduate study is hard, don't you think?"
Me: "Don't know, really. If I work, I'll get the grades. You needn't fret."
Mum: "See, we got something right. Two children with postgraduate study."
Me (puzzled): "Sorry?"
Mum: "Your brother did postgraduate, you know? He did his housing certificate." (This is utterly baffling. I know my brother works in a housing office. But he never even completed his Engineering Degree. He's done on the job training since starting in housing, but that's it.)
Me: "Mmm. He dropped out of University. Don't quite get you. Anyway, must dash. Tea to cook."

This whole conversation read as typical of my family's dynamic. The abuser places themself in the "controlling" position. Manipulating the conversation. The questions are leading. You are supposed to agree in response.

What mum wanted to hear was for someone to agree my cousin IS gay. That then places him in an unfavourable position when compared to my nephew - my mum's precious grandson ( and I use the word precious disparagingly). My Nephew, being my brother's child, is the child of my mum's favourite child. My brother was favouritized over me - now his son is favouritized, too. And so it goes on... If nephew/grandson is "best", then this makes mum feel superior. She gets this feeling by putting someone else (here, my cousin) down.

When this did not work, the criticism turned to me. Clearly, my postgraduate studies and grades would suffer due to my having surgery. A comment designed to instil panic, and to catch me on the back foot.

Again, this did not work, so back to the original tactic. Criticise my cousin. When this fails, try a new tactic. Mum then attempts to negate me as a person, and put me down, by falsifying a claim that my brother (who does not even have a Degree!) has postgraduate qualifications. In her own eyes, this makes my postgraduate achievement less; it makes what I have achieved "run of the mill". Once mum has established that I have achieved nothing out of the ordinary, I am devalued, and so by default, it means that anything I say is not of value. She can therefore ignore my defence of my cousin.

OK! So I have only briefly analysed an exchange within my own family - and only a verbal exchange, at that. But I do wonder to what extent I may be accurate about what is going on. And to what extent dynamics such as this are replicated on a daily basis in the abusive family.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

I hope you'll follow me on:

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Behind The Mask - The Hidden Dangers Of Not Being Allowed To Be True To Oneself

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK)

Hello everyone!

Hello everyone!

The belief is that humans are social creatures. This would appear, in part, to be correct. Read any well-known book on the topic of Psychoanalysis, Sociology, Psychology, Social Work... and you will probably be told that humankind derives benefits from living within the framework of society.

I am inclined to agree that life within society does bring some benefits. Any Developmental Psychologist will tell you that the human infant is a frail, and vulnerable, creature. This infant requires nurturing, protection - as S. Freud so correctly identified, the infant/"ID" state is one of helplessness, of needing, of having to demand that basic needs are met. The infant cannot mobilize, and therefore cannot "help itself"; its survival is at the mercy of its "primary caregiver" (for this, read mother/father figure). To thrive, it MUST have the protection, support and assistance of another individual who cares for it, and meets its basic needs for food, shelter, warmth, protection, comfort and company (G. Davenport, 1990).

Society functions pretty much as primary caregiver, on a wider scale. Humankind invest in society, in order to receive protection, support, company, status - and a myriad of other (perceived?) benefits, upon which they have come to rely.

You note that I state PERCEIVED benefits, with a question mark. Well, it's like this... I don't necessarily believe that society comes NATURALLY to humans. Again, a number of books, and scholarly articles, will tell you that human infants undergo a "socialization process" as they grow up. This forms their "initiation" into society.

Both Freud, and Jung, (as well as many of their followers), believe that humans possess an inner unconscious component. Be this the "ID", the "Anima/Animus", the "spirit" - whatever we wish to term it - it is the part of us that is innate, intuitive; our basic, primal instincts. The "Nature versus Nurture" debate has raged long and hard, questioning the basis of human personality. Is it something we are born with? Do we all have inherited, pre-programmed and hardwired personality traits? Is it something we develop as we grow? Is it affected by learning, and life experience? Whatever the answer, perhaps it is true to say that there is a part of each and every one of us which is our most basic, essential self.

What happens, then, if this "true self" (for want of a better or more fitting expression) jars with what society expects us to be? After all, just as society may be there to provide something FOR us, there is an expectation of something in return.

