Child Abuse and the Role of Parental Denial


DR. SCHWARTZ’S WEBLOG BY ALLAN SCHWARTZ, LCSW, PH.D.

 Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states …Read More

https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/child-abuse-and-the-role-of-parental-denial/

I recently had the opportunity of revisiting a question that I have struggled to find answers to for many years. The question is, why, in the face of a parent sexually, physically or verbally abusing a child, does the other parent remain silent?

This is a phenomenon I have been aware of in countless numbers of cases reported to me by patients who are now adult and clearly recall not only the abuse but the fact that the other parent offered no safety.

The question others have asked me and that I ask myself is, how or why would a parent remain silent in the face of children being abused. Here a few hypotheses.

1. Denial is a powerful and primitive defense mechanism. Someone who is dependent, frightened and themselves the victim of abuse, can remain silent and not even see or hear the abuse in order to maintain the desperately needed relationship with the abuser. In a way, it is a variation of the old saying, “Hear no evil, see no evil.” Well, people do hear it and see it and fail to act.

2. Both abuser and spouse can be mentally ill people who collude out of mutually shared sadism. In others words, there are a few people who can get a sense of pleasure out of treating children abusively.

3. Over the years, I have known a few cases in which the wife has such a deep need to avoid sexual relations that they prefer their husband engage in Oedipal relations with a daughter. This is usually unconscious with full denial in operation.

4. Chronic and severe drug and alcohol abuse loosen inhibitions that otherwise sober and sensible people do things that would shock them if they were not under the influence of certain types of drugs.

5. There are parents who, having been raised in strict and abusive environments, then repeat the pattern once they are parents. The vicious cycle of abuse is probably the major cause of domestic violence in the United States.

One of the distressing and utterly frustrating and despairing things that survivors of abuse discover as adults, is that their parents deny that anything ever happened. Patients have reported to me that parents, when confronted by their adult child with the abuse they committed, tell their son or daughter that their memory is wrong.

It is natural to ask why an adult would now confront their parents about abusive acts that happened during childhood? Apparently, the answer is that these survivors are seeking an apology and an affirmative statement admitting their wrong doing. This is what makes the discussion so filled with despair for so many survivors. The despair results not simply by the refusal of an apology, but the complete denial that anything happened. This is further exacerbated by the fact that neighbors and friends of the parents think them very “nice people” who would never do such a despicable thing as abuse a child. When Joan Crawford’s daughter published the story of her childhood, a story that depicted Crawford’s cruel and outlandish acts of abuse, there was a public outcry that this never could have happened. Later, the outcry vanished when the truth and accuracy of the story emerged for the public to see.

It is the responsibility of neighbors, family, friends, teachers and school officials to report suspected abuse to the authorities who will then conduct an investigation. Do not play the “hear no evil, see no evil” game. Act on what you know or have good reason to suspect.

Your comments, experiences and questions are welcome in relation to this important issue.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


RETRIEVED https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/child-abuse-and-the-role-of-parental-denial/

Denial Prevents Pain, but Also Prevents Change

Jason Whiting Ph.D.

Love, Lies and Conflict

When you face the truth, you change your life and deepen your relationships. 

Posted Jul 30, 2020


When I was a kid, I once overheard my mom on the phone, saying, “Jason keeps pretending he can’t hear me when I call him to help with the dishes.” My own kids sometimes adopt this same strategy. Have you ignored a summons to step up and be responsible? Dismissed emails to avoid something unpleasant? Rejected the news about the dangers of sugar, booze, or nicotine?

Dodging reality to live in denial is a forte of our species. A few years back, I was in a thrift store and found a used book from the 1950s arguing vigorously for the health benefits of cigarette smoking. When we don’t want to change, we stick our heads in the sand and use denial. The satirical newsmagazine The Onion nailed it with their article, “New Study Finds Nothing That Will Actually Convince You to Change Your Lifestyle So Just Forget It:” It said:

“Though it contains several significant discoveries with a direct bearing on human health, a comprehensive study published this week in The Journal Of The American Medical Association has found no data that will in fact convince you to change your lifestyle in any way, so what’s the point of even telling you about it?”

