(trigger warning: This is a topic that I can’t write about without including glimpses of my own experience. Out of respect for you, I’ll keep it as non-graphic as possible. But some things can only be understood through stories.)
(I also know that not every family that spanks takes it to these extremes. In fact, I PRAY that most don’t! But before you write this off, please consider the points. This article still applies to any level of corporal punishment, not just the extremes that I have experienced.)
There was a spot, near the ceiling, right above the closet door. A safe spot. A spot without emotions. A spot without pain.
Whenever mommy would push me down in her bed and start to spank me with the wooden spoon or hairbrush, I would fly to that spot. Up above my body, I would watch from a safe distance as she spanked me. There was nothing I could do to make her stop. She was going to do what she wanted to my body. So I would wait in safety. After she was done hitting me, I would rejoin my body as it ran out of the room.
As a 20-year-old young woman, I told my boyfriend to stop. I wanted to save this for marriage. He had agreed to save this for marriage. I told him to stop. Begged him to stop.
But he didn’t. There, in that moment when I realized it wouldn’t stop, that I was helpless and he would do what he wanted to my body, I went back to my spot. The safe spot. Above my mommy’s closet at the old house.
This was familiar, and my mind remembered just what to do.
It is alarming how many similarities there are between corporal punishment and sexual abuse.
Without realizing it, many parents are unintentionally grooming their children for future sexual abuse. The lessons children learn about their bodies and worth through corporal punishment can leave them ideal targets for violent romantic relationships throughout their adult lives.
I am NOT saying that spanking is sexual abuse (although it easily can be, depending on the motivation of parents / caregivers). I believe that most parents who spank would be genuinely horrified to learn the deeper implications and lasting effects they are having on their children.
And that is EXACTLY why I am writing this. To share my personal experience, and how childhood spankings were a factor in future abuse.
What is grooming?
“Grooming” is desensitizing someone to a situation. Making it seem normal. Overriding their natural alarm bells that should be going off.
Now, it’s true that anyone could be the victim of sexual abuse. But abusers tend to be very good at finding people whose alarm bells have already been silenced.
Without rebuilding the personal boundaries that spanking destroys, an individual is a much easier target for future abuse. After escaping my months-long sexually abusive relationship, I began journaling about the experience. To my surprise, many of the beliefs that kept me a victim had been formed many years earlier… by a wooden spoon.
It’s all about our beliefs.
Everyone has a personal vault of “truths” they believe about themselves, others, and the world. Some of these beliefs are ingrained in our personality. Most are lessons we’ve consciously or subconsciously picked up over time. Whether accurate or not, these beliefs lie under the surface, shaping the decisions we make.
The enemy loves planting false beliefs deep in our hearts. Through our everyday experiences, the prince of lies is hard at work. Parents have to be diligent to make sure they teach their children only truth.
Spanking is promoted as a way to teach a child to behave, but what does it really teach?
What lessons does a child actually learn about themselves and the world from being spanked?
1) Body Rights taken Away / powerlessness
During a spanking, a child loses all power over their body. Their “no” is irrelevant. Their pain is irrelevant. Their distress is irrelevant.
Somebody bigger and stronger is going to hurt their body as much, and for as long, as they decide. There is nothing the child can do about it.
What is the message here? What is our child internalizing? That their body is not their own.
A person who believes their “no” means nothing, who is conditioned to accept body rights violations, well, that person attracts abuser like that apple the kids left under the couch attracts fruit flies.
2) Victim Blaming / Shame
“If you would only stop being a rotten child, then I wouldn’t have to do this!” my mom would scream as she spanked me. “This is all your fault! You’re a bad, disobedient child.”
“If you wouldn’t turn me on so much then I wouldn’t have to do this.” my boyfriend would say. “You asked for this. You are a wh***.”
Having an abusive partner blame you for his actions is enough to mess with anyone’s head. But when you are already conditioned to believe that being hurt is proof that you are a bad person, it is so much easier to accept this lie faster and on a deeper level.
It’s my fault this is happening. I deserve to be hurt. This is what bad little people get.
3) Because I Love You
“Come give me a hug.” my parents would say as I cried. “You know I only spank you because I love you. I want you to grow up to be a good person.”
“Come here and let me hold you” my boyfriend said as I cried. “Thank you for letting me be the first. You know why we did that? Because I love you so much.”
Telling a child you spank him out of love teaches him that pain, fear, and violation of boundaries are already associated with love and nurturing.
Let that one sink in for a minute.
Pain, fear and violation of boundaries = love. Terrifying, yes?
You know… shortly after marrying Matthew I actually felt like he didn’t love me, because he never hit me!
Hurting = Love is NOT a belief I want my children to have!
“Stop fighting! You’re only making this worse for yourself. None of these count until you stop fighting and hold still! It will never be over until you learn to accept it!” Those are the things I heard while being spanked.
And you know what? You learn to stop fighting. To obey. To accept. Fighting and struggling mean being hurt more.
You learn to cooperate even. Like being sent to the kitchen to fetch the wooden spoon, or being sent outside to cut your own switch.
You become an accomplice in your own assault.
Because refusing to cooperate will just make it worse for you in the long run.
Helping those with power to hurt you makes less hurt.
Years after I learned this truth, the boyfriend echoed it back. “Cooperate, and I’ll be gentle. Fight, and you’ll regret it.”
That’s okay. I already know how to play that part. It is very familiar.
5) Private Areas are Meant for Pain and Humiliation.
A spanking is humiliating. It is performed on a “private” area. Usually in an undignified position. In some families the clothing is even removed. Being spanked in front of others, or within the earshot of others is incredibly embarrassing. Even having someone know you were spanked feels shameful. This sense of shame makes spanking a secret that often keeps itself… and begins conditioning children to keep their shameful secrets. Especially shameful secrets about private areas.
Then there’s the pain.
As a young child, I remember wishing that I didn’t have a bottom. Then there would be nothing to hit. Nothing to hurt. I hated my constantly sore bottom. Hated it fiercely. That spot was only for pain. I couldn’t understand why my body even had a place that was only for hurting.
“What’s the matter? Does sitting on you bottom hurt for some reason?” my dad teased as I winced while sitting down to dinner after a big spanking.
Years later my boyfriend echoed those words. “What’s the matter?” He teased. “Does it hurt to sit?”
This was a familiar lesson, one I learned as a young child. One that resonated so deep that I didn’t think to question it:
Private areas are meant for pain and humiliation.
And it’s a big secret.
Unquestioning compliance to another person disrespecting their body rights for a painful and humiliating assault on a “private” area because the child is bad and deserves it, and it’s all out of love anyways.
THE PERFECT GROOMING FOR FUTURE SEXUAL ABUSE.
For more information about spanking in general, one of my favorite articles is by Dr. Laura Markham. Should I Spank My Child
Also, if you have some time, this interview with Avital of The Parenting Junkie is totally awesome. I know it’s long, but soooo worth it. Trust me.