I need to take a pause from my book writing to clear my thinking palette – oh, that’s palate? This is nothing that chewing a bit of parsley will fix, that’s all I know.
I am ready to begin writing chapter – 11. Baby Dearest – of the book I am working on now. I am in, first of all, a rather odd quandary about the title of this book – so I might as well begin my clearing efforts here.
In some ways this must seem like a six-of-one half-a-dozen of the other kind of quandary. Title?
Story Without Words: The Invisible Silence of Infant and Child Abuse
Story Beyond Words: The Invisible Silence of Infant and Child Abuse
I go back and forth, forth and back – changing the ‘middle name’ of this book’s title.
I am momentarily at this crossroads as I begin a chapter that is essentially about infant abuse – my own abuse experiences in my infanthood.
Childhood. There is no spell check warning if I type that word. There is one if I write infanthood. Have I invented a word? I add my word to my ‘dictionary’. Did I resolve the problem?
I think about the many months I spent reading books and research articles on developmental neuroscience as I discovered with every page I read more and more truth about MY situation as it had existed in me – in my body – in my brain – since I was born.
For all the truth I discovered I still became increasingly aggravated as I went along! A given researcher would be describing how early attachment relationships build an infant’s brain and nervous system – OK. Fine. Fascinating!
All of a sudden the infant was not being spoken of as existing any more. All of a sudden the author would be writing about child abuse, childhood – while I was left with one of those (Sandy, you know what I mean) terribly queasy feelings that the very expert I was relying upon to give me desperately needed vital information about the truth of what happened to me – was LETTING ME DOWN exactly at the moment I had almost GOTTEN IT! Gotten the magic gem of truth!
I wore out my pens adding words into texts where they were missing. (I also wore out pens adding things into index pages that I was stunned to find had not been mentioned.)
I have concluded that there is a cultural taboo in America against even TALKING ABOUT infant abuse. There’s a taboo against committing infant abuse that has taken away our power to use words to TALK about infant abuse – even to write about infant abuse!
Many of the developmental neuroscientific writers describe what goes wrong at the start of life in earliest attachment relationships – and then – BINGO – all of a sudden they are writing about psychopathologies in adulthood – without admitting the fact that these pathologies are directly connected to INFANT abuse – and are PREVENTABLE in nearly ALL SITUATIONS!
These writers describe infants and then change these infants magically in nearly mid-sentence into children! It seems to me that not even THEY can tolerate what they know, what they are saying – or what they NEED to say. If developmental neuroscientists and attachment experts can’t even use the words ‘infant abuse’ – what does this say to our culture at large? Infant abuse does not exist – because we don’t WANT to know it does?
Shaking a baby to death – warnings now given as parents depart hospitals post-birthing: DON’T SHAKE YOUR BABY!
Well, I could be wrong but all the shaken-to-death baby news I’ve ever heard involves a MAN who has committed this murder.
Of course I am against shaking babies (DUH!). Of course I am pro informing adults (I guess usually thick headed men) not to shake a baby.
Of course I realize some mothers shake babies, too. Bad on them, too!
BUT we are culturally missing what I see as a MOST important truth!
Infant abuse happens. It really, really happens – and very rarely does that abuse KILL the infant. No, most infant abuse HURTS infants. It terrorizes them, it tortures them, it makes them suffer in ways that adults don’t (evidently) want to even imagine – though we have evidently made it far enough to be able to imagine SHAKING a baby.
Good for us.
What about the rest of the story?
Speaking of story – WITHOUT or BEYOND?
Infants don’t have words. Big DUH on that one, too! The neglect and abuse of infants, the traumatizing of infants – the suffering of infants – the unsafe and insecure attachment relationship traumas that infants endure far more often than anyone wants to imagine, think about or MENTION – will not be able to be put into words by these suffering infants. Not even when they grow up.
Are those ‘stories’ that are happening behind the doors of silence, hidden, out of sight out of mind – BEYOND the reach of words? Or are they WITHOUT words because nobody has given them words yet?
Is use of ‘beyond’ in this context an admission of hopelessness on my part – that it is impossible to every speak of or write of abuse because the actual experience of it FOR ANYONE at ANY AGE lies in a world of ‘being alone’ that cannot be penetrated either from the inside or from the outside?
Does ‘without’ introduce possibility? Possibility that though horrendous survivor stories of abuse, even from birth, COULD someday be put into words – conveyed in words – comprehended in words?
Empathy. True empathy does not happen if the empathic person feels their own pain (say) when in the presence of a suffering person. True empathy is not designed to make MORE people suffer – not even one more person suffer. True empathy – healthy empathy – is meant to help the person who is suffering. True empathy is meant to trigger caregiving behavior in the witness.
Suffering people need people to HELP them. If the suffering person could help their own self stop the suffering, well, DUH!! They would do so!
Suffering people need someone to assist them OUT of their suffering in ways they cannot help their self.
So, along with this idea, if I say an abuse experience by a little person exists BEYOND words – that is probably saying that the little person ITSELF does not have the power, the ability, to TELL IN WORDS what is happening to them – or has happened to them.
Assuming there do exist people who CARE – part of that truly empathic caring could be to help a sufferer put words to their experience. That would mean that a story of an abuse experience (yes, a crime report) – COULD be told if the survivor had assistance in doing so.
Compassion would be the generating IMPULSE for a person who can feel true empathy – to get to work to caregive-HELP!
So – maybe BEYOND words refers to the experience of abuse – suffering -from the inside. WITHOUT words would refer to the experience of someone else’s abuse – suffering – from the outside.
I don’t think I like ‘beyond’. I can recognize that there are things nobody can really describe. I think about how our species was before we even had spoken language abilities. Everything anyone experienced THEN would have been beyond words.
But we DID evolve far enough to develop verbal language. It’s an add-on to drama, pantomime, gesturing, dance, music, art forms of all kinds that don’t involve words themselves.
But our species’ experience was not BEYOND words during the millions of years of our evolution when we simply did not HAVE words. Those early experiences back then were WITHOUT words, not BEYOND words.
Which leads me back to my issue with cultural taboos against harming infants – which I have long suspected interferes with our culture’s ability to OWN the fact that YES infant abuse DOES happen – and it is a LOT MORE than shaking a baby to death. Abusing an infant – changes the way its brain and entire body develop – the way its genetic codes operate and express themselves – the way the nervous systems, the immune system – the way the MIND works — changes that last a lifetime and cause a universe of trouble and problems for survivors – that NOBODY wants to recognize, acknowledge OR talk about!
Thinking about the BPD-good-bad split patterns – certainly on the level of psychosis with my mother. Culturally so? Loving infants is GOOD – TRUE. Abusing/neglecting infants is BAD – TRUE. But we cannot split our thinking in BPD-ways — so that we deny the bad exists, don’t give it words, don’t stare it in the face, don’t make it stop and go away.
Taboos are against ACTIONS first and foremost. These taboos – like don’t hurt the baby dearest – are meant to keep everyone safer.
Taboos are not against TALKING and THINKING about problems. They are not about ignoring truth and therefore taking the stand of supporters of the continuance of abuse.
If we continue to NOT think and talk about things like infant abuse and child abuse – we are WITHOUT words by choice. And the suffering of the tiny helpless ones will go on and on and on……
We concern ourselves with assaults that don’t kill people, car accidents that don’t kill people, dangers of fires that don’t burn the whole town down. We have to start giving words to INFANT abuse that does not kill babies.
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