Stories about child abuse have become common in our society. Nevertheless, I was absolutely stunned when a patient shared his experience of child abuse. He gave me permission to share his story, but I purposely removed any identifying information. What is abuse? What are the long-term effects of abuse? This is a true story; read on…
He watched in horror as his father walked towards him with an ax. His father had exploded in a rage so many times before, but this was different. As he walked closer to him, he could see that his father was shaking and his face was contorted with rage.
Not knowing what to do, he tried talking to him. “What are you going to do with that ax?” he asked. He started pleading as his father got even closer to him, “please, Dad… please don’t hit me!”
He was in complete disbelief when his father swung his ax and hit him. He tried to shield himself using his arm. As it hit him, the ax ripped his arm open all the way to the bone. Suddenly, his father stopped hitting him. Maybe the sight of him bleeding profusely made his father stop. It didn’t really matter. He was just relieved that his father stopped hitting him and was finally taking him to the hospital.
“Of course, your father must have been taken away by authorities immediately after you got to the hospital. Wasn’t he?” I asked. He said, “no!”
At this point, I was even more horrified by this story. “How is that possible?” I said angrily. Still in complete disbelief, I added: “Clearly, being hit with an ax by your father is obviously child abuse! No one will even try to dispute that. Besides, health care providers are required by law to report all child abuse cases!”
He said, “at that time, they weren’t really required to report it. And they didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t really have anywhere else to go. I think they didn’t want to make it worse for me after we got home.”
I was trying not to cry as I listened to him calmly explain what happened to him. I felt that it was so unjust for his father to go unpunished for his crime. I was getting more and more upset, but then I noticed that he was not at all angry. He was just calmly trying to comfort me.
I realized that I was focusing too much on myself and allowing myself to be upset by his story. Instead, I wanted to shift my focus on trying to help him and not adding to any residual pain he must have been feeling.
I finally managed to say, “that’s a shame that your father hit you with an ax. They really should have reported it. Your father deserved to pay for his crime.”
I couldn’t resist asking, “where was your mom when the abuse was going on?” He said, “she couldn’t really help me because he was also abusing her.” He added slowly, “actually, she ended up killing herself when she couldn’t take his abuse anymore.” I just didn’t know what to say to him. I felt so sorry for what he had gone through.
Mercifully, his wife interrupted our discussion. She said, “don’t tell her anymore stories. She added, “don’t tell her about the other *bad stuff* — they’re going to really upset her.”‘
I stared at him in disbelief and said, “oh my God! There are other bad stories? And the others are a lot worse than what you just shared?” He just nodded.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this patient. I only saw him twice because he and his wife lived in another state. I was teaching him how to manage his long-term pain, which had become more severe after his surgery. I think he ended up sharing his experience with child abuse after I pointed out that emotional stress as well as physical stress can increase the severity of his surgical pain.
Against all odds, this man has led a happy and successful life. He was a successful health care professional who retired wealthy. More importantly, he was happy and very close to his loved ones. No, he did not become abusive to his children. His children had grown to be happy and successful people also.
What happened to his abusive father? He passed away after battling a long illness. Remarkably, he visited his abusive father regularly before he died.
Unfortunately, abused children are not usually as lucky as this man who survived his father’s abuse. Based on studies done on child abuse, 5 children a day die from abuse.
Millions of children all over the world are suffering from hidden child abuse. In the United States, over 3 million cases of child abuse are reported every year. Of course, abuse doesn’t always get reported. So, statistics of abuse are actually a lot worse. Abused children are often afraid that the abuse will get a lot worse, if they report their abuser.
What is abuse?
Child abuse is any physical, sexual, psychological or emotional mistreatment or neglect of a child. Child abuse or maltreatment is considered to be any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or caregiver that results in harm or potential harm to a child. Child abuse can happen in a child’s home, school or community.
Here are important links about child abuse:
* National Child Abuse Hotline — Call 800-4-A-CHILD to help a child.
* National Library of Medicine: Child Abuse Resources — This is the National Library of Medicine’s authoritative information on child abuse: get an overview and learn about diagnosis, symptoms, treatment and prevention.
What are the long-term effects of abuse?
Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes. Telomere shortening is a measure of cellular aging and health. Shortened telomeres have been linked to many age-related illnesses, including heart disease and certain cancers.
Many studies have provided evidence that psychological stress can lead to numerous stress-associated health problems, including including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, memory impairment, decreased immunity and worsening of other diseases. Stress can increase your risk for a stroke and heart attack as well as change the outcome of cancer and other illnesses. It can lead to faster aging and shorten your life.
If you’ve experienced child abuse or if you’re currently living a stressful life for any reason, there are ways you can prevent harmful effects of abuse-related psychological stress as well as chronic stress. Of course, it would be very important to get professional help for dealing with severe emotional and psychological trauma.
Studies have shown that exercising regularly can prevent harmful effects of psychological and chronic stress. By using effective coping strategies, you can decrease your perception of stress and decrease harmful stress-associated health effects.
If you suffered from child abuse in the past and you’re still dealing with severe emotional and psychological trauma, it might benefit you to get professional help. You can get ideas for effective coping strategies. It can make it easier for you to cope with psychological stress. It can make it easier for you to live a happier and richer, more meaningful life.