We all know that horrible things happen to many children around the world. We know and we prefer not to know. Kids are supposed to be pure and happy and bouncy little creatures and the thought of them being harmed is just to hard to handle. Besides, what can we do about it?
Well, I think there is a lot we can do.
A couple of years ago, I met a psychologist (I will call him Ed) who came to Australia from another country. Before he came here, he had spent a good number of years helping people with diverse emotional issues. His patients had faced a wide variety of hardships and needed help coping, which Ed had become very good at.
When he started working in Australia, Ed was surprised by the difficulty he had getting his patients to open up to him. Being very sensitive to body language and other cues, he could see that although his patients were making progress, there were areas in their lives they were not sharing with him.
So Ed consulted his practice manager about it and she told him they had all been sexually abused at some point.
“Wait a second”, he said, “Sexual abuse only happens to a certain percentage of people, not to everyone”.
“Welcome to Australia”, she said wryly, “If you want to help your patients here, keep working with them until the sexual abuse comes out, because it always does eventually”.
Ed was stunned, but listened to that advice and quickly started to make huge progress with his patients by gently exploring that particular area. One by one, his patients told him stories he found hard to believe, until he realized there was not a single patient of his without some sexual abuse in his or her past (yes, men too).
Last night, Ronit and I went out on our weekly date and watched a film called Oranges and Sunshine about a British social worker who uncovers the deportation of many children from England to Australia over many years.
The movie suggests that the British government was helping the Australian government keep Australia white and reducing its own population of poor people by shipping children in foster care and orphanages to Australia, where they were supposed to be educated and then allowed to live as citizens.
What actually happened (according to the movie) was that these children were used as slave labor and abused physically, sexually and emotionally. They grew up to be confused, troubled adults who wondered about their identity, felt rejected and abandoned by their parents and betrayed by the people who were meant to care for them.
For me, both Ed’s story and Oranges and Sunshine brought up a really troubling question, “How can anyone abuse a child?”
In a society preoccupied with cops-and-robbers shows and immersed in the philosophy of catching and punishing people who have done “bad” things, this is a very important question that is not asked often enough.
You see, when you ask how anyone can get themselves into a mental state of doing something that sends shivers down our spine, particularly to a pure, happy, bouncy little creature like a child, we shift our stance from seeking punishment to consider the “offender” as a person with mental issues. By exposing the circumstances that create such a mindset in a person, we start to deal with the real problem.
In a system based on punishment, removing bad people from society would fix everything, but does it? No, because new “bad” people are being created all the time by the same conditions that created the first ones.
In the film, one of the “lost boys”, called Len, starts off alienating the social worker, called Margaret. He refuses to shake her hand, intrudes on another man’s interview, looks at other people’s files and expresses a lot of distrust towards what is trying to do.
Later on, they meet again and Len says (I am paraphrasing), “I get the feeling you don’t like me very much”.
Margaret says, “I must admit I don’t particularly care for the man I met recently, but I’m sure that inside that man is a little boy I would love to meet”.
To me, this is the essence of the change we need. Somewhere along the way, little children go through experiences no child should ever have to endure. Some of them break and some keep going. Some of them swear never to harm anyone and some decide this must be the way of the world and so they are justified in harming others the way they have been harmed.
Instead of looking at what people do and “do unto them” to maintain a sense of balance, we should examine how they feel. To do that, we must remember there is a little boy or girl inside them, forever stuck at the point where their childhood innocence was taken away from them.
Of course, we cannot walk around peeking into other people and communicating with their inner child, but we can certainly dig into our own soul, find the child living inside of us and help that child heal.
No matter what we have suffered as kids, we can learn to reframe it as adults, recover from it and start living a different life. It may not be easy. It may hurt. It may require some help from others, even from professionals, but in the end, we will be pure again and over time, we will be happy.
As far as our own children are concerned, we spend all our time with them believing that what we do for them is the best that can be done. But it is only because we must believe that to keep our sanity. Questioning how we were brought up by our parents can be painful. Facing our feelings of rejection, neglect or abuse can hurt a lot at first. But going through this process anyway and reaching in for the child inside us is well worth doing. It is a big source of power for the rest of our lives and the way we can ensure our own kids receive pure, happy, bouncy parenting from us, like they deserve.
Ronit and I have been together for nearly 31 years and we know a lot about each other’s childhood, but at some point, we talked about our deepest fears. Being life coaches makes it easier for us to recognize our emotions and to talk about them, but in that conversation, we dug deeper than ever before, back to our inner child from the very beginning. We felt exposed, as if we had become transparent, but since that time, there is a closeness we share beyond what we had before and we help each other in subtle ways by talking to that inner child.
So look inside you for a frightened, confused, wide-eyed 3-year-old or 5-year-old who is longing to be hugged, waiting by the door for Mommy or Daddy to return, crying over a dead dog or having to move to another place. See that child as your own child and tell him or her what you know now. Then, see the smile of understanding on your inner child’s face, reach in and pull them out. Hold your inner child tight, cry if you feel like it and promise to take care of him or her forever.
Have a pure, happy, bouncy day,