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Anecdotal Examples of Cruelty and Emotional Abuse

Updated on January 5, 2021
Colleen Swan profile image

Colleen is a psychotherapist retired from private practice, specializing in human relationships.

Dick Van Dyke: born December 13th 1925. Renowned actor and comedian
Dick Van Dyke: born December 13th 1925. Renowned actor and comedian | Source

One of the most horrific forms of cruelty occurs when its stems from a source we trust to treat us with care and concern. In his memoir, My Lucky Life, actor Dick Van Dyke recounts an example of this when his father was dying. Receiving the news that his father was gravely ill he was shaken, but not unduly surprised. A heavy smoker for 40 years, his father had long suffered from emphysema, and was no longer able to speak.

Then, to his horror, Dick Van Dyke found both his parents sitting in the waiting room crying, due to his doctor’s way of telling him the grim news, “Look, you’re an old man; you got emphysema; you’re going to die.” Hearing this, the generally calm Dick Van Dyke went into an absolute frenzy, running through the halls of the hospital, demanding to find that doctor and prepared to do physical violence. Fortunately for all concerned, he did not locate him.


He Would Only Abuse Me if He Needed To

I remember being in a coffee house with a guy, and somehow the conversation ventured into the topic of abusing women, and he said, “I'd only do it if I felt I had to.” This was our first date. I had to call a friend of mine to come pick me up. “I don't want this schmuck dropping me off and knowing where I live.” Source: Kathy Griffin

In its most insidious form, verbal cruelty often proves more harmful in that it tends to be harder to target and overcome. Hence, its discovery and uprooting can take far longer and prove more daunting than that of its physical counterpart. Source: Joanna Leno

Single Mothers Endured Spitefulness at the Hands of Nuns

In her memoir, "The Baby Laundry", Angela Patrick recounts her stay in a home for unwed mothers administered by nuns:

How could nuns, the living embodiment of kindness and selflessness, behave like such catty playground bullies? They seemed to delight in belittling us and scolding us, as if we were less than human beings because we had not taken the same lofty path they had; so they worked us accordingly.

We were expected to carry on with our duties as normal, until the very point we went into labour. For all of us, the punishing schedule felt like a form of atonement in itself. It seemed designed to ensure that every part of our experience of labour and motherhood etched indelible memories on our brains, so we would never do anything as wicked again.


The Malevolence of Stalking

Here’s what all the facts and all the psychology can’t tell you: what stalking feels like. Only when you're trapped in the middle do you know that it’s like being trapped in the manic melody of Bolero, building and expanding, constantly repeating itself with no apparent release to interminable crescendos. But unlike a revel performance, the madness of stalking can go on forever. No amount of knowledge can prepare you for that. Source: Kate Brennan

The Human Market Place

During those centuries when indentured servants worked for an agreed-upon number of years before earning their freedom, this guaranty often proved to be a sham. According to Kate McCafferty’s book "Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl", in truth, masters frequently traded these servants, used them as gambling fodder, or sometimes whipped them to death.

Irish indentured servants, known as “stock” were matched, like animals, for breeding purposes. Indeed, one woman, brought to market, was traded for a pig. Both woman and animal having been weighed, the woman was held to hold a slightly higher value per unit than did her porcine counterpart.

Horrific Humor

During the trial of those accused of involvement in the 2010 shooting and blinding of police officer David Rathband, 22-year-old Kelsey Donkin shouted, “Bang bang” as Rathband emerged from the underground parking garage. A sighted friend later told him this verbal thug, watched by around 20 supporters, shaped and lifted her hand into a firing motion.

Initially startled, Rathband was later astounded and hurt in that anyone could find such a prank amusing. As he later wrote in his memoir Tango 190: “Despite what people might have read or seen in the media, it takes me all my courage and energy to overcome my vulnerability each and every day.”

During a subsequent interview with a journalist, Donkin’s grandfather stated that the family had disowned her.