We all know of the "loner", the "outcast", the "wild woman", the "hermit", "recluse", "eccentric", "mad person"... These are all little more than names for a variety of individuals who, for a variety of reasons (real, or imagined), do not fit in with what society expects. And society generally expects a degree of CONFORMITY. The socialization process is one through which the infant learns their place, learns to fit in. Our society is one of "norms", of "averages", of the "general Joe Public".

Whilst there is room for SOME experimentation, I emphasize "some". This tends to be expected around puberty. It is part of the process of growing up, becoming adult. It is the child's means by which they separate their own sense of identity from that of their parents. It is how they establish INDIVIDUALITY.

But, be wary! A little TOO individual, and one risks being labelled as something much less pleasant - "deviant", "crazy", "abnormal". Puberty is a rite through which we must all pass - an INITIATION RITE. It initiates us into the adult world. Pass it effectively, and the "world is your oyster". But, how to pass it?

Puberty is as much about CONFORMITY, as it is about individual identity. We ALL remember the teenagers who dress alike, all in their frayed blue jeans, and band T-shirts - united in their obsession for Rock Music, or Dance Music, or R'n'B... THEY think they are so cool! So hip! So DIFFERENT! Yet what they have actually achieved is the swapping of identification with parents as caregivers, nurturers and providers, to identifying with another group as much the same thing. They now see their peers as a source of support and inspiration - and dressing alike emphasises this, cementing the bonds.

At other times in life, we may again attempt to experiment with our sense of identity. Often, these are times of crisis. The woman who has a "makeover" following her divorce. The man who starts his own business following redundancy. The one time ballerina, now injured, who reinvents herself as a school teacher... Examples are numerous, and too varied to describe individually. ALL demonstrate that SENSE OF SELF IS IMPORTANT.

But what about the ABUSED CHILD? I've already told you that sense of self is important. And it is that visceral, almost feral, sense of being our ULTIMATE self. The "true self", unadorned and unadulterated. NOT the "self" that we are told we should assume, in order to fit in with society.

Society gives us many messages about the nature of self. And not all of them are good. Some are downright damaging! Think! Should ALL women strive to be stick-thin, size zero; as the media, and modelling industries would want us to believe? Are disabled people to be pitied, for their inability to work, for their reliance on Welfare, for their simply not being "normal"; as occasionally the state, some employers, and ignorant people might wish to believe? Does the colour of our skin have to be the "be-all-and-end-all" of our identity? Is there something inherently wrong, even "sinful" about homosexuality, or lesbianism, as some religious bigots would have us believe?

The abused child knows what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such criticism of self. Their abuser endlessly taunts them with "fatty", or "four eyes", tells them they are "stupid", or some other derogatory remark. Abuse is about control, shifting of power. It is about the abuser undermining the victim's sense of self, and self-worth, and self-belief; possibly with the ultimate goal of utter destruction - annihilation of that other being. The abused child is TOLD who to be, how to behave. Coerced. Often threatened, and forced. They are made to modify behaviour to suit the abuser, to meet the needs of the ABUSER.

We ALL need to be able to feel a connection to that innate, untouched and unharmed self. For some of us, the connection has been lost through the pressure of conformity with societal demands (C. Pinkola Estes, 2008). For others, it has come through years of abuse.

Yet for all of us, there may be a "renaissance", a "healing". Maybe it takes a crisis to precipitate this? After all, life is about experience, and learning from this. We can learn from negative and positive experiences alike. And it is this inner, fundamental, basic self (call it our "self-preservation self") that gives the strength to go on. It wants to go on. It wants us to go on.

We cannot survive without this inner self, and it survives through us. When we are struggling, we must search for it - "soul searching". There are many ways we can do this. But, the BEST WAY is one's OWN WAY. If you like painting - paint! Gardening - garden! Dancing - dance! You get the picture! Go on, rediscover yourself!


"Women Who Run With The Wolves: Contacting The Power Of The Wild Woman"; Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 2008, Rider.

"The Book Of Folly"; Anne Sexton, 1972, Sterling Lord Listeristic Inc.

"An Introduction To Child Development"; G. C. Davenport, 1990, Routledge.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

I hope you'll follow me on:

Email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses AND website/blog URLs in submissions and visitor comments are STRICTLY prohibited. Please don't include them, as they will be removed.

