Abused children become adults. This sounds obvious, but why does it seem like something so many people forget? I once saw a child abuse PSA on YouTube. The main character was a little girl who ended up in foster care because her mom was a drug addict and her dad was very abusive. The thumbnail for the video showed her in the center, blonde hair frizzy and damaged, snowy skin and blood drained from her cheeks, a busted lip and two deep, black circles under her lost eyes. The glassy expression on her face showed that she was probably lost in a world of trauma and that that world was beginning to consume her. The video showed scenes of the abuse she suffered dubbed over with narration of the girl reading parts of her diary. In the background played the saddest possible music that was meant to tear into your heart and make you want to jump in the video and rescue her yourself. I never cry, but it had my sleeves soaked.
It was designed that way, as most PSA’s are, to activate your emotions to a level that impacts you deeply, and will make you want to help by giving money or even just making yourself more aware. And all of us get affected in some way. We feel so badly for these children. We want to just give them a big hug and make all their problems away. That’s natural. That’s human instinct to want to protect the weakest members of our society from the evil hand of their abusers. Hurting a child is one of the worst things a person could do, and it makes us justifiably angry.
But what about when that kid grows up? What becomes of our feelings towards them? Sometimes these kids will grow up to accomplish great things. They will use the experiences they were given and do something good for the world. They will go and become speakers, authors, advocates and turn the bad into good. But not all of them. Some of them struggle. Some of them will never get passed what was done to them, never get passed the pain that encapsulates them, never be able to piece back their broken existence. We all know these people. How do we treat them?
How do we treat that dirty homeless man on the corner that smells like feet because he hasn’t showered in weeks? Do we put change in his cup? Do we walk by and ignore him or maybe even scoff at him for being lazy or degenerate or a nuisance? This would be the guy who’s mental health problems don’t come polished and neatly wrapped in a nice little bow so that we can see them and go, “I support you and your mental illness because I’m trendy and this happens to be the cause of the moment!” This is the guy that wears his mental illness on the month old stains on his tattered jacket, the guy that displays his condition on the streaks of dirt on his face, the guy that isn’t compatible with your sympathy because his issues aren’t neat and fashionable. No, his issues are messy and dirty and raw. So we see him and think trash.
But what if I told you that this man was once a boy. And that boy was abused. If we knew him while he was still there in that place, how would we feel about him? We would look at him and feel sorry for him. We would want to hold him and love him and rescue him. We would do that because abused kids make us sad. But when those abused kids grow up, no one seems to care.
What about when that girl from the video grows up? Maybe her soul has been so damaged that she cannot tell what is reality or not. He head might fill up with lies that tell her she’s not good enough, she’s worthless, no one loves her. Her body could fill her up so forcefully and so quickly with emotions that she might not have the time or ability to express them all before she erupts. Maybe, she even becomes that girl who has to hurt herself to feel loved, the “attention-seeker”. Maybe you’re a nurse and she became that psychiatric patient you hate, the one you’ve labeled “borderline”, and then dismissed as someone who doesn’t deserve love or attention or compassion simply because of the label that you decided to place on her. If you have this patient and could see inside of her, and see that little girl that you once cried for, would you still treat her that way?
The bottom line is that children grow up. Abused children grow up. Our sympathy shouldn’t stop for them when they turn 18. Our sympathy for them should not stop when we learned that they developed a psychiatric condition or addiction in response the abuse they suffered. Our sympathy for them shouldn’t stop because they stink and don’t shower, or don’t have shoes or a place to sleep.
Our sympathy for them SHOULD NOT STOP. If we love these kids like we say we do, if we have compassion for the ones who are hurting, if we desire to see them heal from their trauma, then maybe we should stop treating them like they are less than us.
I know that generally, it might not be possible to tell who has been abused and who has not. So I propose that we just treat everybody we meet with the same compassion we would a child in pain. Because whether or not it’s abuse, we’ve all been through something, and we all deserve to be treated like we matter.
The video I refer to is called Removed.