No where to hide....No Way To Escape The Terror No one to tell.
No one to go to for help.
Is this a war zone? A ghetto? A natural catastrophe?
No, this is the violence of day-to-day family life
in many American homes.
It is how I myself lived as a child, a teenager, and even as a young adult.
I did not grow up in a poor or blighted environment. I was a blonde, white child, my adoptive parent was a Hollywood movie star, and we lived in what many believed were luxurious surroundings. Still I carry deep and permanent scars from the violence of my childhood and developing years.
This was not violence from the outside world, from strangers or the streets, from gangs or muggers, but violence from those I, as a child, had been taught to love and trust, violence from those who were supposed to be safe and warm and filled with kindness but were not.
Fear followed me like an invisible shadow, for violence could erupt anywhere. It ambushed me in hallways, awoke me from sleep, disrupted the dinner table, spoiled my play in the backyard. Later, the continuing fear stole my friendships, denied me employment, and coerced and shamed me. More than any other event or person from my childhood, I remember the fear. It alone was constant; it alone could be counted upon. Whether awake or asleep, I was never free from its presence.
My adoptive mother was an angry, alcoholic woman who had clawed her way out of her own history of abuse and violence without ever healing or learning how to be a person along the way. She had no success establishing positive relationships with other adults that she couldn't manipulate and absolutely no idea what to do with children, except to control or punish them.
Perhaps she was simply passing along to others the only relationship skills she knew.
Looking back on my life, I cannot recall when the fear started, because I have no memory of ever feeling safe or protected. My biological mother left me just after I was born.
In the house where I was taken for adoption, I felt even less safe, for those people who were not actually violent towards me betrayed my confidence in order to please my mother or to stay employed by her. There was no safe place for me and not one soul I could trust.
Constant danger and betrayal created a life under siege. I never knew where the next disaster lay hidden, so every new circumstance held the threat of chaos. The least infraction of an extensive list of "rules of conduct" brought inappropriate, lengthy punishments, often lasting for months. Within this rigid, controlling atmosphere, I could not learn those skills acquired through trial-and-error because the risk of failure was too great. I learned only parental rules, how to imitate violence, and how to lie. To my amazement, lying-about anything-had less than a fifty-fifty chance of negative consequences, but telling the truth about my thoughts or feelings almost always resulted in violence or punishment.
I learned to withdraw into a tiny inner recess of self where nothing could enter. It wasn't the same as being safe from harm, but it was the only haven available to me. The self I showed to the world was no longer an authentic self, but one redesigned for the sole purpose of surviving violence on a day-to-day basis.
In time I began to perpetrate the violence I had experienced as victim against other children at school. By fourth grade I was engaging regularly in schoolyard fist fights, hurling swearwords I'd heard from adults at home, and lying even when there was no obvious reason to do so.
I was quite pretty and intellectually gifted, skipping grades in grammar school and eventually becoming the youngest student in my class. But I was also a highly emotional child, quick to anger, needing to have my own way, and slow to heal my wounds.
As a child, I learned from direct experience about violence in many forms, as physical punishment, abandonment, mistrust, shame, addiction, and betrayal. I did not learn how to value myself, how to form friendships, how to acquire new skills, how to resolve interpersonal conflict, how to evaluate strangers for trustworthiness, how to be kind to myself and others, how to accept help or assurance, or how to love and be loved.
What I did and did not learn as a child has affected the rest of my life. I spent my early years just trying to stay alive, while all the messages from without and within were telling me to give up and die. Eventually I shut
down the feelings of abandonment, terror, and helplessness. While I felt less pain that way, it left a terribly empty place in me which later, as a young adult, I would try to fill with cigarettes, alcohol, and sexual contact.
It took me years and years and years of my adulthood to unlearn the lying, the addictions, the mistrust, and the abandonment of self and to learn the basic skills of how to be a person in the real world, how to earn a living, and how to have a relationship that isn't destructive or violent.
Violence, according to Webster's Dictionary, is "an exertion of any physical force so as to injure or abuse." As I understand violence and will be using the term in this book, it is the exertion of any force-whether physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, or spiritual-so as to injure or abuse.
What is Violence?
