An adult who endured emotional and physical abuse as a child tends to have poor recollections of specific events, but they do remember the times they were loved and cared for properly.
Memory is fickle. When we experience significant stress, we go into survival mode - fight, flight, or exit by mentally checking out of whatever is happening. This is a state of shock that limits the damage to our psyche when we are powerless to protect ourselves. Energy is not spent on encoding memories because clear recollections would only increase the trauma. The more frequent the abuse, the more limited overall memory ability.
Imagine an abused child sitting in a classroom, unable to focus, retain information, or do well on an easy quiz. This child may be labeled as intellectually limited.
Imagine another abused child with hyper-focus on schoolwork, creating mental distance from ongoing abuse and trauma at home. This child may be labeled as gifted but will not relate well to the "normal" children who are not dealing with the same stress.
Imagine an adult experiencing domestic violence who keeps going back to a partner because they seem to forget the bad times and only remember the good.
Imagine an adult who promotes physical discipline for children because their parents abused them and they "turned out fine." In fact, they might say, "That's what's wrong with kids today. No one is beating them enough!"
How could a survivor of child abuse actually promote it as an adult?
Memory. The only clear memories we have are from when we were relaxed enough to encode them. Most people cannot hold contradictory viewpoints. For their parent to have been "good" and deserving of their love, whatever they did must also have been "good." Passing trauma to the next generation seems like a natural thing to do because it is their family way. Abuse is simply how children are raised.
This is why reporting suspected child abuse is so important. If you see bruises on a child, make the call and let someone else investigate. Children aren’t able to ask for help themselves.
It's also why psychologists make the best storytellers because understanding childhood experiences is an essential facet of character development. Is an abused child who has problems later in life a "monster" or someone who needs help overcoming trauma? Can we ever heal enough to extract ourselves from the generational cycle of abuse? Can a damaged person ever be "normal?"
And who is the villain? The messed up adult or the parent who raised them?
If you haven't read The Stain, I encourage you to do so.
Image courtesy of the Canva pro media library.