Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sometimes, I Guess There Just Aren’t Enough Rocks… The Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect

Sometimes, I Guess There Just Aren’t Enough Rocks…
The Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect

On of my favorite movie scenes of all time is right here:

It is a scene from Forrest Gump (see references below) in which Jenny, Forrest’s friend since grade school, sees the house in which she grew up. She sees the house in which she was hurt and abused. She is transfixed and walks toward the house. Forrest watches as she throws rock after rock at the house until she falls to the ground defeated. In the narration, Forrest says, “Sometimes, I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

I have found that to be true. I spent many years throwing rocks, angry, hurt, wanting somehow for the math to work out. I wanted all of the real and imagined hurts of my young life to be matched by validation and – not really revenge- but justice.

I am thankful I chose to be psychologist rather than a lawyer (a big decision I grappled with in my 20s). We need lawyers and it is an honorable profession, but I was seeking justice in a way that would not have served anyone. Instead, I went into psychology and worked toward understanding.

It seems that no matter how much you understand (like throwing rocks) there is a process of moving through anger and hurt that also transcends understanding. Anger and hurt must be lived, felt, and released.

I have found that it is not mathematical in a way that we can ever concretely see. Maybe cosmically, but I think Forrest was right- there will never be enough rocks.

Zuri's Story

Zuri has been hurt- over and over. It happened again today. She and Eric had “the conversation” with their mom. They confronted her about her drinking, substance abuse, and her gambling. They confronted her about leaving them for days on end and for not stocking the fridge. They told her that it was not okay that they had to struggle to find food and rely on the church and neighbors to eat.

It wasn’t going well. Sherece (their mom) was defensive and angry. Eric became so frustrated that he went upstairs to his room and turned up his music. Zuri was thankful that he did not leave he house. He kept his word. Still, he left Zuri alone with her mom. Her mom had begun to spiral out of control. Zuri felt it.

After having been confronted with all of the truth- alcoholism and addiction—Sherece was at first catatonic- frozen and non-responsive. The she began to grumble. Her grumbling became increasingly louder until she was yelling (that is when Eric went to his room). She began pacing. She began to speak saying really mean things to Zuri.

She yelled that Zuri thought she was all that. She screamed that Zuri thought she was so smart and so much better than everyone else. She  shouted (so loud the whole neighborhood could hear) that Zuri was just a Sl%^, and a little B*&^%. She kept yelling and kept getting meaner and meaner and louder and louder.

Zuri tried to be as small as she could. She sat in the chair and curled her legs up wrapping her arms around her knees. She sunk her chin into her knees until she could barely see her mother. This made her mother angrier.

“What, you scared now? Really? I am that bad? You so perfect? And I am that bad?”

Zuri shook her head no. “No mama, no.” She whispered.

Like a flash, Sherece was right in Zuri's face, her breath, her horrible stale wine and cigarette breath was in Zuri’s face. Zuri flinched. She tried not to, but she flinched.

Sherece saw this. As if she was swatting any shame away from her Teflon self, she hit Zuri across the face, fist closed. She hit Zuri so hard that that Zuri fell off of the chair to the floor.

Sherece yelled, “Look at what you make me do, you righteous b&**&%.” And she stormed out of the house.

Gone again.

Eric didn’t run down stairs fast enough. His music was too loud. He heard Zuri hit the floor and ran down to protect her. He was too late. He picked Zuri up. It looked like her nose might be broken. There was blood running down her face.

“Ah Zuri, I am so sorry. I did not know she was going to do that. I would have stayed but I was getting too mad. I was afraid I would leave the house or hit her. Sh*%, I think your nose is broken. We have to call 911.”

Zuri shrieked, “No! Eric! They will take us away. No. Don’t call. I am fine.” She wasn’t fine. I can see she is going to get at least one black eye. Sherece hit her hard.

They decided not to call. Eric got an old dishrag and ran warm water over it. He wiped her face clean. He took the rag outside and filled it with snow.  He put it on Zuri's nose, like ice. Thy never had real ice.

Rashan had been at a friend’s house and they would need to think of something to tell him. Zuri and Eric figured they tell him she was getting dinner ready and stood up fast and hit her nose on an open cupboard. They started making dinner together so the story would hold.

Zuri's mind was racing She was so angry but mostly hurt and confused. Maybe she did make her mom this way? Maybe she did seem righteous and judgmental. She was sometimes. She knew she was. She judged her mom. No, she was angry with her mom. What was she going to tell the teachers at school, the counselor, Miss Amanda the yoga teacher? They would all ask. Zuri would need to lie.

She began hitting the countertop. She pounded it hard with her fists. She started crying and sobbing, and yelling “I hate her. I hate her. I hate her.”

Eric tried to get her to stop. He grabbed her fists and Zuri tried to hit him away. He hugged her in close and she struggled. Finally, she fell into him crying.

She began to calm. Her mind thinking. She promised herself that she would never do this to her children, ever. She knew with all confidence that she would not because of the hard work she was doing with and through yoga. She had her journal, her practice, her teacher (Miss Amanda), and The Yoga Bag. She was aware of her feelings and able and willing to process them. She would not pass this hell down one more generation. As she cried on Eric’s shoulder, she cried of sadness and of great relief, relief that she knew better and she had tools.

