This last week has had difficult U.S. national news. Duane Morrison sexually assaulted girls at a high school in Colorado and then shot one of them to death before killing himself. Charles Carl Roberts shocked the nation when he entered an Amish schoolroom, tied up several girls, shot several to death and then himself. Mark Foley resigned immediately from the U.S. House of Representatives when it became public knowledge that he had been emailing underage pages in Congress with sexually explicit messages. And we still don't know what will happen to John Mark Karr, who claimed to have killed JonBenet Ramsay, but didn't, but remains in jail on child pornography charges. And then there is me.
What do each of these men have in common? They each experienced something so difficult and tramautic when they were young that it left a lifelong scar. Unresolved trauma and pain from child abuse almost always finds a way out of our being, sometimes crippling us with fear, as it has for me, or pointing us toward abusing others as oneself has been abused.
God spoke to this issue (Exodus 20) in one of the Ten Commandments, when he said:
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me
Because I grew up in a family where there were generations of anger and dysfunction, I sometimes thought about this concept of generations affected by ancestors' sins. I have come to the point where I do not want to believe that this was an inevitable curse upon future generations. Rather, I think there is a psychological principle, that unless you break out of generational dysfunction and get help so you can recover, you will keep passing on the dysfunction. And it can often come out in various ways, including depression, lack of self-worth, addictions, violence, and abuse.
I was abusive to my wife and children but did not know it. I thought I being a good father and husband when I would lecture my family about "being careful," "trying not to have a car accident," etc. My lectures would go on and on. Our children would tell me, "Dad, you've already said that."
I thought I was free from the cycle of abuse which I had received at the hands of my father, but I really wasn't. I was almost proud of the fact that I never hit any of my family in anger. (I never hit them when not angry either!) But my family lived in fear of my lectures. They did not feel safe, free to make mistakes which really are a normal part of life.
We all feel shocked when a man such as Charles Carl Roberts enters a one-room Amish school and kills innocent girls. But he had a secret simmering inside himself for twenty years. He was living with guilt and inner turmoil. He "took care" of his problem violently.
There are many walking time bombs out there. It's not just suicide bombers in the Middle East. There are many in the U.S. and Canada and elsewhere around the world with secrets simmering inside them.
Our schools, churches, synogogues, mosques, and other institutions need to be more proactive to help hurting children before they hurt others. Can this be done without violaint people's civil rights and privacy? I would hope so. We owe it to each other to help each other. But we can't help unless people tell us their secrets. And people don't want to tell their secrets because they are ashamed or because, as in my case, I didn't think it was relevant to the rest of my life which was pretty good. But I was wrong.
When the next shooting occurs, or the next violation of little girls or boys, it is almost inevitable that a little searching will turn up that the offender was himself or herself violated and had not yet dealt with it so that he or she could begin the painful road of recovery.
Oh, before I end this, I want to make it clear that I do not believe that everyone who has been abused or experienced some unresolved trauma will become a murderer. But I do think that unresolved pain usually finds some way to affect us negatively until we address it and begin recovery. I did not become violent from the abuse I experienced, but I lived with fear, sometimes paralyzing fear. I was prickly, self-protective. After therapy started I sank into a terrible depression, perhaps one which had been with me for years but which I had covered up with busyness, work, and achievement. Unresolved pain often leads to difficulties in relationships, including marriage.
When will we begin to make it safer for people who have been abused to get help?
I hope it won't take three or four, or seven generations, before someone intervenes.