“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.”
These words are from a flyer produced by the Fitzroy Community School of Melbourne in Australia for an International Conference on Community Education in 1979. They had such an impact on me as a young mother suffering from depression that, when I started painting and images of childhood trauma appeared unbidden on my canvases, I decided to explore the “personal torment” that was hidden within them. 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.
During that time I discovered the strange paradox that in this age of instant communication and easily accessible knowledge, there is such scant information and training for parenting and the needs of the ‘whole child’ that it places us firmly in a dark age of gross ignorance. And this ignorance causes untold misery to countless millions of people.
Personally, and in monetary terms, the cost of the impact of violence and abuse in my childhood has been huge. I learned that child abuse and domestic violence 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, including depression. Turning anger outwards can manifest as greed, avarice, violent criminal acting out, rape (of people, countries and resources), war and a broken relationship with our planet – out-pictured as pollution and climate change.
But will we make the connection between our inner and outer realities?
Al Gore wrote in Earth in the Balance, “The more deeply I search for the roots of the global environmental crisis, the more I am convinced that it is an outer manifestation of an inner crisis that is, for lack of a better word, spiritual…”
But who will listen?
Alan Beattie, the Financial Times world trade editor, in answer to the Queen’s question about how everyone missed the sub-prime mortgage loans since they were so large, 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).
Twenty-two years later, more than 2500 leading environmental experts attending an emergency March, 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen 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.
This echoes the warning scientists made four years ago that “Planet Earth stands on the cusp of disaster and people should no longer take it for granted that their children and grandchildren will survive in the environmentally degraded world of the 21st Century…” (Independent, March 03, 2005)
And as if the present financial crisis isn’t enough for us to take in, the Independent also carried this glaring headline on March 15, 2009: Water scarcity ‘now bigger threat than financial crisis’.
I am already aware of the critical problems faced by the dwindling amounts of water flowing in the Murray River in Australia. With prolonged droughts and extensive demands on it for irrigation, it is becoming a non-renewable resource. But are we listening? “Water bankruptcy” translates into a decreased ability for the earth to grow food and an increased probability of creating more desert wastelands.
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. 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.
Too many children today 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: children raised in an emotional wasteland within their homes invariably learn to hate themselves. And this is an underlying cause of bullying in schools, the spreading cancer of criminal violence within our communities, our disregard for the well-being of our planet, escalating physical and mental health problems, and the continuing failure of government policies to address these issues and more.
Al Gore, who struggled to make the world aware of the growing environmental crisis, 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 levels 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 and traumatized 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 ten years after the First World War, during which millions of men were so traumatised in battle that it became known as the ‘Unspeakable War’. Being ‘unspeakable’, ex-servicemen 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 its effects filter into every level of life within our communities to eventually emotionally bankrupt us all. This translates into an emptiness that needs to be filled, turning us into insatiable consumers of the earth’s resources. Unchecked, it 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 of children 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 – those on benefits and the mentally ill – 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 is a potential breeding ground for violence.
Violence within the home has bankrupted millions of lives. It is the underlying cause of endemic poverty, hiding layers of toxic shame and deep-seated feelings of not being ‘good enough’ to ‘deserve’ any better, and the anger and rage of being trapped within self-hate.
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 and learned to love myself. If I hadn’t read the flyer back in 1979, I would have had no idea what I was going through, or that a journey such as this would be necessary for me to regain my mental health. 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.
I fully grasp the meaning of Al Gore’s words that “the worst of all forms of pollution is wasted lives” for I am a trained teacher who really cared for my students by helping them recognise their inner beauty and talents through a deeper engagement with the creative arts. However during a nine-year struggle to reduce the symptoms of chronic PTSD caused by violence within my childhood home, I have taught for only one year. In a time of teacher shortages this is a waste. It is also a waste of my education and training, for it is unlikely that I will ever be well enough to teach full-time again. The struggle to regain my health is also a burden on the taxpayer. Multiply this by millions, for I am not alone in this.
But who will listen? And can we ever hope that politicians will finally figure out that the failures of their continued ‘war against drugs’, campaigns against ‘drink driving’ and ‘violence in the home is not OK’, along with their inability to stem the rising tide of criminal violence or to raise the levels of literacy and numeracy in schools, are intimately connected with violence and abuse in the home?
The world is in desperate need of parent education aimed at maintaining the integrity of the children in their care. Interventions are needed for abused and unwanted children and adults alike so they can experience their own self-worth and become whole again.
It achieves nothing to blame governments for the way things are in our communities, for by blaming we give away our power to change by investing in the government the roles of ‘father’ or ‘mother’ or ‘caretaker’. And since it is rare that politicians have gone through their own ‘personal torment’ to gain a new understanding of the underlying causes of our social problems, how can we expect them to implement innovative and forward thinking policies that will restore peace and harmony within our homes and communities?
Individually we need to address the inner crisis Al Gore wrote about and collectively give strength to those who would otherwise succumb to alcohol or drugs to cope with the anxiety it produces. Yes, it is painful, very painful. But the rewards are high. Not only is it possible to experience peak periods of joy and bliss that no drug could ever match, an inner journey brings connection, self-empowerment, and the ability to love oneself in such a way that decisions can then be made for one’s highest good, and the highest good of others and the planet Earth on which we all live.
But by far the greatest outcome that could occur if enough people embarked upon this inner journey would be the collective achievement of world peace.
First published in Scoop, March 27, 2009
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