My first memory is of being spanked. All I know is that it made me terrified and forever doubtful of my safety.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was recently suspended after he was charged with reckless or negligent injury of a child after allegedly spanking his 4-year-old son with a switch. Peterson’s mother Bonita Jackson told the Houston Chronicle that spanking “is not about abuse”:
“I don’t care what anybody says, most of us disciplined our kids a little more than we meant sometimes. But we were only trying to prepare them for the real world. When you whip those you love, it’s not about abuse, it’s about love. You want to make them understand that they did wrong.”
I have no doubt that parents regret “disciplining” maybe more than they meant. But it doesn’t change the fact that hitting communicates hatred. The act of hitting a child subverts the need to talk and reason out what they might have done wrong, so one grows up terrorized and not understanding why.
I was a well-behaved child. I was not only an avid rule follower — because school rules spelled out quite clearly what not to do — I was also an anxious child who asked questions over and over again, fearful of doing something wrong on accident and being punished.
I wasn’t always sure of why I was being hit. I remember the way it seemed like it would never end. I remember wetting myself. I never once told anyone that I wet myself because I was afraid I’d get hit for that, too.
It never made a mark on my body. Never a bruise, never a cut. If it had, I probably would have shown it to a teacher, but I as far as I was concerned I had no proof. Without proof they might not do anything.
Did it make me resilient? My first suicide attempt was at age 12. I’ve battled depression and low self-esteem for as long as I can remember. Throughout my adolescence and young adulthood I was cutting myself.
Did it give me a strong sense of right and wrong? I don’t know. It gave me a stronger sense that I wanted to be invisible. Maybe it made me a very private person.
Did it make me prepared for life in the real world? I was helpless when I graduated high school. I used to give up easily. The first time I had a minor car accident as a teen I never wanted to drive again. I fight constantly to keep my fear from making all my decisions for me and keeping my life at a stranglehold.
I’ve fought anxiety and depression, seeing therapists for at least a decade. I am still a work in progress. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that the mean voice inside my head that would corner me and tell me I was no good, I was hopeless and the world would be better off without me — that voice wasn’t mine. It was what those spankings communicated to me as a child. That I was worthless.
To this day I am easily startled. I am afraid of certain things without knowing why. In my 20s I had to get rid of a vacuum because when the fibers of my rug caught in it, it made a loud whirring sound, and I was so fearful it would happen that I couldn’t use it anymore.
My fiancé tells me he makes it a point to make noise when he enters a room and I’m there. He never touches me from behind unannounced because I’ll jump. He’s very careful to wake me gently; otherwise I’ll start.
I can’t ride rides at amusement parks. I hate soaring through the air. I hate flying on airplanes. I hate that feeling in my stomach when it becomes airborne — weightless. I hear this is what people love about roller coasters. I understand some people find it exhilarating.
Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” perfectly captured what it is like to grow up getting hit. At one point young Jack asks his father, “You wish I were dead, don’t you?” That is how hitting translates to a child. Hitting doesn’t teach, it burdens. It doesn’t communicate love, it communicates worthlessness.