What Constitutes Child Abuse?

[Written around 2005.]

The definition of child abuse is simple: whenever the spirit of the child is disrespected the child is abused. Abuse of the spirit of the child can take many forms, from the overt forms of child abuse that conventional society is able to accept – such as overt sexual abuse, physical violence and the extremes of neglect – to whole realms of abuse that fall below society’s radar and are considered normal and healthy forms of parenting. Children have massive needs, and where parents fail to meet these needs – whether society notices or cares or even bats an eye – the child ends up abused. Children are born into the world with a total right to have all their needs met. This is the responsibility of parents, and although parents have a whole palette of ways and techniques to deny their responsibility and pathologize defenders of the child, this does not change the basic facts. Children experience torture when their needs go unmet, and while I might sound like a fanatic writing this, it is only because I am taking the deep emotional side of the most disenfranchised minority in our society: the child. This is something that so few – and so few parents, those largely false advocates of society’s most innocent and squelched – do, or have any deep capacity to do.

When a mother has a child because she feels her life emotionally incomplete and wants someone to make it more whole, her child is BOUND to be abused. He will pick up her deepest unconscious needs from the time he is in her womb and start growing toward them to insure that he gets loved, and his abuse will only increase from that point onward.

When a mother takes psychiatric medication or drinks alcohol or smokes for whatever reason she becomes less emotionally available to her child, and this is abuse. Anything that takes a mother away from her deepest connection with herself, and her deepest healing process, is a cruelty to her child. This starts in the womb as well – but continues throughout his childhood.

When a mother and father fight in front of their child, and worse yet use their child as a pawn in the marriage, even in the mildest and subtlest of ways – which is so utterly common in our world that it goes essentially unnoticed – the child suffers abuse. Children need two parents who live in radical emotional harmony with each other. Any family dynamic that fails to meet this basic criteria is a setup for toxicity for the child.

When parents have not healed from any of their own traumas of their own childhood – however mild those traumas might be – they have no choice but to act out these traumas unconsciously on their child. This often takes place in subtle and symbolic form – such as the use of doubletalk, ultimatums, or conditional love – but it is abuse nonetheless. Parents cannot help but act out their unresolved childhood traumas on their children. Because children are so needy for parental love and have so few resources for defending themselves they make the most highly charged magnets for parental acting out.

When parents do not devote 100% of the best of their life’s energies toward guiding and nurturing their children, their children suffer abuse. And how many parents can realistically say that they devote even 20% of the best of their energies to their child? Some parents might argue that they do, but that does not mean their arguments hold any water. Most parents have so much to deny and defend against that they can rationalize almost anything. We live in a world where most people live almost entirely unconscious of who they are – and what their deepest motives are. It is no surprise that the most unconscious people often think themselves enlightened. This is comforting. Dissociation mimics enlightenment.

My writings might sound like I am setting the bar impossibly high for parents. Good! I am. For most parents I set the bar impossibly high because most parents have absolutely no business having children. On their deep emotional levels they can barely take care of themselves, and still ARE emotional children themselves. The horror taking place in our world is enough proof of this!

From the child’s perspective the bar I speak of is not set high at all, and the torture the child feels when the parents fail to meet his full needs – much less actively thwart them – tells where the child stands on this question.

If children could feel safe enough to speak about their deepest feelings, and have neither need nor motivation to protect the denial of their parents, they themselves would be the loudest advocates against all forms of child abuse. And often they are, much as our sick adult society misreads the child’s advocacy. Every crying and screaming child strapped into his stroller is railing against abuse, and yet so few notice – and even if they did, it would be totally taboo for anyone to step into the sacred world of his family and say anything. Protecting the denial of abusive parents is sacred in our sick world. And selling out children is the norm.

But there is a reason little children stand transfixed watching other children scream and cry: they know what the screaming and crying child is experiencing. They know torture. They still remember. They are watching a mirror of themselves go down the same emotional toilet down which their own parents have flushed them.

8 thoughts on “What Constitutes Child Abuse?