Violence, now overwhelming our society, is by no means limited to criminal acts but is also employed as a primary means of conflict resolution, a preferred form of play (e.g., video games), and a major factor in the content and financial success of mass entertainment. Violence is also an orientation toward sex, the nature and inevitable result of certain parenting behaviors, the atmosphere in most urban schools, and the condition of life in almost any American city. An acceptance of violence for fun and pleasure, violence toward children and sexual partners, and the idea of violence as an unavoidable condition of human life has insidiously worked its way into our world view and our understanding of how people relate to each other and create their lives and environments.
The outcome, the implicit or explicit goal, of violence is death-death to an opposing person or to an opposing quality or situation, such as resistance, self-determination, or freedom. When violence wins, death of one kind or another is the inevitable result. Violence threatens health, security, creativity, kindness, and laughter-life in all its forms.
As violence takes over our society, the quality of our lives is declining. As more money is spent for police, jails, and guns, there is less to invest in essential, sustainable, healthy community projects. Violence has become an organizing principle in the 1990s. We are at risk of losing ourselves in our efforts to cope with violence, living only to react to its latest threat. Crisis management has become our way of life.
What is family Violence?
Family violence denotes actions taken by parents, caregivers, or other family members that cause physical, emotional, or psychological trauma, impair normal development, threaten personal safety, or create an atmosphere of danger. It includes but is not limited to child abuse, spousal battering and rape, murder, assault, enslavement, mental torture, kidnapping, stalking, addiction, and endangerment of health.
Family violence is not a one-time incident, and it is not a problem related to ethnicity, financial status, or gender. Nor is it a problem related only to drugs and crime, although these factors may be present in the violent home.
Family violence is the use or misuse of power over others who cannot defend themselves because they are smaller or weaker, who often cannot run away because they are too young to survive without parental care or too frightened of the violence they know they will have to endure if they are caught and returned home. Some will die because they cannot run away and others will die because they do.
In violent families, physical force is usually the primary means of asserting parental control, solving conflicts, and venting rage, anger, disappointment, and low self-esteem in the name of administering punishment.
Family violence can also take a sexual form, in which an older person makes sexual use of a child entrusted to their care without regard to the child's well-being. Such behavior involves emotional and/or physical coercion and probably is the result of some unresolved childhood trauma in the adult's past. Sexual violence is a violation of a young persons right to safety within the home, their right to say no, and their right to age-appropriate experience.
Emotional violence takes the form of shaming and humiliating behaviors by which, for example, a parent may attempt to feel better about him or herself by belittling the child in the hope of at least feeling superior to someone.
Members of violent families learn that violence always wins, at least in the short term: the violent always get their way. After a while, they get their way whether they behave in an overtly violent manner or not.
Witnessing violence toward others and feeling powerless to intervene extracts a toll on all family members involved. At the very least, it desensitizes them and creates CO-conspirators, insuring that no one feels totally blameless except perhaps the perpetrator.
It is like the story about the frog and the pot of boiling water. If a frog is thrown into a pot of hot water, so the story goes, it will immediately try to jump out. However, if that same frog is put into a pot of lukewarm water and the heat is turned up gradually, the frog will stay in the pot until it is boiled to death.
In my experience, trying to avoid the violence while remaining in the family household doesn't work. It's like staying in the pot of water until you die. The violence will occur over and over again.
Violence Is Addictive
The violent person becomes addicted to the power and the thrill of using violence against others, particularly when the chance of getting hurt him or herself is almost nonexistent.
Violence stimulates adrenaline, so with it, there's a "rush," just as with many drugs that the addict experiences as pleasurable. And as with other addictions, the addiction to violence grows progressively worse over time, and the addict is almost never able or willing to stop violent behavior without outside intervention. He or she may have been brought up with violence, and no one ever said his or her parents were wrong.
At some point, the mere threat of violence can replace the actually violent acts, for the threat alone evokes vivid memories of past violence under similar conditions. The victims are duped or brainwashed into believing that they actually allowed or participated in their own punishment and begin to feel both guilt and shame that they can do nothing to stop the violence against others in the family. Everyone is justifiably afraid of the violent person, and so they regulate all behavior to avoid as much hurt as possible. Violence thus becomes the "norm" for day-day existence. After a while, if nothing happens to attract outside attention or help, the family members sink into an angry, depressed state of resignation.
When we were both small children, I was forced to watch my brother being beaten, humiliated, and burned. Just three years younger than I, my brother soon changed from a charming and adorably playful little boy into an angry runaway. I spent the next thirty years trying to make it up to him, while enraged at the woman who vented her hatred of men on an innocent little boy.
