Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Growing up in an abusive household

By Carolyn Chen

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

In the United States alone, three million calls on child abuse involving over six million children are reported in just a year. Six million children face potential child abuse every year in a country where teachers are taught to recognize evidence of abuse and where people are made aware of the dangers and are taught to immediately report to child services.

Now imagine something completely different. Imagine you’re from a country that is smaller than Massachusetts, imagine you’re from the biggest city there, which is smaller than Northampton, and imagine abuse to be widely considered as discipline.

This is the tiny third world country that I grew up in. And it was in this tiny city that I experienced over 16 years of child abuse masked as discipline that took me almost two decades to escape. In less than a year of immigrating to America, I began making regular visits to the Center of Counseling and Psychological Health here at the University of Massachusetts and discovered that I was dealing with trauma, severe depression, anxiety and panic disorder.

All results from this supposed “discipline” that I once believed was completely normal. Results from the discipline that my parents put me through because they loved me and that was the right way to teach children how the world worked. I believed this. For so long, I sincerely believed beating your child until she bled or starving your child when she did not get perfect scores on her exams were the normal way parents showed their love for their child.

And I defended them. While I acknowledge that this is not the universal reaction that an abused child may have toward his or her abuser, it is often acknowledged that victims of abuse can form bonds with the abuser, a defense mechanism and phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome.

How could I not love my abusers? The world is a bewildering place for a young child and growing up as an only child isolated from all peers of the same age, I latched onto the parental figures and loved them with all my might, believing they knew right from wrong. For 10 years they were the only close relationships I had and I clung to them like any child does, even when my skin turned black and blue and my fingers were bent in odd angles. And I did so because they were my parents. And I knew that in their own sick, twisted way they genuinely did believe they loved me and they sincerely believed they were doing what was best for me.

Now don’t misunderstand. I am by no means excusing what they did and I am absolutely not stating that abusers should be excused from all the damage they have done to someone whether it be a child, a lover or a family member. I am, however, attempting to illuminate why it can become so hard for me to hate them despite everything that they did. At the end of the day, they were all I had as a child and for more than a decade, their form of “love” was better than nothing at all.

Now, in my second year of college, I have made a life for myself here and have long since escaped the grasps of my parents. I have thrown myself into research on not only child abuse, but also its aftermath. Every day, countless numbers of children die from abuse that ranges from sexual, to physical, to neglect to mental abuse. Everyday, countless numbers of abused children suffer not only from the abuse itself but also from its lingering effects. In fact, one study showed that 80 percent of 21-year-olds that reported child abuse fit the criteria for at least one psychological disorder and about one-third of formerly or currently abused adults go on to abuse their own children, creating an devastating ongoing cycle.

And that scares me.

As a formerly abused child, I have an irrational fear that I will become part of this one-third, that I will go on to force my child to endure the unspeakable things that I did. I live with a constant fear of hurting children whether it be my own or others; I’m constantly plagued with depression, anxiety and all sorts of fantastic mental disorders courtesy of my parents chosen form of “discipline.”

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that these memories and these consequences might stay with me for life. But there are still children, teenagers and adults out there that need the help that I could not get. The faster they are removed from the abusive environment, the shorter these memories and these traumas will plague their lives.

It will be a long time before I truly come to terms with my memories, and an even longer time before I am able to identify how I feel toward my parental figures. And while there was nobody that was able to raise awareness about the scared children that gave love and received none in return where I was, I believe that we as growing adults have the responsibility of helping not only abused children, but also peers and elders.

Because, sometimes, it’s just not possible for us to escape without a helping hand, without growing awareness.

Carolyn Chen is a Collegian Columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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