The more we want something, the more we are tempted to ignore the truth if it gets in our way of having it. In twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is to get past denial. This is because, as author Stephen King writes, “[Addicts] build defenses like the Dutch build dikes.” King knows this firsthand, as he wrestled with alcohol and drug use. He told himself he “just liked to drink,” or, as a sensitive artist, he needed the drugs to face the pain and challenge of writing. Like most addicts, he thought he was the exceptional person that could handle it. It wasn’t until his wife and family confronted him, including dumping out a garbage bag of evidence (beer cans, cocaine spoons, cigarette butts, Valium, Xanax, Robitussin, Nyquil, and mouthwash bottles), that his denial walls crumbled down.

Photo by Rafael Serafim from Pexels

Source: Photo by Rafael Serafim from Pexels

Facing reality is painful, but it is better to address warning signs instead of turning a blind eye. Sometimes spouses ignore signs of addiction (she keeps coming home late plastered), infidelity(why does he abruptly shut the laptop when I come in the room?), or lies (that story just changed again). Excuses mount, and denial becomes enabling. It’s easier to ignore warnings than have difficult conversations, but this leaves problems free to grow unchecked.

Some of the damage from child abuse is caused by those who looked the other way and ignored the warning signs. Many victims tried to tell a parent or teacher about mistreatment and were disregarded or pressured not to talk. When this happens, victims doubt their own reality, and the truth gets lost.

This distortion occurs in domestic violence, where abusers minimize their actions, and threats of being hurt cause confusion and self-doubt in those who are abused. One of my projects examined how an abuser’s blame can persuade a victim to doubt what happened and blame themselves. One woman said: “[He convinced me that] if I would’ve just done this, he wouldn’t have taken my debit card away, or … he wouldn’t have yelled at me or said that I was stupid.”

Survivors also use denial to cope, because it is hard to admit abuse is occurring, or leave. Denial gives a victim a chance to come to terms with an awful situation while trying not to feel worthless. As another research participant said: “If you can not focus on the negative, things are always better. If you live in your dream world with the rainbow, all that stuff, it’s always much easier to cope. If he was bad about everything, then I had to be bad, too.” 

Denial of reality may be understandable, but problems don’t usually change by themselves. If you are disregarding important concerns, it’s time for a cold splash of truth. Ask yourself: Am I avoiding a difficult issue? Do I sometimes rewrite reality in a way that becomes dishonest?

If so, it may be time to break through the denial and accept the facts. This is how change occurs and relationships become more authentic.


REFERENCES

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft (New York: Scribner Books, 2000), p. 94.

Terry Trepper, and Mary Jo Barrett, Systemic Treatment of Incest: A Therapeutic Handbook (London: Routledge, 2013).

Jason B. Whiting, Megan Oka, and Stephen T. Fife, “Appraisal Distortions and Intimate Partner Violence: Gender, Power, and Interaction,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 38, no. s1 (2012): 133-149. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00285.x


RETRIEVED https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-lies-and-conflict/202007/denial-prevents-pain-also-prevents-change

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Psychotherapy, Counselling and Personal Development in Glasgow, Scotland

ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION, DISSOCIATION

Still Like A House

Fractured?  No, curiously I feel fractured but I see myself in the mirror and I’m whole, standing still like a house.  The mirror may be fractured, but my eyes still swivel like windows in this head, guided by a nose that acts as a weather vane.  I open and close my mouth like a door and my ears sit like unoiled hinges.  But I don’t feel like a house.  I feel like a room: a room divided against itself.

Whole Not Hole

If I am whole, how come there are holes in my experience?  Not holes; they just feel like holes.  They’re no more holes than my forgetting what I had for breakfast last Tuesday is a hole.  If I decide, out of my indecision comes a need to follow a trail of breadcrumbs, walking backwards in flip-flop sandals: Shameday, Shatterday, Frightday, Thugsday, Whensday, Chewsday: vegetarian bacon that tasted like cardboard soaked in lapsang souchong.

Not Broken

Broken.  Like a wine glass washed in a lapse of concentration, snapped stem in the sink?  No, I just feel broken.  I’m no more broken than my daydream in the bubbles is a symptom of a broken mind.  I just went travelling for a second and broke a glass, not my hip.

