The Many Faces of Abuse

Howard S, King, MD - September 2012

Ed note – A pediatrician has many responsibilities. One of them is calling attention to the problem of child abuse. Another is to remind us not only of the importance of making a diagnosis but also reminding us also of nurturing resilience in our patients. Finally, May’s brief essay on “The Child Within” remind us of diagnosing the problem early so we can diminish the after effects of such feelings persisting over time.

There are many faces of child and adult abuse in this country and throughout the world. It can affect different types of people, young and old, rich or poor, male or female, physical, emotional, or sexual. I want to discuss some aspects of the problem of abuse within this web site.

I asked Mary Bryne, author of a book for children if she would help me understand some aspects of this problem. The name of her book is “Only Children Hear Me.” Consider visiting http://www.onlychildrenhearme.com, which is Mary’s web site. It describes what the book is about.


Mary has written the following:

“Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, also leave deep, lasting scars. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal and break the cycle-rather than perpetuating it. By learning about common signs of abuse and what you can do to intervene, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life.”

Mary is one of the most interesting, resilient, and talented women I have ever met. She has written one of the most psychologically astute booklets for children and families I have ever read, “Only Children Can Hear Me.”

By getting acquainted with Mary I learned she had some horrendous aspects of abuse in her life, particularly in her childhood. She has written the following:

“I was born to a single mother and put into a residential home right after birth. I stayed there until I was about two and then went to live with an aunt and uncle until my mother found an apartment. When she found an apartment I was left in the care of the landlady and saw my mother every few days, she worked a great deal and slept at the nursing home quite often. She left me with anyone in between that she could find to watch me.

I was molested first by a neighbor then my grandfather from the age of four to fourteen. I made the mistake of getting married at sixteen to escape the abuse and married someone even more abusive. My husband died in a car accident when I was 36 after which I began counseling.”

Mary has significantly overcome the impact of that abuse and has written several books about the subject of abuse. Despite her amazing recovery and resilience, she was willing to share an additional small piece she wrote about “the child within.” It is my hope that if others who experienced abuse read it they might discover they were not alone and perhaps, in time, could undue some of its powerful impact.

I will first include some of her reflections about “the child within.”

It is my hope that those who have the opportunity to read it along with “Only Children Hear Me,” can, over time, let go of those whose influence has kept them from growing and forming new, more meaningful relationships.

The Child Within

The child within stays put until something very familiar threatens the peace you’ve managed to develop. You’ve painstakingly nurtured this state of comfort, the ease with which you pass over all of the pain that comes your way until suddenly something right out of left field hits you and it’s all over. God, why is it that so many attacks don’t get through that protective covering until the “right one” comes along, then nothing you have the power to do makes any difference. Suddenly you’re once again the victim of the original pain all over again. You can’t stop the power it has against you; you have so much less strength than it does, and you know it.

The future is whatever we can imagine it to be, at least within our own minds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was as easy as wishing it to be so. How do you force yourself to go forward in spite of the pain that’s always in your heart? Is there a place deep down inside that will always be unhealthy, never stable and strong as it needs to be, to offer yourself to someone else to love? How do you ever get to feel worthy, worthy in your own eyes and isn’t that where it really actually counts? So are the feelings of the abused adult never fully able to let go of the childhood pain within their heart and soul. Can anyone that hasn’t had such an experience ever fully understand, and can the abused ever get over their need for reassurance, of love and caring?

You search for a place to put it, safely tucked away from the light of day never fully gone, but not totally in the present, nor is it ever really in the past. It floats in some sort of suspended state just out of sight but never really out of mind. You put one foot in front of the other and go day to day, and life goes forward. Once in a while you can truly be rid of it for a period of time until it all hits again.

You love with a love so strong so totally true that it lasts all the days of your life. Once you’ve loved someone you can never stop, they’re always with you they’re always there in your heart. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could stop and leave some of them behind; just make room for someone else, but it doesn’t work that way. You take them with you, always in your heart.

You set yourself up for those that want to take advantage. You desperately want and need to be loved so it’s easy for those that recognize it. You wear it on your sleeve and they can see it, you’re one of the needy ones, you need to be loved. You try but you can’t hide it, they say they’ll never hurt you and you believe them. Then it comes again; the pain is more powerful than the time before. Your bounce backs lessens as the pain worsens, some day it will run out but you don’t know when.

You strive to grow stronger, strong enough to stand on your own and not need the love of someone else to make you feel better about yourself. You look for the happiness inside yourself and with God’s help you find it. To know the strength that comes from within and then feel empowered to succeed on one’s own is truly remarkable.

Why did I include this section on abuse by Mary? I wanted to convey that despite her resilience and the ways in which she has recovered she is aware of an ongoing pain which periodically comes to the surface. She manages these feelings quite well and still proceeds to reach out to others.

Did I have other hopes? The first is that many of us can overcome these painful life experiences and not allow them to get in our way so we, too, can successfully reach out to others.

The other is to stress the importance of diagnosing these situations earlier so our journeys can be less intense, allowing ourselves to become the happier, more fulfilled people we all have a right to be.


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I would like to thank the following for their generous support, without whom this web site and training program would not exist: The Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Foundation, The Alden Trust, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, Project INTERFACE (Newton Public Schools and the U.S. Department of Education), the Locke Educational Fund at Newton- Wellesley Hospital, Aetna Health Plan, the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center,  and the families of my medical practice. 

I hope you find this site useful and encourage any comments.

- Dr. Howard King, M.D.