Workhouse Exploitation

Jennifer Worth recounts in her book "Shadows of the Workhouse"

“Small boys quickly learn to hide their tears. They knew that any sign of weakness would be seized upon by a bigger boy and mercilessly exploited. Bullying, constant intimidation and jeering were the only response a smaller boy would gain from tears".

Overcoming Pain With Mental Strength

In his memoir, Writer David Nobbs recounts:

“On one dark and cold Wiltshire winter night a group of boys grabbed me, took me outside, tied me to a tree and began to beat me with a doubled-over rope. I think there were eight boys who each beat me eight times.

The pain grew greater with each stroke, then for a while I could feel nothing, and then suddenly the pain became excruciating. It was a mental battle. I determined to show no reaction whatever. When they'd finished they untied me. I was never bullied again, and I knew I wouldn't be".


The Emotional Pain of Domestic Violence

In describing a marriage during which she suffered emotional and physical cruelty, singer Carole King recounts:

“One of the most incomprehensible things about women in abusive relationships is not just that they don’t leave, but that they don't want to leave. I could have left. I should have left. So, why did I stay? It is well-known that women have the ability to forget pain. It was that ability which helped me to forget the bad times and allowed me to think of Rick as the man I wanted him to be.”

When a Judge asked a defendant “when did you stop beating your wife?” he replied “when she left.” Janet Hornsby

I want to be a loving husband; I hate the part of myself who beats you. Mark Browning

A psychopath sees children as an inconvenience, an inconvenience some are not willing to tolerate. A child may be seen as a threat to his dominion. In the same vein, he sees the woman attempting to bring that child into the world as betraying him. Robert Hare

One’s cruelty is one’s power, and when one parts with one’s cruelty, one parts with one’s power, and when one has parted with that, I fancy one’s old and ugly. William Congreve

When certain persons abuse us, let us ask ourselves what description of characters it is that they admire; we shall often find this a very consolatory question. Charles Caleb Colton

According to Kate Summerscale’s book Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady:

“Marriage can cause the degradation of what should be a free and equal relationship into one of ruler and subject. Whatsoever poetry there might be in the passion that unites the sexes withers up and dies in the cold atmosphere of command. As time passes, a wife may strive hard, strive with tears of blood, to be patient and wise and strong, but the crippled energies of a life can never be made whole again. Her face must wear an outward calm, though the fires of Etna burn within her breast.”


Even a Name Can Evoke Animosity

Regarding her school years, American actress Pam Grier recounts:

I was disappointed to see what was happening to Heidi, a friend of mine from Norway, who was relentlessly pushed around by the other kids. It broke my heart when they beat her up, which they did as often as they could get away with it. Heidi was a smart and proud young girl, and I started sticking up for her and tried to make the kids stop hurting her. Sometimes I even fought for her. “It’s my name,” she said. “They think I’m German. They think all Germans are Nazis.”

Inner Scars From Schooldays

Memoirist Abigail Robson recounts the effects of a school incident:

Delayed in a drama rehearsal, she arrived late for her next class. Her effort to explain resulted in the below response from her irate teacher:

“Who thinks she’s outside the rules. I don't know why they put you in that school play. It’s not like you're going to be any good.”

I leaned against the wall and dissolved in tears. Part of me knew she was just a bully who would say anything to upset me. But the questions still ricocheted around in my head: was she right? Was I really homely? Was I really irresponsible? And, most importantly, was I really going to be terrible in the play?

Lewis Carroll born January 1832 died January 1898 was a famous English writer
Lewis Carroll born January 1832 died January 1898 was a famous English writer | Source

Brutality of the Boarding School

  • Jenny Woolf wrote about the schooldays of Lewis Carroll

Bullying in English boarding schools was rampant during centuries passed. One 13-year old boy was beaten to death, but his father failed to bring a lawsuit due to the fact that the fight had been conducted according to the rules regulating such fist-fights. Beating with a cane both by older boys and masters was an unquestioned aspect torment. On wintry nights, small boy’s blankets were grabbed from their beds in order to shield the older ones from the cold.

