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Comments on Ms. Bruce’s Book
By Aphrodite Matsakis, Ph.D.
For centuries child abuse and other forms of family violence were shrouded in denial. Even in our own country, laws against animal cruelty existed before laws against child abuse. In the 1960’s the silence began to be broken and today the problem of child abuse is widely recognized. However, to date, the emphasis has been primarily on child sexual abuse and, after that, on physical abuse. Yet the effects of other forms of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, which are just as devastating to the human psyche, are often minimized, if not overlooked.
Hence the importance of this book, written by a woman who experienced almost every form of child abuse, from abandonment and physical abuse, to extreme forms of emotional abuse. Indeed, the verbal degradation she endured assumed almost gigantic proportions because it occurred in the context of a multigenerational chain of family violence and addiction, as well as in the context of a small town. Hence her family’s problems became the object of vicious gossip and Ms. Bruce was subject to ridicule and bullying, not only at home, but at school, the supermarket and almost everywhere she went in her community.
In this compelling account, Ms. Bruce describes how she, a motherless child abandoned by her father, subsequently became subject to multiple forms of mistreatment, not only from her primary caretaker, but other relatives, some of whom were also abused as children or who suffered from an addiction or mental illness. She touches on areas of child abuse, such as emotional manipulation and exposure to adult sexuality and sexual depravity, which need to be recognized.
Ms. Bruce does not spare the reader some of the heartbreaking details of her experiences, yet there is not a shred of self-pity in her book. Instead she describes her abusers in their full human complexity, their good sides as well as their bad sides, often showing compassion and understanding as to why these people, like her unforgettable Nana and adulterous Aunt Charlotte, sought to cope with life by taking advantage of and disregarding the basic needs of an innocent child.
Yet, despite Ms. Bruce’s insights into the origins of her perpetrators’ abusiveness and self-destructiveness, she is more than honest about how these individual’s damaged almost every aspect of her being, thus propelling her into years of addiction and other self-destructive behavior.
This book is humbly and clearly written. There are no long psychological complicated explanations, just the facts as she remembers them and her reflections as an adult on a childhood that can only be described as pure hell.
It’s amazing that she survived her past, not only in the sense that she didn’t die physically, but in the sense that she overcame her addiction and the emotional blindness caused by years of trauma to the point where she could tell her story. Given the continuous nature of the traumas she endured and the fact she had to contend with not just one, but many, perpetrators, this is a monumental achievement. It’s also noteworthy that she’s grateful for what she did receive from some of her abusers, which has enabled her to survive.
Although there are scores of adult survivors of child abuse, there are few first person accounts of child abuse like this unique book. Many survivors remain in denial, addiction or other forms of escape, and are hence incapable of remembering their past, much less putting their past on paper in a coherent manner that can serve to enlighten others. But Ms. Bruce has done so and her book, the result of decades of hard work and therapy and her own ongoing self-scrutiny, is a gift to us all.