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.
They did everything right.
It was never in anger. We were told exactly why it was happening. They made us hug them afterwards. They said “I love you” during the act. My parents abused us exactly the way they were told to. You’d never guess. We were well-behaved, happy kids. My parents are loving and supportive.
And yet, they spanked me. And though they did everything “right,” though they did exactly what the Christian leaders told them to do, they did abuse us. To admit that to myself is jarring.
Most of my adult life I’ve been a spanking apologist. After all, look at me. I am okay. I don’t hate my parents. I am a well-reasoned adult. But that was before my life fell apart. Before my psyche imploded. Some mental breakdowns, suicide attempts and ideation, panic attacks, psychotic breaks, and a PTSD diagnosis later, I’m wiser now and have been able to admit to myself the damage that has been done to me. Not all of my problems are due to spanking. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how much my parents said they loved me, no matter how “right” they did it, spanking broke me.
They claimed that was never the goal. But that’s what it did.
I didn’t realize it was abuse until I let myself remember. When I remembered through the lens of absue, memories that had not made sense fell into place. I’d had homicidal thoughts towards my parents while I listened to the cries of my siblings. Fear gripped me physically in what I now realize was probably a panic attack. Perhaps the most confusing part is that my parents weren’t abusive otherwise. They occasionally yelled. But mostly they listened and loved us well.
Most of my childhood memories are happy ones. Perhaps that is why when they hit us, it broke me. The incongruity scarred the deepest levels of my soul. One of my closest friends recently admonished me that not everyone in my life is trying to hurt me. It hit me then that I live like that, without even realizing it. I let people get closer than they ought to and yet am constantly expecting them to hurt me – especially the people I let in the farthest. Not all of my problems are from spanking.
But I was spanked the “right” way. And it still broke me.
Additional trigger warning: sexual abuse
My parents did spanking “right.”
They never spanked in anger, never with excessive force, and always explained what I had done wrong. I didn’t feel traumatized by spanking, because I knew I deserved it. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I remember my mother spanking me for some childish infraction. She had tears streaming down her face, as she told me how she hated to do this, but she had to, because she loved me. By the time my little sister came along, she was able to hit us ten or more times, without a twinge of emotion on her face. She had finally learned to love us correctly.
But it didn’t work–sure we got complimented on being well behaved kids, but most of our behavior revolved around not getting hit. Not being humiliated, naked and crying, in front of that increasingly cold face. We got better at it, and more creative. We coped by becoming skilled hiders and liars. We knew how sinful we were–how many more times we deserved to be hit, then we actually were.
By the time I was 12, I snapped. I realized that the person designated by God to dole out the punishment was given the job, not by virtue of their goodness, but by virtue of being bigger and more powerful. I was strong and nearly as tall as my punishers, now. The day I wrestled the wooden paddle out of my mother’s grasp, and told her, voice quivering in anger, that if she ever hit me again, I would beat her without mercy, I became a monster–but at least I was my own monster. Heavenly retribution came however, several years later, in the form of the middle aged man, pinning my teenage body onto the bed, telling me that I deserved this, because I dressed like a whore and wore too much makeup. And I didn’t scream, because I knew I deserved it.
God surely didn’t enjoy this, but he must hurt me, because he loves me.
Spanking teaches children that it is ok for someone to violate their body and hurt them, if that person truly loves them. It teaches them that they are evil, and worthy of abuse.
Spanking teaches children that violence is love.