Robin’s True Story and Testimony by Robin
This is a personal story describing the psychological impact resulting from abuse at school. This is a true story which covers my struggle over many years. I am writing this to illustrate the terrible human suffering, that can result from the style of discipline described in this personal testimony. I am going to begin by describing the abuse I suffered and attempt to cover the history in order of event. It was the experiences in these first years at school that are responsible for a lot of the psychological damage I suffered. The classroom abuse I was subjected to, were the cause for me to necessitate undergoing psychotherapy and counselling in my adulthood.
The school where the abuse occurred is situated at a country area called Taikorea, which is located between Foxton and Rongotea in the Manawatu district. The head teacher of this school during this early time was Mr Browning. I started at the Taikorea school in 1953 when I was five years old. My memories of actually starting school are very sketchy but I can remember much of this early time. There were some very nasty times indeed. I can remember feeling very afraid and this fear was enhanced by the atmosphere of the school. I felt very unsafe there.
The two teachers who caused so much long-term damage is described below.
The first teacher’s name was Miss Budd. An incident I clearly recall that Miss Budd did, was destroy a toy I owned. At one stage I must have taken toys to school. The memory of having toys at school is rather scant. I remember not wanting to take anything of value to the school so I really do not know why I had any toys there at all. However I have this distinctive memory of having a toy tractor that I valued. This incident happened in the hall across the road. Somehow, I must have left the tractor somewhere within the ‘classroom’ vicinity and Miss Budd had got hold of it. She knew it was mine. The class was in a line, going out the door, probably to go home. She stood near the entrance where we were going out. She was holding the tractor. Then she began to twist the back of the toy and deliberately broke off the tow loop at the back. She then pulled off one wheel. I walked past her and I remember trying to pretend not to notice it. But I can clearly recall the intense feeling of distress and anxiety that came from this. I felt very afraid of Miss Budd and of what she had done. I found her actions very frightening. I can recall her giving the tractor back to me. At this point the memory fades. However, I think that the parts she had removed were never returned. Today, I can still feel the distress of this incident.
The second teacher’s name was Miss Collin. Miss Collin was very cruel and sadistic. I remember how we used to describe someone like Miss Collin as “crappy”. It is my estimation, that I would have had to endure Miss Collin for most of the primer period, and I do not know for how much longer after that. It is difficult to assess the exact years of the primer period. However it probably would be around 1956-57 when I reached standard one. The class was placed in a recently built classroom block. The classroom was a single one room block with a cloakroom attached. This cloakroom played an important part with the abuse meted out by Miss Collin.
This was a time of terror. Miss Collin was keen on using the strap. She also used humiliation as a weapon to ensure compliance in the classroom. This Miss Collin did not give a damn about a child’s feelings and would not hesitate to use the strap if she thought a child was not doing what she wanted. Often she would use this in front of the class. This certainly ensured maximum humiliation and deprivation of dignity. Other times she would use the cloakroom. I can recall her giving other children in the class the strap, parading them at the front of the class. Everyone had to watch this ritual. As a six year old, I can clearly remember experiencing terrible fear on having to witness this appalling practise.
I am now going to describe a number of incidents as I remember them and try to describe the feelings, I felt as a child in relation to each incident.
The first incident involved humiliation alone. Miss Collin used emotional as well as physical abuse as punishment. I can not remember the reason for this incident but I can guess it was because I could not spell a word or something of that nature. Punishment was meted out if a child did not know how to do a sum or spell a word. I cannot remember why I was singled out. But Miss Collin decided I deserved humiliation. She did this by ordering me to stand in the corner, facing the wall. I can not remember how long I had to stay there. The strange thing about my reaction to this treatment is that my feelings closed off. It was later, after it was all over that I suffered the effects. These were feelings of constant anxiety that lasted for a very long time. I can remember feeling the anxiety during the night and I was a child that often could not sleep. I can remember feeling very fearful of this terrible place called school.
The next incident that I can clearly recall was probably more devastating. This time Miss Collin decided I deserved the strap. When she meted out this punishment it was a ritual. On this occasion she ordered me out into the cloakroom. I was ordered to stand behind the door there. While standing behind that door I heard the whole class clapping. It was great to them, that I was being given this treatment. It is difficult to describe the feeling I experienced but I seem to remember ‘closing down’. It was the knowing that I had to accept the treatment. I had no control over what was being done to me. I was rendered totally powerless. I can recall Miss Collin coming in with her strap and ordering me to hold out my hand. She gave at least one stroke of the strap over the hand. I can not remember whether I felt any physical pain but I remember how my stomach felt. It was as if I had swallowed burning acid. I know I never cried or showed any feeling during this abuse. If I was shaken Miss Collin would have laughed. Another incident involved abuse with words. As I said, Miss Collin used humiliation as punishment. This was the result of me not understanding something in class. I recall her asking me a question and I could not answer it. Very often this would qualify for the strap and I was petrified. On this occasion she used humiliation. She called me “rubbish”. I was rubbish to her and I was made to feel like rubbish. She often described me as “rubbish” if something was in disagreement with her.