Lewis Carroll, best-known for his novel "Alice in Wonderland" recounted, regarding the treatment of youngsters, after a visit to a boarding- school: “Each little boy has his own wooden cubicle to sleep in at night, a snug little bedroom where he is free from interruption and annoyance, this, too little boys, must be a great addition to their happiness, as being a counterbalance to any bullying they may suffer during the day.

From my own experience of school life at Rugby, I can say that if I could have been as secure from annoyance at night, the hardships of the daily life would have been mere trifles.

Royalty Did Not Escape the Cruelty

As princes, in their early teens, the future kings Edward VIII and George VI, called David and Bertie, were sent for military training. According to a recent book "The Kings Speech" by Mark Logue:

Far from enjoying preferential treatment from their future subjects as a result of their royal origins, both boys were picked on mercilessly. David, on one occasion, was forced to endure a mock re-enactment of the execution of Charles the First, in which he was obliged to place his head in a sash window, while the other part was brought violently down on top of it.

Bertie, nicknamed “Sardine” because of his slight physique, was found by a fellow cadet trussed up in a hammock in a gangway leading from the mess hall crying for help.

Edward VII of the United Kingdom together with his son, King George V and grandsons, Kings Edward VIII and George VI. Taken by Queen Alexandra.
Edward VII of the United Kingdom together with his son, King George V and grandsons, Kings Edward VIII and George VI. Taken by Queen Alexandra. | Source

Classroom Humiliation

Mark Barrowcliffe wrote in The Elfish Gene:

In 1976, the lost art form of belittling children was enjoying its final florid expression. The classrooms rang with sentences such as, “wrong again. Oh why didn't your parents have you crucified? You are as ugly as you are dim. Your life is without hope. I presume the only thing that has prevented you from committing suicide is that you couldn't write the note.”

Parental Oppression

Thad Roberts nearly successful effort to steal moon rocks from NASA is viewed as among the world’s greatest theft attempts. An amalgamation of motives seems to have entered into his decision to risk and ultimately wreck his career, a globally respected governmental agency.

One major incentive may have been rebellion against his father’s authoritarianism. According to author Ben Mezrich’s book on the subject, when Thad’s Mormon father, having learned he had become involved in an intimate relationship, stated:

“Because we are loving parents, we are giving you two months. Two months, and these are the rules: you are not allowed back in your old room. You will sleep in the basement. You will not be allowed to talk to any of your brothers and sisters. You can’t even look at them; no eye contact, no notes, no phone calls.

No communication at all, because you, Thad, are going to hell, and any communication you have with the rest of us will only make us go to hell, too. You will leave the house before six every morning; you won’t return until after 10 at night. I don’t care what you do during those hours, but you will not be here. No-one will know you are still living in this home. No-one will talk to you, or think about you or see you; you simply do not exist.”

Ridicule and Shame

In his memoir, "Who I Am" musician Pete Townshend recounts the following incident from his schooldays:

“There were a few children from the nearby American air base. One tall lanky boy came to school wearing a jaunty seersucker suit, essential in certain parts of the U.S.A... His parents were oblivious to the ridicule this might provoke-until a classmate and I taunted him to the point of tears, while his hapless mother walked him home. The thought that I took part in this bullying shames me to this day.”

Peter Dennis Blandford known as “Pete Townshend” was born in 1945: A famous English musician, and songwriter with the rock band “The Who” During the 1960s the band was world famous.
Peter Dennis Blandford known as “Pete Townshend” was born in 1945: A famous English musician, and songwriter with the rock band “The Who” During the 1960s the band was world famous. | Source

A Hurtful Headmistress

During the early 1950s, teachers in the UK were allowed to treat children in a way which would now result in immediate firing. Recollecting this era, Pete Townshend relates his experience at age five:

“After an inedible lunch, we were expected to nap at our desks for fifteen minutes. If we moved a muscle we were scolded. Further fidgeting could result in ruler slaps or worse. I was caned several times, and whacked with the teacher’s rubber-soled slipper.

