Sonja Simak, Master transformation coach, facilitator and trainer for systemic healing with integral background in trauma and owner of HealingPoint chats with Wasanga Mehana on how children who grow up in households where abuse is being perpetrated affects them in the long run and how they can be rehabilitated.
Effects of abuse around your child
Talk with Wasanga Mehana on 702
Presenter – We are on the line today with Sonja Simak. She is the master transformation coach, facilitator and trainer for Systemic Healing, with an integral background in trauma and owner of HealingPoint. Sonja, thank you for joining us this morning, welcome.
Sonja – Good morning, thank you for having me.
Presenter – You are sounding very bright this morning. I hope you got your cup of java. Are you more of a green tea person, which side do you go?
Sonja – I’m always ready early in the morning, I’m an early bird.
Presenter – But our discussion is quite serious today and we’re talking about the effects of domestic abuse around your children, if you have children, you probably try to shield them from domestic abuse as much as you possibly can. Is it a possibility, Sonia to shield. Are you able to shield your children from domestic abuse?
Sonja – Actually it’s not possible, because our children are highly sensitive to what’s going on. So, even if we try and shield them, they know something’s up. So, to try and say: our children mustn’t know what’s going on is a little bit of a cop out, because even though they sense the underlying tone of something is not right. And it’s easier to deal with what is really going on, then that. What is it that’s going on, that sense of something’s being hidden. Children like to have honesty.
Presenter – In terms of the direct and indirect result of growing up in a violent household with domestic abuse. What are those direct and indirect results because you may feel them in another room and you think that it’s quiet, but what are those results?
Sonja – Well, I think the first thing is we need to understand that parents who are in abusive relationships, themselves probably grew up in a home where abuse was the norm, not always, but in a very very hard percentage. So, and that is why they say, I grew up in an abusive home, so I don’t want my child to see that. So, I understand the concern and the compensation that they are making. So, the key is actually for the parents to say: Hang on. We’ve got children here, we need to work it out. One way or another. And I know this is not possible for parents to take that logic, when they don’t have it at the time when things go wrong.
Presenter – Violence and abuse comes in various forms and for me personally language is very important and raising your voice doesn’t specifically make your point any clearer. If someone says no, my dad doesn’t beat my mom, is there may be a form of violence that may affect the child later on, is it just physical?
Sonja – Absolutely. So, abusers abuse, whether mentally or emotionally or physically. It is abuse no matter which way you look at it. So, we can’t get away from the fact that it is not a good circumstance.
Presenter – If you have just joined us, we are with Sonja Simak, master transformation coach facilitator and trainer for systematic healing. So, Sonja, when we look at this specifically, it’s not as simple as just packing up and leaving and we can even look at something as complex as Stockholm Syndrome and you’ve mentioned as well as how people may have grown up in that environment. If there are listeners who feel stuck as parents in an abusive relationship what can they do to protect themselves and their children?
Sonja – I think the first call is I need help. Packing up and leaving as often is even more traumatic for the child, because the child is bound to those parents. And then which parent does it go with, and then it’s always wrong for the parents that even if that parent is the abusive parent, it wants to be with that parent. So interesting, children by nature want to protect their parents. So, packing up and going is seldom the right route. Do they need protection? Yes they need protection. And I think an intervention into the family is the best way to go forward. That unfortunately is not often possible. First of all, the parent needs to admit, I have a problem, and the parent, who is the abuser. Very seldom is able to say, I have a problem, because their problem is so big and for them in such a way that it’s very difficult for them to say I have a problem. So then the parent who is abused needs to reach out to somebody and say, I have a problem. I need help. I need help to cope with the situation and make the situation better. Sometimes it’s possible, sometimes it’s not possible. So, but the first call of action is to actually call for help.
Presenter – What are the signs that a child is suffering from trauma or distress because of an abusive environment?
Sonja – Well we have two ways of expressing our abuse: we either explode it with other words, the child also becomes extremely abusive and angry and whatever it plays out outwardly with other words temper tantrums, anger, beating other children up that way. Or it implodes, when it implodes the child becomes quiet, doesn’t talk, withdraws and goes into its own world. And then that’s where we see depression, and that’s where we have a lot of suicidal tendencies appearing, is when it implodes.
Presenter – Many parents tend to lock the kids in a room or go somewhere where they feel the kids won’t see the abuse. What effect does that have on the person who has been abused and the child?
Sonja – Well for the child who’s locked away it goes into absolutely and absolute anxiety because it knows something’s going on, now I feel deserted on top of being abused or my parent being abused. So now I have dissection, I feel abandoned. Really, really scared. Who is going to take care of me now, where am I now? And that’s really scary for the child.
Presenter – How can the victim of abuse deal with the impact of the sadness, the anger and fear, while trying to be positive around their kids? I can’t imagine how difficult that is.
Sonja – It’s super difficult, that is why it’s not good to do it by yourself, it is why you need to reach out to somebody. Kids social services, there is the free helpline. You have to reach out to somebody and get support and stay in a support structure as long as you are in that abusive situation. And until that abusive situation can be intervened and are always say, It has to be healed.
Presenter – I looked at an image once, there’s a lot of school violence and I often say, that there’s no way that you’re just gonna have a young boy kicking a girl in the head. This is something that happened last year in South Africa, there was video footage of it and it really had me question exactly where did he see that happening and why does he think it’s okay to treat someone else like that. Is there a possibility that children are affected by the trauma, as you mentioned, and it indeed pours out into schools, how can educators respond to that kind of violence?
Sonja – Well this is the problem we have. Our educators are so overloaded, but the fact is a child or, especially when they become gang leaders in the group, and the bigger ones beat up the smaller one. It is something that they grow up with, it’s a norm. So at home I am beaten so at school I can beat. So your victim becomes the perpetrator. So, yes, I think schools should be much more equipped to have specialists dealing with it and noticing it and intervening in that situation, because a child to get another child, is a very very sad child.
Presenter – And I think the Department of Gauteng did an analysis about the impact of trauma and gender based violence and it was so such a great study because it went to the effect of the economic and social and financial aspects of a person and they even went as far as saying these are the demographics of a person who’s been in, who has (hasn’t) had trauma from childhood abuse. This is how they work, and it even went as far as talk about productivity levels in the office. We expect people in leadership positions, Sonja, to be able to be fair to be consistent and all these wonderful things. Are those abilities innate, and how does the pre existing trauma affect them later on in their lives?
Sonja – Okay. In some cases, some really really effective people at work, are traumatized from childhood, and they use that background to get out of it. And they have a mindset of I’m never gonna put myself into it, and they become actually almost a greater leader, and they become very controlling people, they control everything around them. So, it may look extremely effective, but they work from a position of control. And that is one. We see it as a positive, but underlying is that little bit of, if I’m not in control, I will lose it. So they become really affected. The others of the trauma has, that’s the imploded person in the workplace, is the one who can’t function properly. Who is just rolling along, just doing the minimum and waiting for the money to come out at the end of the month.
Presenter – Sonja, What about gangs? I’ve seen quite a lot. Gangs seem to become a second home, especially for abused children adolescence.
Sonja – Absolutely. And this is the thing is, in the gang, because that is a typical victim becoming a perpetrator. In the gangs we have somebody, we all have the same background. So we understand each other. And so, we now have to find a way of survival. And in the gang is easier because we don’t have to do it alone.
Presenter – And how does that grooming happen? You often see some of the young children, even child soldiers themselves. I think for me the most tragic, tragic thing, if I think Tears of the Sun is one movie that rips my heart out. When you look at children and you thinking wow, what was I doing when I was 11 years old, and you’ve got child soldiers who have been forced to watch the mothers being sexually abused and the entire family is being beheaded. They become soldiers, what kind of future do those kinds of children have?
Sonja – Well, we need to understand that the pain is so big that, emotionally, we as humans are not able to hold that amount of pain. So in order for us to be able to cope with that pain, we need to disperse it somewhere. And so, that child soldier is just an expression of the pain. That child has virtual no, there is no human feeling almost left in a child like that. Which is also a victim of bigger boys, or, you know, there’s always somebody who is bigger, and therefore, they have a promise of at least I’m taken care of in those situations.
Presenter – Sonja, the rehabilitation of criminals in our society. We looked at parole for example it’s an issue where we’ve got capacity issues in our correctional systems. How we think about rehabilitation. I call it rehabilitation. I don’t think it’s happening. I’ve heard from multiple people who have been in prison themselves and they’ll get let out into society, when the parole was being tested on South Africa, they will repeat offenses. We don’t have a death sentence Sonja. How do we deal with something like, that just happened recently, a pregnant woman, Tshegofatso Pule, being hanged. It is a heinous deed. And I think one of things we do as societies, is we be shocked and we put it at the back of our minds. It’s something that happened to someone, it’s usually some people that we know. How do we deal with that?
Sonja – Well the thing is we first have to understand that the people who can do that are beyond feeling pain. So human life no longer lives. So if you start going back into the home. So when somebody is beaten again, and again, and again, and again, you get to the point, I call it the point of numbness, where you can beat me as much as you want. You know, beat me up until you are dead, but I’m dead. It’s become my norm. So I no longer feel a pain. We have certain pain scales. So when I’m beyond that pain scale, then I’m numb. Or it can again go into the point of, I need to get rid of this pain and I will get somebody back. We call it revenge. But it’s not revenge against a person, it is revenge against all the pain that is inside of themselves. So the correct thing is, how do we rehabilitate them. It takes, it’s a process. And you cannot rehabilitate somebody until you have addressed the pain, allow that person to feel the pain to work through the pain to work through the trauma, and then to be able to make a new decision about life. When, only when a person has worked through all their trauma, can they make new decisions about life. And that is a process. It is not just being in jail for six years and then I’ll go into a session one month or once a week. It is actually a process.
Presenter – Sonja, my friend is beating up his wife. He is respected by the community. I have financial interest with this friend, it could be my neighbor as well. What do I do? What don’t I do?
Sonja – Okay, so this is where it gets very difficult. It depends on the friendship. If the friendship is good enough, you can say to your friend, you know what buddy. We have a really good relationship, but we have a difference in value. When you beat your wife, something inside of me, that just doesn’t work with it. How can I help you, how can I support you? And is there anything I can help you with. Because I think you are in a lot of pain, and it’s actually yeah maybe it’s a good idea to speak to our friends and say, hang on, you are in pain. Have you ever considered it? The answer will be no, I’m okay. But when you ask the question, How can I help you? Is it something somebody can do? At least it gets the thinking cap going. Maybe I am. If three or four people say the same thing to the same person, then there is an option where that person can say, yes I’m hurting my wife. I didn’t realize I was doing it, let me go for help.
Presenter – Sonia, thank you so much for your insights today not an easy discussion but thank you for the work that you do as well if you’ve just joined us. We are with Sonja Simak, master transformation coach, a facilitator and trainer for systemic healing with an integral background in trauma and owner of healing point, discussing the effects of domestic abuse around your children. Sonja, if some of our listeners would like to get a hold of you or your organization or need help, where can they get it?
Sonja – Okay, they can email me at; Sonja@healingpoint.co.za.
Presenter – And just to spell that for you. Sonja is s o n j a. Sonja Thank you so much. Please do be safe. All the best.
Sonja – Thank you so much for the opportunity. Have an awesome day.