In the previous piece we discovered that fear is the main effect of corporal punishment that all children experience despite the Bible clearly stating that fear is not from God. We also saw in the previous piece that “loving, godly” spankings are indeed harmful to children despite what many pro-spankers continue to claim. The research and numerous anecdotes (personal stories) show that hitting “in love,” and in the Name of God often has damaging effects on children even if they deny and repress these effects. In this piece we will be discussing an effect of “lovingly” spanking that has only recently come to my attention. Many people are unaware of the fact that “love” spankings causes sexual problems for children and adults as they seek to turn something painful and out of their control into something pleasant and somewhat controllable. This brief discussion may cause discomfort. We will also discuss how physical punishment often leads to depression, shame, and guilt as spanking never makes one feel good about oneself.
“Love” Spankings Continued—“Children are not sexual beings.”
Many people, in general, believe the above statement to be true. While children do not understand sexuality in the way that adults do, they have the ability at birth to become somewhat aroused and to feel pleasure. This is why young children very innocently explore their bodies during diaper changes and baths. This is a very normal and healthy part of the young child’s development. By the age of two, most young children are beginning to notice the differences between males and females and will ask questions out of pure curiosity. Simple, honest answers are all that young children want and need. While a child’s budding sexuality should be respected, their innocence and purity must be protected.
But does spanking respect and protect them in this vulnerable area of their development? It does not appear to as research shows that spanking “in love” can cause children to become sadomasochistic as they grow up. Here is the definition of sadomasochism from dictionary.com:
“1. interaction, especially sexual activity, in which one person enjoys inflicting physical or mental suffering on another person, who derives pleasure from experiencing pain.
2. gratification, especially sexual, gained through inflicting or receiving pain; sadism and masochism combined” (www.dictionary.com).
While I am no human sexuality expert, knowing what I do know about how young children learn and process information with their constantly developing young brains, I can see why this is a very real effect of physical punishment for many children. Also, if we need further proof of this effect, all we have to do is type “spanking” into Google without specifying children in the query and a whole slough of pornographic sites and images pop up portraying lovers spanking each other. Getting back to how young children learn and process things, everything a child experiences is a learning experience for him/her. They must act on things or experience them to completely understand a concept. If the concept is not made real and concrete to the child, he/she will not truly understand it despite the ability to rattle off memorized rote facts. The facts are virtually meaningless to the young child without the ability to somehow see, hear, smell, taste, or touch what the child is learning. As I point out throughout all of my series, parents tell the child that they love the child before and after the spanking if they are truly committed to spanking the child the “correct, loving” way. Therefore, from infancy and/or toddlerhood, the child begins to equate pain with love. This, as we will see, can cause the brain to develop in such a way that it can no longer separate feelings of pain and pleasure. John William Money, a psychologist, sexologist, and author, studied how lovemaps are formed. Lovemaps are how the brain determines what is sexually pleasurable (Straus, 2006). “Money argues that because the centers of the brain that process feelings of sexual arousal and feelings of pain are in such close proximity, when they are stimulated simultaneously many times over a long period of time, the brain can no longer separate the two. So feelings of sexual arousal and pain become forever woven together. This fusion is especially likely because the most common age for spanking is two to six, which substantially overlaps the age that Money regards as most vulnerable for lovemap vandalism” (Straus, 2006, p. 124-125).
We will return to how physical punishment often affects brain development, but I want to explain that young children crave some control over their lives. This is developmentally appropriate, and young children should be given an appropriate amount of control when possible—not too much, as it will overwhelm them—but not too little or they will do everything in their power to gain control even if it is only mentally. So, as children continue to learn that physical punishment is done by their parents out of “love” for them, children may begin to use their often-vivid imaginations to turn something that is painful and scary into something pleasurable as well as something that they can control. What many parents and advocates of spanking fail to realize or acknowledge is that the buttocks are connected to the genitals—physically and mentally. The buttocks contain many highly sensitive nerve endings, which is precisely why advocates of spanking advise parents to spank their children on the bare bottom in order to cause the most pain to the child. Despite the pain that physical punishment causes children, because the buttocks are connected to the genitals, arousal can occur during the spanking. “Corporal punishment commonly focuses upon a child’s buttocks, the anal area in the back being the most frequently beaten part of the body. However, the anus, as Freud and many others have known, is one of the most erotic zones of the body, closely linked with the genitals and responsive to orgasms and erotic pleasures, a source of pleasure and pain for children and adults alike. The assault upon the buttocks thus becomes far more consequential than most of us ever recognize” (Greven, 1992, p. 184). This is quite true because, as with the other effects of physical punishment, children, adolescents, and adult children are not likely to tell their parents how spanking has affected them. This is especially true if the child winds up becoming a sadomasochist. What child discusses their sexual preferences with their parents even if they are normal, healthy preferences?
As I pointed out at the beginning of this section, many parents and advocates of spanking are either ignorant about or are in denial of children’s normal, healthy sexual development. By using physical punishment with their young children, parents may very well inadvertently force the re-wiring of their children’s brains. As Greven (1992) states:
“The absence of sexuality as always been one of the central illusions of advocates of corporal punishments for children. Most advocates of physical punishment appear oblivious to the sexuality of children at any age prior to puberty. Having spent many centuries denying or prohibiting all forms of sexual experience or expression in children, Christian advocates of corporal punishment generally overlook the dimension of children’s experience with punishment that subsequently transforms pain into pleasure: the erotic component of the assaults upon the buttocks and other parts of the body by people who say they love the child they are beating” (p. 183-184).
