“Pain is a marvelous purifier”: Corporal punishment, Evangelicals, and the Doctrine of Obedience
This is revelatory for me.
“Dobson recommends squeezing the trapezius muscle at the back of the neck to control children of all ages. Multiple people said that as a result of this method, any touch on the shoulder makes them flinch.”
My parents rarely spanked me. And while it feels weird to talk about “just some light child abuse” - here we are. My parents’ discipline left emotional echos, but not deep-seated trauma.
The neck squeeze thing, however, was one of my bullies’ go-to moves. And that had a much more marked effect on my emotional well being. I had no idea that was something they undoubtedly learned from their abusive Christian (in my case, Catholic) parents. Just another example of how child abuse casts ripples far and wide.
Thanks for writing this, Talia.
Reading this made me absolutely sick.
My mum only ever hit me twice in my whole life, but I remember both so vividly, I can't imagine what this would be like...
To anyone who went through this, I'm so sorry.
The neck squeeze....I didnt realize this is where my parents got that from. To this day I cant stand my neck being touched.
Oh my goodness, this resonates with horrifying accuracy, for me. The wooden spoon image alone raises goosebumps. Partially relieved to hear shared experiences and analysis... mainly horrified and wounded.
This post brought me to tears. I think as a result of knowing others relate to what is lost and recalling painful memories of punishments for crimes I can't recall committing. Well done, Talia.
That trapezius squeeze . . . my dad married into evangelicalism when I was 10 so I missed the early "training" and they never spanked us but that trapezius squeeze just brings it allllll back. There was so much. Now, at 34, I'm still desperately trying to find myself, my own strength. The "discipline" destroyed me, and I've spent my entire adult life rebuilding.
I never received corporeal punishment as a child, but both of my older brothers did. Being about 5 and seeing them scream and cry as they were beat with a belt made me obedient and silent. Silent about the other kinds of abuse I would later endure.
This is such a powerful piece, thank you for your hard work.
Thank you, Talia. ♥
I always feel it's hard to explain to outsiders what fundie corporal punishment was like, and how it is different than garden variety corporal punishment. This piece lays it out so concisely. I hate the word "obedient" with the fire of a thousand suns.
Even though I was the more compliant child who did all the chores, my parents would beat me for crying and then beat me for protesting my beating. They broke a wooden spoon on my behind when I was 16. My brother in contrast got best treatment and no chores. When I left my Dad picked up my duties, not his son. For graduation they got him a convertible and an apartment. I got to NYC with just a suitcase. Now I’m fighting constant housing insecurity and losing health insurance while my brother owns multiple houses and a collection of sports cars. My parents feel vindicated because they poured all their resources into the “right” child.
Thank you for writing this. I’d be interested to read a follow-up on Babywise and similar ‘Christian’ baby stuff (feeding and sleep practices) not supported by evidence. Or, does anyone else know of anyone doing work on that subject?
Great work. Your findings resonate with what I found when I interviewed families who use/used Focus on the Family, including the grown children who reflected on the ritual of corporal punishment and its humiliations. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/practicing-what-the-doctor-preached-9780199755073?cc=us&lang=en&
my family was deeply unusual in my community because they didn't believe in corporal punishment. it was so normal, my parents had to sign a waiver stating they didn't want me to be spanked at school-- it was opt-out. to my knowledge, it still is.