Category: Interviews

The artist of the month is Natalie Merchant. We start off discussion of this week’s topic with her song “Jealousy” from her album “Tigerlily.”

( At the end of “Jealousy” you can watch Natalie perform a number of her songs when a montage of her performances appear on the screen. Terrific, and a great diversion from a difficult topic.)

Welcome back everyone. Hope you’ve had a great summer. My wife Marsha and I have just returned from a trip to Italy which was fantastico!

While I was away a number of events occurred that I felt could be important to comment on. Everything from President Obama’s decision to involve us in another war to the Ebola crisis. But since this isn’t a political site (well, sometimes it has been) I want to talk about something that hit the newswires that has deep psychological meaning and touches us all. It’s the topics of domestic violence and child abuse that has made its way into headlines because of the behavior of two professional football players. See here and here

Domestic violence and child abuse go hand-in-hand. That’s because if we look deeper into the problem–deeper than accusations about an NFL commissioner and what he did or didn’t do, or  the debate over the punishment by the NFL of the two men involved–we see that pundits and commentators are missing the core of the problem. Domestic violence and child abuse are a family systems issue. It’s a family systems issue that — much more often than not — is passed down from one generation to the next and is often accompanied or caused by substance abuse–drugs and alcohol–poverty, mental illness and ignorance. Still today, there are those, like former NBA basketball star Charles Barkley, who see striking a child with a switch as “the way it was done when I was a kid and I turned out alright.” That sentiment reveals a lack of psychological awareness and a lack of empathy for children, which, unfortunately, is lost in the media debate.  The media debate has been about punishment for the perpetrators–how many games should they miss– and about the bottom line as the league faces loss of sponsor revenue. Certainly, punishment by legal authorities is warranted,(And frankly concern about sponsor revenue is an abomination when it comes to the discussion of this crucial topic.) But when we emphasize punishment such as suspensions from the game , we are  perpetuating the problem by creating greater stress –financial and personal– that contributes to the abusive cycle. If legal punishment is warranted then let the system work. But as part of that punishment there has to be an emphasis on treatment and education. Psychotherapy, family therapy, couple therapy, and therapy for  children must be integrated into the constellation of interventions and it must be done with empathy, compassion, and patience (there are no quick fixes) for everyone involved. Try to remember this: The abuser–spousal or child– either was abused himself or witnessed abuse that became internalized. Time and treatment are needed to change this.

I’ve listened to many stories about abuse.  The damage expressed creates a lifetime struggle. My clients report taking different paths to cope with their experience. Under conflict, some act out with blind rage. Others know the potential damage  of abuse and hold on tightly to  impulses, which causes emotional and physical problems. Some douse their pain with alcohol, or medicate themselves through drugs, sex, shopping, gambling and other compulsive behaviors. The good news is that they are telling someone, sharing what happened which is an act of courage. Through my work with them they develop tools such as “It’s the Second thought that Counts” (see here) or  mindfulness meditation(see here) l for relaxation and for a deep understanding of the connection between thoughts, emotions and behavior.

In my own family, I experienced abuse at the hands of both my mother and father, who themselves were traumatized and tortured during World War II. The only way I was able to overcome the pain of their experience that I received through their abuse  was by doing the deep emotional work necessary for healing and with the support of loving and caring professionals and friends.

So we kick off the New Year (it is the Jewish New Year, L’Shannah Tova, and I always think of September as the start of a new cycle, a new year) with the topic of domestic violence and child abuse. The topic is a difficult one, but I invite you to join the discussion with your own stories and opinions.  Your music, as always, is welcome.

We add to Natalie’s Merchant’s contribution at the top of the page with the following songs:

Tracy Chapman– “Behind the Wall”

The Beatles “Run For Your Life”

“My Name is Luca” Suzanne Vega





10 thoughts on “Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

  1. Hello everyone! I am sure all the older folk know this poem by Dr. Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D., but just in case, here it is. When my wife and I were having problems with our parenting differences, a wise therapist gave us a poster with this poem. It was very beneficial.
    Children Learn What They Live
    If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
    If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
    If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
    If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
    If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
    If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
    If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
    If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
    If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
    If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
    If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
    If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
    If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
    If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
    If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
    If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
    If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
    If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
    If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

  2. I know about the new child rearing stuff, but I tried it and it just does not work. When I take my 7 yr old daughter to the supermarket she acts really bad. I threaten to take away her TV or her collection of Monster High dolls, but she don’t care. She screams and kicks and throws herself down on the floor. The only thing that gets her to shut up is a good swat on the rear end. Yeah, she cries until I raise my hand again and tell her to stop or she’ll get more when we get home. Sometimes, I feel bad about the way people look at us when this happens, but they don’t know how hard it is to get her to be good and I am her mother and I know what works best! Just thought you should hear a different point of view.

    1. Andrea, it’s imperative that you read the previous post. Here’s an idea. When your child is cranky, restless, and generally unhappy try to realize she does not want to be shopping with you. Put yourself in her shoes. Then be kind and pick her up, hug her, and promise you’ll be finished quickly and of course mean it. But if your daughter is inconsolable then maybe its closing time. Leonard Cohen

  3. Hi Dr. Ike:
    Wow, reading all this stuff takes me back to when I was a kid. Both my parents were always so busy fighting with each other that I felt they did not even notice I was in the room or cared if I was or what I was doing. One sure way to get them to stop fighting with each other was to blatently break one of their rules in front of them. Amazing how quickly they would stop and one or both of them come after me with the wooden spoon (Momma) or wooden paddle (Daddy.) Negative attention is better than no attention at all I figured. I recently realized that this concept has carried forward to my married life. My husband works a lot from home and really has little time to spend with me. I noticed at those times when I do something to irritate him, he has plenty of time to yell at me! LOL – negative attention is still better than no attention at all!

  4. Dear Dr. Ike: I am so happy that you took on this week the topic of child abuse. We must not hate the abusers but rather help to enlighten them so that they will understand they must break the chain between he generations in their family of those who were abused and became abuseres themselves. I wish child care courses could be mandatory for all teens. Many young people have never heard of the “time out” technique for instance because their parents did not use it with them. In my family, my father’s favorite was pouring a pile of uncooked rice on the kitchen floor for my brother and I to kneel on with our bare knees while we prayed out loud to Mary the Mother of Forgiveness. Of course, when he did not like someting we said, there was the trational bar of Ivory soap placed in our mouth. To this day and I am not 35 when I pour rice into the pot to cook I grimace. Knowing my family history, my wise husband when I became pregnant with our first child, signed us both up for child care classes. I learned so much. I don’t hate my father, but if here were still alive today, I would love to explain to him what I learned in those classes.

    1. Time out is a good strategy but it must be practiced with an attitude of kind punishment and not abuse. Also if you use time out you must have clear and consistent boundaries in its implementation. Here’s “Time Out of Mind” by Steely Dan.

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