copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert
Americans are at odds. As a nation, we are splintered. The parts do not function as a whole. Some wish to control and command. Others prefer to work for the common good. As we stand, we are a country divided.
The most recent Internal Revenue Service data, shows one percent of Americans received twenty-one and two-tenths [21.2] percent of all personal income. In 2005, fifty  percent of the people in this nation, those who have long struggled to survive, earned twelve and eight-tenths [12.8] percent of all wages and salaries. In the United States, dollars earned split the population. Wealth is not all that separates us.
Color causes schisms. Citizens live in regions of the country labeled Red, or Blue. Brownish immigrants, with or without papers, are relegated to reside in neighborhoods far from the affluent or influential, even when authentic assimilation is meant to be an option. Frequently Black Americans are housed in communities where opportunities are few. When persons of various hues intermingle with the massive pinkish population, in the United States, the people of color are alienated.
Were Americans do physically unite, they would likely remain segregated. Americans subtly separate themselves from those they loathe, and form the people they love. Few ever consider what they do to create a rift. In America, demeanors, the way in which we communicate, divides us.
In this nation, a large portion of the population is frequently aggressive, abusive, and antagonistic. Those they encounter, the not obnoxious or toxic ones, accommodate, appease, appear unaffected, or remain anxious when in the company of the people who believe the best way to appear authoritative is to dictate what needs to be done, by whom, when, where, and why.
At times, the public is able to openly observe and discuss abuse, but usually, only when it is evident in the extreme. Banner headlines may scream a need to attend to what, for the most part remains hidden. Neglect, Abuse Seen in 90, 000 Infants. However, mostly Americans demonstrate their angst in manners identified as normal. No one speaks of what is standard. Perchance, the reason is, in the States reactive behaviors, which reveal annoyance, are so common as to be customary.
Daily, in periodicals we read of what we would wish to think is not traditional, but may be. The accounts scream to us. Citizens in this country think it outrageous when they realize. In Chicago, youth violence is increasingly prevalent. Twenty-two  students were slain in this heartland city so far this year. Our fellow country men remark, ‘This sort of thing occurs only among ‘those people.’ Surely, the rest of us are sane and serene. ‘The average American would not strike out in such a manner.’ People say, ‘Weaponry is for outlaws,’ or at least, mechanical arsenals are meant only to combat a political enemy. Those who reside in the United States never imagine that “they” would use a gun in anger, or lash out when with a friend. Few consider how frequently they attack those they say they are fond of.
When words are the weapon of choice, and blood is not spilled, most in this country think no harm is done. War and wounds are what we see on the battlefields, and mostly abroad. In this country, life is calm.
We read of skirmishes elsewhere daily. Americans witness what occurs in the Persian Gulf. Iraqi deaths are on the rise regardless of the Americans attempt to Surge and subvert the violence. Now, that is awful. Thankfully, this nation is not torn apart by war.
Few ponder the fact that these excessive examples illustrate and amplify what is apparent in American homes. People pounce easily and often. We cruelly criticize and intentionally drive a wedge between unions. We conquer; and in America, we destroy.
In this country, enemies are thought to be around every corner. We publicly rant and rage when we refer to people of another race or religion. Privately, many are punitive towards those who reside in our homes. When we look upon those the “commanders” consider beloved, we see differences, and ignore similarities. He is wrong; I am right. She is flawed. “I am perfect.” Spite is right. Malice is might. Vindictiveness is used to undermine viciousness. In many American homes, tit for tat is the acceptable.
Those in authority, “Tsk, tsk,” the ones who they would wish to weaken. Children are infrequently given information about the consequences of their choices. Calm and complete communication is too often a rarity in our abodes. Rather than work to create cohesive communities within a household, parents and their progeny dictate, and divide.
Adults learn their aggressive manners in childhood. A slight from a toddler’s first teachers cuts to the core. Terse comments, a tease, or a taunt directed at a teen does not simply slide off the back of one scarred by a lifetime of verbal slashes. Adults do not deflect digs; some have merely learned how to present the appearance of being unaffected by an oral assault. In truth, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, and names hurt me more than a physical attack might.” Many may relate to a common event and decide this is not my business.
