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Escape From Abuse

by Brendon Smith

1. A New Zealand story.

The settling of New Zealand must hold many great stories. One was about the first son of a Maori chief who was good with his taiaha (spear). Around 1800, he was seconded onto a whaling boat, but he was harshly treated and confined to the galley by the hard crew.

He was only allowed out when a whale was close, he’d harpoon the whale then be sent below again, the seamen would beat him and verbally abuse him to keep him in his place.

Unable to cope, he jumped ship in Tasmania, made his way to Sydney and was sent to the local priest where he ran their market garden with his kumara growing skills.

When the priest asked where he was from, the chief’s son drew a map of the Bay of Islands. The priest sent him home on the next available ship, he soon found his Dad and told him about the whaling days.

Around the same time, while a French ship was also in the area, a ship called The Boyd entered Whangaroa harbour and was set apon.

Apparently over a misunderstanding, a battle started from which only eleven of the ship’s hundred-odd crew survived.

Whether the massacre had an effect on the settling of NZ is hard to tell. During the following decades Australia welcomed both penal and immigrant communities.

Only brave vagabonds or very faithful missionaries came to NZ. It wasn’t until after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed that our dual waves of idealists and egalitarians left their class systems behind in Europe.

Most immigrants to NZ, it may be said, have either left something behind or are looking for something new. To travel this far, some were no doubt trying to escape what they considered to be abusive situations or relationships.

Whether the abuse was related to them personally or by discrimination, they probably hoped that our free land might be a tolerant paradise where the freedom-to-be or recovery from their oppression might rejuvenate their hearts.

2. There is no child abuse in Godzone-

Sadly, while most Kiwi kids enjoy glorious, free and adventurous upbringings, NZ could do better in many child abuse statistics. Common teenage problems like early pregnancies, misuse of drugs and prostitution are often linked to neglect or trying to block out some form of abuse.

Early forms of abuse were based on assumptions of a right to dominate, a paradigm of power or control, leading to manipulation and which has been common since humankind’s earliest days. With today’s worldwide communications, many historical stereotypes have been exposed.

It is understood that dominance in any relationship is unhealthy. In recent generations, most oppressive regimes and segregation systems have been broken down or made illegal.

However, there remain forms of abuse that can be harder to pin-point. As awareness and reporting of racial or sexual abuse help eliminate their scourge, the hidden, often young victims of family, psychological or verbal abuse may need more focus.

While a “bit of a rev’-up” or sarcastic personal comparisons may seem appropriate in certain adult exchanges, the confusion and damage to children from disrespectful communication can leave lifelong scars.

Having to deny or hide feelings, suppress or selectively remember “bad” moments can cause havoc with educational and emotional growth.

As adults and children, our biggest challenge is to be true to ourselves, both in terms of fulfilling our potential and being able to trust our inner strength for answers to life’s lessons.

If Kiwi kids learn how to recognise and respond appropriately to all types of abuse, and if they develop high self-esteem and feel respected, they should escape any detrimental effects.

Beware, they might even develop into honest, strong, loving and independent adults!

3. How to recognise abuse, respond and get help…

Victims may also choose to contact their local doctor, counselling service providers, school or church leaders for help or advice. If a child or young person tells you they are being abused:


    Don’t panic.

    Write down what the child says.

    Don’t interview the child about what they have said.

    Reassure the child that they have done the right thing

    Tell them that they will get help

    Tell C.Y.F.S. or the police.

A child’s resilience and the response a child receives when disclosing the abuse also affect the long-term consequences. When children who disclose abuse are believed and supported, the consequences are less severe than when disclosure is met with disbelief, blame, or rejection.

(Thanks/credits to Patricia Evans: The Verbally Abusive Relationship, 1Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish: How to Talk so kids will listen, and how to listen so Kids will talk, John Lee: Facing the Fire.)

4. More on the hidden forms of abuse. Psychological, emotional and verbal abuse…

It has been said that a paradigm of dominance has driven humankind for a long time. Men and women have exerted power over each other, their children and the earth’s resources. This has resulted in many advances, but in some areas, it could be admissible that we have reached our sustainable capacity.

If we want humankind to be a more considerate caretaker of the planet, we may need something other than laws, wars or more abuse of power.

Many forms of abuse spring from the assumption of a right to dominate in a relationship. It is now understood that dominance is unhealthy in relationships. If parents accept roles as guardians and teachers of discipline, rather than controllers or punishment masters, we could all win.

It may even be possible, with the elimination of abuse in child-rearing, that within a few generations abuse statistics might spiral downwards.

We all tend to parent as we were parented, so the common and obvious causes of abuse can help us determine it’s origin or nature, but we should also remember that all types of abuse have some psychological consequences.

Emotional abuse often precedes other abuse types and is usually cited as the worst. Rejection or denial of feelings, emotional isolation, degrading and exploitation are clear signs of an unhealthy relationship or partner.

While competitive relationships in sport can lead to mutual self improvement, competition within families for affection often leads to manipulation and such adult issues should not be played out through children.

Other emotional abuse tactics, often enacted in private, include: attacks on a partner’s abilities or nature, name calling, undermining and forgetting. The use of these types of abuse to covertly control a partner has been called “crazymaking” (Stop! You’re Making Me Crazy by Bach and Deutch.) It is also described as sustaining dominance in a relationship while denying its existence or the wish for it.

Whether based on pre-emptive strikes in a deteriorating relationship or to hide other issues, it makes no difference.

When children witness any abuse, they carry an emotional scar. Parental verbal abuse to children (esp. insults), swearing – which can be a form of violence or symbolic aggression, (e.g. slamming door, silent treatment) can have serious consequences if the act is not clearly identified as abuse.

If children hear terms like stupid or loser, they internalise them as a label to fit – a new minimum level of expected behaviour they can resort to.(Ref.1)Excremental Centrifugals.

Verbal abuse can also lead us to “poisonous pedagogy”, perhaps the origin of dominance abuse. As discussed in Alice Miller’s book: For Your Own Good, this toxic method of teaching or raising a child begins when a parent or care-giver controls the behaviour of the child by misuse of power over the child.

Common in European circles since the 17th century, it relies on the false assumption that children are too young to remember certain things. Some children were forced into strict daily schedules and taught to display no emotion under what would today be considered torturous circumstances.

This misuse of power can cause the child extreme pain. If they become adults without working through the experience, they may become toxic to others. This toxicity and emotional blindness is common in abusive relationships.

It is said that Adolf Hitler was raised this way. Constant criticism, judging or labelling, laying guilt trips, sarcasm and mocking are other signs of a lack of empathy or inability to nurture love. Destruction of property or humiliation may be grounds for legal proceedings.

In the event of parents separating, children mustn’t be pawns in ongoing control or stalking. Just as it is not OK for one parent to influence the other’s time or contact with a child, it is unfair for one parent to ask details about the other’s life if they no longer live together.

Anyone in a close relationship has the rights and responsibilities to:

Respect, Diginity, Appreciation, Warmth, Empathy, Kind words, Accurate Information, Open communication, Timely responses, Caring and Equality.

The circumstances under which families operate are many and varied, so it is often extremely difficult to say what actually constitutes abuse. Remember that if you feel like you have been abused, you probably have. It is important that you retain contact with your own feelings.

If someone is tries to exert power over you, which you think is unfair, tell someone you trust, or if you feel threatened, contact CYF or the Police. Nobody’s personal power should be subject to another person. Love is the child of freedom, never that of domination.

Erich Fromm.

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