The heart of a broken child.
The heart of a child shines brightly through their eyes and occasional smile. In an abused child this is seldom witnessed because the heart’s source of energy is love and hope. These little ones are stricken by trauma that replaced the brilliance of life and failed to insulate the coldness of fear and abuse. These children do not often see hope or know of its existence.
I recently "found" pictures of myself as a child. It was disconcerting and surprising at once. On my 50th birthday, my younger sister coordinated a birthday party for me. Somehow, she found a few pictures of me and used them for the invitations. The first one to strike me was a picture of me behind a birthday cake. For most of my adult years, I had affirmed that as a child I never had a birthday party. Nevertheless, there I was, in black and white, by MY birthday cake.
There is a great deal of gaps in my childhood memories and as a mental health professional, I know all too well, why that occurs for victims of trauma. What is curious is that one can even repress what is supposed to be "happy memories".
The second thing I noted was that I was not smiling in any of the five pictures. Sadly, this affirmed the absence of a "happy childhood". Therefore, when I speak of a child experiencing the absence of love and hope, I speak from personal experience.
Recently I have had time to reflect on a couple of the issues that plague the human condition. One is the historical oppression of people of color and second, of course, child abuse, for it is this for which I have dedicated my life’s career.
Just the other day, I came across a documentary of a 19th century writer and artist named Henry Danger. Danger was known as a recluse that disassociated from people and neighbors and often demonstrated behavior akin to being mentally ill or eccentric. What we know about this particular artist is that at the age of four his mother died while giving birth to his sister. The infant was adopted, leaving Danger and his father to live alone. Several years later, his father became ill and was placed in a home. Henry was placed in a "Catholic boy’s home".
Upon Danger's death, the world discovered what occupied his time as an eccentric recluse. Volumes upon volumes of his writing and art were discovered. One of his books was depicted in this documentary of his life and work. In his book entitled "In the realms of the unreal", Mr. Danger creates a story, predominantly told in pictures, of a great adventure. The heroes of this adventure were “the Vivian girls” and they single-handedly fought a war against all that enslaved and abused children.
I was mesmerized by the passion and pathology of this documentary. His story suggested the desolation and pain that is internalized by a child that for the rest of his life remained captive in the memory of abandonment, neglect and abuse.
A recurring thought for me, as I witness and hear the heart of children in pain is this; "can't anyone SEE and UNDERSTAND how devastating and long lasting the effect of abuse on a child is?" In the above link, the writer tells of one reason given for institutionalizing Henry. His initial diagnosis "according to a Stephen Prokopoff was that 'Little Henry's heart is not in the right place."
These children then become tortured souls as adults. We witness violence, hate and depression all around us in this society. Yet, it is as if, those with the power are ignorant to it, can't make the connection or worse, turn a blind eye.
I do not suggest that our society does not care for the children. In fact, there are many protective laws and programs dedicated to "saving" these children. It is a humane and great thing that these programs and laws exist to protect the children from those that would abuse them. However, the work does not end there. For who will attend to the pain and cicatrices embedded within their hearts.
By Evelyn Rivera (c) Copyright May 2011