It is important to understand it because of its legacy, because family violence has directly or indirectly left its black mark on almost every aspect of our world civilization.
Why is it so important to understand family violence?
We live in an incredibly complex and highly interconnected society, where any violence cannot help but impact everyone. Even small amounts of violence create large amounts of havoc and social disruption. Family violence inevitably spills out onto the streets and into the next generation in some form or another. Billions of taxpayer dollars are poured into institutions such as foster care, hospital emergency rooms, prisons, police, social services, courts, etc. to deal with violence after the fact.
This money is not used to prevent violence. It is not spent on treating addictions, improving schools, teachers, transportation, child day care, neighborhoods, or jobs. There simply isn't enough time, energy, or money to address more positive approaches and long-range planning when daily life has become a matter of crisis management.
Many thousands, perhaps millions, of young people are showing signs of becoming sociopathic, of lacking conscience and empathy for others, of feeling no bond to family or responsibility to community. Many of these young people, barely more than children, have never been properly parented. They have no sense of having been respected or nurtured by those responsible for them as children. And because they lack this sense of respect, safety, and nurturance in themselves, they cannot possibly offer it to their children.
In the past, it has been assumed that once the violence stopped, its effects also stopped. That assumption is dangerously untrue. It has prevented us from seeing that violence is a lifestyle, not an isolated incident.
Family violence has been called domestic violence for many year a serious misnomer, one that has contributed to our reticence in addressing its horrors and dangerous consequences.
Domestic refers to that which has been tamed or modified for ordinary household or community usefulness. It is not a word appropriate to the terror and chaos of violence in the home. Household terrorism would be a far more accurate term.
Our legal system has a completely different set of laws for those crimes committed on the streets, against total strangers, than it has for those same criminal behaviors committed in the home against family members. All manner of crime, including murder, is often not counted as "real" crime if it is committed in the home against a spouse, child, or other blood relative. Such acts fall into the category of domestic dispute; in the past, no one wanted to deal with them. Neither police nor social service workers wanted to answer the call for fear of being hurt themselves in a situation so explosive and so ambivalent in terms of legal protection. Our society has permitted family members to be treated with more violence and less protection than is accorded prisoners of war under the terms of the Geneva Convention.
Such an attitude leaves victims/survivors of family violence on their own to deal with the damages done them. Not only are they without support and encouragement from others, they are often blamed for what happened to them and shamed for the fears and defenses they carry as a result. As in childhood, telling the truth carries negative consequences for them. If they speak, family members will likely become distant or alienated, and the social and legal power structures created supposedly to help just such victims of injustice frequently dismiss them with no questions asked.
Many would (and do) prefer to forget the horrible past and just try to get on with their present lives. Others tend to get stuck, blaming every setback and failure on the past. In the process of healing the emptiness and the anger, some others become activists engaged in changing social systems and behavior patterns, in creating social awareness, and in educating others from their own experience. Millions more live life on the outermost edges of our world, as survivalists or the homeless, who are marginalized into near oblivion. Many folks simply do not make it: they are institutionalized, they commit suicide, they are murdered.
What are the effects of family violence
on its victims/survivors?
Yet, as the exceptions that are said to prove the rule, others survive, succeed, and thrive. Perhaps that is the miracle of humanity: against all odds, some will always manage to achieve a state of relative healthiness in order for the species to evolve. However, if over time too many people are incapacitated, made unable to cope and thrive by prolonged childhood violence with its fundamental disrespect for human life, a dangerous downhill slide in the quality of our society will take over and threaten life as we know it.
When violence becomes the norm in a family, its members have to dedicate most of their energy, thought, and time to survival, rather than to growth and development. They develop a sort of violence-oriented ESP, an early warning system that provides split-second notice for self-protection. I believe survivors make excellent detectives, investigators, spies, and psychologists, for their intuitive senses are finely attuned to others' behavior and to interpreting what that behavior means. Often survivors choose to go into one of the helping professions (law, education, medicine, healing) in order to help others with the same problems and, in so doing, right some of the wrongs they experienced.
But survival behavior is very different from the developmental processes of those who have not experienced abuse and violence as children. For example, survivors tend to isolate themselves, drawing only on their own strengths, intelligence, information gathering skills, and intuition. Since the outside world has proven to be very dangerous and unpredictable, it is safer not to interact, trust, depend, or count on anyone other than oneself. Such behavior denies the survivor the experience of caring and being cared for that is the foundation of all social interaction, coupling, and parenting.