MC, who has been graciously telling me how being spanked by his Christian father throughout his childhood has affected him for the purpose of this series and book, struggles with sexual problems as a direct result of being “lovingly” spanked. In an electronic message dated September 29, 2011, MC conveyed the following to me:
“My full understanding and acknowledgment of this harm remained insidiously buried in my subconscious, until I began to come to awareness in my junior and senior years of college. Before my junior year, I still lived under the delusion that I was spanked and turned out fine. I also believed that if I wanted to be a Christian parent, in the future, I would have to Spank my children. To hold these delusions, I had to repress a lot of what I have now acknowledged as truth. The downfall of this repression occurred when I had the epiphany that spanking had always had an odd sexual meaning to me. From the time I was 5, I can remember playing with myself, while thinking about being spanked. When I was a teenager, I had always masturbated to thoughts about spanking, or being spanked. I used to seek out stimuli, to cater to this interest, through scenes of corporal punishment in books, movies, etc…. And yet it took me until college to come to the realization that corporal punishment had a sexual meaning to me. When I had this epiphany, I realized that I could never justify using corporal punishment on a child, when CP was a part of my sexual orientation.
This epiphany was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it led me to seek out research. It caused me to understand how my childhood experiences with CP distorted my sexual development, and it led me to become the staunch anti-spanking advocate that I am today. However, this also became a curse, because it threw into doubt my basic trust of anything that the church had ever taught me. I now knew that the church had lied to me. I discovered that their is no biblical basis for the corporal punishment of children, even though countless of adults, Sunday school teachers, AWANA leaders, and pastors had taught me that it was God’s will for parents to Spank their children. I realized that I had been mistreated with the church’s blessing, and that such mistreatment had violated my sexual development. Obviously, this infuriated me.”
MC isn’t the only one who struggles sexually as a direct result of receiving “love” spankings as children, Carol, whom we met at the end of Part 4 of this series also struggles with sadomasochistic tendencies.
“I tried so hard to be good. But sooner or later I always found myself face down across my mother’s lap getting yet another spanking. I just couldn’t control it – except in my fantasies. In fantasy I could make everything happen just so, as if it really were under my control. My mother’s preferred discipline method emotionally upset me so much that I sexualized it – everything about it: the kind of clothing she wore and I wore, the things she would say before and after my spanking, the position she put me in, on and on. Fantasy let me cope with my trauma and get a pretend feeling of control over something really out of my control. When I imagined myself as a naughty girl over her Mommy’s lap getting her bare little bottom spanked I pictured myself crying and begging the Mommy to stop. Yet it was my fantasy so really I had total control. And by eroticizing, I made something awful and frightening into something delightful and pleasant.
And it worked. Becoming a spankophile at an early age kept me from falling apart. It comforted me when nothing else could. It made me feel in control when I wasn’t. And it gave me a make-believe escape from something for which there was no true escape. (How do you escape when it’s your very own Mommy who is hurting you???) And now I am stuck with it for the rest of my life.
Parents who say, “it didn’t do me any harm so it can’t do my child any harm” just don’t get it. Everyone is different. My mother got spanked when she was little, and she carried on the same tradition with my sister and me. But my mother didn’t become a spankophile. And although my sister got the same kinds of punishments as I did – across the same lap and from the same palm – she didn’t become a spankophile either. But I did. There is no way you can tell beforehand which of your spanked children will have a guilty sexualized fixation for the rest of her life. So any parent who spanks their child is putting them at risk. Punishing your child with spankings is just like playing a lottery where if you “win” you mess up your kid for life. Most spanked kids don’t turn out as obsessed as me. But some of us do. And we aren’t rare. Growing up I knew two other little girls who both got spanked by their parents and who both loved to play House the same way I did: with play spankings, play spankings, and more play spankings all afternoon without ever getting bored. (At least two of us were strict disciplinarians of our dolls, too!) One girl would even get me to pretend to be her real life mother so we could re-enact actual episodes for which she had been disciplined in her home. For me to meet two others so like myself in this way would be almost impossible if kids like me were rare.
Now I am retired, unmarried, childless, on medication for depression. At a tender age I used my budding sexuality to cope with something I didn’t know how else to cope with. And it has left its mark on me forever. I’ve been paying the price all my life and I will never stop paying. I am unmarried because the circuits in my brain that should have been used for romance were vandalized by spankings instead. I am childless because I never married. So there is a direct link between my spankings, how I coped with them, and my being sexually abnormal, and hence never marrying and having any children of my own” (Neddermeyer, 2006, http://ezinearticles.com/?Loving-Spankings–Part-I&id=373269).
I get the same comments from pro-spankers insisting that spanking isn’t harmful because they don’t feel that they have experienced any of the harmful effects about which I have written. Sadly, these people have denied and repressed whatever effects they have experienced in order not to have to deal with their pain. (See Part 2 for more info). However, as I pointed out in Part 3 of this series, it is extremely egotistical to assume that all children come out undamaged after years of being physically punished. While not all children will become sadomasochistic, it is obvious that some do. While we never know which of these effects that I have discussed in this series will affect children and to what degree, it is obvious that all children are affected negatively by physical punishment.
