Spanking: Trauma Suppresses the Breath and Breathing. Think PTSD. What To Do?
"Beating in child-rearing has its psychological roots in slavery." Jordan Riak
I was a very happy two year old. You can see it in my baby pictures. Around age two the pictures changed to looking sideways while squinting. My mother told me that she around that time witnessed my father scaring me with a vacuum cleaner.
As he laughingly taunted me with something that I was obviously terrified of, he told my mother that he was doing this to "make a man out of me." Spanking locks up and distorts one's breathing patterns.
This can drive the nervous system somewhat like a blind 5 year old child at the wheel of a fast moving bus in traffic. Or less obviously in subtle responses in everyday life that come out crooked.
An Alternative to Spanking
by Jordan Riak - copyright waived. Free booklet offered at the end of this article
A parent writes, “I know spanking is not the right way to deal with my children’s behavior. But that does little to help. It would be very helpful if you would tell me some alternatives. What to do when you are very angry and want to slap your child on the bottom. How to diffuse your own anger. There must be some good books you can recommend...”
Variations of this request have been put to me many times. I wince inwardly when I hear them coming because I know that I am unable to offer the kind of answer that is being sought.
I know that no matter what I say, it will probably sound like an evasion. Let me try to explain why it is impossible for me to give what I believe many parents are looking for; good new behaviors that can easily be substituted for the bad ones, as if it were as simple as switching to a superior brand of cooking oil.
We live at a time when the media are full of expert advice on how to solve all our personal problems. How to properly bring up children is one of the most written-about topics, surpassed only by weight loss schemes.
There is a perennial flood of countless eager and desperate parents. The titles beckon while we wait for our turn at the supermarket check-out, promising, for a mere price of a magazine, to solve any problem, answer any question and make us perfect parents of happy, beautiful, talented children.
In the days of our grandparents, pitchmen set up their tents in public places to sell their potions and elixirs. Today’s hawkers of junk ideas in print, like those bygone hawkers of junk in bottles, reason that since people are already suffering so much, the will welcome remedies that are pleasant, e.g. a dieting plan that lets one continue overeating, a cure for cigarette addiction that lets one keep smoking, a self-esteem improvement method that works while one sleeps.
They will welcome the opportunity to learn how to rear their children in ways that aren’t too taxing and don’t require any major change in habits or attitudes. We parents discover the advice doesn’t work, some blame the children.
Others blame themselves for being too stupid or stressed-out to follow the directions or are too embarrassed to admit failure. Some pretend the plans are working when they obviously aren’t because they have invested much faith in them. In fact, they should be demanding a refund.
Bringing up children is not something one can pick up from a recipe book. It isn’t baking bread. How we treat our children is profoundly influenced by the treatment given to us by our own parents. Which is just fine if they were warm, caring, tender grown-ups. Not so fine if they weren’t.
The least lucky of us must come to terms with the fact that our parents, whom we love and on whom we depended, may have hurt us when we were little, defenseless and innocent. They may have done to us what had been done to them. We aren’t placing blame. We are facing facts.
For some people, usually, the most severely damaged, to admit that their parents behaved destructively toward them and thereby robbed them of their childhoods and handicapped them for life is intolerably painful. So they pretend it didn’t happen.
You will hear such people say “My parents spanked me because the loved me. It did me a world of good.” Such statements are composed of a great deal of wishful thinking. People who say such things are often sealed off from the memory of their childhood feelings as if by a mile thick concrete wall.
The child in them has long since died and been buried. But they cannot see a child’s face or hear a child’s voice without being reminded of the part of their lives that is missing. The thought of it irritates them. Children irritate them. Such people spank children because, when the whole world appears to be doing it, they feel more comfortable in their predicament and more convinced in the correctness of their behavior.
There is a deep, durable prohibition in every one of us against hurting members of our species, particularly our offspring, so it takes some convincing to overcome it.
When we have the courage to honestly examine what was done to us as children, to re-experience [or release] our feelings of that time, the fear, the shame, the rage, the isolation, then we can convert the awful power of those experiences into a source of strength. We can begin to develop an understanding of why we behave as they do.
Then change and growth are possible. We can become better parents. Slowly. Maybe. There’s no guarantee. But I think it is wholly unrealistic for anyone to believe he or she will ever be able to understand and manage his or her children, even with the best expert guidance, if unable to manage him or herself.
The mother who wrote the letter from which I’ve quoted above seems to be on the right path to becoming a better parent and ceasing to be a hitter. She has recognized that the problem behavior is hers, not her child’s.
Every well-stocked bookshop is a source of good, bad and different advice on the topic of child-rearing. Parents can learn 1,001 alternatives to spanking, the best of which add up to don’t.
There are even a few authors – the most cynical and dangerous of all – who will ease parents troubled consciences for the price of a book by advising them that spanking is okay and when and how to do it. [Alice Miller and John Bradshaw talk about this a lot.] I urge the reader to approach this body of literature with unrelenting skepticism.
Keep in mind, any expert who claims to have a method for bringing up children that makes the job easy and exempts parents from the awesome personal responsibility of the undertaking is a quack, pitchman under a tent or a peddler of candy.
Here is a 3 page PDF from Jordan Riak that includes a personal letter from Dr. Karl Menninger. It also includes a link where you can obtain a copy of the informative 11-page booklet Plain Talk About Spanking.
Trauma suppresses the breath and breathing. Think PTSD. Trauflexive is a word I coined to indicate a traumatized breathing reflex. I see it all the time and it ties together with my 150 Contributing Factor Survey item labeled Turbulent, abused or traumatic history.
We hold our breath to control our experience of pain and fear.
Repeated incidences of this nature can make breathing shallow, reversed, or at best uncoordinated. These breathing blocks can be remedied. It requires time, attention and expertise. Spanking locked up my breathing for about 40 years.
Screaming and finding no solace, crying and feeling nothing but futility, humiliation, and degradation, often create irregular breathing patterns (breathing blocks). Unless we do something to eliminate them, they will stay with us for life.
Amicus Press is a valuable resource for child protection professionals as well as those in other disciplines who seek to protect children assigned to their care.