As I was leaving gym one morning, I overheard a mother berating her daughter for refusing to put her face in the water during a toddlers’ swim class. “You’re such a little coward,” she told the sobbing child — who could not have been more than three years old. “It’s the same every week. You always make your daddy and me ashamed. Sometimes I can’t believe you’re really my daughter.”
Although my stomach churned with rage on the child’s behalf, I said nothing. After all, I rationalized, the mother would just tell me to mind my own business. But I had no doubt that what I had witnessed was in many ways as bad as a brutal beating. It was emotional child abuse.
“The bruises don’t show on the outside, so there are no statistics on how many children are victims,” says Dr. Elizabeth Watkins, chief of pediatric primary care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. “But anyone who works with children knows that the problem is widespread.”
University of Minnesota psychologist Byron Egeland, who has conducted extensive studies on parenting and early-childhood development, says the effects of emotional child abuse may be at least as devastating as those of physical abuse. Research conducted by Egeland and his colleagues suggests that emotionally abused children suffer an even greater decline in mental and psychological development as they grow older than do physically abused children.
This abated state does not necessarily translate to an academic deficit. Often times, persons who were beaten down emotionally excel in their physical and intellectual endeavors. Countless adults, who were verbally assaulted as children, believe that the cruelty and callousness they endured, has made them stronger. People in older bodies show no physical blemishes. A mature member of society is not noticeably bruised or disfigured. Most middle-aged grown-ups, those once exposed to such exploitation have learned to hide the scars. Hurt hearts do not inhibit intellectual growth; nor do the effects of verbal and emotional injuries restrict achievements. As a tot, a teen, or an individual in his or her golden years, a person harmed by words can thrive and triumph. The attitude is, “I will show them!” The thought that provokes our success is, “I will do well. Then, they will [finally] love me.”
The truth is mean Mom’s and dismissive Dad’s do love their offspring. They simply do not know how to show it. Too often, we do as was done to us. As adults, we become the people our parents were. While we may have abhorred mother or father’s behavior, it is what we know. We grow to be as those who taught us were.
At birth, we learn of what we despise most. In our parents dwelling, as tots, we become acquainted with insults, invectives, and insolence. The invisible barbs are experienced as a barrage of bullets; each pierces the flesh. Mothers mock us. Fathers jeer. Brothers and sisters, bully. In our earliest years, we begin to think of when and how we can leave the company of those who say they treasure us. In time, as children we decide the best defense is a good offense. Hence, we become equally odious, angry, and ambitious. Often adults, who were verbally abused as children, when they speak of their parents, state, “They did the best they could.” Indeed, perfectionist parents do what they believe is best, and they expect their progeny to do better.
In ambitious middle-class families, one of the most common forms of emotional abuse is the denigration of any achievement that falls short of perfection, such as when a child is punished for bringing home a B instead of an A. Jeree Pawl, director of the Infant-Parent Program at San Francisco General Hospital, observes that “perfectionist” parents may display irrational expectations.
After a time, Mom and Dad no longer need to express what they expect; children know what is necessary. In fact, a young person will demand more of him or herself than either parent ever did. In our youth, we become self-critical. Our parents likely did not disparage us as well as we demean ourselves. Each day, we improve. We can deliver venom more vigorously than Mom or Dad ever did. Persons, who were the victims of verbal mistreatment in their youth, inflict the same sarcastic and sardonic on them selves as they age.
The use of hurtful declarations becomes a habit. Spoken stabs pull a person down. Those not stated aloud do us in with greater force. The voice within is perhaps more furious than the one separate from self. Our self-assessments are as a cancerous virus. Merciless messages kill. Yet, no one notices the cause or effects of the illness. Too many Americans share the symptoms; hence, the pain is standard.
Parental verbal abuse may wound children’s psyches so deeply that the effects remain apparent in young adulthood. Such abuse may wreak psychological havoc greater than that caused by physical abuse.
With an M.B.A. degree under her belt, 24-year-old “Jaime” (not her real name) should have glowing job prospects in Chicago. But she harbors memories that erode her self-confidence and make her bristle with anger-memories of her father shouting at her, during drunken rages, that she was ugly and of little value.
