Preventing Teen and Pre-Teen Suicide

The band “Rockers Behind the Bridge” performs at Suicide Prevention Month event (2015), Washington DC, Author US Customs and Border Protection (PD-fed. govt.)

After 7 students committed suicide, the Mesa Valley School District in Colorado briefly took 13 Reasons Why — the book on which the Netflix series by the same name is based — out of circulation [1].  The ban lasted no more than a few hours.

Other school districts have made the book mandatory summer reading.

Romanticizing Suicide

13 Reasons Why is a work of fiction in which a high school girl kills herself, leaving behind tapes to be played after her death.  Critics of the book – myself included – view it as romanticizing suicide, without providing young readers an alternative perspective.

A Daily Assault

Our children are daily assaulted by a culture that lionizes physical appearance, popularity/fame, athletic ability, wealth, and conformity.

Most do not meet the requisite criteria, in one way or another.  Those who do not may be excluded from normal activities, made the butt of jokes, taunted, intimidated, told that they are worthless, and urged to commit suicide [2].

Some 4400 will take their own lives [3][4].  Suicide is, in fact, the third leading cause of death among young people.  Over 5000 middle and high school students in the United States attempt suicide daily.  Over 14% of high school students admit to having considered it.

As parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and mentors of every sort, it is up to us to equip our children to deal with this barrage of insults, lies, and pain.

Reasons Not to Commit Suicide

The website Notes from the Recovering Self-Harmer provides a list of 40 reasons not to commit suicide [5].  Among them are the fact that suicide is final, the hope that things will get better, music, smiles, laughter, chocolate, and sunrises.

More even than these, the love of family, friends, and – above all else – God should anchor us.  But not all children have those to rely on.  When there is abuse (emotional/physical/sexual) or neglect in the home, the image of God can be greatly distorted. Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under bullying, Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

Everyday Evil

Internet user on a cell phone, Author Raidarmax (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

A young teacher traveling on Southwest Airlines caught sight of disturbing texts by the passenger seated ahead of her on the plane.  Michael Kellar was casually planning with Gail Burnworth to molest two children [1].

Thinking quickly, the unnamed teacher took cell phone photos of the texts.  She then informed the flight crew.

Kellar was arrested in San Jose, CA after the plane touched down; Burnworth was later arrested in Tacoma, WA.  Kellar maintained that he had merely been fantasizing.  His texts, however, revealed the truth.

Kellar is 56 y.o. and Burnworth 50 y.o.  The children they were planning to molest are 5 y.o. and 7 y.o.  Both children were rescued by law enforcement.  Evidently, Burnworth had been babysitting them.

“Folks that are doing these sort of things are literally all around us.  We don’t know who they are…They need to be punished and they need to be kept away from kids.”

-San Jose Police Sgt. Brian Spears, Q13 Fox TV [2]

Evil can be found everywhere.  Many make it part of their everyday lives.  We must remain alert to its presence, and protect ourselves against evil, without surrendering our peace of mind.

That is a difficult task.  We can easily feel overwhelmed, and certainly discouraged.  It often appears that evil is winning the day.

But God will not allow that.  He remains in charge, even when all hope is lost.  The battle between good and evil rages.  However, the war has been won.  It was won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Be sure of this:  the wicked will not go unpunished, but those that are righteous will go free (Prov. 11: 21).

[1]  ABC News, “Man arrested after Southwest passenger says she saw him texting ‘molesting children’ police say” by Julia Jacobo and Alex Stone, 8/3/17, http://abcnews.go.com/US/man-arrested-southwest-passenger-texting-molesting-children-police/story?id=49020167.

[2]  Washington Post, “An alert airline passenger exposed a suspected child predator after glancing at his texts” by Kyle Swenson, 8/4/17, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/04/an-alert-airline-passenger-exposed-a-suspected-child-sex-predator-after-glancing-at-his-text-messages/.

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: https://alawyersprayers.com

16 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

When Mr. Right Is Mr. Wrong

Monument to Cervantes (statues of Don Quixote and his companion Sancho Panza) by Lorenzo Valera (1930), Madrid, Spain, Author/Source Luis Garcia (“Zaqarbal”) (PD)

“He thought that every windmill was a giant.  That’s insane.  But, thinking that they might be… Well, all the best minds used to think the world was flat.  But, what if it isn’t?  It might be round.”

They Might Be Giants, lead character commenting on Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes in his great classic Don Quixote celebrates the individual, and the unique vision that can see beyond the limitations of this material world.

We get the phrase “tilting at windmills” (pointlessly assailing imagined foes) from the scene where Don Quixote – an elderly gentleman who believes he has become a knight – mistakes certain windmills for giants.

On the page, this is laudatory.  We are elevated by the call to idealism.  But in practice – especially where love and romance are concerned – this approach has serious flaws.  In fact, it can be downright dangerous for abuse victims.

