I took a double-take, unable to believe the evidence of my own eyes. Had I just seen my sweet little step-son, Terrwyn, viciously kick his beloved dog in the head? No. Certainly my eyes had deceived me. But now he was sobbing, hugging his spaniel who was licking his face forgivingly.
His obvious penitence made me hold my tongue. The last thing my bullied, abused and alienated step-son needed was more shame, more pain. He got enough of that from his birth mother and the angry, vicious bullying and abuse of his siblings. Strangely enough, the only time I saw him cry was when he kicked Mitzie.
From then on, I kept a close eye on him and his dog during visitation.
Unfortunately, that dog-kicking episode wasn’t the fluke I hoped it was. On the contrary, it was a pattern Terrwyn repeated frequently when he thought no one was looking. He would kick his dog and then burst into tears, the cowering spaniel licking away his tears. Suddenly I realized why the dog seemed so fearful, slinking around corners, always watchful, seeming apologetic for existing, overly grateful when we stroked her fur or gave her a treat.
Finally I sat Terrwyn down for a tête-à-tête, He was his smiling and pleasant self, yet there were new bruises on his arms and legs undoubtedly caused by his older, angry brothers. ‘Terrwyn, I’ve seen you kicking Mitzie’, I said gently, ‘why do you do it?’
He hung his head and shrugged, avoiding eye contact. He wouldn’t talk. Not one word.
‘Is it because you’re hurting so much inside?’ He hung his head lower but not a syllable passed his lips.
‘Do you enjoy hurting Mitzie?’ His head jerked up suddenly and he shook his head vehemently in the negative, tears rolling down his cheeks. Of course I gave a Talk that would’ve made the RSPCA proud, all about not abusing small animals, but Terrwyn knew it all already and didn’t need any more shame.
No one can bear abuse without being affected by it. For all his pleasantness and smiles, Terrwyn was hurting deeply even though he never showed it. He never seemed unhappy. Never got angry. Never defended himself or retaliated. Never was mean to anyone. Never, ever cried.
The pain and rage had only one outlet: to do something so heinous, so guilty that Terrwyn could finally cry, not so much for Mitzie, but for himself. By abusing his beloved dog, Terrwyn was on the slippery slope to becoming an abuser himself. It gave him an outlet for his pain, his rage. In a tortured way, it allowed him to feel sorry for himself.
Where he could not feel sorry for the abuse he himself was suffering, he could feel sorry for becoming such a monster that he would hurt his dearest friend, a little spaniel called Mitzie.
The old saying goes ‘hurt people, hurt people’. Someone who is more vulnerable and weak than the abused child becomes the easy ‘out’ for the abused child’s anger. The more downtrodden and submissive someone is, the more an abused person wants to hurt that person. The more Mitzie cowered in fear of Terrwyn, the more viciously he kicked her. He hated himself for abusing her, for being like those that were abusing him. That hatred fueled his abuse of her. It was a vicious circle.
Some people may abuse ‘for the fun of it’ but I believe that in most abusers beats the heart of a little boy or a little girl who never cried, who never got angry, who never even acknowledged to themselves that they were being abused. The pain comes out as a burning rage towards the weak, the vulnerable, the sweet, the stupid, the downtrodden, the previously abused. It’s a kind of magnetism really.
The little boy who cowered under his father’s beatings may grow up to become the man who towers over his little son, dominating him, terrifying him. Enjoying the power even while he loaths the monster he has become. ‘Don’t you ever disobey me!’ he screams, resurrecting the words his own father screamed over him, when he was the cowering, terrified child thirty years ago. Then he crumbles, hating the the monster he swore he would never become.
Terrwyn didn’t have the words to explain to me why he was kicking his dog. Then one day I heard that Terrwyn’s birth mother ‘accidentally’ drove over Mitzie. Terrwyn didn’t cry when Mitzie died but the next week he attempted suicide for the first time. It was his first attempt of many. All of them unsuccessful. All of them a cry for help.