We need to remember that God created each and every one of us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-15). He created our bodies to enjoy sex in the context of marriage between a husband and a wife. “’Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-6). Since God created our bodies to enjoy sex within the context of a loving marriage, shouldn’t we protect our children’s bodies from having a seed of sin planted in them from us “lovingly” inflicting pain on them in the name of “discipline?” If God created our bodies to develop how He intended over time, then He obviously knows what will harm or inhibit healthy growth and development. Therefore, God would never command us to beat our children with a rod that He knows will affect brain development and lead to sin. As Straus (2006) states, “Under average childhood conditions, the lovemap is heterosexual and relatively uncomplicated. But when lovemaps are ‘vandalized,’ the child comes to connect erotic arousal with acts that for most people have no sexual connotations” (p. 124). If we are honest, much of what many Christian advocates of spanking tell parents to do to their children would be highly frowned upon if the child was replaced by another adult. Do we really want to risk creating a seed in our children that may lead them to struggle with sin for the rest of their lives? Whether or not children develop this sadomasochistic tendency, many children who are spanked often deal with guilt, shame, and depression throughout their lives.
Guilt, Shame, and Depression—“Spanking relieves children of their guilt.”
Many Christian advocates claim that physical punishment is supposed to relieve children of their guilt from the sin that they committed. But this is often not the case. MC dealt with guilt and shame from his sexual struggles as a child, and the spankings he received only made him feel worse. MC conveyed to me in an electronic message dated September 29, 2011 the following:
“I experienced this difficulty most vividly between the ages of 11 to high school, when I felt constant shame and guilt over the natural act of masturbation. I felt like this was a horrible sin based on my father’s reaction when he barged into my room, without knocking, to catch my 11 year old self in the act. I had no knowledge about sex, and was absolutely terrified and shamed when my father blasted me in front of my mother. He accused me of being sexually active, a term I did not understand, and kept threatening to take me to the doctor to have me examined in order to see if I was guilty of what he was accusing me of. Therefore, every time I would masturbate I would be struck with this horrible sense of guilt and shame. I would get down on my knees, pray for forgiveness, and promise never to do it again. But, I broke all those promises every time I felt the natural urge. I could not accept any grace on this issue. I felt like I must not truly love God if I could not stop. I began to doubt whether I was saved, or whether I was elect ( a new theological concept that I was being introduced to in my High School). I kept expecting punishment. Every time I gave in I imagined that that was one more strike against me in God’s book, and that when I finally did meet God he was really going to let me have it.”
How sad that MC was never taught about God’s amazing grace and forgiveness as a child, and obviously did not feel a sense of relief from his guilt and shame through the spankings that he received. Is this relieving guilt through punishment even biblical? I have touched on this subject somewhat in my “Spanking is NOT God’s Will” series. Let’s delve a bit deeper into this subject now since shame, guilt, and depression are some of the main effects of physical punishment. Jesus Christ suffered and died for all of humanity’s sins—this was done for all ages and all groups of people—past, present, and future! Because of what Christ did for us on the cross, all that is required of us is that we come to Him and accept His gift of forgiveness and grace by repenting of our sins. He does not require us to be punished before we can be forgiven of all of our sins and alleviated from the guilt and shame our sins cause us. There is no condemnation in Christ. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Yet, we make children pay for their sins. When we hit children for their misbehavior, we are teaching them that they deserve to feel pain for their sin, and that they are unworthy of grace. After all, love never inflicts pain. The Bible is very clear about what love is and is not, and that God is love. (See Part 4 of this series for more info regarding love).
When children grow up believing that they deserve painful punishment for their sins, it makes it much more difficult for them to accept grace. Physical punishment does not teach children about the loving, gentle yet firm discipline that our Heavenly Father provides us. While none of us are worthy of the grace and forgiveness that God so freely gives us through Christ, there comes a point when children that are physically punished in Jesus’ Name feel so unworthy and unlovable that they reject God’s gift of salvation. They think things such as “How could God ever love me?” or “I am unforgivable by God.” It is true that God wants us to be humble (Psalm 147:6; Proverbs 3:34; Matthew 23:12), but He does not want us to feel bad about ourselves or feel worthless (Psalm 103:10-12). In fact, look what Jesus says as He prays to His Father in John 17:13, ““I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.’” He wants us to have His joy and have it to the fullest!
Despite what many Christian pro-spankers claim, physical punishment does not create joyful children and adults. It may seem to make children happy and cheerful but this is because the children have learned that they must always be happy and cheerful around their parents in order to avoid more physical punishment. It’s hard to believe that parents “slap their children silly,” but, sadly, they do. However, when given the opportunity to be honest about how being spanked truly makes them feel, children will testify that spanking makes them feel bad about themselves. Here are two testimonies from the wonderful book entitled This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You by Nadine A. Block and Madeleine Y. Gomez:
“Girl, Age 13, Ohio
I feel so stupid when I get spanked for things I forget are bad…When my mom hits me, I feel like running away, and I have often planned to run away” (Block & Gomez, 2011, p. 9).
“Boy, Age 16, Ohio
Why does he want to hit me? I never do anything bad…I work hard and study and have no friends…I stay out of his way…I feel real bad inside…” (Block & Gomez, 2011, p. 9).