Indeed, verbal abuse during childhood can scar people deeply, a new study suggests. It was headed by Martin Teicher, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program at McLean Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. Results were published in the June American Journal of Psychiatry.
Although the injurious effects of child physical and sexual abuse have been the subject of considerable inquiry, not much attention has been paid to the possibly noxious effects of verbal abuse on children.
People attend to what they see. The battered hearts, the wounded souls are not visible to the eye; although the effects of these are apparent if we wish to see them. Researchers studied and discovered what lies just beneath the surface.
People who were verbally abused had 1.6 times as many symptoms of depression and anxiety as those who had not been verbally abused and were twice as likely to have suffered a mood or anxiety disorder over their lifetime, according to psychology Professor Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, the study’s lead author.
“We must try to educate parents about the long-term effects of verbal abuse on their children,” Sachs-Ericsson said. “The old saying about sticks and stones was wrong. Names will forever hurt you.”
Moms and Dads wield words as weapons daily. An innocent and sweet child may be saddened by what is said to them. Frequently, a lad or a lass, who has come to expect the worse is fretful, frightened, or apprehensive when near those who vocally attack. After a time, a child turned teen, may appear angry, as an adult resigned, acquiescent when with Mom or Dad. Still, the pain seeps out. It spills onto all the injured individual encounters.
The cycle starts subtly. It is all so subterranean. How often is a child told, “You need to take responsibility”? Yet, how frequently does neither guardian seems to accept that they play a part in what occurred in their own lives. After a night on the town, too much food, and an abundance of alcoholic beverages, Dad may bellow, “Stay out of my way today if you know what’s good for you.” Then, as if to inform his brood, father would offer, “I’m in a bad mood.” Daddy does not wish to be liable for his own limitations. Thus, if he was under duress, or hassled, surely, someone else must be to blame.
It is a “me against the world” mentality. Those who command and seek control, the power they did not feel they had in their youth, see themselves as separate from the others. Hence, the great divide.
Mom may be no different from Dad. This sweet, soft-spoken woman, a mother committed to her children often commented, “My life would have been perfect if it were not for you.” She would then say, “Get out of my sight; you are a bad boy, a hateful, ungrateful girl.” Then, moments later, Mommy would say how much she loved you, or I. Life and love, as a child, and later as an adult can be caustic, chaotic, and troublesome, even if we emerge confidently. Either parent can do the damage. Both can build the barriers that teach one of the brood to be boldly brazen.
Weeks ago, Americans watched an esteemed achiever, a Presidential aspirant, vent wrathful words. The statements made echoed in every American household. On television and radio airwaves we heard, “Shame on you. “It is time you (act in a manner) consistent with your messages in public. That is what I expect from you. (L)et’s have a debate about your tactics and your behavior . . .” Only days prior, we, as a nation, were moved by the magnanimous words, “(Y)ou know, no matter what happens in this contest — and I am honored, I am honored to be here with [the same person who was slammed two days later.] I am absolutely honored.” Hours before the homage was delivered in a face-to-face encounter, the self-proclaimed “fighter” raged, she was ready. The person she humiliated after offering a sincere homage was not. Then, in a fit of anger, this eloquent and accomplished adult exclaimed to her audience, “Let’s get real.”
On an occasion or two, the New York Senator states if she and her adversary worked as one, all dreams would come true. Quickly, Hillary Rodham Clinton reminds us that the same individual who she thinks praiseworthy is incompetent. He cannot command; nor is he qualified. The waling wounded Clinton claims the man who might steal her win is but a “child.” She demeans his experience while she exaggerates her own. In a breath, the scared child, now a grown Senator, cries out. The former First Lady, who continues to carry the weight of a world built on pain within her, tells us the man who angers her is eloquent, admirable, and yet, inadequate.
One day this wise woman is passive or polite; then in the next moment she is aggressive and antagonistic. As Hillary Clinton speaks of Uniting the States, creating a cohesive Democratic Party, she works to divide these entities. She loves her country, her challenger, and her community; yet . . .
The push-pull of these love-hate relationships may remind us of what too many of us as children and adults experience in our family homes. In the “United” States, division, derision, declarations that divide a union are natural. Most accept the conventions that have been familiar throughout their lives. Few are disturbed by the divisiveness a Presidential candidate puts forth. Perchance, the American people relate. Might we consider the climate that was the candidate’s childhood, her history, and the truth that fashioned her family?
