The Fruit of Spanking: Rage and Shame

As I remember it, my parents didn’t spank me all that often. When I was spanked it was usually just three wallops with a wooden paddle. My mom only rarely bruised us, and my dad actually went easier on us than she did. Sometimes mom would save us for dad to spank, and he would decide that we had suffered enough and only pretend to spank us. He had us yell and holler and everything.

Why is it, then, that when I look back at being spanked all I remember was the inner rage I felt? No one is listening to me. I thought. No one cares about how I see things. I felt completely stifled. I felt misunderstood and ignored. I felt like my parents didn’t really care about how I felt, all they cared about was maintaining their authority. What spanking communicated to me was that my parents were in charge, and I had better obey. If I didn’t stay in line and follow the rules, I would be spanked.

But it was more than that. Back talking merited a spanking. I think this is why I felt so stifled. If I was going to be spanked and tried to explain, or to offer additional information, I would be awarded more spanks. Every “but” resulted in the spanking total being raised. Instead of three spanks, I was going to have six. Or, if I protested again, eight. The message was that I had better shut up and just go along with whatever my parents said. The message was that my thoughts and feelings didn’t matter, only my parents’ rules. And hence the inner rage.

Now maybe I have a selective memory. Maybe I just thought I knew better than my parents in a given episode, and they actually knew best. Maybe they already knew my side, and my side was wrong. Maybe. I mean, I was a pretty spirited little girl. But if this is the case, does that actually make any difference? Doesn’t it mean something that when I think of being spanked all I can remember is feeling inner rage? Doesn’t it mean something that the message I remember receiving from being spanked was that I didn’t matter, that only my parents’ authority mattered?

And then there was my last spanking. I don’t know how old I was exactly, but I think I was around eleven. I hadn’t been spanked in over a year, and felt that I was too old to be spanked. I don’t even remember what I did wrong. I do remember that it happened in public, and that I was not allowed to explain or question. This time my inner rage was matched by my sense of complete shame. I had never felt this humiliated in my entire life, and haven’t since. I wanted to sink through the floor and disappear. By refusing me the right to even discuss what had happened, I felt like I was being robbed of my personhood, smothered and stifled. I wanted to run and make it all go away. But of course, I couldn’t. And so I was taken away from the others to a private place (thank goodness) and unceremoniously spanked. I still feel that rage and shame today, as I write about it. It was one of the most humiliating experiences in my life.

My parents probably consider me an example of how spanking works. They weren’t excessive, they always hugged me afterward, they never used any object other than a paddle, and I became a model child. By all outward appearances, it worked. But I think my example goes to show that even when spanking appears to work, that doesn’t mean it really is. They simply couldn’t see the inner rage, and they had no idea how completely stifled and ignored and misunderstood they made me feel. They also either did not see the intense shame I felt the last time I was spanked, or if they did they didn’t care.

And now I have a little girl. She is only a toddler, but I decided long ago that I will try my hardest to listen to her and hear her side. I will not punish her for talking back, for if children are not to “talk back” how are they to communicate? It’s not that I will never punish her (though I definitely won’t spank); rather, I won’t punish her without hearing her out and discussing what happened, why, and how things can be improved in the future. I may even let her help decide which punishments are appropriate for which transgressions. Above all, I will listen to her, to her feelings and her heart, and do my darnedest to make sure that I never make her feel the rage or shame I felt.

I Co-sleep, But: Some Thoughts on Attachment Parenting
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What Kind of Atheist Parent Are You?
The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • camden

    "Why is it, then, that when I look back at being spanked all I remember was the inner rage I felt? No one is listening to me. I thought. No one cares about how I see things. I felt completely stifled. I felt misunderstood and ignored. I felt like my parents didn’t really care about how I felt, all they cared about was maintaining their authority. What spanking communicated to me was that my parents were in charge, and I had better obey. If I didn’t stay in line and follow the rules, I would be spanked. "————This is what I would argue is an inevitable outcome of any use of physical force by a parent, at least in children that can but these types of thoughts together, and is also probably internalized even if a kid couldn't but the words to it. I was spanked when I was young enough to not really remember it (or anyway I think I was, at least based on all the times it was threatened. What bothered me a lot more when, as an adolescent, my dad would do things like grabbing my arm forcibly in public or flicking me with a finger in the forehead when no one was around. I certainly felt like you felt, that instead of talking to me like I was a person with feelings. I certainly internalized (from this and other habits of my parents) that feelings were not important and that any value that I had was from acts, not from just being.