The research backs up what these children are saying. Children that are spanked, even “lovingly,” have higher rates of depression. “Based on a sample of 649 students from 3 New England colleges, this study examined the long-term effects of childhood corporal punishment on symptoms of depression and considered factors that may moderate or mediate the association. Similar to national studies, approximately 40% of the sample reported experiencing some level of corporal punishment when they were 13 years old. Findings indicated that level of corporal punishment is positively related to depressive symptoms, independent of any history of abuse and the frequency of other forms of punishment” (Turner & Muller, 2004, http://jfi.sagepub.com/content/25/6/761.abstract). Another study conducted by The National Family Violence Survey shows a clear link between corporal punishment and depression. Here are the findings of this study:
“The National Family Violence Survey involved 6,002 adults respondents, including adults who were living with a spouse, living common law, or a single parent living with one or more children. They were asked the question: ‘Thinking about when you yourself were a teenager, about how often would you say your mother or stepmother used corporal punishment, like slapping or hitting you?’ A second question was asked concerning their father or stepfather. About half of the subjects reported memories of having been hit during adolescence. Respondents were asked five questions to find out if they had suffered sadness, depression, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, feelings that nothing was worthwhile, or suicidal thoughts during the past year.
For the men, [in the study], there is a clear tendency for depressive symptoms to increase with each increment of corporal punishment. For the women in the sample, the slope starts out even more steeply than for the men, but then declines for the highest categories of corporal punishment…the significant effect of corporal punishment occurs despite controlling for possible confounding with five other variables – SES, gender of the child, husband to wife violence, excessive drinking and witnessing violence between parents. The data showed that ‘with increasing amounts of corporal punishment [during teen years], …thinking about suicide [in adulthood] increased” (Robinson, 2009, http://www.religioustolerance.org/spankin5.htm).
Because of the ways in which young children learn and process things, even if parents are trying to focus on correcting behavior, when we physically punish young children, it is conveying to them that they are “bad” and deserve to be in pain. As I have pointed out so many times throughout all of my series, pain and fear inhibit a child’s learning process, so even if parents do tell the child what to do instead, it will not completely sink in. Plus, young children learn through repetition, so it is unrealistic to expect a child to remember what to do next time. Therefore, the message that young children hear repeatedly as they get spanked is a very negative message about who they are instead of about what they did. Young children are just gaining self-awareness, so being physically punished is an assault on their entire beings. They cannot separate their behavior from who they are. Because of this, young children often feel anger, confusion, and much anxiety from this assault done to them by people that that they love. When they display these negative feelings through crying too long or acting out, they usually get punished again. This teaches them to deny and/or repress their true feelings. But when anger and anxiety are not properly worked through, this can, and often does, lead to depression as the child grows and internalizes all of his/her negative feelings as well as the repetitive negative message he/she receives from his/her parents from being hit. This buried anger and anxiety causes one to become aggressive towards oneself by repeating the message, “I deserve pain because I’m bad and worthless.” This is so sad because the child grows up truly believing the age-old adage of so many pro-spankers, “I was spanked and I deserved it.” Greven (1992) states, “While the etiology undoubtedly is complex, punishment in childhood always has been one of the most powerful generators of depression in adulthood…depression often is a delayed response to the suppression of childhood anger that usually results from being physically hit and hurt in the act of discipline by adults whom the child loves and on whom he or she depends for nurturance and life itself” (p. 132). This is very sad since God has entrusted us to help His little ones grow up in His love, grace, and joy.
What is even more interesting considering that Jesus wants us to have His joy to the fullest is that history shows that the conservative and fundamental sects of Christianity have a persistent theme of depression. Of course, it is these sects that also consistently advocate and practice physical punishment in order to break their children’s wills. Greven (1992) explains the following:
“Melancholy and depression have been persistent themes in the family history, religious experience, and emotional lives of Puritans, evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostals for centuries. Assaults on the self and on self-will are the central obsession of vast numbers of men and women from the early seventeenth century to the present. Suicidal impulses frequently appear in these Protestants’ self-portraits as well, although those who write memoirs and autobiographies are usually survivors, not suicides. They may have successfully thwarted their inner impulses toward self-destruction, but the experience of conversion and the new birth rarely relieved them fully of their depressive symptoms” (p. 132).
While no one can be happy all the time, God gives us a sense of joy that should never stop. Happiness is circumstantial, but joy is continual as it is based on the hope we have in Christ, knowing that there is so much more to this life than what is seen. Let’s look at what the Bible says about joy despite the trials and sufferings that all Christians go through. Romans 12:12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” 1 Peter 1:8 states, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” And finally Philippians 4:4-7 says to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, no matter what our circumstances are, Christians should have a certain amount of joy and peace within them. Chronic depression should not be plaguing Christ followers as it has for centuries. All we have to do to see this plague of depression is to pick up biographies of certain Christian historical figures. As Greven (1992) states:
“Many evangelicals, generation after generation, voiced their anxiety and depression in their diaries, letters, and autobiographies. In some families, such as the Mathers, melancholy afflicted fathers and sons for at least three successive generations. The persistence and, indeed, the centrality of melancholy and depression for an understanding of religious and secular experience in America from early-seventeenth-century Puritans to late-nineteenth-century Victorians has been explored brilliantly by John Owen King in his illuminating book, The Iron of Melancholy. Some of the most compelling historical evidence we possess concerning the nature and history of depression comes from the religious tradition associated most directly with Calvinism and evangelical Protestantism over the past four centuries” (p. 132-133).
