This is the second time recently I’ve had to write about a child hurt because one or more adults can’t control themselves. I read about this story a day or two ago. A three year old little girl, Carmen was beaten and shaken to death by her mother’s boyfriend because she soiled herself. While I always find it sad to hear news like this, I didn’t dwell on it until I saw a new headline today with more details. The headline read: 3-year-old’s last words were ‘Papa, I hate you’.
According to the court documents filed, Cruz “told investigators he lost his temper after Carmen soiled herself. He said he beat her several times with a belt, slapped her repeatedly across her face, grabbed her head and shook her. Carmen’s eyes then rolled to the back of her head. She began vomiting and seizing, court documents said.”
I read through many of the comments on the news article and Facebook posting. Of course, most people are passionate about a child being killed and are calling for everything from public stoning to personal beatings in a locked room. I don’t really blame them. One of my own faults is that I have no problem advocating a violent and painful end to someone who admits that he lost his temper and brutally killed a little girl. Violence may not solve anything…except bringing an end to this loser’s violent temper. As I’ve said in a previous blog, I know where my anger comes from. I have two little girls…a nine year-old and a one year-old. When I read something like this, I can imagine this little girl as one of my own. That kind of thought hurts so deeply that I have to mask it with anger towards the person hurting her. I would assume that the anger present in the response to these articles is similar. What I don’t understand is the mother’s reaction.
The child’s mother told investigators that she knew about the child’s injuries. She had apparently asked about the bruises and Cruz had an excuse every time. According to reports, this man had already been investigated for abuse prior to this incident. In July, police were called by a concerned neighbor for possible bite marks on the girl’s face. That incident was handed over to child services. Unfortunately, the ineptitude of child services in Indiana is staggering…but that’s a discussion for another post.
The question so many are asking themselves right now is “why did the girl’s mother stay and allow this to happen?” Never having been a victim of abuse, I had no real basis for a response to that question. So I did a little research. I came across various explanations ranging from simple love for her abuser to a biological attraction to men with higher testosterone levels. One site I found offered a variety of reasons that I thought sounded fairly reasonable:
• SURVIVAL: Fear about her own and her children’s safety if she leaves.
• ECONOMIC DEPENDENCE: Can she survive on one income?
• FEAR: Of being alone, fear that she cannot cope with home and children by herself.
• PARENTING: Wanting a father for the children.
• RELIGION: Pressure to keep the family together.
• FAMILY: Extended family pressure to keep the family together.
• LOYALTY: If he had cancer, she’d stick by him.
• RESCUE: If she stays, she can “save” him and help him “get better.”
• FEAR OF HIS SUICIDE: He says he’ll kill himself if she leaves.
• DENIAL: “It’s really not so bad.”
• LOVE: She loves him, and he is quite often loving and lovable when he’s not being abusive.
• IDENTITY: Many women feel that they need a man in order to be complete.
• SHAME, EMBARRASSMENT AND HUMILIATION: She doesn’t want anyone to know.
• LOW SELF-ESTEEM: After years of being criticized by her abuser, she believes that it must be her fault, she must deserve it, she’ll never find anyone better, “a little love is better than no love at all.”
• SEX ROLE: “That’s just the way men are.”
Like I said, I’ve never been the victim of abuse, but I’ve known far too many. I’ve seen women who were afraid of their spouse and of leaving their home. I’ve seen children take the abuse because it protected their younger siblings from receiving the beatings. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen parents turn a blind eye to the abuse and let their children suffer for their weakness. I’ve even seen women leave an abuser only to go back and confess her love and admiration for him. When I see this pattern, I think about a couple of concepts that I learned about a while ago: shame and codependency.
Shame is described as a sensibility as opposed to a condition. My best explanation would be that it’s a sense of unworthiness and low self esteem. In the example of an abused woman it could be evident in her fears of what others will think if she leaves her abuser and admits to the abuse. In her inability to say no to the continued relationship, and in her constant fear of the worst case scenario if she leaves.
My understanding of codependency (bear in mind that I’m not a psychologist) is that it is closely related to shame. It is characterized by low self esteem, insecurity, a need for others in order to feel self-worth, difficulty setting boundaries, being passive, and avoiding conflict (among others). I can’t say if codependency is always a factor for people like Carmen’s mom, but I know that I’ve seen almost all of these characteristics in the people I know who have had problems leaving their abuser.
Maybe now I understand Carmen’s mom a little better. I don’t agree with what she did. She had a duty to protect her child. She allowed her personal issues to get in the way of her child’s life. She admitted that she knew about Carmen’s injuries. If this is true, I believe that she at least deserves to be charged with child neglect and endangerment. Understanding her issues doesn’t give her an excuse for letting anyone hurt and kill her child.
Maybe you know someone who is in an abusive relationship. ..maybe you recognize the characteristics of shame or codependency in them or even in yourself. I’ve long believed that everyone, no matter how well adjusted they think they are, should go through counseling. There is no shame in finding someone to talk to who understands…probably better than you do…where your pain, fear, and anger come from. We have to let go of this stigma that talking to a “shrink” is a bad thing, or that it means you’re crazy. Speaking with someone like this can only help…not seeking help can only hurt. Just ask Carmen.