  • dulce de leche

    Such a powerful post. Thank you so much for sharing. I, too, have always been a back-talker. And I have come to see that as a very good thing, even as a mom of four. :)

  • Jenna

    Wow – great post. I was also spanked rarely and the "right way" (calm, not in anger, only paddle, not hard enough to leave a mark) and so I have never been able to explain why it had such an effect on me. Another resolution of mine is that I will never use the word "obey." My family's church did an adult sunday school on Growing Kids God's Way and "first-time obedience" still makes me cringe.

  • Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    I remember getting spanked at 14 years old and I still can feel rage when I think about it.

  • Anonymous

    I have vary mixed thoughts about the spanking in my family. I'm the youngest by 10 years, and the product of two second marriages. My parents spanked my siblings only rarely, and only when they did something incredibly dangerous, and it was only ever a swat on the hand. My sister was never spanked, and my brothers were spanked for things like the time they played keep away with a magnifying glass, it broke, and one almost died of an arterial bleed, or the time while my parents were dating that my brother tried to break my dad's fingers.I got spanked all the time. I had seizures, but we knew what they were, they had no idea why I would run into the street and start biting people. Of course, once I was diagnosed, the spankings stopped, and I've never been spanked since, but it still troubles me. And you're right, it's never the pain. I have a lot more bruises after the rare occasions I have seizures now than I ever did then because I've gotten stronger and it's harder to hold me down, but that pain has no emotional component. It's just what happens. I was so upset that no one could see that I couldn't control what was happening.

  • Anne —

    Spankings were more common among the older ones of us than the little ones…when the oldest 5 were little we got spanked for EVERYTHING, including a "bad attitude" (not being happy all the time). Then the younger seven came along and my parents were more lenient with them, until it got to the point that when I was 22, my mom was more likely to spank me (and did) than the five year old.Spankings, especially when I was older, were more humiliating than anything. (Fortunately it was usually behind closed doors, and if it wasn't, the other kids were made to look away.) Until I was 14, my parents spanked on my bare bottom, and until I was about 16, on my underwear bottom.I remember getting spanked because of something that happened, and my mom tattled to my dad about what I did, only she didn't even know the full story. When I tried to explain, my dad said "are you calling your mom a liar??"I remember one time we were all lined up and spanked because someone had left the corral gate open. After one or two rounds, my soft-hearted brother "confessed" to leaving the gate open, so the rest of us would stop getting spanked. Later on, my dad remembered HE had left the gate open, and he never apologized for spanking us — his opinion was "Well you probably deserved it for something else I didn't find out about".

  • brittanyannwick

    I remember getting spanked as well–and the rage I felt. My younger brother never got spanked, although he was the "problem child." My mother recently confessed to me that she spanked me, and not my brother to make up for how "mean" my father was to my brother…I could barely restrain myself from yelling at her. I got spanked to make it "fair" that my father was "mean" to my younger brother? (the problem child, remember?)All I felt was rage when I got spanked. All I learned was that when someone did something bad, they had to be hit to be punished for it. So I did, which got me spanked more.

  • Pio

    Thanks for writing this post. I know I was spanked but have trouble remembering for what reason and other details. But that rage and shame are definitely with me. :(

  • Young Mom

    Shame and rage is very accurate. I was spanked all throughout growing up, for everything pretty much. I do not ever remembering a reason for being spanked, maybe vague reasons like "backtalk" (ie opening my mouth) but nothing specific. I was spanked all the way until 16, on some level I still cannot believe that my parents did that, or that I let them hit me that long.

  • Vickie

    Thanks for sharing your story. It must be painful for you to think about it, but it is so important that parents be faced with the reality of their choices. You are brave to step out and break the cycle of violence with your own daughter. Not everyone has the strength and courage to do so!

