Low level violence at home
Silken Laumann, the three-time award winning Olympian, recently wrote an autobiography called Unsinkable. The report on it by The Toronto Star on Jan 21st describes her childhood as filled with terror and self-loathing because of being subject to a mother who was constantly critical and threatening, even terrorizing.
Even as an adult, in the best of times, one feel unworthy and small when one is criticized. But once that criticism and threatening behaviour becomes frequent and erratic and unreasonable, especially if you’re a child, you begin to feel smaller and smaller inside, incompetent, fearful and insignificant. The soul qualities begin to shrivel up, one’s emotions get frozen and self-loathing sets in.
I remember growing up in such an atmosphere and thinking to myself as a young teenager: “I don’t feel anything, I don’t feel anything”, trying to talk my way out of the critical hits I was taking from my own mother.
As a society we’ve been slow to arrive at the point of recognizing low level violence. If no one was being physically hurt or killed, violence was just not an issue. But now as our race matures and our sensitivity increases, the word “empathy” becomes more prominent. We’re beginning finally to recognize how much damage is being done when one lives in a constant state of criticism, and the title PTSD ( post traumatic stress disorder) is being applied farther and farther afield. Soldiers, whose experiences can be traumatic; first responders, like police and ambulance drivers, who watch the traumas and deal with them, (and are being impacted even more than the original persons involved); office workers enduring hostile toxic environments; and finally domestic abuse victims, all experience great suffering and long lasting impact.
It’s interesting that recently in the news there have been several high profile people who have had problems of this kind: Sondheim, the famous songwriter, Johnny Carson, the iconic night show host, and here Silken Laumann, the Olympian. It’s a topic one doesn’t usually discuss. It’s more a nightmare to be buried than an accomplishment to be lauded. And yet to survive that level of emotional abuse, as Silken Laumann has is a great accomplishment indeed and actually does need to be lauded.
This is not to say that criticism should be banned altogether. Of course there’s a place for a just analysis of a situation and a presentation thereof. But these positive criticisms need to be doled out very sparingly, and only in the right spirit of kindness and consideration.
More on positive criticism later….