On one occasion, I was so hurt and humiliated that I complained to my parents. They spoke to the headmistress at the school, who responded by singling me out for especially cruel treatment. Now, I wasn't even allowed to go to the toilet during the day, and I sometimes helplessly soiled myself on the long walk home from school."

In schools, tolerance of bullying at any level implies a lack of commitment in the ability to eradicate it.

— Bernard Cookson

Wrongful Incarceration

Each of us needs to find our own path in order to process life-changing traumas. Former political prisoner Ingrid Betancourt recounts in her book, "Even Silence Has an End"

On every anniversary, as soon as I wake up, at once I realize what day it is. Even though I have known for weeks that it is getting closer, I consciously count backward, wanting to mark this day so that I never forget it, so that I can dissect and ruminate over every hour, over every second of the chain of events that led to the prolonged horror of that interminable captivity.

Ingrid Betancourt

Ingrid Betancourt Pulecio was born in 1961: A Colombian politician and former senator and anti-corruption activist. She was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in February 2002 and was held prisoner for six and a half years.
Ingrid Betancourt Pulecio was born in 1961: A Colombian politician and former senator and anti-corruption activist. She was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in February 2002 and was held prisoner for six and a half years. | Source

A Hard Bitten Convict

In the book "Behind Bars: Surviving Prison" Stephen Richards and Jeffrey Ross wrote:

Like many disturbing traits, the proportions of heredity and environment in cases of bullying will perhaps never be wholly grasped. One convict, serving a prison term for having bitten off a man’s finger when he refused to hand him his wallet recounts: “When I was a baby my father deserted. My mother died, and I was turned over to grandparents who were so old they did nothing but leave me to my own vices.

On my 5th birthday they gave me a dog, and when the pup bit me, I bit him back. He got scared of me and I got a kick out of it. Pretty soon I was using my teeth on everybody: my playmates, the hired maids, and the truant officer-anyone. So my relatives turned me over to the state, but it didn't do any good. Biting is still my favourite sport. I guess the only time I'll stop will be when I no longer have any teeth.”

Another convict recounts: that when first imprisoned he sometimes. Later, he dealt with the urge to do so by focusing upon a fellow inmate in the yard, then attacking and beating him. Afterwards, seeing his victim lying hurt on the ground, he would be consumed with shame at his own unwarranted savagery.

Relevant Quotes About Cruelty and Abuse

Man is subject to innumerable pains and sorrows by the very condition of humanity, and yet, as if nature had not sown evils enough in life, we are continually adding grief to grief and aggravating the common calamity by our cruel treatment of one another. Joseph Addison

Those who have lived by bread alone will submit, for the sake of it, to the vilest abuse, like a hungry dog. Unknown

The most effective way of dealing with a bully is to expose him to public ridicule. Bullies can rebuke, but they cannot bear being laughed at. Jane Camden

Unmerited abuse wounds, while unmerited praise has not the power to heal. Thomas Jefferson

Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can’t get out of it if we would. Thomas Hardy

Dark and distorting are the minds of people who dislike us; and when we meet them, we make dismal reflections. Logan Pearsall Smith

The face of the bully boss is always mild at first. Clair V Hunter

The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty. Rousseau

Today there’s more fellowship among snakes than among mankind. Wild beasts spare those with similar markings. Juvenal

He who despises his own life is soon master of another’s. Proverb

Every abuse ought to be reformed, unless the reform is more dangerous than the abuse itself. Voltaire

Violence is essentially wordless, and it can begin only where thought and rational communication have broken down. Thomas Merton

The bully is never clever enough to understand the evil he does. Mason B. Krutch

There is in man a specific lust for cruelty which infects even his passion of pity and makes it savage. George Bernard Shaw

One person’s Machiavellian maybe another’s messiah. Barbara Oakley

All cruelty springs from weakness. Seneca

There is no Justification

The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation. Charles Spurgeon


© 2014 Colleen Swan


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