Of course, I do realize that there are many other causes for depression. But we cannot deny the fact that corporal punishment is a main theme when it comes to depression in conservative and fundamental Christians. Due to the fact that many Christian pro-spankers believe in the necessity of breaking a child’s will at a young age, they fail and/or refuse to realize that they are also breaking the child’s spirit. Young children are just learning cause and effect. As I explained earlier in this piece, young children learn through experience—i.e., sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. But unless the experience of cause and effect is logical to young children such as the fact that blowing a toy windmill makes it spin, or that dropping a block on a hard surface makes a loud sound, they will fail to process it as something that makes sense to them. Therefore, being hit by a parent who loves them for random things that the parent deems wrong or bad is not logical for young children, especially for infants and toddlers. Yes, they may learn to avoid these things that the parent says are bad or wrong, but it isn’t because the children truly understand, but because they are afraid of being hit and hurt by their parents. Being forced to become broken by their parents hinders their natural development, and causes feelings of anger, rage, and self-doubt in children which then become feelings of unworthiness and hopelessness later on in life.
“Depression rooted in anger remains so potent because it often begins so early—in the first three years of life, precisely the period corporal punishment advocates have always stressed as critical for the start of physical punishments and the suppression of children’s wills and self-assertion. The first assaults upon children’s bodies and spirits generally commence before conscious memory can recall them later. The unconscious thus becomes the repository for the rage, resistance, and desire for revenge that small children feel when being struck by the adults they love. The impact of pain and physical violence is most severe because the children are unable to protect themselves from the blows. Though they cannot remember consciously what happened to them during the first three or four years of life, the ancient angers persist while the adult conscience directs rage inward upon the self. The psyches of so many Puritans, evangelicals, and others who have suffered from adult depressions bear witness to this process” (Greven, 1992, p. 134).
It is clear that being hit, even “lovingly,” makes children feel as though they are only loveable when they are pleasing their parents which may mean that they rarely measure up to their parents’ high expectations. “Once we connect the pains of early childhood and the experience of violent physical assault with the feelings of anger and resentment, the subsequent moods of self-assault and self-deprecation characteristic of depression will make far better sense than has been the case hitherto” (Greven, 1992, p. 135). Sadly, throughout history, and even in today’s society, a child’s self-worth often depends upon their behavior in many fundamental Christian families who use spanking as a way to control their children. As I pointed out in Part 6 of my series entitled “The Christian History of Spanking,” the need for Christian parents to control their children dates back to the early church. It seems that as long as children obey their parents, they are loveable, but as soon as children disobey, they deserve painful punishment. “Obedience was the be-all and end-all—parenting relations were based on authority and control, rather than affection. The word ‘love’ is almost never mentioned, in reference to children, in surviving documents from this era. Literature produced before the late 18th century tended to refer to children with annoyance. Few violent means were spared in extracting obedience from the ‘little devils’” (Grille, 2005, p. 52). I find it especially sad and rather disturbing that of all the groups of parents it is the Christian parents who do not teach unconditional love to their children when Christ demonstrated the ultimate unconditional love for us by dying on the cross for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:6-8). To get an even better view of this amazing unconditional love for us, look at what Isaiah 53:5 states, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” This does not say that He punished us first, but that He took our punishment upon Himself so that we would not have to suffer the punishment. And yet, Christian advocates of spanking tell parents that they must inflict painful punishments upon their children using not only the rod verses but also Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 that tell children to obey their parents in order to justify their teachings. Heimlich (2011) states:
“’The Bible states that obedience must be complete…Children are not to obey their parents only when and if they feel like it. God wants them to respond to their parents’ authority and to learn to obey them in every area,’ writes Roy Lessin in Spanking: A Loving Discipline. Along the same vein, The Secret of Family Happiness, a book published by the Watchtower and Tract Society, tells Jehovah’s Witness parents that children need discipline ‘constantly.’ Also, an article in the Witness magazine Awake! states that ‘permissiveness is hateful.’ Meanwhile, others also state that parents should rule their homes with a commanding presence. ‘God has established the institution of the parent as one of His ruling authorities on earth,’ writes J. Richard Fugate in What the Bible Says about… Child Training. ‘To this position has been delegated both the right to rule children and all the power necessary to succeed in training children according to God’s plan.’ To drive this point home, he quotes Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which states that parents of a rebellious and drunken son should have him publicly stoned to death. ‘As you can see,’ Fugate writes, ‘God is very serious about children being obedient’” (p. 87).
Obviously, these Christian advocates of spanking do not understand God’s unconditional love for us, nor do they understand that nowhere in the Bible does God give parents such absolute “commanding authority” over their children! This is like saying that husbands have absolute “commanding authority” over their wives. Neither statement is biblically true. In fact, as I’ve pointed out in Part 7 of my series entitled “Spanking is NOT God’s Will,” the exact opposite is true as Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 tell parents not to exasperate their children. Also, pro-spankers fail to understand that Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 are speaking directly to the children, not the parents. Parents are not supposed to force children to obey them, but are to teach children how to do this and to provide help to children when they are having a hard time following this biblical instruction. This teaches children that their parents and God love them unconditionally even when they are struggling. After all, as I just pointed out, God loves us unconditionally and does not punish us when we sin. God lovingly corrects us and gives us natural consequences when necessary, but He does not punish us or withdraw His love from us. Look at how the apostle Paul puts it in Romans 5:16-18. “Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” What an awesome God we have!
When children are physically punished, it does not make them feel loved unconditionally by anyone. Here is one such example. Heimlich (2011) states:
“An example is thirty-six-year-old Alex Byrd, who grew up in a fundamental Pentecostal household in the southeast part of the country. As Byrd told me on November 23, 2009, he was spanked just about any time he was seen as being ‘bad.’ ‘And by ‘bad,’ says Byrd, ‘I mean pretty much anything from laughing at specific words during mandatory family Bible reading to wrestling with my sister in a way that the parents did not approve of to not going to bed at a specific time or going outside of the yard or talking to people my mom did not want me talking with.’ These tough standards meant Alex was sometimes spanked four or five times a day. ‘I would be made to pull a switch off of a tree, be whipped with it, basically be told in some cases that I had sinned against God because I had disobeyed my parents, and would pretty much be made to pray and essentially repent to God’” (p. 89).