The next incident happened in the playground. I was sitting on the seat outside picking at my lunch. The incident resulted in my dropping a soft boiled egg on to the seat. I can remember some of the egg falling down to the ground through the gaps in the seat. This created laughs from others and drew the attention of Miss Collin. When she saw the egg, she called me a ‘pig’. I was made to wash it down while everyone looked on. The degradation I felt was very devastating.
I will give one final incident that I can clearly remember. One day Miss Collin read a story to the class. Then she began to single out individuals in the class to describe parts of the story. I was singled out and she asked me about a part of the story. I could not remember. So as a punishment I was made to sit in the classroom all playtime to read the story. I can recall being able to answer her question after that. I knew I had to for my survival!
I am certain that there are many more incidents that have been blocked from my memory. The trauma, this one perpetrator has inflicted on me has certainly been responsible for the contribution of my anxiety condition over a very long period.
By the time I reached the standards, the anxiety cycle was well established as result of the abuse perpetrated by Miss Collin. By the time I reached standard four I found learning very difficult. I also had an underlying death wish. That is incredible for a 9, 10 or 11 year old child! This suicidal condition was to have a near tragic outcome when I attempted suicide in 1981. Through out the rest of my school years, I suffered childhood depression and anxiety which became worse over time. This was even though I was no longer being abused at school. By the time I reached form two, my potential had been seriously affected. The anxiety condition continued well into my adult years and this necessitated having to receive long term psychotherapy. It has taken many years to find my self-worth and repair self-esteem.
1962 – 1964
IN 1996 I RECEIVED A LETTER WHICH FULLY ACKNOWLEDGED
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL INJURIES I SUFFERED AT THIS SCHOOL
At the secondary school I was met with further abuse. I was now 13 years old. The school was a mixed institution, but the classes were segregated. The first days are hazy but I remember very well, some of the incidents that happened. On the first days a test was done for ‘academic’ ability and I was put into a bottom class. I will now describe some of the school incidents that I had to deal with during psychotherapy treatment many years later.
I can not remember a lot about the first two years at this school because of the psychological abuse that went on around me and the consequent terror and anxiety that I experienced. However I do remember very clearly, some of the incidents from those school years that did devastate me.
The anxiety I experienced at this school was to have a very damning affect on my adult life. In those school years I succeeded in protecting myself from some of the abuse by ‘using’ my fear as my protector and ally. This was to further undermine my psychological wellbeing as this caused the fear to ‘feed’ on itself. In effect this caused me to become more anxious and depressed and thus I began to have crying bouts. I recall, at this stage, as a 13 or 14 year old, I began to think about suicide.
It was seen as normal to receive the cane if a book or other item, so important to the school system, were forgotten and it was common to see a classmate caned for such an ‘offence’. The constant fear of forgetting something did nothing to aid in learning and my anxiety never ended. I had to live with this anxiety for two years.
1. Some of the boys from my class found some javelins on the playing field and began throwing them. Fortunately I did not touch any, although it was possible I would have as I had no reason to believe it would offend. However, back in the classroom a teacher stormed in waving a cane and demanded that those who had touched a javelin to ‘own up’. This teacher’s name was Mr Pooches, the physical education teacher. Those who owned up were marched up in front of the class and systematically caned. I do not know how many times but I recall very vividly how witnessing this brutal scene affected me. My heart was pounding and I was shaking with absolute terror. I could never forget this incident and I still feel sick when I recall it.
2. A very nasty incident I can clearly recall was seeing a pupil in class singled out and was caned in front of the class. His distress was very profound indeed and he cried for quite some time – the teacher perpetrator did not give a damn about his distress.
3. One other time, I forgot my gym shorts and I left them in the locker. I ran back to get them but then I was late. This qualified for the cane. The closing off” of feelings technique came into play. It was that Pooches teacher that abused me on this occasion. The one other time I got myself on the end of this abuse again was in a classroom and I don’t even remember why I “got it”. But I did, this time by a Mr Campbell, a metalwork teacher. This school was a very unpredictable place that seemed to have no sense or reason. It was run on fear, terror and abuse. My reactive feeling was this ‘closing down’ of emotion. This closing off of emotion was to prove to have a very devastating effect on me later in life.