Survival behavior is usually a poor basis for healthy adult relationships, and since relationships are what create community, workplace, couples, and family, having only survival skills puts a person at a serious disadvantage-until or unless they return to a violent, disrespectful relationship, in which at least they can feel "at home." Violence, by this means as well as others, tends to perpetuate itself. Have you ever wondered why someone you know stays in a harmful relationship or situation? The answer is: they know how it works!
Adult survivors of family violence experienced in childhood often manifest a high tolerance for violence in their partners or spouses. They themselves may use violence against others. Adults who have experienced violence in childhood have learned the raging tone of voice, the threatening looks, the swift and dangerous fist or foot. They know the pattern, the process, and the result: with violence you get what you want, no matter the cost to other survival of the fittest. It is very hard for the adult survivor to comprehend that imitation of parental behavior is no compliment, but a crime against the next generation of children and society at large. But the legacy of violence against others as a means to self-fulfillment is very powerful.
Other victims/survivors of family violence will not permit any overtly violent acts by others or themselves, but they still may engage in self-destructive behaviors (not taking care of themselves, becoming addicted, creating conditions of chaos, etc.) that may not be fully conscious.
Ironically, it may be this very legacy of violence, this collection of fears and behaviors learned so long ago and so early in life that discourages those of us who survived family violence from confronting the issue in our society today.
I believe the reluctance comes from real fear, fear born in the childhood experience of retribution for exposing the truth. As adults, such retribution from others perceived as being more powerful than we are may take the form of professional retaliation, being ostracized, or having our ideas denigrated. These possibilities are so similar to what actually happened to us as children raised in violence that the current situation may feel like a replay of the past-of being powerless, disbelieved, and unable to defend oneself or to escape from the problem. Those of us raised in an atmosphere of family violence learned early in life that the world is an unsafe place. As adults, we may still base our beliefs and actions on that world view, however hidden we keep it from everyday consciousness.
The configuration of violence, resignation, and negative learning in the survivor is currently supported by an abundance of extremely violent movies and books, super-hero role models, violent cartoons, news of violence on TV, callous handgun/assault weapon laws, and a social structure that devalues children, women, the weak, and the aged, as well as the professions of teaching, care-giving, and nurturing.
After all the years of disclosure, media attention, social service expenditures, and public awareness programs about child abuse and family violence, almost nothing has been accomplished to solve the problem. Reputable research indicates that violence and abusive behavior have increased across social strata. It is likely that an entirely different approach to the problem must be taken in order for substantial change to be affected. With this book, I hope to offer a perspective that will help in the formulation of that new approach, that new organizing principle.
I offer my own life journey as an example, one among millions of stories of survivors of family violence. My story makes the point, raised earlier, that family violence is addictive, and that the incidents of violence are not isolated, but rather form the basis of family relationships.
But my intention here is not just to rehash the details of years of abuse all over again. I wrote my first book, Mommie Dearest, in the only way I could have written it, for myself, with no other goal than to tell what really happened and set the record straight. I had no idea anyone outside my immediate family would read it. I had no idea it would be published.
That book was written from the point-of-view of a child in the process of growing up. This book is written from the perspective of years of adult learning and experience attained in the process of healing my life.
If Mommie Dearest was written from a sense of outrage and injustice, No Safe Place is written from the need to share information and insight and to honor those who have shared with me their life stories, in letters and personal contact, so that a solution can be found to the tragic problem of family violence. No Safe Place is generated from the knowledge that if violence within the family is not addressed, we as a society will never be able to stop the violence on the streets, between races, nations, and religions, which creates the feeling that there is no safe place for anyone, anywhere, anytime.
About the Author:
Christina Crawford is an internationally recognized, best-selling author. She is an advocate for the rights of women and children, a pioneer in making child abuse an issue of national concern, a communicator about the long-term effects of childhood trauma on adult survivors, a business-woman, writer-producer, public speaker, and workshop presenter. She was Commissioner for Children's Services in the County of Los Angeles and earned her Masters Degree in Communication Management from the University of Southern California. Her autobiographical first book, Mommie Dearest, was on The New York Times bestseller list for 42 weeks, and was later made into a film by Paramount. Her second book, Black Widow, was also a bestseller, and has been translated in seven languages. Her third book, Survivor, was published in 1988. She currently lives in northern Idaho...