Fixing Mr. Right

We meet someone.  We like his appearance or his sense of humor [1].  Whatever the attraction, whether he is a loner or the center of attention, we find ourselves drawn to him.  At long last, we have found Mr. Right.

We may, on some level, notice in the early stages of romance that there are problems in store.  But we dismiss those.  So he drinks a little.  OK, more than a little.  We tell ourselves he has his reasons.  We are sure we can “fix” him.

In reality, the problems may be precisely what we find appealing.  Reminiscent of problems in our family of origin, they feel “familiar” – as if we had met this man before.  We convince ourselves that fate has selected him for us.

We determine to defend him against the world.

If Only

What women often see in their beloved is the man he might be.  We fall so deeply in love with that man the thought of leaving him, of abandoning our dreams (especially dreams in which we have invested precious years of our lives), is unbearable. Continue reading

26 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

Paralysis – Frozen by Fear, Part 2

“Courage, Anxiety, and Despair: Watching the Battle” by James Sant (c. 1850), Author Christie’s Auction House (Lot No. 5563227)(PD-Art l Old-100)

As abuse victims mature, we develop emotionally and intellectually, in the process acquiring new coping skills.  However, situations which call up the past for us, can still trigger the freeze response.

We may not be aware why this feels like familiar ground; may not be able to identify the similarity to prior events.  Triggers can be as subtle as an aroma, or the play of light on the water at a certain time of day.

Subtlety does not though make triggers absurd.  We have simply lost their original meaning.  It is deeply buried in our past.

Dealing with the Freeze Response

There are strategies victims can use to deal with anxiety and the freeze response [1].  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Distraction

Overthinking any problem will only increase the anxiety associated with it.  Distraction can provide temporary relief.  Options might include a good book, compelling movie, or engaging video game.  Online shopping, if to excess, is likely to cause problems of its own.

2. Physical Activity and Sensory Assault

Physical activity can interrupt the feedback loop of paralyzing anxiety.  For abuse victims in good condition, vigorous exercise like running, spin class, or racquetball can be helpful.

Some people find that several minutes of blaring music or other noise will bring them relief.  Applying ice water to the face, or drinking something vile-tasting can, also, work.  Alcohol is not recommended for this.

3. Opposite Action

This requires doing the very thing we fear, for a short period of time.  It is one of the techniques taught by Dialectical Behavior Therapy [2][3].  Even “pushing through” for a single minute is a start. Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

Paralysis – Frozen by Fear, Part 1

Tiny mouse frozen in fear, Author Madhur D’silva (PD)

Abuse victims can experience anxiety so severe we are literally paralyzed with fear.  Berating ourselves for lack of nerve, for cowardice, for weakness and – worse yet – a lack of faith does little or no good.

That the situations which cause us such extreme anxiety do not always, on their surface, appear threatening only makes matters worse.  We can add to our list of faults childishness and irrationality.

None of this criticism is justified.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Most of us are familiar with the “fight or flight” response.

The body responds to perceived danger by preparing either to fight or flee.  The nervous system releases adrenaline and norepinephrine, increasing brain activity, blood sugar level, heart output, and blood flow to the muscles.  This response is automatic.  It is not under our volition.

Science has learned that freezing behavior is an aspect of the fight or flight response [1].  It is not uncommon for defenseless prey animals to freeze in place, when a predator is nearby.  Some may feign death, in a last-ditch effort to stop an attack.

Specific areas in the brain (the amygdala and hyppocampus) control freezing behavior.  Freezing is characterized by immobility, and measurable changes in blood pressure and heart rate.  It may, also, involve shortness of breath, perspiration, and/or a sensation of choking.

Trauma and the Freeze Response

I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear” (Ps. 143: 4 NLT).

Human beings rely on freezing when the threat facing them is overwhelming, but it is clear they cannot escape.  This assessment is, for all practical purposes, unconscious; arrived at in a matter of milliseconds.  Freezing behavior is the result.

A form of dissociation, freezing acts to numb us against the horrors about to be inflicted on us.

Children are, by nature, vulnerable.  They have few, if any, defenses.  Freezing behavior may well be their only recourse.

For the freeze response to “thaw”, the perceived danger must pass.  However, in situations of chronic abuse, the danger is real and unrelenting.  The child is not afforded an opportunity to decompress, to let his/her guard down.

And the victim who freezes as a child is more likely to freeze as an adult.

“…such ‘paralyzing’ psychological phenomena as phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and various anxiety states can frequently be understood as symptoms of a freeze response that never had the chance to ‘let go’ or ‘thaw out’ once the original experience was over.  And many features of post-traumatic stress disorder directly relate to this kind of unrectified trauma.”

