Child abuse is a significant societal problem that in most cases exists behind closed doors. The devastating psychological and emotional effects the trauma has on its victims can last a lifetime. Though difficult, recovery is possible. Speaking out and exposing the devastation caused are critical steps to addressing and dealing with it.
While my siblings and I were enduring the abuse as children we were told to keep quiet. “Don’t give the neighbors a show” my mother would say as she was pummeling us and digging her nails into our faces. We were physically and verbally abused for years. Anger, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression are some of the damaging psychological and emotional results. It is common for victims to find themselves suffering with PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, or even incarcerated.
One day we found some old family films and upon watching them I saw myself wheeling a small baby carriage with a doll in it. I took the doll out, hugged it, put it back in the carriage, and started hitting it. Two questions came to mind: Why was I doing that? And was I emulating my own experience? Could it have started when I was so very young and in a baby carriage? I knew I had been physically and verbally abused as a child but seeing that made me feel sick and ashamed. I wondered what kind of people would abuse a child of three or even younger. Unfortunately, those people were my parents.
I was angry upon seeing that, and it made me more determined than ever to dig further into the cause of the pain, fear, anxiety, and depression that had been plaguing me throughout my entire life. It took many years until I would begin to understand how deeply my siblings and I were affected by the parental beatings and verbal sadism we suffered as children.
As an adult I sensed that certain things from my childhood had been affecting me at work, and with my family and friends. I did not know the cause or how to manage and overcome what was plaguing me so I decided to find a therapist. In those sessions we covered a wide range of topics, and a core issue was how certain situations would subconsciously set off reminders of my mother’s abusive treatment, particularly when she would be comparing me negatively to others. When someone else was being praised or lauded (especially if it was undeserved), it would sometimes set off terrible feelings within me. Much (if not all) of this was my own perception and not reality. My wife had a good understanding of this problem and said she felt sorry for me because despite a highly successful career, these underlying issues detracted from the enjoyment and pride I should have been experiencing from my accomplishments.
The therapy sessions helped me develop an understanding of how several emotional reactions I was having in the present were not rational; they stemmed from things that happened to me in childhood. My mother, in her fits of rage, would run off a list of all the things she thought I was bad at or had done wrong. Hearing that as a kid over and over led me to believe that I was no good, crazy, and less than others. Those scars run deep, and I read about how they have destroyed many lives. The long-term impacts the abuse had on me created an anger that resulted in rebellious behavior that was beyond what would be considered “normal” teenage rebellion.
In the therapy sessions we addressed several core issues, and, over time, they helped me understand why I was troubled. Just understanding those things helped diffuse the negative effects they were having on me and my life. It was reshaping the way I thought about those things and seeing the more positive aspects of my history.
Ultimately I survived the pain, confusion, and trauma. The help I received through friends and, in some cases, their families, was also a major factor in helping me recover. Through it all, I either possessed or developed the trait of grit—courage, strength of character, and the determination to lift oneself up after getting knocked down. I always knew that, deep down, I was a good and decent person, not that terrible person my mother had created in her own mind. I had a huge battle to fight in order to correct things from the past, and, though the work is ongoing, I believe I have thus far succeeded. I did not choose the things that happened to me or the experiences I had along the way. Through it all, there was something inside that kept driving me forward. I am thankful for the life I have had up until now, and, though I do not know what lies ahead, I know I am up to the task. I remain optimistic about the time I have left to travel on the path down the highway of life.
Rory D. Kaplan had a long and successful career in which he held a variety of positions in both information technology and trade finance banking. He lives with his wife in New York and is currently enjoying retired life with his family, friends, music, and writing.