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Goodness Of Fit And The Abusive Parent-Child Relationship.

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire, UK.)

I just think this is SO cute! It's four of my cats

I just think this is SO cute! It's four of my cats

I always think that it's a good thing to revisit themes in one's life. It affords a chance to re-evaluate, to see things with the benefit of "hindsight", and to do a bit of extra learning. Sometimes, this act of re-visitation occurs spontaneously; other times, it may be prompted by a specific and significant event, or may even take place as a deliberate and conscious choice.

Well, I recall having previously written about such matters as "favouritism" within families, and whether this can be linked to abuse of a child; as well as writing more recently about the need to find one's inner sense of true "self". It was this latter act of writing that prompted my thinking...

If we do all have an innate sense of "self", something deep within us, that is the essential, vital us, then surely it must be this that makes us all different? Years ago, Charles Darwin wrote on the subject of "natural selection", informing a skeptical and startled Victorian generation that he believed that a series of natural and random genetic mutations had led species to evolve. Darwin hypothesised that certain of these genetic mutations had proven beneficial to survival ("survival of the fittest"), and had therefore become traits passed from one generation to the next.

Darwin's theories of evolution certainly give credence to the belief that individuality and diversity are both necessary to the survival of a species. Perhaps it is the random genetic mutations that Darwin talks of which led to us all being different? After all, we do not yet fully understand how the human body and mind function. Perhaps there are minutely subtle differences from one person's physiology to the next, which account for the diversity of the human form? I can but speculate! After all, I am no scientist!!

Still, what I do know, from my years as a Social Worker, is that people ARE all different; to the extent that there can be marked differences between the personality traits, behavioural style, likes and dislikes, lifestyle choices... (to name but a few factors) of even close family members. There is a term in Developmental Psychology - "goodness of fit" - this describes the happy coincidence which occurs when the personality traits of the child match those of the primary caregiver. This matching of personalities is thought to give rise to a happy and stable bond between parent-figure and child; the two sharing tastes, interests and, hence, experiences. It could be argued parents are instinctively drawn towards the child most akin to them.

Obviously, there must be an opposite to this. A "bad fit", so to speak; where the personality traits of the child and the parent/caregiver are so dissimilar as to lead to a clash. I have devoted a separate article to exploring the theme of being true to oneself, highlighting the importance of this. What if one is NOT allowed to be true to oneself? What if, because of a clash of personality, a child is made to feel in some way "opposed" to their parent, or caregiver? To feel that they are fundamentally "unacceptable" as they are? To feel that they must change, in order better to "fit in"?

Obviously, there are a number of factors which affect individual outcomes in life. These can include peer influence, environmental factors, extended family set-up, and general stability of a person's support network. The general gist would be that, for the child whose personality is a "good fit" with that of the caregiver, and who lives in a comfortable home environment, surrounded by a stable support network of caring extended family and friends, the outcome in life should be favourable. For the child whose personality is a "bad fit" with that of the caregiver, and whose support network is fragmented (perhaps through divorce or bereavements in the family), and who is subjected to a deprived home environment, it would be expected that the outcome be poor.

We must understand that the concept of "self" is complicated. "To a large extent our self conception is a result of what others have told us about our strong and weak points." (Raaheim and Radford, 9183, p.76). So, if we are repeatedly given the message that we are somehow "bad" or "wrong" we eventually come to believe this - particularly if this belief is reinforced by events that happen to us. Unrealistic or not, this concept of our "self" may then profoundly influence our behaviour, choices and actions.

I have asked, before, whether the favouring of one child above others in a family might lead to abuse. It could be argued that this "favouritism" is abusive in its own right. However, sadly, it is also quite likely a natural result of the so-called "good fit" phenomenon. It is so much easier for a parent or caregiver to parent a child who is similar in essence to them. They have much in common. The child will must likely share interests, energy levels, likes and dislikes with this caregiver. These form the basis of a strong, natural bond.

The child who is unlike the parent/caregiver is probably seen as much more difficult to parent. No child comes with a manual - a step-by-step guide of how to rear him or her; and how to get it right. Parents and children must feel their way tentatively through this process, and clearly sometimes this can be difficult. The parent may want to "make things easier", they may feel scared, inadequate and out of their depth. And, I would suspect that this is more likely to happen where they have a child whose personality clashes with that of their own.

