Because you and I have always been so close, I wanted to let you know about an impending event in our family's lives. Because of our past conversations, you are aware that Mario and I have had many disagreements about how to raise Dominic. The situation has not improved much, although I know that Mario is trying to be a better parent. But I can no longer ignore the impact that Mario's interactions with Nicky are having. Mario continually loses his temper with Nicky and is now swatting Nicky on the head, in addition to smacking him on his bottom. Nicky now flinches whenever Mario comes near him.
Your brother is usually on his best behavior when his family or when friends are around, but I know you have seen Mario lose his temper with Nicky and with me at family get-togethers. Mario's behavior is worse, now, than anything you have ever witnessed. I do so want you to understand, Maria, so please try to picture this: When Nicky is boisterous or mischievous, Mario instantly closes the distance between them and stands -- with his hulking, muscular body -- over Nicky. Mario then shouts at poor Nicky, "Why did you do that? Why did you that? You need to stop doing that. Do you understand? Do you understand?" Nicky just freezes and can't think of anything to say, which infuriates Mario even more. Sometimes Mario will shout at Nicky from another room: "Come here. Come here." Nicky is always afraid that his father will shout at him or swat him, so he is slow to go Mario. Then Mario gets angry because in his mind, Nicky is not minding him when he doesn't come immediately to where Mario is sitting.
I believe what I have described to you is emotional abuse. Emotional child abuse.
Mario shouts at me, too, and uses his large body to intimidate me. I am never quite sure if he will strike me, but he does frequently diminish my affairs. From Mario's perspective, no one experiences as much difficulty as he does, so he feels justified in diminishing the concerns of everyone in his home. He does not try this behavior at work or very often in the world outside of our home. As a soldier, he would get in a great deal of trouble for behaving in this manner with other soldiers, and he wouldn't dare behave this way in front of his superiors. But where this kind of behavior is acceptable is when he is down range -- when he is deployed. So you see, the problem is that he is rewarded and even honored for behaving this way in some contexts, but society outside of the boundaries of the military find this type of behavior to be completely unacceptable.
I have been doing some research, and talking to some people outside of the military, and have come to believe that Mario suffers from PTSD. He has been deployed many times, and this last deployment was very stressful on him. I think Mario felt more vulnerable during this deployment: he is older now, his reactions are not as fast, he is not as strong or fit, and he has stated several times that the unit he is with does not look out for each others' backs. He felt lucky to be alive and able to come home. But he has not able to put these experiences behind him, and he is not getting the help he needs from the military. I understand all this, and I am very sad for him. But I am sadder still for Nicky. I cannot stand by and watch Nicky be abused, see his personality change, and his confidence eroded. I don't want my son -- your nephew -- to live in fear. I want Nicky to be happy and I believe he will be happier living away from his father. I have separated from Mario and have told Nicky that his father and I will be getting a divorce -- and what that means. Like most children of abusive parents, Nicky is fiercely loyal to his father. Since I have not been able to get anywhere in my talks with Mario -- asking him to go to counseling and get help for his PTSD, I will have to let an attorney be the go-between. That said, Maria, I don't know if Mario is stable enough right now for Nicky and I to be safe. For this reason, I have rejected the idea of a mediator and Nicky and I are going away for awhile. I will be in contact with you and my parents and relatives, but I will not disclose our whereabouts to any of you. That way, you can all honestly say that you do not know where we are. The attorney will also convey this to Mario, and will see that he is presented with a no contact order for a year. At some point, I want Mario to be able to see his son, but he will have to accomplish significant behavioral changes for this to happen. And perhaps Mario will now have an incentive to work on his issues.
Please don't worry about us. We will both be better off on our own. As things worsened in the relationship, I began preparing financially for this circumstance the best I could. Nicky needs both time and space to heal. I have a new job and I need to get busy defining a new life for us both.
I hope that you will understand. I have always valued your friendship. You are the best sister-in-law imaginable. And I know you love Nicky enormously. I will reach out to you soon.
With much love,
Part 2: Doing the Research
To support my thinking in the Lot of Life scenario, I needed to learn more about the relation between child emotional or psychological abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as it occurs in soldiers who have seen military action. Two primary lines of research are relevant to this topic and to the Lot in Life Scenario described below in the faux letter to a relative: 1) emotional / psychological abuse of children; and 2) PTSD.
The first section of this paper presents several professionally established definitions of emotional or psychological abuse of children. The middle part of the paper presents data on the incidence and interpretation of child maltreatment in military families. The second-to-last section of the paper addresses the relation between PTSD and child maltreatment by their soldier parents. Conclusions are provided in the final section of the paper.
How Is Emotional Abuse Recognized?
Emotional or psychological abuse is defined by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect as:
"Acts or omissions by the parents or other caregivers that have caused, or could cause, serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders. In some cases of emotional abuse, the acts of parents or other caregivers alone, without any harm evident in the child's behavior or condition, are sufficient to warrant child protective services (CPS) intervention…Less severe acts, such as habitual scapegoating, belittling, or rejecting treatment, are often difficult to prove and, therefore, CPS may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm to the child" (Newton, 2001, 1).
The American Medical Association (AMA) definition of the emotional abuse of a child is as follows:
"…when a child is regularly threatened, yelled at, humiliated, ignored, blamed or otherwise emotionally mistreated. For example, making fun of a child, calling a child names, and always finding fault are forms of emotional abuse."
Researchers agree that the emotional or psychological abuse of children can have far-reaching influence and long-term impact on most aspects of a child's development, but that the impacts on the child's social and emotional development are the most readily observable (Chang, et al., 2008; Newton, 2001).
The Problem of Emotional Abuse in Military Families?
Studies of domestic violence have shown a strong relation between the maltreatment of children and the psychological abuse of partners in the home (Chang, et al., 2008; Martin, et al., 2009; Newton, 2001).
Some differences in patterns of domestic abuse are evident when comparing military vs. nonmilitary families (Martin, et al., 2009; Rentz, et al., 2006). By order of the highest frequency in reporting and substantiation, child maltreatment in military families involves physical abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse (Martin, et al., 2009; Newton, 2001). For military spouse abuse, physical abuse accounts for 90% of reported and substantiated cases, with emotional abuse showing the second highest rate (Martin, et al., 2009; Rentz, et al., 2006).
Importantly, according to the Army Family Advocacy Program policy, spousal abuse is also considered to be emotional abuse because of the trauma children experience when they witness the abuse of one of their parents by the other parent (Martin, et al., 2009; Rentz, et al., 2006). In a…