-Leon Seltzer, PhD

[1]  Psychology Today, “Trauma and the Freeze Response:  Good, Bad, or Both?” by Leon Seltzer, PhD, 7/8/15, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201507/trauma-and-the-freeze-response-good-bad-or-both.

Strategies for coping with anxiety and the freeze response will be addressed next week in Part 2

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

17 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

Negative

Photographic negative of London’s “Big Ben” (picture taken from a bus), Author Diane from Chicago suburb, Source flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

Photos used to come with negatives when I was a girl.  These were reverse images on strips of plastic film, with light areas appearing dark, dark areas appearing light, and colors reversed.

We would sort through our photos for the best, then resubmit the corresponding negatives for processing, so that copies and enlargements could be made from them.

Instead of storing images as patterns of darkness and light, today’s digital cameras store images as long strings of numbers.  Film isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary.  But negatives have something to teach us.

Hard on Ourselves

As abuse victims, we find it easy to be hard on ourselves.  It’s second nature to us – as if we were specially trained to see only the negative aspects of our lives.  And, of course, we were.

We question our every action, criticize our every decision – past, present, and future:

  • Why couldn’t we have avoided the situations in which abuse occurred or have prevented it outright? As if children had such options…or such power.
  • Why did it take us so long to figure things out? As if abuse weren’t incomprehensible to children, and understanding proceeded according to a set timetable.
  • Why do we keep making the same mistakes? As if abuse had not impacted us at a formative stage in our lives.
  • How will we ever leave our abusers, support ourselves, succeed at work or school? As if we were “damaged goods” for having survived an unbearable ordeal.

This ongoing critique should not be confused with a genuine effort to improve our character or atone for some sin [1].  It originated as an attack by our abusers on who we are, an attack on our very being.

Judgment Passed

Judgment has already been passed against us by our abusers.  We are simply carrying out their sentence – lifelong punishment for the failure to meet insane expectations, for the unpardonable “sin” of intruding on their lives.

But judgment was passed without any real evidence. Continue reading

25 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

Extra! Extra!

First page of Book of John, part of illuminated manuscript known as Athelstan Gospels (late 9th or early 10th Century), British Library (Cotton MS Tiberius A.ii) (PD)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

The news comes crashing toward us at the speed of light these days.  We cope with it as best we can – ignoring some things, shrugging off others, arguing over (or worrying about) those that strike closest to home.

We can at times be grieved by the news, even wounded by it.  More often, in self-defense, we develop calluses.  Occasionally, we dare to hope.

  • Catholic Church Sex Scandal.   Catholic Cardinal, George Pell, the third highest ranking official at the Vatican, has been charged with multiple sexual offenses by Australia [1].  These involve more than one individual, and are believed to extend back decades.  Pell will be returning to Australia to mount a defense.
  • Mother’s Boyfriend a Threat.  Michael McCarthy, convicted of second-degree murder in the 2015 killing of his girlfriend’s two year old daughter, has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a Massachusetts court [2].  Evidently, Bella was killed because she did not want to go to bed.  Testimony indicated she had been harshly punished before.  Both McCarthy and Rachel Bond, the girl’s mother, were heroin addicts at the time.  McCarthy will be eligible for parole in 20 years.
  • Opioid Epidemic and Child Abuse/Neglect.   Tragically, incidents of this kind are becoming all too common.  The nation’s opioid epidemic is having a direct impact on children.
    • In urban areas, the number of infants born drug-dependent quadrupled between 2004-2013 [3A]. In rural areas, that number increased by a factor of seven, stretching limited hospital and medical resources to the breaking point [3B].
    • As might be expected, the children of addicts are entering foster care at an alarming rate [4].  Often these children live in deplorable conditions for an extended period before the system takes notice.  Trash and vermin, illicit drugs, and drug paraphernalia fill the home.  Milk and food are absent.
  • Preventing Hot Car Deaths. Meanwhile, Bishop Curry, an 11 year old Texas boy, has invented a device that may aid in preventing the deaths of children left unattended in a vehicle [5].  When the “Oasis” detects a child inside a vehicle alone, it texts parents and police while blowing cold air until assistance arrives.  Toyota is exploring the possibilities.

Continue reading

19 Comments

Filed under Abuse of Power, Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Justice, Law, Neglect, Physical Abuse

Of Ogres and Onions, Part 2

“Still Life in White” by Antonio Sicurezza (1972), (PD)

Self-hatred is not productive in the pursuit of change.  Self-forgiveness (as hard for abuse victims to accept as moderation) actually shortens the recovery time from what we may view as “failures” and backsliding.

But self-forgiveness is not a skill abuse victims are taught as children.  We must acquire it on our own.

Here are a few suggestions [1][2][3]:

  1.  Define the infraction, and identify the injured party.

In the context of attempts to move beyond our abusive past, victims are, for the most part, the injured parties [4].  We fail ourselves, and experience overwhelming shame.

