Sunday, July 15, 2012


A new study out of Canada, published in Pediatrics, shows that people who are physically punished in childhood are more likely to develop mood and personality disorders. They are also more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances. “Approximately two to seven percent of mental disorders in the study were tied to physical punishment,” reports the International Bipolar Foundation newsletter dated July 8, 2012.

Well, duh. I could have told them that, though I didn’t know the numbers. I’ve met very few psychiatric patients who can boast a happy childhood.

Something happens to a child when their parent or guardian hits them. The world turns upside down. This is the person who is supposed to protect you. They are your safety. They probably also claim to love you, and you love them back. But there they are, hurting you on purpose. Chances are they are claiming it is GOOD FOR YOU. Maybe even, “I only do it because I love you.” Love equals pain.

That is enough to screw up anyone’s head. At any age. So what does it do to someone just learning how to think?

I remember well how that kind of punishment worked. First there were the accusations, building to fury; then slapping or spanking, usually in front of the other kids and mom; and then the deadly Lecture. Looking back, The Lecture might have been the most poisonous part. Because, while I stood there, in pain and probably crying, they told me that this was all my fault. If I only wouldn’t [fib, yell, break something], it would never happen (See? All you have to do is be perfect.) But my parents LOVED me. They only did it because they LOVED me. Now, come give Daddy a hug and say you’re sorry, and try harder to be good. So then I had to hug the person who had just hit me, and tell him I loved him.

Am I the only one to whom this looks sick and twisted? Is it any wonder our minds get bent?

I cannot tell you how many victims of horrific physical punishments have told me as adults, “I deserved it.” Beaten wives sometimes think that, too. That doesn’t make it so.

Later in that same article, a psychologist who shall remain nameless was quoted as saying, “For younger children, spanking may be suitable as long as the child views spanking as a motivational tool, for their behavior and overall good.” As we used to say in Monopoly: ‘Go to Jail. Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.’ He has completely missed the point! A child’s love does not know from “motivational tools.” What a child understands, at a very visceral level, is that pain is not love. Once you’ve convinced him that pain IS love, you have set him up for a lifetime of rotten relationships and confusion of all kinds. Now we know that includes mental disorders.

What the researchers found was that in a sample of 35,000, 16% of un-hit persons over 20 experienced depression, but 20% of physically punished persons did. And 30% who had not been hit abused substances, versus a whopping 43% of people who had been physically punished. This is AFTER omitting serious abuse from the figures, and correcting for things such as race, income, and level of education.

What can I tell you? Hit a kid, warp a mind. The numbers bear me out.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She is currently recording it as an audiobook and CD set.  Deborah has also published two novels. Her books are available at, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at She has also narrated a guided meditation CD with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker. Check out sound samples at