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.