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, many Christian pro-spankers claim that spanking helps relieve children of their guilt. But as we have seen thus far, the exact opposite is true for many children. Another reason that physical punishment does not relieve guilt and causes children to feel bad about themselves is that verbal shaming is used along with physical punishment as seen in the above example with Alex Byrd as his parents would tell him how he had sinned against God whenever he made a mistake. Sometimes shaming is used to threaten the child before physical punishment is used. Some parents who may not use physical punishment with their children but believe that children deserve some type of punishment of use shaming to control their children’s behavior. “Verbal punishment is common in almost every home and school. It relies on shame as the deterrent, in the same way that corporal punishment relies on pain. Shaming is one of the most common methods used to regulate children’s behaviour” (Grille, 2005, p. 194). Like spanking, shaming gives children negative messages about who they are instead of what they did. Its no wonder children who are spanked have higher incidences of depression with both a physical and emotional assault on their entire beings. And even if children are not hit, being punished with shaming is still an assault against their entire beings. “Shaming is designed to cause children to curtail behaviour through negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. It involves a comment—direct or indirect—about what the child is. Shaming operates by giving children a negative image about their selves—rather than about the impact of their behaviour” (Grille, 2005, p. 194). Guilt and shame really go hand-in-hand with corporal punishment as many pro-spankers, in addition to telling the child that he/she sinned against God, will also tell the child that they hate that they must spank the child, and that “this hurts them more than it hurts the child.” All of this makes children feel very shameful and guilty inside. They truly begin to believe that they deserve to feel a great deal of pain in order to try and resolve some of the guilt and shame as they grow older. What ends up happening to some children as they enter adolescence is that they feel so poorly about themselves as they have internalized the negative message that they deserve to feel pain when they make mistakes so they begin to intentionally inflict physical pain upon themselves after being spanked. Lisa, who we met in Part 2 of this series, began inflicting pain upon herself after her dad would spank her to help her feel relieved of her guilty feelings. Lisa writes:
“My parents, who followed to Pearl’s advice, spanked in this very Pearl-esque way, where the children are talked to prior to the spanking, told that the parents hate to hurt them but they have no other choice. That it hurts them more than it would hurt me. This particular sentence inflicted tons of guilt on me. I hated to be spanked or hit, obviously, but I loved it at the same time. I needed it. I hated myself so much, so deeply, that I sometimes wished my Dad would really hurt me, really beat me, in order to be free of that guilt. It’s very hard to explain how I felt.
I started this self-destructive behaviour around the age of 8 or 9. I remember that my mother cried a lot because she felt overwhelmed by all the kids. She cried even more when there was a spanking, and they were daily business at our house. My Dad would hit me and I still hated myself for doing this to them. Once the spanking was over, I was given some quiet time to calm down and freshen up. I went to the bathroom and cried endlessly, not that much because of the spanking but because I felt my mistake wasn’t punished properly. I felt the need to feel more pain, and I didn’t want to burden my parents with spanking me. I decided to do it myself. I looked for some sort of thing, a hard thing, to cause myself more pain and to remove the guilt I felt. It could be anything really, like a hairbrush, a stick, a wooden spoon, whatever was at hand. At first I started hitting myself on the legs and thighs until it really hurt. For some time, it was enough to do this three or four times to remove the guilt, but as I grew older, more and more pain was needed to calm my conflicts.
Sometimes I didn’t do it for weeks, then I did it every day, then stopped it for some weeks again. It really depended on my emotional situation. I never felt like I was doing something wrong. After all, I wasn’t cutting myself, so I was much better than those people. What I did was right. It was the holy spirit leading me to do this. How else could I feel so much relief in it?
Time passed and my self punishments on my legs grew harder, more severe, more painful. One day my mother saw my bruised legs after a really tough session and asked me what that was all about. I told her I fell really bad playing outside in the garden and didn’t realize I was so bruised up.
I had to hide it much better, find a better way to do it. More pain, less bruises. It took me just a few days to figure out a part of my body where nobody could see my bruises. My head. All the bruises and bumps would be hidden under my long hair. I felt like I had found the holy grail. It was the perfect plan. But it didn’t last long. The pain inflicted by my hands beating on my head was really severe, and I was 12 or 13 at that point. But this pain wasn’t enough. I went back to anything hard to increase the pain level. And when that wasn’t enough anymore, I really hated myself. I hated myself for having no way of causing such severe pain as to fulfill my need for feeling really repentant. This anger caused me to be even harder on myself, try it any way I could. I went on for minutes, hitting myself on the head with a hairbrush and crying, and it wasn’t enough pain. I started tearing my hair out and screaming at myself, the most vicious things I could imagine, using words which would set me up for another spanking if my parents heard me say them.