The couple fought. In 1926, Dorothy’s father filed for divorce, claiming that his wife had hit him in the face and scratched him on three separate occasions, according to Cook County records. In a March 1927 court hearing, Della Howell’s own sister accused her of abusing her husband and abandoning her two daughters.
“She had a violent temper and flew at him in a rage, and would fight him,” testified the sister, Frances Czeslawski.
Della Howell did not show up to contest the divorce — she could not be found by subpoena servers. Dorothy’s father was given custody. But, either unwilling or unable to take care of his daughters, he put them on the train to California, where his parents, Edwin Howell Sr. and Emma Howell, had moved a few years previously. . . .
The grandparents were ill-prepared to raise Dorothy and her sister, Isabelle.
Edwin Howell Sr. had emigrated from Wales. He worked as a machinist in an auto plant and as a laborer for the Alhambra street department, according to Alhambra city directories from the time. He mostly left the girls’ care to his wife.
Emma Howell was a strict woman who wore black Victorian dresses and discouraged visitors and parties. Once, discovering that Dorothy had gone trick-or-treating on Halloween, she ordered her confined to her room for a year except for school.
“Her grandmother was a severe and arbitrary disciplinarian who berated her constantly, and her grandfather all but ignored her,” Clinton wrote. . .
“Once I asked my mother why she went back to Chicago,” Clinton wrote in “Living History.” The answer? “‘I’d hoped so hard that my mother would love me that I had to take the chance and find out,’ she told me. ‘When she didn’t, I had nowhere else to go.’
Too many of us can recall a time when we wanted to be appreciated, admired, accepted by those who brought us into the world, or taught us to be the best we could be. Even when those we care for harm us, we still crave their adoration. A child who feels less than cherished will try harder. Humans will do whatever they believe they must do in hopes that someday, they will be treasured by their first teachers, the people they call family.
Hillary was the best student among her siblings, the one who took her parents’ lessons most seriously. . .
Hugh Rodham, unlike many other fathers of his era, raised his daughter to be ambitious. When she brought home straight A’s, Rodham would say, “Well, Hillary, that must be an easy school you go to,” she [Presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton] wrote. . .
Hugh Rodham took thrift to even greater heights than many survivors of the Depression. If Hillary, Hugh Jr., or Tony left the cap off the toothpaste, he would toss it out the window and send the child to search for it. An allowance was out of the question. “I feed you, don’t I?” she remembers him saying.
Clinton speaks of her father admiringly, but . . . no one disputes his gruffness. “He was character building, like our winters in Chicago,” Ebeling, Clinton’s best friend, said. . . .
He was “highly opinionated, to put it mildly,” [Hillary] Clinton wrote. “We all accommodated his pronouncements . . .
Hilary is as many warriors in society are. She expects the electorate to tolerate her brusque, sometimes demeaning, statements, just as she accepted much of what her father said. If the people wish to argue with the aspirant, as occasionally she did with her dear Dad, Clinton thinks that is fine. After all, she is a fighter. She knows how to win. Just as Hugh Rodham did when he felt his children were uncontrollable, the dictatorial, decidedly aggressive decider known as Dad escalated the argument. “You are with me or against me” is a common refrain among those who command cruelly.
Many progeny adapt to parents who can be punitive. After a time, offspring learn, the boundaries that divide them are best when they remain as invisible, just as the wounds on the heart are. Children convince themselves, they are strong. They are in control. As long as they go along to get along all will be well, and it will be, until the next emotional upheaval. Even then, those who scream and demean will be fine, for what they experience is familiar.
I offer a personal anecdote, one that helped me to understand the divide that exists among us in America. There are the “fighters” well-trained to battle, and the peacemakers, those who talk in tones that are more tranquil.
I realized this only in recent years. A time ago, after I had lived on this glorious green Earth for more than three decades I thought I understood people. I experienced much in my lifetime. As a child, I settled in the suburbs, the city, and the country. In my earliest years may family had all the fineries. We were exceptionally wealthy. Then, there was the divorce. My Mommy, new Daddy a sister, and I were extremely poor when I was in Elementary School. Eventually we evolved into Middle Class. I felt as though we were average.
