Why do so many young teenagers binge drink? What causes people to get hooked on drugs? Why do violent crimes continue to escalate despite introducing tougher laws and longer sentences? Why is depression one of our major health problems worldwide? Why have drugs and child pornography become multi-billion-dollar industries worldwide? Why do so many relationships fall apart?
In 1979 I picked up a Fitzroy Community School flyer unaware that the following words would change the whole course of my life.
We devote a lot of time to adult policies, trying to make a better world. But every reform is frustrated or perverted. The quality of life is not improved, because the people are the same.
What changes people?
Well any one adult can recuperate from his childhood if he is dedicated to go through sufficient personal torment. But the population will generally behave according to their upbringing. The greatest power over human life is parent power. How you raise a person has a more potent effect on their ability to achieve happiness than any other influence or circumstance.
At this time I was a trained teacher and a full-time mother of two young children, who were my greatest joy. However I was aware that I wasn’t fully available to them because I was stuck in grief that had its roots embedded in my own childhood. It was a grief that took me on a slow descent into depression, smothering my normal bubbly personality.
Over the ensuing years, painting, writing and seeing the child I had been through my own daughter, helped me unlock the secrets from the past as I plunged headlong into the ‘personal torment’ of my childhood to find the cause of my grief and depression.
When I was growing up the motto in my family was, “Children should be seen but not heard.” Thankfully the adult I became sensed the need to learn to listen to what the child of my past had to tell me. And while the story she told eventually destroyed the foundations upon which my life was built, over time I was set free of the grief, depression, and underlying rage that was locked inside her through forced silence. From the time I picked up the flyer at the conference in Melbourne to the time I actually felt ‘whole’ inside, twenty-nine years had passed. Now in my sixties, I have at last begun a new journey to reclaim my ‘lost’ life. Personally, and in economic terms, the cost has been huge.
Child abuse creates shame, which in turn creates self-hate, and which in turn creates a poverty of spirit when anger is turned inward, manifesting as material poverty, broken relationships, or numerous health problems. When anger is turned outward, it can manifest as greed, avarice, violence, rape (of people, countries and resources), war and a broken relationship with our planet – out-pictured as the dis-ease of pollution and climate change. But will we connect the dots? And what will it take before people can commit themselves to saving our planet by changing the way they parent both themselves and their children?
In answer to the Queen’s question about how everyone missed the sub-prime mortgage loans since they were so large, Alan Beattie, the Financial Times world trade editor replied, “Why didn’t people see it coming? Some did, ma’am. Some did. But it doesn’t mean they were listened to.” (NZ Listener, Nov29-Dec05, 2008)
Neither was Al Gore listened to when he tried to elevate the importance of the environmental crisis as a political issue during his 1987 presidential campaign. The columnist George Will wrote that the “issues such as the ‘greenhouse effect’ and the thinning ozone” were “in the eyes of the electorate, not even peripheral” (Al Gore, Earth in the Balance).
Now, twenty-two years later, more than 2500 leading environmental experts attending an emergency March, 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen have issued a dire warning to politicians that unless they take decisive action soon, “dangerous climate change” is not only imminent, but will result in the planet becoming unrecognizable and, in some places, impossible to live. The result, they said, would be decades of social unrest and war.
Voracious greed rapes the planet’s resources with impunity, and millions of people and their country’s resources are exploited for huge financial gains on a scale we have never before seen. It underlies the financial and environmental bankruptcy we face. If we all had love in our hearts and respect for each other and the amazing planet on which we all live, could we ever allow this to happen?
The answer, stark and simply is, no.
Today too many children are born into such violent or emotionally and physically neglectful environments, that the innocent and beautiful unconditional love they so freely give, withers to become like a vestigial organ. When we abuse our children, where can they find love? And who is going to show them how they can learn to love themselves? A frightening truth confronts us on every level if we could but open our eyes to see: when children are raised within an emotional wasteland within their homes, invariably they learn to hate themselves…and others. This is an underlying cause of the extensive bullying many children experience in schools and the spreading cancer of criminal violence within our communities. If our educational institutions taught us to think and apply the math we learned to everyday life, we would discover a direct correlation between violence in the home, bullying at school and in the workplace, and violence within the community. There is also a direct correlation between violence and a community-wide breakdown in mental and physical health.