I remember a day where I had gotten a spanking and it didn’t satisfy my need to feel real pain. I sat in the bathroom, hitting my head with a hairbrush, not feeling the pain I wanted to feel, shrieking out in shrill screams then cursing at myself. You are a piece of (expletive deleted), everybody hates you, you are worthless, you can’t do anything, you will go to hell and marry the devil and God will laugh at you, your parents hate you, you’re going to hell anyway so kill yourself right now and release them from this burden, you piece of dirty dog (expletive deleted). I whispered these things to myself in a snakelike manner so my parents wouldn’t hear, but they certainly heard the screaming. My Dad came knocking on the door, telling me that I needed to stop the screaming or else I’d get another spanking. I hushed up quickly and answered “Yes Dad” as cheerful as I could. I started tearing my hair out, hitting myself with everything that wasn’t nailed to the ground, and it didn’t satisfy, so I hit my head against the wall, hoping it will finally start bleeding so I could stop. But it didn’t bleed. It never did. After 15 or 20 minutes, I gave up. I was defeated. I couldn’t cause enough pain. My head was dizzy, spinning and painful, but it still wasn’t enough” (Lisa, 2011, http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/cutting-eating-disorders-selfdestructive-behaviours/).
Sadly, Lisa isn’t the only one who felt the need to inflict more pain on themselves in order to try and resolve the guilt that that they felt. MC would often think about intentionally inflict pain on himself due to feeling so poorly about himself after internalizing the message that he deserved to feel pain whenever he made a mistake. In an electronic message dated September 29, 2011, MC conveyed the following to me:
“Sometimes, I would think about hurting myself. I had this weird idea that if I hurt myself, then maybe God would have pity on me, and would forgive me, and save me. Basically, I was conditioned with this idea that I had to be punished and hurt before I could be accepted and forgiven. Therefore, a large part of my Christian experience has been fear based, rather than love based. Fear has motivated me rather than love, and that is why I am more of an orphan than a son, when it comes down to my relationship with God.”
Research shows that depression, guilt, and shame from being harshly punished as young children often leads to self-destructive tendencies later on in childhood and adulthood. “All absurd behavior has its roots in early childhood, but the cause will not be detected as long as the adult’s manipulation of the child’s psychic and physical needs is interpreted as an essential technique of child-rearing instead of as the cruelty it really is. Since most professionals themselves are not yet free from this mistaken belief, sometimes what is called therapy is only a continuation of early, unintended cruelty” (Miller, 1994, p. 132). It is also true that if children are not taught to treat themselves with love and kindness as young children that they will have a difficult time doing so as adults. “The way we were treated as young children is the way we treat ourselves the rest of our lives. And we often impose our most agonizing suffering upon ourselves. We can never escape the tormentor within ourselves, who is often disguised as a pedagogue, someone who takes full control in illness; for example, in anorexia” (Miller, 1994, p. 133). This message of not being good enough often begins in infancy when most parents who believe in control use shaming to control infants’ crying and other behaviors that are typical and developmentally appropriate for infants. “A five-month-old baby is lying in his mother’s arms. He is close to sleep, then wakes and begins to grizzle. His mother tells him that he should stop being a naughty boy, and that she will be cross with him if he doesn’t sleep” (Grille, 2005, p. 193). Unfortunately, many pro-spankers and people who use shame don’t understand just how impressionable and vulnerable young children are when it comes to such negative messages punishments instills in children. I know for myself, I still often put myself down much of the time in my head. It is extremely difficult to escape such negative messages about oneself which are imparted by the very people children love and by whom they want approval and acceptance. Grille (2005) states the following:
“Since children are more vulnerable and impressionable than adults, shaming messages received in childhood are significantly more difficult to erase… To understand the damage wrought by shame, we need to look deeper than the goal of ‘good’ behaviour. If we think that verbal [or physical-added by Steph] punishment has ‘worked’ because it changed what the child is doing, then we have dangerously limited our view of the child to the behaviours that we can see. It is too easy to overlook the inner world of children; the emotions that underlie their behaviour, and the suffering caused by shame. It is also easy to miss what the child does once out of range of the shamer” (p. 196, 197).
Finally, being spanked and taught that any negative emotion and opinion one has deserves punishment has led some adults who were raised in this manner to later struggle in their marriages. This is exactly what is happening with Dave who was raised in a strict Amish home as a child. Dave’s wife explained to me in an electronic message dated November 10, 2011 the following:
“For the first few years of our marriage I almost worshiped him because he was just so awesome. I kid you not I thought he was “perfect”.
One thing I noticed right away, though I overlooked for a while, about my amazing man was that he wouldn’t argue with me…about anything!
My husband’s parents were Old Order Amish and Mennonite. He was always punished with a belt when he did anything “wrong”. And, speaking his mind was in the “wrong” category. He was expected to always “be respectful” to adults and telling his mom that (for example) he didn’t like what she’d prepared for lunch was disrespect and punishable with the belt. Squirming (showing any boredom) in church was punishable by the belt. Arguing with his parents or questioning them in any way was punishable with the belt.
According to him his parents never did it in anger or did anything he felt was “abusive”. He said he always got a “talking to” before hand and that his dad always had this demeanor that said he was really not happy having to do it. He said his dad even cried once n’ a while afterwards and often said he hated doing it. (This is sad for his parents!) So, this is why I think that as far as followers of “To Train Up a Child” would look at my husband’s parents and give him an “A+” and say he did everything “right.”