In the abusive relationship, the parent or caregiver figure is truly well out of their depth. They want to be in control, to have power over a subordinate child. Here, we may be talking about a caregiver/parent who, for whatever reason, fears loss of control, taking it personally, as an affront. They may be immature in their own right, lacking life experience and empathy. They may have a substance misuse, or mental health problem which leads to instability within their own personality traits. They may have experienced abuse themselves, leaving them damaged. Whatever the reason, THIS caregiver is unable to provide the care, nurturing and stability needed by a growing child. THIS caregiver cannot face challenges, and cannot tolerate change, and cannot be flexible in the manner that is required of one in such a position of trust and responsibility. When faced with the child who is not a "good fit" they are at breaking point.

Does this in some way explain why abuse might occur? That is not for me to say definitively. I can but speculate. What I can say is that abusers tend to look for what they perceive as vulnerabilities in others - and these may include personality traits that clash with their own. I can also add that there is evidence that where abuse occurs in families with more than one child, there is often a particular child who is victimised. Is this child the so-called "bad fit"?

Awareness of self, and of others is essential. By exploring who we are as ourselves, we can improve the way that we interact with others. If you're interested, I can suggest some reading...

Raaheim and Radford, "Your Introduction To Psychology", 1984, Cappelen Sigma: London.

Buss and Plomin, "The Analysis Of Temperament", 1975, British Journal Of Medical Psychology No. 17.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

I hope you'll follow me on:

Email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses AND website/blog URLs in submissions and visitor comments are STRICTLY prohibited. Please don't include them, as they will be removed.

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Child Carer - The Unacknowledged Abused?

by Elaine Ellis
(Lancashire: U.K.)

I have to confess, it may just be a quirk of my personality, but I love to tackle issues that make me REALLY stop and think. Things that others may find just a little "edgy", positively quirky, or downright contentious... I'm up for a challenge! I want to be stopped in my tracks. I want to be asked to review. I want my stereotypes confounded, and my prejudices winkled out, and shown for what they truly are. And through that, painful though the experience may be in the short term, I want my chance to learn, to change and to grow.

Author, Dr. Brian Walsh, claims that "personal growth depends on getting outside your comfort zone." He claims that we all need to experience new things, that challenge us, in order to develop healthily.

"What's this got to do with child carers?", you may ask. Well, if you're prepared to give me a little of your time, and consideration, I'll try to explain...

Sadly, the issue of child carers is a contentious one. It is not easy to find a middle ground. On the one hand, there is the fact that child carers provide an invaluable resource, meeting the care needs of their respective family members. On the other, however, is the undeniable fact that child carers are not "regular" children. The very fact of their being carers requires somewhat of a "role reversal" between parent and child. The child assumes responsibilities often well beyond its years - be these physical, or emotional, in nature - cooking, cleaning, caring for siblings, prompting medication, personal care, listening to woes... The list goes on... And whilst the child carer is obliged to undertake such tasks, he, or she, misses out on the opportunities available to other children. Where is the time for play, for study, for homework, for dating - for doing ALL the things that other, freer, children take for granted?

In the U.K., the Royal College of Psychiatrists; in conjunction with the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, and the Children's Society Young Carer's Initiative; carried out research into the effects of being a child carer. The outcome offered a fascinating insight into what such young people experience.

Young carers are people under the age of 18, who provide, or intend to provide, personal care, assistance or support to another family member on a regular basis. This support and care can be either physical, or emotional, in nature; or else a mixture of the two. The Royal College of Psychiatrists state:
"The impact of taking on an inappropriate caring role can include underachievement or absenteeism at school, mental or physical ill health, and poverty."

It is to be noted that many children who have been the victims of abuse, also experience similar problems. Several young people taking part in the survey also reported that they were bullied as a result of being carers - surely a form of abuse in its own right?