During the crying bouts I mentioned earlier, I remember being put into the sick-room. However; I do not remember who was responsible for this but I came to know that this crying resulting from the anxiety was putting me into a safe place. At this time migraine headaches began to trouble me and these persisted up until I received psychotherapy treatment at Ashburn Hall Psychiatric Hospital (situated in Dunedin, New Zealand) in 1981.
However it was in my third year that the situation changed for the better at this school where I was concerned. I was very lucky to have a form teacher in the fifth form who was a humanitarian. His name was Harry Ward. Mr Ward was responsible for giving me charge as form captain. This was a very privileged position as I found I had the ‘power’ to decide how discipline was to be carried out in the class. I have to say though that this came about after a lot of counselling from Mr Ward and I began to feel he could be trusted. Looking back on this it seems so odd that such a situation could come about after two years of being exposed to brutal treatment. Looking back now, it seems that I was given empowerment which was initiated by Harry Ward. I was given control over my environment and what would happen in the classroom. There was no caning or nasty incidents in this final year. I still suffered anxiety – which persisted long after I had left school.
THE IMPACT OF THE SCHOOL ABUSE IN ADULTHOOD
History of Psychotherapy and Counselling
From my childhood to my mid-twenties I suffered terrible anxiety and depression. This condition had suicidal overtones, which stemmed from my childhood and remained untreated until I obtained help in adulthood. In these early days I did not understand the depression, except that it was having a very profound effect on my life with the inability to work to full potential and relate to people. Also I found trust very difficult and always approached people with suspicion.
In 1970 I began employment with the Government Printing Office. In these earlier years, it became obvious to those around me that I was suffering severe anxiety and needed professional help. So in that year, I received counselling from a minister and psychotherapist and also received outpatient treatment at Wellington Hospital psychiatric unit. I was put on medication to reduce anxiety and depression.
However, it was in 1974 that the first real crisis came and a severe bout of depression led to a suicide attempt by means of an overdose. This attempt was not serious but nevertheless put me in intensive care for a day, and two weeks in-patient care at Wellington Hospital psychiatric unit.
After this first suicide attempt and further psychotherapy I was finally able to acknowledge anger that stemmed from my childhood years. Over the following years I “boxed” along and had ongoing support but still suffered anxiety and prevalent depression. This was controlled by anti-depressants and counselling.
Then in the late 1970’s I took up a new job with the Department of Lands and Survey and this change unfortunately triggered further anxiety. This had an adverse effect on my work performance.
However, I continued to work at this department for two years before applying and getting a job at the Palmerston North Hospital in 1980 within the Medical Photography section. This turned out to be a very mixed blessing. Unfortunately medical study attached to this job sparked off my condition to such an extent that I was incapable of work and ended up on extended sick leave. Then in 1981 I had another severe bout of depression which led to a determined suicide attempt. This time it was intended by me to end my own life, which I had almost succeeded in doing. It is apparently, an absolute miracle that I survived (according to doctors) as I had taken a lethal overdose which rendered me unconscious for about two days and three days in intensive care after that. I believe it is by the grace of God that I am sitting here today, writing this testimony!
After a spell in hospital it was strongly recommended by the medical team that I spend some months in in-patient psychiatric care so I spent three months at Ashburn Hall Psychiatric Hospital in Dunedin where I underwent intensive group therapy and individual counselling.
After this stay I returned to Palmerston North and took refuge for several months before obtaining work in Wellington with the Labour Department’s Arbitration Court in 1982 and Records Section of Immigration from 1987.
I was laid off due to health reasons in 1991.
Over these years I had a few pitfalls, the most serious ones in 1984 and 1990. Both these times I had a spell of in-patient care for about two weeks each time for anxiety attacks and suicidal feelings.
From what I witnessed in group therapy of others struggling to confront their childhood abuse, I found that the origins of these suicidal feelings are universal. I discovered that what I have felt has also been felt by others. I discovered that I was no longer alone with my struggle!
I mentioned earlier that I suffered depression in my childhood and had an underlying death wish. This childhood feeling has become very focussed in recent times and I think only the suicidal who have been near death, could have sufficient insight through experience to understand the mechanics of these self-destructive feelings. The discipline methods described caused me to feel that I do not matter. I can recall feeling that I was not a person and indeed, my very soul was being damaged.