It was going to be okay and she did not need any rocks. She just needed the tools she was learning and practicing.

The Process

All forms of child abuse have effects. See “Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood Maltreatment,” by Martin H. Teacher, M.D., Ph.D.; Jacqueline A. Samson, Ph.D.; Ann Polcari, R.N., C.S., Ph.D.; Cynthia E. McGreenery (Link to the article below).

Verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, they all harm.

They all have effects.

The children, the daughters and sons, such bright lights with the whole world ahead of them, experience not just the abuse but also the aftermath. They experience all of the feelings, the emotional and physical bruises, and the various wonderings about  “Why?”

For some, there is anger. There is the pounding of fists and the throwing of rocks. It can be hard to let go. If this is your path, the frustrating truth is, there just aren’t enough rocks.

Yoga gives us tools for coping with this anger. Yoga has been shown to improve mood and reduce anger and hostility  (e.g., see link and abstract below exploring yoga and effects on an inpatient sample

We don’t need rocks. The reason that there are not enough is that throwing rocks is not the most effective way to move through or beyond it. On the path of rock-throwing anger, you end up on the driveway, hands scratched from the rocks, feeling defeated.

There are these lessons:

1.     For all of those who have been hurt somehow by someone, it is our responsibility to learn effective ways to rise above and through what has happened.
2.     Being hurt is not permission to hurt. Losing control because you have not taken responsibility for managing your anger is not okay. Own it. Own what has happened and learn how to manage it.
3.     Being hurt is not permission to hurt yourself either. It just isn’t.
4.     Learn from your slips. Learn your triggers. Learn when to walk away and take a few minutes, or hours, or whatever it takes to settle yourself. Then, try again.
5.     Yoga is a practice that can help each of us face all of the stuff in our heads and bodies. You face it and manage it and move through it. In the asana and the meditation, you practice staring your whole self right in the eyes, right in the dark places. It is a wonderful, powerful practice that can help me and you be better, stronger, and more effective  people. Consider it.
6.     There won't be enough rocks, ever. And that is okay, we (me, you, and Zuri) don’t need them.

So what to do with all of those rocks? Here is an idea:




* Forrest Gump
1994 Film
This Academy Award winner for Best Picture stars Tom Hanks as the good hearted, but painfully slow Forrest Gump, a man who manages to somehow be involved with almost every major event in history during the last half of the 20th Century.

Release date: July 6, 1994 (USA)
Characters: Forrest Gump, Jenny Curran, and Lieutenant Dan Taylor
Awards: Academy Award for Best Picture,

* Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood Maltreatment By Martin H. Teicher, M.D., Ph.D.; Jacqueline A. Samson, Ph.D.; Ann Polcari, R.N., C.S., Ph.D.; Cynthia E. McGreenery. Am J Psychiatry 2006;163:993-1000. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.6.993

Objective: Childhood maltreatment is an important psychiatric risk factor. Research has focused primarily on the effects of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or witnessing domestic violence. Parental verbal aggression has received little attention as a specific form of abuse. This study was designed to delineate the impact of parental verbal aggression, witnessing domestic violence, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, by themselves and in combination, on psychiatric symptoms. Method: Symptoms and exposure ratings were collected from 554 subjects 18–22 years of age (68% female) who responded to advertisements. The Verbal Abuse Questionnaire was used to assess exposure to parental verbal aggression. Outcome measures included dissociation and symptoms of “limbic irritability,” depression, anxiety, and anger-hostility. Comparisons were made by using effect sizes. Results: Verbal aggression was associated with moderate to large effects, comparable to those associated with witnessing domestic violence or nonfamilial sexual abuse and larger than those associated with familial physical abuse. Exposure to multiple forms of maltreatment had an effect size that was often greater than the component sum. Combined exposure to verbal abuse and witnessing domestic violence had a greater negative effect on some measures than exposure to familial sexual abuse. Conclusions: Parental verbal aggression was a potent form of maltreatment. Exposure to multiple forms of abuse was associated with very large effect sizes. Most maltreated children had been exposed to multiple types of abuse, and the number of different types is a critically important factor.

* The Effects of Yoga on Mood in Psychiatric Inpatients.
Lavey, Roberta; Sherman, Tom; Mueser, Kim T.; Osborne, Donna D.; Currier, Melinda; Wolfe, Rosemarie
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, Vol 28(4), 2005, 399-402.
The effects of yoga on mood were examined in 113 psychiatric in patients at New Hampshire Hospital. Participants completed the Profile of Mood States (POMS) prior to and following participation in a yoga class. Analyses indicated that participants reported significant improvements on all five of the negative emotion factors on the POMS, including tension-anxiety, depression-dejection, anger-hostility, fatigue-inertia, and confusion-bewilderment. There was no significant change on the sixth POMS factor, vigor-activity. Improvements in mood were not related to gender or diagnosis. The results suggest that yoga was associated with improved mood, and may be a useful way of reducing stress during inpatient psychiatric treatment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)

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