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The Abuse We Still Don't Talk About

Dec 10, 2007
The Chinese have a saying: "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name." As the holidays approach, well there's a reason why all these movies lately about those terrible "family get-togethers."


Great strides have been made with spousal abuse, which mostly happens to women. As a society, we shined alight into the corners and exposed something that at one time men thought was their "right" and "privilege," even "duty" as husbands and father for what it is - bullying by someone too immature to contain their emotions or control their behavior who resorts to violence to get what they want or to express their frustration.

These two videos, allegedly developed in Canada for Domestic Violence awareness, tell it like it is: http://www.break.com/index/canadianpsa2.html
And http://www.break.com/index/canadianpsa1.html

It took an educational campaign because at one time spousal abuse was even legalized. Take a look at one of those websites with "ridiculous laws" and you'll find laws still on the books like not being able to beat your wife with anything bigger than a baseball bat, or without her permission first. The assumption was that only men could own property, and their women and children were property to do with as they wished.


We have also made strides in the areas of child abuse and elder abuse, by the same 3-pronged attack: (1) Raising awareness; (2) legislation and punishment; and (3) treatment. We understand that throwing someone in jail, or slapping their wrist is treating a symptom, not providing a cure. Court-ordered anger-management programs are a step in the right direction; hopefully these will soon be court-ordered emotional intelligence programs, because there's more involved than just anger, and as long as you have someone's attention, you might as well teach them something really worthwhile, like EQ.


We are also starting to address violence in the workplace, in the form of "bullying" and "mobbing." (See www.webstrategies.cc/mobbing.htm ). Since we have labeled it "bullying" and "mobbing," it now officially exists and is no longer part of the woodwork, something expected. Every week I get an email from someone saying, "I didn't know there was a name for this. Thank you."


There remains another form of abuse to be named. In coaching, I hear = about it frequently. You probably do too, but you don't recognize it as abuse because it sounds like this:

1."My big brother? Best thing that ever happened to me. Beat me up every day and made me tough."

2."They fought constantly. Finally I gave up and would just go to my room and shut the door."

3."My sister got everyone at school to call me "Fatso." My dad thought it was funny. Is it any wonder I weigh 350 lbs. now? What I'm really mad about is that Mom didn't do something."

4."When they got divorced, Mom would make my older brother babysit
me. He'd have his friends over, they'd get drunk and start picking on me. It even got sexual sometimes."

5."We only had one TV and Dad insisted we share, so my sister said
she would beat me up if I didn't choose what she wanted. She said if I told Dad, she'd 'kill me.'"

6."Mom and Dad were always comparing us, always negative, like 'Why
can't you be neat like Tom?' When I think back, Tom may have been neat, but I got good grades. Anyway, it made us hate each other."


Yes, what we're talking about is SIBLING ABUSE. It isn't just "kids being kids," it's abuse, including sexual abuse, that can have a lasting effect.

Like spousal abuse 25 years ago, people talk about it like it's to be expected, or, if extreme will say, "Well she must've deserved it." It is not recognized as something wrong to do; in fact it's often considered helpful.

Victims of sibling abuse do NOT learn "how to get along." They learn how to fight - aggressively if they have the edge; passively if they do not. Their attitude toward peers will be defensive. They harbor rage, depression, shyness, avoidance or aggression and are unable to form good social or work relationships with peers. They have low self-esteem and the victim mentality (or conversely, turn into bullies themselves), like other abusers, but unlike other abusers they will not get help, because "nothing happened." Abuse from siblings has no texture, no fiber, no face.

It's natural to resent, and feel anger and envy. How to understand and manage the behaviors, and what to do, must be monitored and shaped. In other words, children need to be actively taught emotional intelligence.

A special breeding ground is the step- or blended family. It's another adjustment for the children, and means their parent's attention is split once again. As Step-parenting Expert on about.com's Ask the Expert, I get more questions all the time. Whether the children resort to silently ignoring or aggressively battling the "other side," it takes = leadership and commitment on the part of the parents to forge a family not just a bunch of people reluctantly house under the same roof. =

What you want to do is teach the children emotional intelligence, which includes managing negative feelings, understanding that others have feelings, practicing empathy, and learning interpersonal skills such a negotiating and conflict resolution.

Small things, the children can be taught to handle by themselves. Big things, such as put-downs and victimizing, you must address yourself. To ignore them is to condone them.

Unsupervised, and allowed to compete and bully, the scenario can be like the Discovery channel. The bird born first (by a day or 3) has a permanent advantage over the second one and will push it aside to get the worms, peck it, smother it, push it out of the nest, or even kill and eat it. The size differential is too great and the parents are too oblivious.

As a parent you need to notice who is getting the worms. It is your job. Make the decision that you will teach your children harmony, team spirit, empathy, compassion, and nuturing. My ebook, "Developing Your Child's EQ" can help. Hone your own skills first, with the EQ Alive! Program, so that you can join in. It's something to do with your children; that's part of it. Learn as much as you can, because you are always modeling behaviors and attitudes, whether you intend to or not. The children are watching.

And help spread the word. Call it by its right name.
About the Author
Susan Dunn, MA, Personal Life Coach, http://www.susandunn.cc, sdunn@susandunn.cc . Free mini coaching sessions for the holidays. Email to schedule yours. Personal coaching, Internet courses and ebooks to make your life easier and bring you more success. Coach certification program, fr** ezine. Email me
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