Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.
Additional trigger warning for Rachel’s story: descriptions of self-injury.
Maybe I’m the oddball, but, I was reading some articles on the lifelong effects that spanking children has on their emotional and mental development when it hit me.
Being spanked as a child is a large part of why I started self-harming as a teenager.
Let me unpack this statement a little bit.
From a child, I had been taught through example that physical punishment was the Biblically advocated way of training your children. To be fair, my mother absolutely hated spanking us, and would cry at night because she believed it was wrong, but according to Mike and Debi Pearl, corporal punishment until actual pain was achieved is the only way to properly “train up a child”. And, indeed, Proverbs supports this methodology to a degree. We were spanked for back talking, direct disobedience, rebellion, tattling…and the list goes on. Being spanked teaches a child that physical pain is the only appropriate atonement for his/her misdemeanors. While my parents truly loved us and believed that spanking was the Biblical way to train their children, I have come to question the subconscious impact which this ideology has had on the way I personally relate to punishment.
When I was 15, I reached a particularly low point in my life. My parents had just found out about a young man who I was involved with, and were extremely displeased with the content of some of our conversations (eg. swearing, his expressing a desire to kiss me, etc..) among other things. Feeling that a relationship was not in my best interest at this point, they grounded me for a week and lectured me extensively.
But, for me, this punishment wasn’t enough.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had become subconsciously convinced that punishment which did not cause physical pain was not adequate punishment.
Because, after all, a lecture was never good enough when I had sinned as child. Spanking was always in order. Therefore, as soon as I found myself alone in my room, I, almost instinctively, physically lashed out against myself, taking a disposable razor to my wrist until it was dripping blood. I felt instantly better. After which, I cleaned it up, bandaged it, and fell asleep.
Dad commented the next day that I seemed happier. I was even smiling!
It became a vicious cycle. Whereas when I was a child, if I did something wrong, I was immediately spanked and then the incident was forgotten, as I got older the spanking became less frequent, and lectures replaced corporal punishment. What I didn’t realize was that I had unwittingly adopted the notion that physical punishment is the only adequate punishment. So, if I did something wrong, or my parents were displeased with me, hurting myself became second nature.
I cannot tell you how harmful this mentality is.
When Christ died, HE took the physical pain punishment for ALL my sins. Knowing that my parents are displeased, natural consequences, or rebuke, should be punishment enough for me. Of course, there are consequences, but these should be natural consequences. For instance, if you eat twenty pieces of cake, you’re going to make yourself sick. This doesn’t mean that wrong should be condoned. If my brother hits me, he’s going to be told why that’s wrong and if he persists in wrongdoing, should be punished by a timeout or something similar.
Obviously, circumstances are different for every family, but for me, at least, being spanked unwittingly implanted the idea in my head that physical pain is the only valid form of punishment.
I’ve wondered for months why it was that, when I reached that point where my parents were so upset at me, hurting myself was an almost instinctive reaction. I didn’t even think about it. It felt natural. It felt…right. There was no question in my mind that I completely deserved the physical pain for disappointing my parents, allowing myself to have romantic feelings for a boy, and using bad language. I believe a large part of it is that when I was young, I knew I was in the doghouse if I had acted wrongly. Apologizing didn’t fix things. Being lectured didn’t change things. BUT, as soon as I had gotten the appropriate amount of spankings, everything was forgiven and I was reminded again of how loved I was. How does one make the mental transition from “I need to be physically punished for any transgression” to “Now that I’ve reached a certain age, a lecture or being grounded is adequate punishment”?
And for those who argue that Proverbs commands parents to spank their children (Mike and Debi Pearl, I’m looking right at you!), my response is that Proverbs is in the Old Testament, and although I don’t believe we should discount it merely because it happens to be before the birth of Christ, please show me a passage anywhere in the New Testament under the New Covenant which commands spanking children as a form of punishment! The verses in the New Testament on child rearing say to not provoke your children to wrath but rather bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Admonition is NOT the same as spanking.
And, while I’ll readily admit that my ideas on child raising aren’t completely developed yet, I agree far more with those who advocate not spanking your children, or only using spanking as a very last resort, than those who spank their children constantly for any real or imagined misdemeanor.