  1. Hi Daniel. I agree with so much of what you say. When I had children, I knew in my gut that when they cried it was because they needed something. I did the best I could from where I was at. I breast-fed and slept with my kids. I tried to do the attachment parenting thing. I kept those things mostly secret because I knew society (and the in-laws) wouldn’t agree with what I was doing. Yet, even though I tried to do what I thought was best, I know I made mistakes. How many, I’ll never know or be able to calculate. I came from dysfunction so I know I must have passed some of it on. It’s inevitable. I got spanked with the belt and was left alone a lot (well me and my sister). We ran the neighborhood and my parents hardly ever checked to see where we were. As I got older, I realized I had been conditioned to put my folks’ needs above my own — mostly my mother’s. It took years, but I broke away. They blame me and take no responsibility for anything they have done. Anyway, it’s good to know there are people who believe in supporting the child and their feelings, over the reputation of the parents. Unfortunately, there are far too few of those types, and way more of those who think how society raises children is “normal.” Thanks for all the content you put out. 🙂

  2. if a male parent has a temper tantrum and whips a child (7-8 yrs old) with a belt on the bare butt, and the child is screaming in pain.. is that child abuse? my dad did this- over petty things. my mom denies it. she would sit there and watch me being beaten- and treat it as a joke- My dad has passed away and I don’t have any plans on seeing him at the cemetery. My father was also an extreme misogynist and told me that rape was sex ( as a teen) he never was sexual, but this is child abuse isnt it? ( all the belt beatings) ( My mom is trying to deny it ) he also got very angry because I terminated a pregnancy at 30- ( pregnancy was from rape_ ) he expected women to wait on him hand and foot.. I need to tell this to my lawyer soon, as he is still trying to set up unreasonable rules for me in my later years he was a controlling jerk.. (lawyer re mom’s will) now dead dad is trying to call me “incompetent” Not true I have never been in a mental facility- I did have a drug problem in the 90-s but am drug free 18 yrs now- am 54 yrs old now- how can I fight for my own free will? ( have not been in trouble with the law since 1999- this is 2018) signed “Me”

  3. WOW, that really touched me. That is exactly how I feel about child abuse and parenting, I just cannot put it in words like you.

    Are you familiar with A.S.Neill and his alternative school Summerhill? His philosophy is child-centered as he said: “the function of a child is to live his own life – not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, not a life according to the purpose of an educator who thinks he knows best.”

    All the best


    • hi hana,
      thanks 🙂 and greetings. i actually read summerhill some years back and wrote a review about it on amazon. i was really critical about it!!! (sorry to stir up controversy.) i just re-read my review and thought my style a little harsh but i suspect that i re-read the book i’d stick with the content of what i wrote. i expected to love the book, however, in the version i read there was stuff that really turned me off. i later got hold of a different edition of the book and a lot of the stuff that i critiqued had been edited out…… ( here’s my review: http://www.amazon.com/review/RTJ7YVI4OFFIZ ) interestingly, amazon removed my review (or didn’t publish it, i can’t remember) for quite a while (like 3 or 4 years), and then finally let it stay. also, back then i had email attached to my website and i got emailed by several former students of summerhill saying that my review was on point, that they were harmed by summerhill. i also had a lot of people criticize my review — perhaps some of them were former summerhill students too, though i don’t think any said they were. so….i’m left in a bit of a mix. maybe summerhill really helped some folks — probably did. but i think they caused some real harm too…… aaaaaaaaaaaah!!! greetings — and thanks for commenting. curious what your experience of summerhill (or reading summerhill) is. i actually hope i was too harsh in my review. i wrote it like 8 or more years ago from what i remember. daniel

  4. Wow. Truth. Wild Truth, even!

    Daniel – I just got a few of your books. I resonate 100% with what you say and would like to take the steps forward to heal myself. I’m a “simple” kind of guy and like to have things broken down clearly so I can execute.

    I got the three most recent books (Breaking From, Toward Truth, From Trauma to Enlightenment).

    Which one would you read first?

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and unfiltered perspective. The inner child inside all of us salutes you.


    • hi vlad,
      i think those three books are my strongest. i’m not sure which i’d read first. i know the order in which i wrote them: “toward truth” first, then “from trauma to enlightenment” second, then “breaking from you parents”… i hope you find value in them. all the best, daniel

  5. Daniel,
    i highly appreciate your sharp and honest analysis of the situation on this planet and of the root causes in terms of how we allow ourselves to treat our children, while at the same time remaining in the dark about our own emotional traumas. reading your posts gave me some new inspiration.

    keep it up!

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