The inner dialog goes something like this:

“How stupid of me not to speak up.  That saleswoman must have thought I was an idiot.  I’m sure she could tell I didn’t want the sweater.  I already have a nice sweater.   Besides, the new one is hideous.  If I wasn’t able to speak up in a department store, how am I ever going to speak up in class?  It’s too late for me anyhow.  It was ridiculous to think I could go back to school at my age.”

  2.  Put things in perspective.

Have you started World War III?  No.  Have you abused any children?  Again, the answer is no.  You have bought a sweater which can be returned, given as a gift, worn to an “ugly sweater” party, donated, or discarded outright.

  3.  Tease out the negative feelings.

You have, in a single instance, been less assertive than desired.  That can be remedied the next time.  You can visualize returning the sweater; can even memorize and practice a script.  You can buy sweaters to your heart’s content, and return them all.

And if a saleswoman is unimpressed with your taste, your demeanor, or your credit, what on earth does it matter?  The episode has nothing do with your school performance.  You simply projected your fears forward.

  4.  Be kind to yourself.

Ask yourself whether you would hold anyone else to the high standards you hold yourself, or criticize anyone else as harshly.  Chances are you are kinder to others than to yourself.

If you don’t feel “deserving” of kindness, try it anyway.  Encouragement produces far better results with abuse victims than rebuke. Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

Of Ogres and Onions, Part 1

“The Cat Facing the Ogre”, illustration from Puss in Boots, based on a drawing by Walter Crane (PD-Art l Old-100)

“Ogres are like onions…Onions have layers.  Ogres have layers.”

Shrek, DreamWorks

Almost any American parent will recognize the quote (above).  It is from a conversation between the main character and his donkey sidekick in the children’s film Shrek.  The statement is meant to convey the complexity of ogres.

Change

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate” (Rom. 7: 15 NLT).

Change – especially change for the better – is difficult for human beings.  Even the Apostle Paul complained of this.

The problem is not weakness of character.  It is our flawed nature, and the very complexity with which God made us (Ps. 139: 14) [1].  Nearly all our actions have multiple layers of causation and meaning (many of these unconscious).

What this implies for abuse victims is that a single psychological insight on our part is not likely to be support an overnight transformation.

That is not to say insights are insignificant.  Even when painful, they give us better understanding of (and better control over) our lives.  As important, insights are cumulative.  If we are patient and persistent, change will come.

Expectations

Our expectations for ourselves must, however, be realistic.  Even those who were never abused encounter challenges in life, and problems achieving their goals.  It is the human condition in a flawed world.  Weight loss programs and gyms have made millions off that fact.

We must not measure ourselves against a behavioral ideal that may be impossible for anyone to attain, abused or not. Continue reading

23 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

Discarded

Celtic cross, Inisheer, Aran Islands, Ireland, Author Mith (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory” (1 Cor. 15: 43).

A mass grave has come to light in picturesque Galway, Ireland.  This grave was not, however, left by Bronze Age warriors or Celtic chieftains.

Containing the skeletal remains of over 750 children, this grave was left by a group of Catholic nuns who operated a home for unwed mothers in the town of Tuam from 1925 – 1961 [1].

The children buried here are thought to have ranged in age from 35 fetal weeks to 2-3 years.  They had been in the care of the Bon Secours (French for “good help”).  If the little ones perished, their bodies were placed in an abandoned sewer system to save on the cost of a coffin.  No solemnities.  No markers.

The story was not entirely unknown.  In the 1970s, some children playing where the home had stood were shocked to find human bones inside an old septic tank.  The presence of these bones was reported to the local church.

A priest advised that the site was likely a mass grave dating from the 19th Century potato famine.  Prayers were said.  The septic tank – and the truth – were covered up again.  Residents on their own erected a small shrine.

It was an amateur historian, Catherine Corless, who discovered that only two of the children who died at the unwed mothers home were ever buried in consecrated ground.  Those two were orphans.  The rest were illegitimate, born out of wedlock.

Clearly, both church and lay authorities had to be aware of the practice of discarding the remains of illegitimate children.  Death certificates were filed.  Yet no undertaker buried the child of an unwed mother in over 30 years’ time.  The bodies of hundreds of children simply vanished.

Corless repeatedly met obstacles in her search for the truth.  However, she persevered.  The Irish government has launched an investigation.

Thus far, there has been no assertion of infanticide by the Bon Secours.  One can only hope.

[1]  Daily Beast, “The Amateur Historian Who Uncovered Ireland’s Mass Grave of Babies” by Tom Sykes, 3/4/17, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/03/04/the-amateur-historian-who-uncovered-ireland-s-mass-grave-of-babies.html.

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

12 Comments

Filed under Abuse of Power, Christianity, Religion