Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the kings’ men couldn’t put Humpty together again.
You remember this childhood rhyme, don’t you? Have you wondered why people act the way they do when they’ve experienced childhood abuse? This is the first in a series of three blogs on the long-term impact of parental behavior: abusive, neglectful, or nurturing. My goal is to help people have more understanding when they see certain behaviors in their friends and family and understand the results of past abuse can carry into adulthood.
Personally, I have always been curious as to why Humpty was sitting on a wall, and even more so, what caused him to fall? Here is this precious fragile being and where were his parents? Who was watching out for him? I know this is merely a simple childhood rhyme, but if you don’t mind, I would like to share a few thoughts with you keeping this beloved character in mind.
Let’s follow 3 different Humpty Dumpty characters, and take a small glimpse into the treatment each received from his parents, then look at the long-term impact that treatment can have on how they feel about themselves as an adult.
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, a moment before the big fall, he was pushed! And he heard the words “You deserve to be pushed off the wall! You made me mad!” And before he could gather himself, he heard “You idiot! You’re trash!” He looked up just in time to see the bottom of a shoe and hear the words “I’m going to step on you and scramble you! Now you’re a scrambled egg! Let’s see how the heat of this stress changes you. Stupid egg!” True to the nature of abuse, his mother had combined both physical and emotional abuse into just a few moments.
He was treated this way throughout his childhood. The impact can be long lasting and common responses include:
The fact that he was abused, that alone, communicated to him that he was worthless. As an adult, it’s easy for him to feel like he is unloved, not worth picking up the pieces for, or being put back together again. Eggs like him are used to being stepped on and believe that abuse is what they deserve.
He developed a style of relating to others that is a protective layer for his core. The world hasn’t been safe for him. He is on alert, hoping to prevent something bad from happening. He is constantly trying to figure out what he needs to do to survive.
Survival includes several ways to protect himself from pain and abuse. The most apparent is mistrust. He can’t trust the people who are supposed to care for him, like his parents. As a result, throughout his life, he has difficulty with friendships, authority, and even romantic relationships.
Isolation becomes a tool to protect himself. If no one is around, no one can hurt him.
Much of the time the emotional pain hurts so much that it must be avoided at all costs. This includes staying away from any reminders of what happened, including not talking about it.
Even his anger is a protective measure.
He blames himself for the abuse. He believes he could’ve prevented it, if only he had acted differently. He doesn’t think about how tiny he was, or how little power he had over the adults, and there was no way for him to control what was happening.
Often eggs like Humpty experience mental health problems. If you were to ask him about it, he would probably say “yes. I have depression. Sometimes I get suicidal. PTSD, panic, and anxiety are struggles for me. And alcohol and substance abuse, that’s how I cope with this pain inside.”
These responses to abuse in childhood are common for adults. In fact, the layers of abuse that happened on a daily, weekly, even occasional basis make healing more complex because it wasn’t a one-time event. Unfortunately, some of the longest-lasting and most debilitating effects of physical abuse are psychological in nature. What people may not realize, in addition to the psychological, there are a host of other effects:
- Physical health problems related to the toxic stress they experienced
- Difficulty with attachments and social relationships
- Changes in brain functioning
- Diminished cognitive functioning
These are just a few, there are so much more than we can cover in a blog article. We know that not everyone who has suffered abuse will face the same challenges as Humpty. If you are Humpty, or know him, piecing the abused Humpty back together again is not impossible. There is hope for help and healing, and you are not alone.
Jeremiah 17:14(MSG) says “God pick up the pieces and put me back together again…”
This is a 3 part blog article. Click here to learn more about Humpty in adulthood.
Part 2 The Long Term Impact of Neglectful Parents: Humpty’s pain was ignored!
Part 3: The Long Term Impact of Nurturing Parents: It wasn’t just the king’s men who ran…