Horror story

Is it possible to reject the inheritance of abuse?

Today I read the news story about Yvonne Freaney, who recently admitted to the manslaughter of her eleven-year-old autistic son Glen: he was severely disabled and needed high levels of care which she provided herself. In March last year she left her husband and took Glen with her, staying in hotels for weeks as she was unable to find permanent accommodation. Becoming increasingly afraid that the authorities would take Glen away from her and that he wouldn’t be cared for properly, she killed him and attempted to kill herself.

According to the news reports, Mrs Freaney has experienced a lifetime of neglect and abuse. She suffered from severe neglect as a child, was a recipient of regular physical and verbal abuse from her husband, and according to the consultant psychiatrist who testified in court, suffers from a personality disorder. Dr Williams indicated that the only value she had for herself was as a mother to her four children (who each suffer from varying levels of disability).  The judge agreed with the defending barrister that sentencing Mrs Freaney to an immediate prison term was a pointless exercise, and the judge agreed, concluding that she had been ‘punished enough’.

My question in response to this case is not to do with the verdict passed by the court, however,  but is more to do with how we inherit mistreatment and abuse, and whether it is possible to break the chain of that inheritance and create a new reality for ourselves.  Yvonne Freaney inherited all the mistreatment and abuse from her parents and husband and somehow turned it all in upon herself, causing damage to her own soul.

None of the professionals who dealt with Mrs Freaney were aware of the load she was carrying up to the point of her son’s death, as it seems she tried to hold it all within herself. So to make practical suggestions about how to break the chain of abuse and family dysfunction feels irresponsible at the very least, addressing the symptoms rather than the cause. All the changes that could be made in policy and practice within social and health services would be inadequate to enable someone in Mrs Freaney’s position to feel secure enough to talk about her pain. In a society where individualism is rife, it feels as though it is our natural instinct to close off, even to those closest to us, as though somehow our pain is our own responsibility and does not belong to anyone else. Perhaps this stems from fear, or pride, yet the more we try to contain within ourselves, the more pressure we put ourselves under – and consequently, the greater damage we cause to ourselves. And so it passes on. I don’t propose that we suddenly begin spilling our innermost secrets to every stranger on the street, but I dream of a society in which there is always a safe place to go for those bearing a burden they feel unable to carry. A place to learn that it is possible to entrust others with what we’ve tried to hard to protect or avoid within ourselves, and where the process of transformation can begin. Whether such dreams could ever become reality I do not presume to have an answer for, but I can’t help believing that the potential to change and to help others change is within us all.


4 responses to “Horror story

  1. Let’s hope she gets the help she needs so that the effects of the long-term abuse she has suffered can at least be reduced. It will cost money, of course, and that seems in short supply, but help to the mother now could mean several less people who will need help in the future, namely her children.

    More support from the community at large might have helped, but if she kept it all to herself chances are the people she knew had no idea. It is also difficult to know how to help people with such deep-seated problems without some training.

  2. I believe the judge ordered that Mrs Freaney has to undergo therapy of some description as a condition of release, which makes a great deal of sense. Of course a lot depends on the individual/s she sees for therapy, as I suspect she will need a great deal of time and patience in order for there to be a genuine healing process. It’s so frustrating that things so often need to come to crisis before they are recognised and dealt with.

  3. I think you ask a really good question here, from a professional point of view I believe it’s entirely possible to leave behind childhood experiences of abuse and many people go on to do just that. It does take a significant level of support and therapuetic input to help someone fully recover from their experiences. Research shows that the idea of a “cycle of abuse” where someone who has been abused goes on to abuse someone else doesn’t reflect most people’s experience however high profile cases perpetuate the myth. Part of the problem is that these high profile cases can leave adults who have experienced abuse scared to speak about it for fear of the assumption that they too have abused others and so without access to the support they need.
    While money doesn’t answer every question, I have concerns that cuts in public spending will reduce the resources availale to support and help people recover from abuse.

    • Wow Susan, I had no idea that the cycle of abuse thing was such a myth. So can it sometimes happen that people who are abusers were never abused themselves? I take what you mean about money – it’s no use just throwing loads of it in the general direction of the caring professions, so much can go horribly wrong. But without it you can’t afford the caring people and the quality of service needed to provide support for those recovering from abuse. I suppose a related question is: should the onus be on public services to provide all of this support, or can other organisations work along side and in partnership with the government? It’s still a question of where the funding comes from though!

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