People who are less preoccupied with themselves and the superficial leanings of life often find themselves wondering why there is so much pain and suffering – not to mention, violence, in the world. We are bombarded with images and stories from the news and on the internet of victims of abuse, heinous crimes, and we shake our head and wonder why such cruel people exist in the world. After some inner and/or verbal grumbling, we then get distracted with the minute details of our lives and we carry on – hoping that we do not come across such “evil” people.
For most people who have some sort of active and/or inactive religious faith, it becomes all too easy to blame the “Devil” or “Satan” for the existence of these sort of negative events. For people who believe in karma and reincarnation, it is all too tempting to just write it off with a fatalistic worldview that it was something that was meant to happen because it was caused by known or unknown wrongdoings during previous times or previous lives.
While it cannot be said cruelty and evil in the world were not caused by the Devil or by karma, it should also be considered that there are more immediate worldly causes for such behavior. While the thought of performing exorcism on every single abusive person and karmic purification rituals on their victims might be enticing, it also falls into the realm of wishful thinking. The fact is – the existence of these cruel people is closer to home – cruel abusive parents and/or caretakers. We then come face to face with the uncomfortable reality that yes, cruelty does begin at home.
“Evil”, as a concept, seems more comfortably dealt with from a distance, because when viewed from the spectator’s seat, it does not call for responsibility and action on our part. While some criminals or emotionally manipulative and abusive people (and some super villains) may have possibly been hatched as evil babies and turned out to be so without outside help, most of these misguided people were not born that way and were a product of their upbringing – a prolonged or intense encounter with cruel, emotionally abusive parents who should have been sterilized at the get-go and/or damaging caretakers who should never have been allowed guardianship or access to the fragile and developing minds of children.
We should at this point avoid the tendency of making a sweeping generalization that all people who have gone through painful and traumatic childhoods turn out to be “evil” or just as cruel as the caretakers/parents who have inflicted pain upon them. Even if the those are very real, albeit extreme outcomes, it has to be said that those are the more extreme cases… most of the time, emotional cruelty at home is more subtle, passive aggressive, and comes in many other guises – often as selfishness and self-interest the guise of “love” or “parenting”.
Many victims of subtle and overt forms of questionable upbringing grow up damaged, emotionally stunted, weaker, and in pain – if their childhood development has had no intervention from a kind guardian or what Alice Miller refers to an “enlightened witness”. As Alice Miller states, some people who have had the help and care of “enlightened witnesses” do turn out to be more well-adjusted than most.
World renowned Swiss psychotherapist, Alice Miller’s book “The Truth Shall Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self” shares with us her position that for the now-adult victims of childhood mistreatment, it is only through facing up to the truth of one’s past events and upbringing, that one can be “set free” and be able to begin anew. It is easier said than done since most people would be averse to pointing fingers at the parental figures in their childhood who in all popular belief should have been loving and caring. It also has to be said that “being free” is not a bed of roses since it entails its own set of challenges as we learn to stand on our own, and remove the shackles of the past.
The varying outcomes of the psychological states of these people should not detract us from the chilling fact that if we were to intend to improve the world and rid it of cruelty and violence – we should not have to look too far than the immediate vicinity of our homes – and the people surrounding us as we grew up.
We should not succumb to the pitfalls of thinking in absolutes – that if the parent and/or caretaker did not “hit” or “sexually abuse” or “yell and scream” at the child, then it does mean that any serious damage was done. While the cliche of the beaten becoming the beater and the sexually abused becoming the abuser does hold some water, these are merely the convenient and iconic examples… A lot of more common forms of child abuse fall by the wayside and may be overlooked on purpose, so as not to add insult to injury since the image of loving parents or caretakers pervades so strongly in our psyche that anything that threatens it would disturb our “comfortable” worldview.
It has to be pointed out that as much as we would all want to subscribe to the myth of the “nurturing mother” and “protective father”, it simply is not always the case since some people are just not suited to be parents – even if they happen to manage to advertently or inadvertently procreate. The illusion that the capacity to make children automatically creates able parents should be dispelled.
There would be no lack of people who would vilify child-molesters, rapists, wife and child beaters, since these crimes do so stand out and justly horrify us. However, what is to be said about the lesser but more pervasive forms of abuse inflicted upon the vulnerable child by their parents/caretakers, and the list is long – withholding affection, passive aggressive behavior, cunning manipulative behavior, misplaced anger and hostility, consciously encouraging unhealthy competition and animosity between siblings, threatening of violence/aggression, destructive criticism, bestowing and rewarding slanted morality, and many more which happen on a daily basis.
These forms of what can be perceived as “lesser” abuse as compared to the overt physical and sexual abuses leave no visible physical scars and does not draw blood but definitely stunts the mental, psychological, and emotional growth of the child – and without the right intervention would cause the child to grow up into an imbalanced adult who would knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate the cycle with their unfortunate progeny. This would in turn create conflicts in the family, stunted interpersonal skills, psychological disorders which would definitely contribute to societal discord.
These “lesser” forms of abuse happen more often than not in every single dysfunctional family system and should not be taken lightly or passed over. As with difficult realizations, the brave and steep first step is admitting the truth of the situation to ourselves. The second step is to seek help from the right and/or qualified people – which does not include the neighborhood busybody or the most dominant know-it-all in the family (who most likely would be the perpetrator in the first place). The third is to take conscious efforts in improving ourselves and our minds through taking steps to increase our psychological and spiritual well-being so that we can be better people and not cause other people as much harm as others have caused us. (Sounds very much like the popular but unpracticed Golden Rule, doesn’t it?)
Yes, cruelty does begin at home, but it can also end there – at the starting point, without spreading like a disease into the community. Stop pointing fingers at “Satan” and “karma” as an excuse for not changing or improving. The good thing is that we can all do something about it actively through various means or passively, just be keeping these in mind and not further contributing to the problem.
After all, we all don’t want to turn into these cruel “monsters” who prey upon vulnerability, and who are so pitiful that they cannot find someone their own size to prey on but instead, only prey only upon the weak.
(c) Niconica 2010