The shelter in place orders and school closings, set up to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, have the unintended negative consequence of many students now being confined within dysfunctional households. For many students, school is a time to get away from moms and dads that have serious problems. They endure abuse in their homes in the form of physical or sexual or emotional.
To those teens I want to say you’re loved. God sees you. He sees every tear that you cry. There is a great verse in the Bible that I took a lot of comfort in when growing up. It says, God collects all your tears in a bottle. Isn’t that an incredible thought? Not a tear falls down your face without God knowing. You have a heavenly father that hears every prayer that you pray. And when you don’t have someone to talk to He’s listening and is always there.
Stuck at Home With Abuser
If you are the one stuck in an abusive home, I understand you may be thinking, “That’s not good enough right now because my dad has lost his job, and now he’s angry, and he’s drinking more than ever.” This pandemic has become a petri dish for all the vices people have. It is really going to test those who struggle with addictions.
So for the kid who is asking:
“What do I do when I am being physically beaten by my father?”
“What do I do when I’m being screamed at and yelled at abusively by my parents?”
Of course, my first instinct is to say, “Get out of there!” And, if you can, you should. There are many places that can help you. But I also realize that for many different reasons, this is just not possible for some teens.
Abuse During Stay at Home Orders
So I hear you and I want to offer some practical and psychological advice on how to endure in your home.
Avoid: Try not to engage in arguments
This is my piece of practical advice.
When you have no choice, but to be faced with the reality of domestic violence and abuse. You lay low. You stay out of your mom’s way, out of your dad’s way. Do not be a source of trouble in any way. Do not argue.
Clearly, I want you to call the cops. I want that person to be put in prison. But if that is not realistic for any number of reasons, then the best thing you can do is avoidance.
Detach: Develop a persona that pacifies their outbursts of anger
I have a master’s degree in school psychology and here is a piece of psychological advice.
There is a disassociation that needs to take place for you. To be disassociated with someone means you say to yourself, “I don’t identify with you or your behavior.” Parents and children are so intertwined and their identities are wrapped together. But in an abusive situation you have to disassociate from them.
It may also be wise for you to disassociate as a way to become two people when the abuse is occurring. When you around the abuser, you need to take on a different persona. This is hard to hear, but this is the sad reality many children and teens find themselves facing all over the world.
You can disassociate by calling yourself a different name. So, for example, if your name is Steven, when you are around the abuser you are now Steve. You need to ask yourself, “How does Steve act?” Steve is quiet. Steve is calm. Steve doesn’t cause problems. Steve does not share his opinion. Steve does not give himself permission to contribute in conversation or to argue or defend. Steve is just compliant and a non-source of conflict. But when you are Steven, the person you really are when you are around your friends, your true self emerges. You are lively and bubbly and vivacious. You are opinionated and hilarious. You take risks.
Part of the disassociation process for abuse victims is to really become two people. The problem is not Steven’s it’s Steve’s. Keep that name internally, don’t share it externally with the abuser, and take on this new persona so that when you are around the abuser, you behave very strictly to not exacerbate the abuse.
Envision: Think of ways that you will use your pain to help others in the future
Awaken your imagination to envision the purpose to the pain you experience. May it be that not one tear that falls from your eye will be wasted and not one moment of pain and sorrow will be pointless, but rather put to great use.
In Viktor Fankles’ book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he talks of being tortured in a Nazi concentration camp and how he had to discipline his mind to be able to find purpose for his pain in order to survive.
How could you someday use your pain and your exposure to abuse to help others?
There is a verse in the Bible that speaks to this idea - The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Your pain can be leveraged into purpose.
When I was a child going through challenges, I envisioned myself as a psychologist helping other children get through divorce situations. Now I am a school psychologist helping kids with the things I once dealt with myself. So this is not just “pie in the sky” theory. This is truly how you help yourself. It became reality.
So what can you picture?
I am so sorry for your pain. You don’t deserve it. Remember God is near and you can get through this time and do great good in the world. If you need to talk to someone, please connect with a HopeCoach.
If you are in immediate danger, contact the police (911) as soon as possible. You can also call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
About the Author...
Brooks Gibbs is a school psychologist and award-winning resilience educator who teaches students, parents, and teachers how to become emotionally strong and resolve conflict.
He is the author of Rethink Bullying, creator of SQUABBLES, and founder of the GENzEQ Alliance for Social & Emotional Learning. Over 2,500 schools have hired him to speak allowing him to reach 2 million students face-to-face. His viral videos have amassed more than 250 million views worldwide.
Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris