ABUSES OF A SUBTLER KIND: Witholding Love
I would bet that, more often than not, if you scratch
the surface of a case of elder abuse or neglect, you will
find a case of child abuse or neglect. Where does a person
learn to treat an elderly parent unkindly, if not from that
very parent? By now we know for sure: abuse begets abuse.
The law defines acts of abuse or neglect, as it must in
order to prosecute them as crimes. As a society, we are
becoming ever more vigilant towards abuse and neglect within
families. And this is good. The weaker and more helpless
need protection from the stronger and more ruthless, even in
But there are forms of abuse and neglect that are harder
to define which go unpunished by the authorities. We can’t
have the government policing every aspect of a family’s
emotional life. That doesn’t mean the deeds go entirely
unpunished, though. People in families punish each other
with more cruelty and imagination than the law allows.
In some families emotional abuse is routine. Think of
the parent who turns his back in anger on a teenager who
won’t behave, withdrawing all love and kindness because he is
not obeyed. Neglect can become a lifestyle.
What about a child who only gets his parent’s attention
when he is bad? He has to act up to get any contact at all.
Think this is rare? Have you praised your kid lately? Are
you demonstrating respect and love or only demanding it?
Children (and spouses) need love and attention the way a
flower needs sunlight. They just don’t thrive without it.
And if your loved ones fail to thrive, you will be punished.
They will learn to withhold from you as you have withheld
from them. As they fail in life, you will feel like a
Your children and your spouse are depending on you to
love them. Maybe they don’t seem very lovable to you. Maybe
they don’t appear to even want your love. Give it anyway,
without reservation, control or criticism. Don’t let anger,
frustration or preoccupation interfere. As the Beatles said,
“…and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love