By Maisie Murphy
The whole area of child abuse holds so many facets and diverse levels that it does seem to be a question that can best be addressed from different angles. In the context of this brief article, I propose to take just one aspect, the question of family involvement, acknowledging at the same time that the subject is vast.
It would seem logical that sometimes child abuse starts at day one of conception, should that new life be rejected or unwanted by either parent, but particularly the mother. Admittedly she will scarcely be aware at that stage that new life has begun, but preconceived ideas are present either in the conscious or the unconscious mind regarding pregnancy. Deprivation of one sort or another during this time must surely be seen as abuse of the baby’s rights and needs. Winnicott says, “A woman’s life changes in so many ways when she conceives a child.” (1) Consequently, where counselling of the pregnant mother is undertaken, a double and rewarding task must evolve for we are addressing two people here and are drawn into this new territory, whether the counselling be at the ante-natal clinic or in another environment. “Even in the womb your baby is a human being, unlike any other human being, and by the time he/she is born, will have quite a lot of experiences both pleasant and unpleasant.” (2)
Few mothers can be totally free from personal difficulties during pregnancy, and this new life must surely be part of any traumas big or small, which form part of the mother’s life during pregnancy. Any abuse of the mother’s health, either mental or physical, is also an abuse of this new member of the human race. At birth too it can be very difficult to get the right balance, so that this new person can be accepted, enjoyed, cherished and held as is their right. Obviously, at this stage everything has to be learned where the baby is concerned, since just everything is new. The ability to learn will never be so keen as it is at this stage, so deprivation here must surely be abuse of a basic human right. This is a time when the formative ego is hungry to develop. In some cases, the questions of sexuality and relationships get closely connected as development takes place. Parents or guardians can have difficulty dealing with these two aspects, if they have problems themselves around relationships or their own sexuality. The child may be chastised or shown disapproval if they are discovered exploring their own sexuality, leaving them confused and believing that somehow there is something about some parts of their body which is disgusting and distasteful. Fear and guilt can be sown here, leading to many complications. They may seek punishments to fit their crime, and then fear of the punisher ensues, whoever that may be, and so the vicious circle goes on.
Although mistakes will always be made, with time and patience they can be, to a point at least, put right at a later stage. “Much can be done at a later date for what has gone wrong or was missed.” (3) Parenthood is a challenge that demands skill of the highest calibre – but a very rewarding experience when undertaken through love.
To heal, we peel away layers to expose our original pain. To grow, we unfold layers and discover our original being. Anonymous.
Maisie Murphy worked at the Royal Marsden Hospital and at the Westminster Pastoral Foundation in England.
IN FUTURE ISSUE, THERE WILL BE AN ARTICLE BY Ed Boyne ON SEXUAL ABUSE BY COUNSELLORS AND THERAPISTS, BASED ON AN ESSAY IN “THE DRYDEN INTERVIEWS”
WINDY DRYDEN, WHURR PUBLICATIONS, LONDON 1992.