There was a loosely-structured but interesting debate on Radio 5 live last night on the subject of ‘Misery’ books. Apparently The World & his Wife are all attempting to milk the cash-cow of auto-biographies about child-abuse, sexual and physical, real or imagined. Several high-profile law-suits have come about as a result of some of the ‘revelations’ that apparently don’t bear even the most minimal of examination.
It was mentioned on the programme that there were ’shelves and shelves’ of this pap in bookshops, and I felt that was going a little too far. No, it’s the truth. This afternoon whilst in Newcastle buying ‘Comte’ cheese, I called in at Waterstones and checked the statement. The ‘Biographies’ section of six shelves was mostly taken up with auto-biographies, (time to change the section notice) and most of these were of the ‘misery’ type described above. I hesitate to say it here, but the majority of Authors names were female.
It is an accepted fact now that adults suffering personality disorders due to abuse carried out when they were children, fare better after properly ‘externalising’ their experiences. For most of us, this will probably mean an series of open and honest discussions in a controlled environment, with a psychologist who has only one interest – yours. Sadly, more and more of us seem to think that either the problems get better quicker, the more people there are in their audience, or use the exposure of their problems to make money, or both.
With this in mind, I wonder how much of this stuff is true, or if true, really is abuse. Further I’m going to stick my head right up above the parapet here and say that the definition of abuse – as it is used to describe a criminal act, is far too general. Now I know that there are sub-classifications of this term, but even with the mildest form of the so-called abuse – sometimes referred to as ‘inappropriate behaviour’ – it is still a criminal act.
The Wiki definition of Child Abuse is: The physical or psychological/emotional mistreatment of children.
This definition is further qualified as: ‘Most child abuse happens in a child’s home, with a smaller amount occurring in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.
The clue to resolution of the above I believe is in the formal definition with the word ‘mistreatment’. I understand this word (in the context of children) to mean treatment that will engender fear, treatment that will corrupt, treatment that causes physical pain or wounding, and the last catch-all: treatment that interrupts in any other way, the natural and proper growth of the child, both mentally and physically. Note that this covers maintenance of a proper loving relationship between the child, its parents and siblings. (note I’m not a Doctor – this is just my humble opinion)
One of the problems with ‘externalising’ is that it’s a bit like taking a perception-altering drug. You really don’t know what’s going to happen until you do it. Moreover, like the effects of altered-perception, you may handle it badly, or in your stride. Either way – it will affect you, to a greater or lesser degree.
From personal experience I can say that stuff floods back into the foreground, things and events long-forgotten become both real and vividly fresh. The real up-side to this is that all of the memories can be re-evaluated with the benefit of maturity, and the perception of these events altered to reflect reality – shorn of the lies and mixed-emotions surrounding the original event. There is a down-side. The protagonists of the original acts are seen in a very different light by their ‘victim’. This may lead to catastrophic breakdown of relationships within a family, and worse. Exposing such material wider than the immediate family leads to problems of libel etc., mentioned above.
On a more positive note, laying bare the experiences of the past also allows a re-living of the more pleasant events of your young life. (I hope you had some!) Again from experience I can say that it is as if a very heavy blanket has been removed – a blanket that had muffled and made insignificant some events in my life that had given me great joy in the past, and ones that I can now celebrate again.
Here’s the ’sticky’ bit. There were at least two experiences in my young life that I would have put in the latter, ‘pleasant’ category, but had the acts been brought to the attention of the authorities, would have been classed as abuse – of the sexual kind, and the protagonists would have been charged as appropriate under the law. No amount of protest by me, that I had neither been hurt, upset etc., would have made a blind bit of difference – as legally a child, I could not be deemed mature enough to know right from wrong.
Of the two relationships, one would have probably been classed as ‘wholly inappropriate’ behaviour, as the mature woman involved only took matters so far, her sexual overtures stopped, probably by her conscience, despite my all-too-apparent wishes that she continued.
Of the second relationship, this was very different. I was just a boy. I’d had no sexual experiences whatsoever, and yet became a willing partner of a sexually-active young woman.
I terminated this very illicit relationship because she had a boyfriend, who although much older than me, I liked very much, but I couldn’t tolerate the way I felt whenever we chanced to meet. Nevertheless, this young woman and I remained firm friends for a very long while after.
I have to say here that I did not feel in the least abused – I felt loved and wanted, and I’m glad to this day that she unlocked my sexuality in such a loving and gentle way, irrespective of whether it was legal or not.
First published on http://serialfailures.connectable.org.uk on 7th May 2009 at 19:44:37