SPEECH BY MRS ELITA DE KLERK AT A FUNCTION OF THE M T R SMIT CHILDREN’S HAVEN, PORT ELIZABETH, 22 AUGUST 2000
This morning we are gathered here because all of us want to help children and families who are going through deep crisis. I believe that greater understanding of their plight will enable us to be more effective in our help. So I would like to start by sharing with you my basic understanding of the problem.
When a child’s development is arrested, when feelings are repressed, especially the feelings of anger and hurt, that child grows up to be an adult with an angry child in him. This inner child will spontaneously contaminate the adult’s behaviour.
To some it may seem preposterous that a little child can continue to live in an adult body. However it is true. The neglected wounded inner child of the past is the major source of human misery. The wounds that a child receives are many. Some are obvious and we all know of them. Many others are subtle and more difficult to detect.
And then of course there is the vicious circle – no parent from a dysfunctional family can give their child what he needs, because they are too needy themselves. In a way we are all to some extent the victims of victims in this life.
However, I believe that trauma has a twofold potential. It can be the catalyst of creative change or the cause of self-destruction. Its effect depends on the choices one makes, on one’s courage to embrace the unresolved pain that was repressed at the time the trauma happened and the meaning you chose to give it. And in all of this we must never forget the most important secret of life: The secret of balance.
The balance of which I speak is the fact that all life is a marriage of opposites. There is no life without physical death; no joy without sorrow; no pleasure without pain; no light without darkness; no sound without silence; no good without bad. And the secret of happiness in this life is learning to walk the path of balance – holding sorrow in one hand and joy in the other.
But to be able to successfully walk the path of balance, as an adult, we must reclaim our own wounded inner child, go back through our developmental stages and finish our unfinished businesses. We must go back to our unmet needs, which are unresolved and not grieved.
Early childhood stages provide the foundation for our adult life.
- In an infant hope is the product when his sense of hurt is greater than mistrust.
- Willpower results when the toddler, in his struggle to separate and be born psychologically, gains a greater sense of autonomy than of shame and doubt.
- Purpose accrues when the pre-schooler’s sense of initiative is stronger than his sense of guilt, and finally competence results from the school-age child’s developing a greater sense of industry than of inferiority.
Four basic powers become available to us, thanks to this foundation:
- The power of being.
- The power of doing.
- The power of identity.
- And the power of having basic survival skills.
I believe that all of us lack in our childhood foundation – but of course in different degrees. So in a way we all have to do some work on reclaiming our childhood. Reclaiming our childhood is painful, because we must grieve our wounds. Through grieving comes healing. Grief is the healing feeling. I have great admiration for people like you in the Children’s Haven MTR, trying to solve problems not through words, but through experience. I know that one can only fully comprehend and fully understand if one has had to do this healing process for yourself.
It is so important not only to tackle the children’s traumas but also those of their parents’. A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. Marion Woodman wrote:
“Where the mother is not sufficiently in touch with her body, she cannot give the child the bonding to have confidence in its own instincts. The child cannot relax into her body, nor later in its own.”
I believe the toughest job any of us will ever do is to be a good parent. To be a good parent we need to be mentally healthy, we need to succeed in getting our own needs met, through our own resources. We need a spouse or someone significant to support us in the process and above all we must have healed our own wounded inner child.
When I received this invitation I immediately felt I had to accept it, not because I have any specialised knowledge, but because I have understanding. I also had to reclaim my wounded inner child, and really …… I still, at times have to keep my little girl in me, at bay.
I was also appalled by the figures of the estimated
9 947 000 children up to the age of years in need of therapeutic services. What lies heavily in me is that we are all victims of victims. Parents repeat to their children what was done to them.
We have to break this cycle – but how do we break this cycle?
By exposure, awareness and corrective work. Society has always shielded itself from the knowledge of child abuse. Only in the last century the concept of the wounded inner child has received our attention. As late as 1890, in the United States there was not Society for the prevention of cruelty to children, although there was a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. One of the great advances of our generation has been the exposure of child abuse.
We have come to see that our prevailing rules for raising children shame and violate their uniqueness and their dignity. We have with our new awareness come to see how destructive the rules that were considered normal, really are Much of what we inflict on children, could be completely avoided if our adult society parents – doctors, teachers, social workers and others – were better informed about the situation of the child, about the consequences of mistreatment and above all about concrete facts. Without truth there can be no help. There was, and is, at times, a wall of silence, the truth was suppressed about the crimes committed against children and this suppression was, and is, a crime in itself as it prevents us from saving both our children and our future.
The truth about childhood, as many and even some of us have had to endure it, is inconceivable. High walls are built by the victims to screen their painful facts. The walls are erected to protect them from the history of their childhood – but within those walls still stands the same child that was once abandoned and betrayed. We need the truth – we have to go through the pain of the truth – we have to go through feeling the old pains in order to be free of them – free for life.
Kahil Gibran said: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
I truly believe that life does indeed break us, at times, but that when we heal we are stronger where the break occurred. As long as we are alive and continue to live and love and dream and strive for things we want we will experience loss. A loved child receives the gift of love and with it, that of knowledge and innocence. It is a gift that will provide him with orientation for his whole life.
An injured child lacks everything because he lacks love. He doesn’t know what love is, constantly confuses that which is wrong with good deeds and mendacity with truth.
Children do not ask to come to this world. We, parents bring them. So we must enter into a commitment when we bring a child to this world. A commitment to love this child, who is not a toy, but a bundle of needs requiring a great deal of loving care to develop the full potential that His Creator, God, gave him.
I want to finish with what Maria Montessori professed:
“No social problem is as universal as the oppression of the child ……
No slave was ever so much the property of his master as the child is of his parent ……
Never were the rights of man ever so disregarded as in the case of the child.”