During my times of depression and suicidal tendencies I can now recall the same feelings of wanting to “disappear” when I had to witness this abuse. I was not allowed to feel, was denied all feelings of anger, physical pain and emotional distress when the strap was being used in the classroom. I can remember that I did not matter and only the punishment counted.
The feelings as a child, of closing off and feeling a non-entity during this abuse, probably seemed “insignificant” at the time. But little by little over time, a pattern was established as the abuse progressively continued and these feelings became very deep-seated.
And I am speaking of treatment that was done that was condoned at the time as “reasonable” treatment on children. The feelings I experienced during these school days are the same real feelings I experience when I have been suicidal in adulthood.
It is remarkable that I have finally been able to overcome a lot of the damage inflicted on me in my childhood and have made excellent progress during 1994, 1995 and 1996. This has certainly, not come easily. I have had to undergo many years of counselling and the irony is that this damage should never have happened in the first place. This thought makes me feel very angry! I have been robbed of a childhood that I now wish to put behind me.
A lot has been lost due to my struggle to overcome the damage. Professional psychotherapists have expressed amazement at my courage in confronting the painful childhood traumas inflicted at school as described earlier. I am aware of others who have suffered long term affects as result of similar abuse described in this testimony. And I knew some who never did make it and committed suicide.
I have often wondered why God spared my life in 1981 and now I believe that he did so in order that I share my terrible school experiences. This is in the hope that my sharing will help prevent this classroom abuse ever happening again.
Because this abuse happened so many years ago, it does not make it any better. Today I still suffer anxiety and still have to receive counselling for it.
CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AT HOME
Still acceptable under Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961
New Zealand Law
I mentioned that I suffered depression in my childhood which had an underlying death wish. This childhood feeling has become very focused in recent times and I think only the suicidal could have sufficient insight through experience to understand the mechanics of these self-destructive feelings. When I was punished in childhood, I was physically hit. This involved a weapon, usually a strap, a stick, any weapon that would involve inflicting physical pain and distress. During these events I can recall feeling that I did not matter and would ‘close down’. Also, the violation was always justified by the abuser (in this case, my parents). During my times of depression and suicidal tendencies I can now recall the same feelings of wanting to disappear when I was physically hit, that I was not allowed to feel, was denied all feelings of anger, physical pain and emotional distress when the hitting was being meted out. I can remember that only the punishment counted.
During the psychotherapy, I discovered that when the childhood smacking occurred, I closed off my emotions. Over time I had “taught” myself as a child to close off during repeated discipline smacks, a mechanism designed to “distance” myself from the associated fear and pain. I began to believe I was worthless.
During my many therapy sessions, I have had to “relive” these events to overcome the trauma which affected my life as an adult. I will tell you, this took immense courage.
The feelings as a child, of closing off and feeling a non-entity during this abuse, undoubtedly contributed to my suicidal condition. Little by little over time, the pattern was established as the abuse progressively continued and these feelings of wanting to ‘disappear’ became very deep-seated.
From what I witnessed during psychotherapy of others struggling to confront their childhood abuse, I discovered that the origins of these suicidal feelings are universal. I discovered that what I have felt has also been felt by others. I discovered that I was no longer alone with what I felt!
The feelings I experienced during these regular physical attacks and resultant panic from my childhood; were the same feelings I experience when I have been suicidal in adulthood. It was when I finally began to acknowledge my true emotions during psychotherapy treatment, that I began to understand my suicidal condition and reverse it. This could only be done by releasing the pain of the childhood abuse.
A LEGAL BASHING FROM MY FATHER
(Still acceptable under Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961)
One of the most serious incidents of abuse I can clearly recall, happened at the hands of my father. This incident happened, probably when I was about twelve years old. I cannot remember why I was physically punished on this occasion. . Under Section 59 he had used “reasonable force” so this was a legal bashing for which I had right to complain or seek protection as a child.
My father picked up a broom. He used the handle of the broom to strike me. He hit me harder and harder. I can remember the pain and the force of the weapon. While he was hitting me he kept saying “you did do it, you did do it”.
He hit me mostly about my legs and stomach. My mother was present and made no attempt to stop it. I suffered bruises resulting from this ‘smack’. I was suppose to deserve these hidings as a child. These hitting episodes were always promptly swept under the carpet. The physical marks were usually minimal enough and often short-lived as to not attract attention. The emotional pain was “non-existent”.
It was several years, in fact in 1973, before I spoke about this “discipline smack” for the first time, and this was during psychotherapy treatment. Today, I can still significantly feel the emotional pain of this abuse when I focus on, or describe it. This long lasting pain which is still very much present after so many years, must indicate the impact such violence has.