The ACE of Abuse!
Do you suffer from from anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, anger, substance abuse, addictions of different kinds, liver, lung or cardiac disease, poor social skills, low academic or work achievement? If you answered yes to any of those disorders, then you must read this. It just may save your life or protect from further deterioration.
One of the largest study ever conducted of childhood abuse and neglect and how it affects well-being in adulthood was conducted by Kaiser Permanente in 1995-1997. Over 17,000 participants completed confidential surveys of their childhood experiences and their well-being as adults. The results of this Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study shocked the world because of what it revealed. But it is yet to be recognized as a public health crisis.
You can read about the study and its results by clicking here. What I would like to talk about are the subtle nuances through the lens of compassion - for not only those who suffer abuse during their childhood but also for the perpetrators of abuse. While our compassion for the abused and anger against the abusers is rightly placed, we must recognize the root cause of the abuse if we hope to put a dent in this vicious cycle. According to some sources, it is believed that as many as 66% to 90% of sexual abuse victims never come forward with their story. Perhaps it is because almost 90% of abuse occurs at the hands of someone they know, love or trust. Worse still, according to statistics released by The National Center for Victims of Crime, of the reported cases of child sexual abuse, 23% are perpetrated by juvelines and 40% to 80% of the juvenile sex offenders have themselves been victims of sexual abuse (Advances in Clinical Child Psychology, page 19). As horrific as these statistics are, they also raise a very important issue. Why is there so much darkness in the minds of the juveniles who themselves have suffered unspeakable abuse? Is this darkness somehow related to the vicious cycle of abuse? So, before we start blaming and hating the abusers, let us step back to examine the real issues with compassion towards both the abused and the abuser.
Clearly, we don't need a scientist to conduct a national survey to tell us the answer. It is the powerless who act out to feel powerful. It is the helpless who are abused by those who were once helpless too. It is the undeveloped brain of a child that is permanently altered by the actions of another whose brain is also not fully developed yet. This is not to condone the act of sexual abuse but it is certainly an important criteria in understanding the history of abuse so we can design programs and mechanisms to try to break this vicious cycle. Some would argue that there are many other causes of abuse and that this view is rather limiting. I agree with them. However, I also know from basic understanding of the world that the numbers I have quoted relating to just one cause of abuse tell a story that's nothing short of a pandemic. I will leave the other causes in the safe hands of many more capable individuals, NGOs, and governmental agencies. I would like to focus on the rape of innocence and the vicious cycle it perpetrates.
When the trust of an innocent child is shattered, the memory of abuse is locked up deep in the dark recesses of their soul where only shame, self-blame, lack of self-worth, and helplessness are its companions. Their heart aches in search of the long lost memory of the Creator, their mother, in whose womb there was nothing but peace and happiness. When abuse occurs at the hands of the mother, as is sometimes the case, the scar is likely even deeper. The dark layers of shame, self-blame, helplessness, fear and guilt begin to cloud the view of the pure divinity that the child once experienced. The light that once produced a bright and colorful rainbow is now blocked by filters of abuse and the beauty of the rainbow begins to fade.
How can we shift this vicious cycle into a virtuous one? How can we bring hope and light to both the abused and the abusers so that they can lift themselves out of darkness? What can we do to build a bridge between self-loathing and self-love so that the balance of power can shift in favor of the latter? The answer is not difficult. It was pronounced by Buddha over 2600 years ago in one Sanskrit word - Karunā. A word he used to describe the loving-kindness or compassion that has the power to remove someone's pain. I believe that compassion that allows one to feel the pain of others can also be the tool that can get rid of this pain. I will write extensively about Karunā in another blog but I leave you with one example as proof of my conviction.
How do you feel when you give a heartfelt gift to someone and when you can see the genuine gratitude and joy in the eyes and the smile of the recipient? Now, close your eyes and remember the time when you experienced the intense joy that pervaded every fibre of your being when something like this happened. If a simple material gift can bring so much happiness to the giver, imagine what one would experience if the gift we give is that of a compassionate ear and a helping hand that heals the soul of the abused? This gift of Karunā has the power to heal our soul too - perhaps, even more than that of the receiver. This is the beginning of a divine virtuous cycle. While compassion alone can't shift the paradigm of abuse, it is the necessary ingredient if solutions we implement are to have a durable impact. Let's not delay the power of compassion we naturally have to help heal others regardless of our ideologies and preference for solutions.
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