WARNING: Graphic Images
“And Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear!’ ” (Gen. 4: 13).
Though there are some hideous punishments inflicted on children, I will not be focusing on those here. I want instead to talk about the punishment we inflict on ourselves. The two are linked.
As abuse victims, we come to believe ourselves deficient, sinful, unworthy of love.
We may be told this directly by curses, blows, and cigarette burns, or indirectly by food, warmth, and shelter denied; by affection, comfort, and encouragement withheld; by the absence of laughter, except at our expense; by the absence of protection from sexual predation; and, above all, by the absence of hope.
Whatever the details in our case, we come to see ourselves as guilty. We may not be able to name the sins we committed to “deserve” our abuse. But we are certain of our guilt.
It is as if we bear the mark of Cain without ever having committed the crime.
Punishment and Deprivation
“My soul has been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is” (Lam. 3: 17).
Those of us who were deprived of the basic necessities as children may deprive ourselves the same way as adults.
We cannot keep the refrigerator full or the pantry stocked. We have difficulty using the new sheets, and may prefer sleeping on the couch or floor. We resist purchasing a favorite food or appealing item of clothing for ourselves. We take time off from work only reluctantly for a vacation.
Collateral to this, abuse victims who were physically and/or emotionally starved may hide food (or money and valuables) in secret spots around the house or yard.
While it may be painful to us, none of this behavior is a sign of “insanity” on our part. It is simply a residual scar of the abuse inflicted on us, the rational response to irrational circumstances.
Punishment and Numbness
“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead…” (Lev. 19: 28).
Sadly, abuse victims may go to further extremes and use self-harm (“cutting”) to overcome a sense of numbness or emotional deadening, in the aftermath of abuse. Some victims, also, cut in an attempt to cope with powerful emotions like loneliness, emptiness, rejection, sorrow, and rage.
For yet other victims, the pain is so great they will do anything to block it out – even if that means destroying themselves, in the process. This is where illegal drugs come into the picture.
Drugs at best provide temporary anesthesia. Abuse victims quite literally lose themselves, albeit at the risk of their lives. Since victims already feel worthless, that can seem like a fair trade.
This series will conclude next week with “Punishing Ourselves, Part 2 – Emotional Hunger”
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