The Internet is abuzz today with headlines proclaiming that “Spanking Boosts Odds of Mental Illness.” I tried to poke around and find the source of all the new research, but all I’ve gathered from the multiple news sources I’ve checked into was that it was a Canadian-based study which looked at over 600 adult participants who claimed to have been subjected to “harsh physical punishment,” defined as “pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting as a form of punishment from elders.” This study was the first to exclude victims of sexual or physical abuse, defined as “abuse that left bruises, marks or caused injury.”
My first reaction was, what do these Canadians know about physical violence? They aren’t exactly known for their ass-kicking and corporal punishment. They seem like a pretty non-violent country – well, except for maybe this guy .
Basically, the study suggests that children who were given spankings as a punishment were 2-7% more likely to grow up with mental illnesses such as addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and OCD. Never mind all of the other possible contributing factors – their economic status, genetics, or environment – these poor kids had the shit slapped out of their asses (figuratively, I hope) and now they’re whining about it to any plaid-wearing Canuck with a clipboard who walks past. Regardless of who did the study, or even how accurate it is, it got me thinking.
I didn’t qualify for the study, and I’ll tell you why. My mother went above and beyond a little petty spanking. She only resorted to using her hand when her tools –the stick (a thin, splintery, two-foot-long piece of wood) and the paddle (a wooden paddle shaped like a cutting board with some jack-ass saying on it such as “It’s Paddlin’ Time!”) were out of her reach. I assure you, we preferred the paddle. I could give numerous examples of how our punishments didn’t fit our crimes, her creative techniques, and the physical and emotional pain it caused my sister and I for most of our childhoods. But that was a long time ago, and it’s not something I care to relive. In many ways I’ve agreed to forgive and forget because there’s no point in holding onto that ugliness. I would, however, like to share what I learned from the experience.
First and foremost: live in constant fear of upsetting others. Whether your misdeed is grand or seemingly insignificant, if the wrong person gets upset at you, you’re in for a world of hurt. It’s better to please others at all costs, including self-sacrifice. And when you have to: lie.
The second most valuable lesson I learned was how to gauge people. I picture everyone as a walking thermometer, and I watch what causes their mercury to rise and fall. In the beginning of this experiment I admit that I sometimes aggravated my friends and family just to record their reactions. When the mercury gets about sternum high, that’s when I make a break for it.
That brings us to lesson three: always have a safe spot. When I was a kid it was either my bedroom closet or a tree that was half a mile down the gravel road. Both were places I would run to when my mother was enraged and I felt threatened. When I got older I used the shower as a safe place, as it was the only room in our apartment with a locking door. Sometimes I’d spend over an hour in the bathroom, letting the water run, while I sat fully dressed on the floor just to get some peace. Now, as an adult who lives alone, I still feel safest behind locked doors. Are some of those metaphorical? Yeah, probably.
If running away physically doesn’t keep you protected, there are always drugs, anxiety, drinking, mania, OCD, depression, and whatever else you can do to keep yourself occupied. I never really made the link between my childhood spankings and these mental circles I’ve made since, but hey, maybe there’s something to it. I don’t recommend going overboard in any one category – instead, I’ve chosen to sample from each from time to time, never really settling on one. I don’t know whether that’s my last sliver of sanity telling me to watch out, or if it’s a by-product of my abandonment issues.
Finally, perhaps the most underrated lesson I’ve learned from the many years of abuse I suffered was to find an outlet to express my feelings about it. It could be a friend, a counselor, another family member, or a journal. I’ve tried it all, and I will continue to find any excuse I can to ramble on about how bad my childhood was. My good friends know this all too well.
So what’s the point of all this? I guess what I like to focus on is that my parents are human, and they made mistakes, but that they themselves didn’t have all the necessary tools to be young parents. They didn’t have a support structure, or the greatest childhoods themselves. At the time that I was a tot and they were halfway through a failed marriage, science was still on the fence about the effects of second-hand smoke, we didn’t hear about kids being abducted off the street, and there weren’t any cell phones or computers to keep track of us with. My hope is that more research – in all things – can give more insight to new parents on how their techniques will fuck up their children forever. Have I mentioned that I never want to have kids? I’m sure my neurotic little mind could never handle such a responsibility.
Patti Lynn Henry was delivered in a blizzard in February of 1984 by a drunk doctor who nearly fainted at the sight of a baby with a disintegrated umbilical cord. She’s faced countless tragedies, both real and imaginary, ever since. She’s a hostage of her home town of Northfield, MN. When Patti isn’t busy writing, she’s dressing her cats up in costumes and burying the photographs in her garden.