A Name for Now

No fractures, no holes.  Not broken, nor split.  I am a house of rooms, not a room divided.  The room I’m in is ordered, organised, geometric wallpaper, square like Kant; catalogued like a library run by a nunnery.  My lamp has a name and a function.  My telephone first rang in ’76.  My sofa has a history, and I remember my happiness the day I bought it; how angry I was when I spilled wine on it;  how annoyed at the bit of chocolate that fell between the cushions.  I feel my weight on it.  Feel the cold in my fingers.  I am here.  It is now.  I am here and I am now.

The Hall

The hall.  A place for uninvited guests.  I ran down it when I was 5, I’m-alive, scurried into the cupboard and was never seen again.  The hall connects me to the rest of the house I have forgotten, but more importantly to the front door, which leads out into the garden; into the world.  I never know if it’s locked.  Instead of checking, I forget that it’s a hall, save the ticking of an old clock that I forget to hear whilst listening to the fizz of my ginger beer, age 7, pray to heaven.  Instead I convince myself that the livingroom I’m in is all there is.  Then, by switching off the light and locking the door, forget myself and my convincing.  Until I need to pee, or eat.  And then I find myself sock-sliding down the hall like a uterine ghost, so focussed on my empty belly or full bladder I forget to remember that I opened the door; forgetting which room I was in, until I am in the other room, floorboards creaking with the slightest shift in weight.

Wordless Rooms

Another room, another name, another door, another age.  Age 6, pick up sticks.  Other shadow, other feeling.  Cooling, cooler, cold and colder.  The familiar unfamiliar.  No lightbulb in, no switch to fumble for.  In this room I forget to remember and remember to forget.  Boxes stacked on boxes, dust and cobwebs.  I pick a box in disarray and ginger ale my way in beneath the lifting lid.  It contains hundreds of fizzing photographs, sepia toned, disorganised, random, full of Leica moments hastily shuffled away, forgetting to remember; each snap the snap of a twig in a dark damp wood; the snap of a little finger; the snap, crackle and pop of a nice crisp morning in December, and then a dread-filled evening; and all with felt feelings, felt, falling.  The sea swell of a gut without words; the electric surge of anxious malady rising in my spine.  Shapes without outlines.  Tone without form.  Colour without texture.  Chaos without order.  Things that happened before I had words to describe them.

Chaos

I find myself in a drawer inside a mood inside a box inside a room.  Another lapse.  Like driving from the house to the store and realising I wasn’t conscious of driving at all. At all.  At all. New room, new mood, new name, new world.  A ball of string, a roll of tape, some false teeth, a paperclip, an old birthday card from a forgotten friend, a rubber band and some tic-tacs.  There are reasons I don’t come in here.  It’s a mess: deformed, unfinished.  I’ve no energy for this: to clean it out, tidy it up, organise it.  Too many memories.  One day.  Some day.  Just not now.

The Unseen Tree

Hallway.  Like the drive to the store I didn’t notice, or the tree I ignored on the street I’ve walked for a decade and suddenly appears out of nowhere one day, when the light hits its leaves and I awaken to its colours and the breeze, warm like Frankincense whispering through its branches, and my feet in my soft shoes, so soft I forget my feet.  I want to say sorry to that tree.  Sorry to my feet and to my shoes.  Sorry I neglected you.  A three hundred year old tree growing through twelve hundred seasons, existing for everyone else but me.

Safe Trembling

My hallway stays forgotten; conduit to my wholeness; pipeline to the world.  Invisible as I close my eyes.  It connects my rooms, my fears: it is the forgotten centre of my house: the house I forget to remember to forget.  I prefer the known knowing of organised places to the unknown knawing of my silent spaces.  Sunlight comes in through the south window, hot coffee in a comforting cup five inches from the table’s edge, precarious, but no spinning head.  Here, I know my name, I have words for things and things for words, and syntax and paragraphs.  I know my here and now, I know my differentiated place, I know my own familiar face.  It is the face of a house of rooms, and rooms of boxes.  Some are ordered, stacked and indexed, comprehendible by their stories, hand-written and clear as etched metal.  Some are filled with a confusion of shadows, wordlessness, uncertainty, memories, darkness and a child’s trembling.  Still the trembling, still the heart.

I am still like a house.  But I feel like a room.

Photo credit: wikimedia commons

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