When I was in college one of my courses was to design an research project, implement it and then report our findings. MY group of 3 students chose physical abuse of children.
I wanted to know whether people would self-identify with the idea they were physically abused as children. This required 3 steps.
- Question 1 was simple. "Were you physically abused as a child?"
- A series of questions asking them about how they were disciplined physically by their parents or care-takers. Questions included being hit with a open hand to being hit by objects and where on their body were they hit (face, head, arms, back, buttocks legs) They were also asked if any discipline resulted in bruising, welts, bleeding or broken bones.
- A final question asked them again if they thought they had been abused physically when they were children. This was added to see if they changes their minds by the time they ended the questionnaire.
- Frequency of the abuse was asked on a scale Never, once in my life, occasionally, several times a week, daily etc.
- Age and gender was also asked to see if we could determine whether there were changes based on the time period (was there a greater incidence of abuse 20 years ago vs 10 or 5 years ago and were boys more likely to have been physically abused than girls.
The questionnaire was given to college students who were mostly between the ages of 18 to 21.
Our results were fascinating. One student said he or she had been slapped across the face with an open hand once in her life. She said she had been physically abused. This really surprised us because we had decided being slapped once in your whole life would not be considered physically abused. But we realized that if a person had never been hit, that 1 slap would have been traumatic for that person.
At the other end of the scale we had people who were hit on a daily basis with anything from a wooden spoon or belt to a piece of wood. No one said they had any bones broken as a result of the "punishment" but many said they had bruises and welts afterwards. Of this group it was surprising to us that so many respondents said they had not been abused even though they had been hit on a daily basis and hit hard enough to result in bruises or welts on their body.
Only a couple of people change their answer at the end of the questions about being physically abused.
My point here is that people don't like to use what they consider words that place them in the"victim" role. We have a strong tendency to minimize what happens to us and a great part of that happens when we mislabel our experiences. People will say things like, "It wasn't so bad," or "I deserved it". or "I could handle it"
Minimizing the extent of the discipline allowed them to continue to see the abuse as benign. It allowed them to believe they were not powerless in the situation. (By definition children are powerless over the choices their parents make and how they are disciplined).
People hate to feel powerless even when they are small and are the victims of people a lot bigger than they are. If I say I deserved it then I trick myself into believing I had some degree of power over the parent's reactions to events. When we say "It wasn't that bad" we minimize the extent of the harm and that we have some degree of power over our reactions to abuse.
On another track here about incest. When I started talking about sexual abuse and specifically incest, I could see people take an emotional step backwards away from me. They didn't like this word incest. It was dirty. The word held a lot of negative connotations to it. At the time not too many people were using this word in public but I was on TV talking about it or in classrooms or at lectures. People didn't want to think about it. I didn't like the word in the beginning either. I brought up so many negative feelings with it. But that is what it is. Using a different word for it didn't change what had happened to me.
I also saw an interesting need for people to minimize their experience when I was in a small group of incest survivors and we were talking about the word victim. No one wanted to use that word. it meant they were powerless. Here they were as adults, no longer at the mercy of their abusers but they absolutely refused to say they were victims. But they were victims. Finding some other word to describe their experiences wasn't going to change the reality that as children they were powerless. The point now was that as adults they were taking back their power. But They really didn't want to go there. To accept the word meant they had to accept that hey had no power to change things when they were being abused.
Now my point in telling you all that is this:
People don't want to use the big bad words like abuse, victim, cult to describe their experience. People often prefer to soften the ugliness of the word cult by using the less severe term "high control group". Does that change the fact that the WTS and its leaders are responsible for thousands of people being beaten and killed so they can claim they are persecuted? Those Witnesses in Malawi who were being beaten raped or killed "for standing up for the truth" by not buying a 25 cent ID card were not just part of a high control group. They were in a cult that demanded that they die for the cause. Thousands of people have died because they refused medical treatments that required blood because the cult they belonged to demanded that they refuse blood or risk being toss to the curb AND they were told they would lose out on life in a paradise if they did not obey. That is pretty severe even for a high control group.
I get that it is hard to say "I was in a cult". But it is the truth. (The real truth not the version of ever-changing truth the WTS spews out) We don't want to feel vulnerable or powerless.
But I will tell you a couple of mornings after I gave birth to my second child I felt totally powerless when the doctors said my daughter might need a blood transfusion. I saw no way around secretly signing the papers to permit the transfusion. My husband and the elders were on the way and they would be there before any decision was going to be made. I was going to be forced to sacrifice the life of my child That was a lot more than high control. They had almost total control.
Some words have a lot of power in them. They carry the weight of stigma of victimization, or powerlessness.
But like the women in the support group we are no longer in that abusive situation. We may be suffering some long term effects but we are out. We are free. And minimizing where we were won't help us reclaim the power they had over our lives.