At seventeen years of age, I declared my independence. I left home, lived on my own, and struggled to earn enough money to survive. I inhabited neighborhoods not thought to be safe. My knowledge of life and it’s various styles, I believed was expansive.
Then, it occurred. I met a man. Immediately, I knew I loved him. I had never been easily impressed. Romantic relationships were not part of my repertoire. This person, I perceived as beyond special. I admired him, and I intensely appreciated him. This gentleman was brilliant. He was very successful. He smiled ever so warmly. Until . . . suddenly, he yelled. The wrath was intended for me. As Gary excitedly expressed his disgust, his face was flush. His eyes and veins were bulging. This cherished chap was agitated, accusatory, and exceptionally anxious. To this day, I know not why. I have asked. Yet, an explanation was not forthcoming.
As Gary ranted and raged, I stood frozen, as a deer in headlights. I was stunned. In my whole life, no one had ever yelled at me, or so I thought, previous to that day. There was one other occasion.
That narrative aside, as Gary and I stood face to face, as he screamed and shrieked, he articulated the assertion, “You are having a tantrum.” I marveled. I am a calm person. As a child, I was just as serene. In my entire life, I did not recall being explosive. As I observed Gary and listened to his words, I was uncertain which aspect of this encounter was more amazing to me, his conduct, or his contention. After, the damn or dam broke, he seemed free of his agitation. I was anxious, although still silent. I knew not what to say or do. What had I witnessed? What did it mean? How did I feel about it?
In time, I did learn as Hillary Clinton, and others whose hearts are hurt by words, do. I could choose to tolerate the brusque and debasing language. I could choose to appease, to please, or to patronize. However, I also understood no matter what I decided to do, there would be consequences. There would always be a chasm between Gary and I. I would never fully feel comfortable, for I did not know what might bring on another brutal belch of bitterness.
I walked on eggshells, and he, with all his hollering, hoped to secure the impression that he walked on water. I came to discover that Gary had been challenged all his life. His parents were the purveyors of agenda after agenda. As a child he had felt as he now teaches others to feel, as though he was and is less than. Gary was told too often, he was not good enough, smart enough; he was wrong. If Gary received an excellent evaluation in class, he too was meet with the remark similar to the ones the New York Senator heard in her youth. “Well, that subject is just too simple.” “An “A” grade is not good enough.”
Dissect a heart. Dismember a sweet spirit. It is the American way, divide and conquer. In a competitive society, where cruelty is common, most everyone will suffer, so that the few spoiled souls can feel, even if only for a moment, that they have succeeded. Sadly, their triumph is our demise.
Gary, Hillary, and too many we encounter have become so familiar with belligerent behaviors they no longer think there are other ways to work with people.
I was raised in a family where no one yells. To say I am jarred by loud aggressive rants is to understate what I feel. For a time, I team-taught with an instructor deemed superior. This person won District-wide awards. I understood why when I assessed the curriculum this teacher originated. Yet, this individual chastised students vociferously and with ample abandon. When in a rage, this educator’s voice traveled throughout the building. I literally jumped in fright on more than one occasion.
Even without the volume, this teacher’s words could cut like a knife. When the venom was directed at me, I froze. I am extremely sensitive to the lexis. The phrases this instructor used were not part of my reality. Our philosophies on life were disparate. Yet, I truly enjoyed this individual when the conversation was amiable. When jovial, the professor was a delight. Indeed, this person often was happy and genuinely fun.
When a scream was heard through the walls, students and I would react. Some smiled. A few laughed nervously. Others and I were startled. We cringed. When the world was again calm, quietly, throughout the room, discussions emerged. The demeanor of this academic was the topic. Talk of the teacher was approached tenderly. As I listened, I learned. If a person grows up in a home where one particular approach to life is normal, they learn to accept and appreciate that manner of expression. People who were taught to expect verbal lashings, as Hillary Clinton noted, learn to accommodate or accept.