Because my husband actually had an extraordinary relationship with his parents and lived that kind of old fashioned life on the mission field where his work in the family was “necessary” for the family’s survival, he never felt any desire to “rebel” against his parents. He ate when he was told. He got up when he was told and went to bed when he was told. He sat still no matter how long the church service was. He didn’t complain about sleeping on dirt floors in village huts or about having to eat weird food. Living on the mission field he ate food at least once a week that made him want to gag without expressing anything. Sometimes they went without food. But, he never complained. He never disagreed with his parents. He never questioned his parents. He never challenged them. He was the “model child”. Had the Pearls known the family they’d have looked at my husband as a shining example of how their parenting practices are right and God’s way because my husband was so obedient!
So, he grows up, and gets married to me and, he treats me exactly the way he was trained to treat people: Don’t argue. Don’t express dislike. Don’t complain. And, it is not working. Every year that we’ve been married has just been this slow steady progression from awesome to where we are now in total separateness and depression. We have like “no” relationship at this point.
His parents maybe wanted a child who’d never ever give them any “trouble” and preferred him to be complacent and obedient, but, that doesn’t work for a spouse. You can’t ever get to know someone who has no opinion. I don’t know what he actually thinks about things or what he thinks about what I think. I don’t even know what he actually thinks about anything, because he was trained to agree with whoever he was talking to or it was being disrespectful. He thinks he is “keeping the peace” and that things “aren’t worth fighting about”.
Now, had his parents had the attitude that he should not do or say the same things, but had taken a totally different approach to it by talking to him and discussing the things he said with him, then, they would have learned things about their son. They would have gotten to know him and even if they’d have ultimately said, “Look, mom has limited things to choose for us to eat and even if you don’t like what she’s made you need to just eat it,” it would have taught him a totally different lesson and would not have made him just simply shut down. That approach would have taught him that his opinions mattered and they were ok to have but sometimes we need to do things we don’t like. The way he was taught he learned that to express a negative opinion was “disrespect” and that expressing it was painful. He learned that his opinions didn’t matter and that trying to do anything with them would not change his world at all and so it’s better just to not have them at all.
I believe that being spanked changed everything in the world and his whole future for him. It changed everything about him. And, now it’s destroying our relationship and though we don’t fight (because he can’t) our kids sense that we have no relationship and they don’t like it. My oldest daughter cries and says if this is how it is she never wants to even get married because it’s terrible.
Did this consistent use of the rod produce a happy child (like the Pearls say?) I’d say he’s miserable. I’d say he knows he’s missing out on life. I’d say he feels alone all the time. I’d say he feels frustrated and sad because he’s not running thru houses every day saving little kids but he is facing me every day and can’t connect with me. On the one side of him he’s a hero and on the daily side of him he’s a total failure in his eyes. He is still that same little boy lying awake at night paralyzed unable to get up and go to anyone for help when he’s uncomfortable. He does what he was “trained” to do to be “a good boy” but it doesn’t work anymore. Now, his wife wants from him exactly what his parents punished him for: for him to think on his own and to be himSELF. And, he just can’t do it. He has…no joy in life. He is a man who would literally give you the shirt off his back and would do anything for you, but, he has no joy. The whole situation makes me so angry every day because if you “raise a child up in the way you think they should go and you do it all wrong…when they are old…” they will struggle like heck to depart from it…”
It is quite clear spanking and shame do not produce truly happy people, and it is extremely sad how Dave and his wife as well as a great deal of others who have been raised to be obedient robots struggle greatly as adults. “Many studies have indicated that shame causes a host of relationship difficulties. This is not surprising, since relationship skills depend on emotional intelligence” (Grille, 2005, p. 198).
As with the sexual problems from being spanked “lovingly,” children, whose young brains are in the midst of critical development, that are exposed to high levels of stress, anxiety, and pain on a daily basis causes stress hormones that forever change children’s brain structure that can lead to a lifelong struggle with depression—sometimes leading some to commit suicide. Straus (2006) states:
“At a 1991 conference attended by specialists on depression, there was wide agreement that depression is a mental health problem with many causes, but that it probably involves a biological process in which there are lasting changes in the structure and chemistry of the brain (Holden, 1991). A speaker at the conference reported that ‘One fact that could play a role in such long-term changes is stress. Both animals and people who experience chronic stress respond by secreting ‘stress hormones’ [that are] the most robust biological concomitant of depression—showing in up to 50 percent of cases, especially severe ones’ (Holden, 1991, p. 1,451). Several other permanent changes in brain function were reported in both animals and humans who experience continuing stress. For children, one such continuing stress may be corporal punishment by their parents. It often begins in infancy and is particularly frequent for toddlers, many of whom are hit almost daily. Moreover, we have seen that corporal punishment continues into the teen years for a majority of American children. The changes in brain structure and function associated with the stress of having been physically assaulted for 13 or more years might explain the link between corporal punishment and depression” (p. 78-79).
It becomes clearer and clearer that physically punishing children “in love” is nothing but harmful. It sends the message that love and pain go together, which is very dangerous for the host of reasons I have discussed throughout this series thus far. It is also clear that physical punishment does not relieve children of their guilt, and that this is not even biblical as Jesus has paid for all of our sins once and for all. Instead, physical punishment eats away at a child’s self-worth, putting children at risk for depression as they become adolescents and adults. Finally, spanking has been shown to cause permanent changes in the brain that can lead children to struggle with sexual problems and depression. God never intended for all this. We continue to see that spanking implants seeds of sin rather than discouraging sin. Sin does not lead to joyfulness in Jesus. As 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 states, we are to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”
In the next part of this series we will learn about Stockholm’s Syndrome, the cycle of abuse, more on how pain and stress affects the young child’s brain, and how we can know that the anti-spanking research is not biased as pro-spankers strongly claim.
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