After my post last week on anger and rage, I thought about how I think about what I wrote about how I couldn’t have to do something but others could. I mentioned, I believe, that I believed that I had to be a stay-at-home mother and never work outside the home while other women who could be mothers and work. I have always believed that there were special rules just for me and that I was always in danger of breaking them. This dichotomy of one set of rules for me and a different set of rules for everyone else plus the spanking and the heavy handed punishment towards me and the lighter to non-existent punishments my sisters received shaped my thinking processes. I’m not sure if I’m going to explain this very well so please bear with me.
In anthropology and in sociology there is the concept of us-vs.-them. Us-vs.-them is the idea that one group is pitted against another for survival or in anthropology/sociology, one group holds another group’s differences to be so anathema to the first group’s beliefs that the second group has to be discriminated against or even eliminated. This us-vs.-them mentality is also apparent in Michael Pearl’s child rearing manuals such as To Train Up a Child and his and his wife’s website No Greater Joy. He argues that a parent is in a battle against the child’s will hence the us-vs.-them where the child is the “them” while the parent is the “us.” This mentality is dangerous and damaging to not only the child but to the parent as well. While I mention Pearl and his work, this isn’t a post about his work and my mother, to my knowledge, has never heard or read anything by Michael Pearl. However, this mentality of us-vs.-them still exists in spanking and other means of corporal punishment.
When a child learns that it is okay to hit as long as you are an adult i.e. spanking, it sets up the foundation for this us.-vs.-them thinking. A child learns that as long as he/she is bigger and stronger that it is okay to hit/punish while it is wrong (read “bad”) for a child to do any of these things. A child become angry but has to hide that anger because a child isn’t allowed to feel or show his/her anger while it is okay for a parent to show anger and to even use that anger as a means of expression. Beyond the us-vs.-them mentality, the child learns to split his/her thinking especially if that child is the main object of punishment, that is, the parents punish one child more or blame one child more than the others. The child learns that she must be bad and unlovable and to live by a special set of rules just for her. Add in a heavy dose of religion especially saying things like, “Bad girls like you go to Hell,” or “Godly girls know how to be good girls,” or “I have to beat the sin out of you,” then it gets really bad. The child learns that not only does mom and dad not love them very much but that God is out to get them as well. There is nowhere safe for them. They are afraid almost all the time. They realize they have to live by one set of rules otherwise mom and dad and God will be upset. They learn that other children are more special and more loved than they are. They learn that they are at the bottom of the heap and that the good things that happen to other people will never happen to them. They believe that they are so bad that nothing good can happen to them or will happen to them. They learn that the only thing that will happen to them is being punished. They come to believe that they deserve that punishment or the very least learn to accept that they can do nothing to stop the spanking.
Growing up like this and seeing no way to change things leads to what psychology calls learned helplessness. Learned helpless is the condition of a human person or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected (Wikipedia). When a child has learned to suppress their feelings and to suppress any hope of things changing though the situation (spanking) later changes they have learned to be helpless. This learned helplessness also plays into the changed/split thinking. A child learns that not only are there special rules that she has to follow she also learns that nothing she does will prevent her from being spanked and while she tried her hardest to follow the rules perfectly she realizes that nothing will change. After a while, she won’t try to change and she definitely won’t try to leave because she believes (without evidence to the contrary especially if she is sheltered and/or has limited contact with the outside world) that it is the same everywhere. When the situation does change, that is the parents stop spanking because they are tired of it or they realize that yelling and screaming and just threatening spanking works just as well, the child won’t resist because she doesn’t know how to any more. Yet, this is what Michael Pearl and even parents who don’t follow his teachings want: submissive children who obey. Except it really isn’t obedience, it’s fear. Actually, more like terrified.
What am I getting at? While I’m not sure I explained the split/double thinking very well, I believe I did show that thinking does change when one spanks. We know that a child that was spanked and had to repress their anger and rage at being spanked learned that hitting was okay as long as an adult does it. So when that child grows up they take the anger and rage they couldn’t show and couldn’t feel as a child and possibly take it out on their children. They may justify this spanking as necessary discipline or even as commanded by the Bible.
In my case, this split thinking let me to believe that others could have and do things I wasn’t allowed to. That I was cut off because of my badness. That others could have things but I couldn’t because they were good and lovable and liked by God. I was just a bad girl and that I needed to keep up this kind of thinking otherwise I wasn’t being good and holy enough even though I was bad (how’s that for a contradiction?). I had to keep thinking that I was a bad person, that I was totally unlovable, I was completely unworthy of help or respect or of anything, that nobody could want me around. That this kinds of thinking was good. That I had to keep punishing myself otherwise I really was so bad that I deserve to go to Hell this very minute. And my mother loved to reinforce this kind of thinking, saying things like “bad girls like you go to hell;” “you’re too slow;” “why can’t you be more like your sisters?” “you’re too fat;” “you’ll never amount to anything.” This kind of thinking and belief is very unhealthy. And you wonder why I have depression. I tried not to have dreams because I believed I couldn’t achieve them. I repressed my feelings and hopes to make other people happy. I did things I regret believing they would make things better not realizing that they wouldn’t even touch the symptoms let alone the problem. I forgot my childhood so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the abuse and anger and the fact that my mother just couldn’t be the mother I needed. I squashed “me” because I didn’t know the real me and thought that if I did everything others wanted then I would be a “good me” rather than a “bad me.” I denied who I was because I believed that the me I was told I was wasn’t good enough or smart enough or strong enough or pretty enough or athletic enough or Catholic enough.
I had a hard time now because now I know this kind of thinking is wrong. Really wrong. Some people might consider this negativity very holy, actually, I know there are people who think this kind of negative thinking is holy but it isn’t. It’s a sin. God doesn’t make junk and He is the only one that will love us. People put conditions on love. God doesn’t. If God is love, and He is, then He can’t put conditions on himself. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect before we come to him. We are to come as we are: broken, afraid, unloved, worthless, useless, sinner. He doesn’t place unrealistic expectations on us and then punish us for not meeting them. He has no desire to crush us into little pieces. Only people want to do that.
Now I have no idea if what I wrote is what I really meant to write (considering I wrote about a four page essay in about 45 minutes) but it is what it is. I’m just trying to work on my own depression and this was something I believed effected it.