When a child is physically beaten by the very people who should be protecting him/her (i.e. his / her parent/s), it can cause him or her to develop feelings of great psychological conflict.
In an attempt to resolve this conflict, the child will frequently rationalize the abusive behaviour of the parent by telling him/herself that s/he deserve such abusive treatment because s/he is ‘bad.’
It has been theorized (e.g. by psychologists such as Alice Miller) that this rationalization protects the child from the reality of the situation (i.e. that the parent is abusive) and, therefore, operates as an unconscious defence mechanism that serves to shield him or her from a potentially devastating psychological truth (i.e. that those who should protect him/her are capable of doing the reverse – purposely inflicting harm and pain on him/her and representing a danger him/her).
One common such rationalization is, according to Miller, is that the parent is physically harming the child ‘for the child’s own good.‘ Indeed, one of Miller’s most seminal books is ironically entitled: ‘For Your Own Good.’
Furthermore, the child frequently also employs another subconscious defence mechanism to protect him/herself from the knowledge that the parent is abusive, namely that of DENIAL. In other words, not only may such children blame themselves for the abuse inflicted upon them, but also DENY that it hurts them, is painful and is doing them any harm.
The result of such psychological defences are that :
- The child comes to view him/herself as an intrinsically bad person who is neither acceptable nor of any value.
- S/he loses the ability to feel self-compassion and self-empathy which, in turn, reduces his/her ability to feel empathy for others.
Research also shows that there are many other negative outcomes associated with corporal punishment, too. For example, a study carried out by Straus (at the University of New Hampshire) showed that such punishment (of both boys and girls and irrespective of the socioeconomic group) tends to increase the likelihood that children will develop into adults who are :
- prone to violence.
- prone to depression.
- more likely to seek out masochistic sexual encounters.
- more likely to become alcoholics.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).