Persons who engage in violence tend to have been victims of violence.18 One study found that "remorseless physical brutality at the hands of the parents had been a constant experience" for first-degree murderers in their childhoods.19 Every time a child is punished by the use of violence he is being taught that the use of violence is a proper mode of behavior. Violence becomes what superego figures do. It is impossible to use corporal punishment on a child without simultaneously teaching that the deliberate infliction of pain as a form of persuasion and as a means of gaining ascendancy over others is legitimate. The child who is witness to adult violence also quite rightly asks himself why he may not use violence in order to make other people behave in accordance with his wishes. The answer he comes to is simply that he does not have sufficient physical and social might to inflict pain on others without their retaliating. All that he lacks is power. And as soon as he gets it, he takes it as right that he should use it. Thus, he uses violence on the next generation of children, and so on.
Because child abuse victims learn to abuse children in this manner quite directly, they are filled with a sense of the moral righteousness of what they are doing. The internal injunction in an abusing parent has a kind of moral imperative associated with it which is hard to match. His sense of the righteousness and justice of the act derives from the fact that he himself was so punished in his childhood, and developing the sense that such punishment is legitimate and even righteous was the only way in which he could accept it. One of the greatest obstacles in dealing with a child-abusing parent is this feeling that the actions were justified. Psychologically he has a license from the superego to abuse his child, which is irrevocable, handed down to him at the time he was abused by his original superego figure.
Simple imitation is a factor. Patterns of child-rearing appear to be based on the care received as a child. Zalba says that "if children remain in homes where there is repeated abuse, they are likely to internalize the behavioral models to which they are exposed." He quotes Beatrice Simcox Reiner and Irving Kaufman on this: "Having experienced loss of love or inconsistent care themselves, they are unable as adults to provide a mature and consistent type of parental care for their children but pass on these elements to them. . . . Such parents have a tendency to subject their own children to similar losses and to experiences that will engender the same attitudes."20 Lakin, in the study already cited, found that mothers of colicky, crying infants displayed much greater tension and hostility with respect to their own mothers than did the mothers of the children who were normal. The mothers of colicky infants carried "resentment at the lack of support and the greater emotional distance" they had experienced in their childhoods.
The word bastard is interesting from this point of view. The word literally means a person whose birth is illegitimate, the offspring of a mother not married, a person who has no claim upon a specific father for support and care. But bastard also means that the person is evil, mean, and unlovable. Bastard in the first sense suggests that the child is likely neglected and abused. Bastard in the second sense means that the person is intrinsically undesirable. These two meanings converge into the one word because the two meanings characteristically converge in fact. Bastards tend to become bastards, and if they breed, they tend to beget bastards in turn. That word is less frequently used by women; but, characteristically, when women use it, they are describing a man who abandons a woman who has become pregnant by him. And she, uttering the word as though it were the ultimate curse, psychologically fuses the bastard growing within her with the father. Her child, abused and neglected as he is likely to be, is truly a bastard in one sense and is likely to become a bastard in the other.
18 G.M. Duncan, S.H. Frazier, E.M. Litin, A.M. Johnson and A.J. Barron, "Etiological Factors in First-Degree Murder," Journal of the American Medical Association, 1958, 168, 1755-1758. Also, S.N. Nurse, "Familial Patterns of Parents who Abuse Their Children," Smith College Studies in Social Work, 1964, 35, 11-25.
19 G. C. Curtis, "Violence Breeds Violence--Perhaps?" American Journal of Psychiatry, 1963, 120, 386-387.
20 S.R. Zalba, "The Abused Child. I. A Summary of the Problem," Social Work 1966, 11 (4) p. 20
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