Al Gore states in italics in his book, Earth in the Balance, that “the worst of all forms of pollution is wasted lives.”
Unspeakable violence that spans all socioeconomic groups and pervades our homes, schools, workplaces and communities has created a silent epidemic that causes the wasting away of millions of lives. The name of this silent epidemic is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research now shows that its main victims are not battle-torn soldiers returning from war, but women and children caught in a different war zone – one that most take for granted as a safe haven from the violence and other problems of the world: the home.
In Britain, Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, awarded two Victoria Crosses for twice saving the lives of fellow soldiers while under heavy rocket fire, has stood up to make the government aware that the thousands of servicemen and women suffering combat stress, depression and mental breakdowns after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, need help.
High-profile commanders now support his stand with the stark message: “If the Government continues to desert the veterans who risked their lives in combat by failing to provide adequate mental health care, the country will face a timebomb of men and women with acute social and psychological problems.” (Independent, March 07, 2009.) What we don’t realise is that the time bomb began exploding after the First World War, during which millions of men were so traumatised in battle that it became known as the Unspeakable War. Because it was ‘unspeakable’, they locked within them the secrets of their suffering. Then, as we see now with Iraqi War veterans returning home to their families, their trauma either exploded violently within the family home, or their secrets silenced them into becoming ‘absent’ fathers and husbands.
There are no winners in war, for the after effect of its acute violence is brought back into our homes where it then spreads outwards like a ripple effect into our communities. Violence and lack of love creates an inner emptiness that needs to be filled. We become voracious consumers of the earth’s resources. Unchecked, in time we will ‘bankrupt’ our planet by turning it into a wasteland. While we are alarmed at what is presently happening in our global economies, it is but a relatively small symptom of a far greater, more worrisome and frightening cause.
But will we listen and go into action to halt the soul destruction of millions before we reach the point of no return?
No longer can we continue to build more prisons as a deterrent to the escalating violent crime in our communities while ignoring its breeding ground. Neither can we afford to make scapegoats out of certain sections of the community, for violence breeds across all socio-economic groups behind closed doors where the souls of children are murdered by emotional abuse and neglect as well as mental, sexual and physical abuse and neglect. In short, any environment where there is no love and caring, becomes a potential breeding ground for violence.
I am but one voice. There are millions like me whose lives have been bankrupted on every level by violence within their childhood homes and against their minds and bodies.
In 1978 Brian Donnelly wrote in Big Boys Don’t Cry that much of the violence in society stems from “childhood rejection, an inability to handle conflict, and communication inadequacies, and it is closely related to lack of affection.” Dr. Bruce Perry’s extensive research shows that “neglect, chaos and trauma can create impulsive, aggressive, remorseless and anti-social individuals.” Andrew Vachss, in his ongoing work representing and defending abused children in the United States works tirelessly to make us aware that “abused children who survive their torture are the potential recruits for an ever-growing army of predatory criminals.”
If it wasn’t for the help of a few special friends and my own determination to keep walking through what seemed like the ‘fires of hell’ into my past, I would never have integrated the trauma I experienced as a child. If I hadn’t read the flyer back in 1979, I would have had no idea what was happening or where I was going, or that a journey such as this would be necessary for me to regain my mental health and change the way I viewed people, life and the world. It is likely I would have fallen victim to despair within endless depression, or ended my life to escape the pain of a split and fragmented mind.
However, the journey is not yet over, for a new one is beginning. Although I have come through years of struggle with PTSD, aware its symptoms may never fully remit and a huge debt to repay that financed my recovery, I realise that I am one of the lucky few to get through this without succumbing to drug and alcohol abuse or addiction as a form of self-medication or a way to escape despair and self-hate, and that it is now up to me to tell my story and the stories of others in the hope that more people will listen and go into action to prevent the “worst of all forms of pollution”: wasted lives.
The world is in desperate need of parent education and interventions where abused and unwanted children and adults alike, can experience their own self-worth by becoming ‘whole’ again. Together we can work to recreate inner wealth within broken lives, knowing that inner wealth manifests as external wealth that works for the good of us all…and our planet.