This is not to say that to require a child to become a carer is a DELIBERATE choice to abuse. It is not. Many children of parents who have health problem, or other issues that require care and support, will NOT become carers themselves. However, some DO, and this is generally because the family lacks flexible, holistic, whole family support. I would therefore suggest that one of the reasons that children become carers is due to a failure of the system. Society as a whole, fails child carers. The child's caring nature, and desire to please their family members (including the person cared for), is taken advantage of. Children who become carers often do so willingly, of a sometimes mistaken belief that they are "doing what is to be expected of them". Emotionally, they are not yet astute enough to be aware of the fact that their sense of duty is possibly misplaced - they simply know that they love the cared for person, and want to make them happy - they feel that by providing care, they will fulfill this desire. They are not yet equipped with the life experience that would, with hindsight, permit them to see their folly. They cannot foresee that they risk becoming trapped in a position from which they cannot extricate themselves without feeling guilt, disloyalty and a sense of having failed a loved one.

Why do I say this? Well, partly from personal experience (if you wish to know more, read some of my story through my "Open House" pages). Partly from professional experience.

Many child carers go unnoticed - after all, what are the obvious signs that a child IS a carer? And even if signs are there, who is to know whether they arise as a result of a caring role, or simply as manifestations of other issues? Children can truant from school, for example, due to boredom, bullying, thrill seeking, due to dislike of certain teachers... Who is to know whether the reason for absence is being a child carer? The extent of a child's caring role, and the impact it has on their development, may not be recognised quickly enough, or fully assessed. Often, it is only discovered that a child is, or has been, a carer many years after the event. Other times, it is only discovered in the event of a full family crisis.

The emotional and physical well-being of young carers is fragile, and hangs in the balance. By the very dint of their being a carer, the child has assumed a role that marks them out as "different", and different is not always comfortable, or easy to talk about. Both parents and children, where children are carers, fear that asking for help will lead to negative outcomes, and children are rarely consulted about their needs. Besides, children often lack the vocabulary and emotional maturity to put effectively into words what it is that they feel about being carers. They find it hard, therefore, to clearly articulate their needs. Sadly, many of the adults about them, including Teachers, Doctors, School Nurses, Social Workers... professionals in positions of trust and authority, who might otherwise be able to help and support the child... do not pick up on the signs (if there are any). Divisions between Adult and Childrens' Services mean that many children are not consulted as to their needs, family support is rarely offered to parents, and some professionals may not even be aware that their client is a struggling parent.

All of the above serve to make the role of child carer a difficult one. And whilst child carers go unnoticed, and unsupported, they are surely suffering in silence. IS THIS NOT ABUSE, OF A SORT?

1. "Emotional Support For Young Carers" report available at
2. "The Health And Well-Being Of Young Carers" report at

Also, you could try listening to the Depeche Mode song, "Little Fifteen", which I think sums up the world of the child carer seen through the eyes of the parent... but, then, as a fan, I AM a little biased!

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

I hope you'll follow me on:

Email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses AND website/blog URLs in submissions and visitor comments are STRICTLY prohibited. Please don't include them, as they will be removed.

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by Elaine
(Lancashire, U.K.)

I walk, always in your shadow.
The air I breathe is your air.
Second-hand air.

I subsist...
On scraps of conversation thrown my way.
On the odd, sly glance.
On the insult, the taunt... the jibe.
I live on borrowed time.
Bought from you.
At a high price.
The price of my life.

I live, always in your shadow.
I am nothing to you.
I long for one word...
Even a cruel word...

When you turn my way,
When you shout at me...
And scream...
I know I am still alive.
I still exist.

For what am I, but nothing?
What am I, when negated by you?
I fade.
I disappear.
Always in the shadows.
Never to see the sun.
I am invisible.

By: Elaine (2013).


P.s. I dedicate this poem to all victims of child abuse and/or domestic violence.

I'm starting to get the impression that someone (family or other?) knows that I've found my voice, knows that this is what I do as catharsis. I'm also starting to get the impression that they know I'm on-line, and want to put a stop to my ability to speak out. AM I NEVER TO HAVE A VOICE? Why should the things that others have done wrong stay hidden? Why should I be forced to keep their secrets? What do I have to pay for? THEIR faults?

Are victims NEVER to be free of their bullies and abusers? Or is it that some bullies and abusers will go to EXTRAORDINARY LENGTHS to prevent a victim from speaking out?

I'm SCARED... of losing my voice again. OF LOSING MYSELF AGAIN.


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