If cruel criticisms were common in a home; howls were considered to be a sign, someone cares, painful as that might be. Those never exposed to love that did not hurt could not imagine the possibility. Tis a sad state in this union, when those we treasure most are the ones we whip to a pulp with words. A country divided cannot stand.
Perchance it is time to truly discuss what divides America. Dollars and legal documents are not divisive. Paper does not have the power to pull us apart. Race cannot physically separate us. In nature, every hue is a significant part of the whole. Religion does not cause a rift between neighbors. A philosophy can only teach us. Principles do not reach into our souls and cause us to slice and dice. It is we who control the chaos that drives a wedge between our brethren and we.
Might Americans come together at home and on every avenue? From Wall Street to Main Street let us speak kindly to each other. Let us teach the children well.
Perhaps, it is time to tell those you share a life with that you revere them without reservations. If we choose to use words that consistently show we care for those we love, perhaps, peace will have a chance. If our words were to mirror our stated beliefs, possibly, money would have no power, color could do no harm, and religious principles would be evident in our every expression. Please, imagine and work to give birth to what for too long was thought impossible. Let us live in an America, united in more than name only.
Sources, Scars, Screams in a divided society . . .
- Divided They Run. Editorial. The New York Times. February 6, 2008
- Internal Revenue Service data. United States Internal Revenue. 2005
- S.F. promotes services for illegal immigrants, By Cecilia M. Vega. San Francisco Chronicle. April 3, 2008
- Red or Blue-Which Are You? Take the Slate Quiz. By Anne E. Kornblut. Slate Magazine. Wednesday, July 14, 2004, at 3:00 PM ET
- Neglect, Abuse Seen in 90, 000 Infants. The Associated Pres. The New York Times. April 3, 2008
- pdf Neglect, Abuse Seen in 90, 000 Infants. The Associated Pres. The New York Times. April 3, 2008
- In Chicago, Youth Violence Prompts Clampdown, 22 Students Slain So Far This Year; City’s Public Schools Get Security Cameras and Extra Police. By Kari Lydersen. Washington Post. Wednesday, April 2, 2008; Page A02
- Iraqi Deaths Are on the Rise Again During Clashes With Militias, By James Glanz. The New York Times. April 2, 2008
- Emotional Child Abuse: The Invisible Plague, ?By Susan Jacoby. ?Reader’s Digest. February, 1985
- Invisible Scars: Verbal Abuse Triggers Adult Anxiety, Depression. Science Daily. May 22, 2006
- Parents’ Verbal Abuse Leaves Long-Term Legacy, Joan Arehart-Treichel. Psychiatric News. July 7, 2006
- Verbal beatings hurt as much as sexual abuse, Can lead to depression, anxiety, and worse. By William J. Cromie. Harvard News Office. April 26, 2007
- A developmental perspective on anger. Family and peer contexts, By Barbara D. DeBaryshe and Dale Fryxell. Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 35, 205-216
- invisible scars: Verbal abuse triggers adult anxiety, depression, By Jill Elish. Florida State University.
- Clinton tells Obama: ‘Shame on you’; Obama fires back. Cable News Network. February 23, 2008
- The CNN Democratic presidential debate in Texas. Cable News Network. February 21, 2008
- Clinton Gets Emotional Over Mailers: ‘Shame On You, Barack Obama’ By Jake Tapper. ABC News. ?February 23, 2008 01:32 PM EST
- As Crucial Tests Loom, Clinton Hits Harder, By Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray. Washington Post. Thursday, February 21, 2008; Page A01
- pdf As Crucial Tests Loom, Clinton Hits Harder, By Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray. Washington Post. Thursday, February 21, 2008; Page A01
- Clinton scorns Obama as running mate, By Edward Luce. The Financial Times. March 11 2008 02:00
- Clinton Hints at Joint Democratic Ticket. By Jennifer Parker. ABC News March 5, 2008
- Obama: Clinton Hasn’t Passed Commander in Chief Test, Either, By Shailagh Murray. Washington Post. March 11, 2008
- pdf The L.A. ‘village’ that raised Hillary Clinton’s mother, The girl who became Dorothy Rodham grew up — too fast — in Alhambra, too fast. Perhaps you’ve heard of her daughter. By Joe Mathews. Los Angeles Times. March 23, 2008