  • Anonymous

    I am still angry about how I was spanked. My mother used a metal-ended flyswatter, and it left horrible bruises on our legs and bottoms. She would even use it on my siblings when they were toddlers and would get up from a naps early, or something awful like that. I contemplated telling someone. I assumed my father was complicit, but he never knew. I knew that my brothers and sisters might have been separated from me if I had told a teacher or a counselor. She still doesnt think she did anything wrong. It's pretty absurd to teach children that might makes right when as adults they'll go to jail for hitting one another.

  • Aemi

    I remember feeling rage at being punished and not being allowed to "talk back". However, I don't think the actual spanking was the problem. (I feel rage whether or not a spanking is involved.) I think the "not listening to my perspective" was the problem. When it was obvious I was wrong and my parents were right, I remember no anger, but when I could tell they were partly wrong, then the rage came.

  • Anonymous

    I was spanked on occasion as a kid, but it was for breaking very clear rules and only after discussion of the situation. I knew I'd broken the rules, I knew I was going to get spanked, then the issue was over. One time I got spanked for something I didn't do, and when my mom figured it out she did apologize. So that didn't upset me overly. The lesson I got from spanking was "if you break the rules, sometimes there are painful consequences" which is a very valuable lesson. Now, when I got to be a preteen my mom stopped the spankings and started obsessing about my "bad attitude" which she defined as disagreeing with her on anything. She used to tell me what I was thinking, then berate me for thinking something "wrong", and when I tried to tell her what I was actually thinking she would yell at me and ground me for "back-talk". That's what made me feel worthless. I think spanking can be a reasonable parenting tool if used very sparingly and thoughtfully.

    • Rilian

      If you understood what you had done, then the spanking was at best unnecessary.

  • Lionel

    It sounds to me like you were raised in a conservative, and most probably, overly legalistic family. But it seems to me that because of this you have chosen to take the complete opposite point-of-view on everything, just as a enraged way to step out. Are there any opinions you and your parents share the same side on? I was also spanked as a child, but I do not view spanking as wrong or abusive in any way. It enforces discipline. Many kids, or possibly most, only see their simple side on things, and won't listen to anything but a very well known but simple-to-conceive feeling: pain. If it isn't used abusively, I believe it is a very effective way of enforcing discipline. I am not saying this is the case, but it seems to me that you were filled with bitterness from the other things your parents did, so this method only made that rage build more because you already felt controlled, and so you conceive it as abuse.

    • Rilian

      It is an abuse of power. Would you do it to a grown man? Then don’t do it to a kid.

  • Lionel

    Well said. If it means anything at all, I agree with you 100%.

  • Anonymous

    By God don't fine the man speeding on the free way… it is degrading to the personal feelings of the perpetrator.

  • Anonymous

    I'm pretty sure a fine is different from corporal punishment. The appropriate analogy would be tazing or pepper spraying someone for speeding, which I'm pretty sure would be an 8th Amendment violation.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, don't actually listen to what the poster said she felt, and what has been corroborated by everyone above you. Just insist that you know her mind better than she does and she must be wrong and your worldview must be right.Intentionally hurting another human being is wrong. Full stop. Yes, this includes what happened to you. I'm glad you don't feel subjectively bothered by it, but that doesn't make it okay. However, I humbly suggest that your insistence that someone else is likely wrong about her own experience raises some questions about why you feel the need to insist it wasn't a problem.By the way, it is absolutely untrue that kids only respond to pain. In fact, studies have shown that corporal punishment is not any more effective than non-corporal punishment in toddlers. Moreover, *reasoning* and non-corporal punishments had by far the best outcomes in toddlers, even better than reasoning and corporal punishment. So, clearly even little kids understand more than you give them credit for. is just the relevant figure. I understand it's from Larzelere & Merenda, 1994, but I can't find the original outside a paywall)Moreover, spanking is NOT an effective way to enforce discipline–it actually leads to behavior problems:"Using data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (Research Triangle Institute, 2002), this study examined the impact of corporal punishment (CP) on children's behavior problems. Longitudinal analyses were specified that controlled for covarying contextual and parenting variables and that partialed child effects. The results indicate that parental CP uniquely contributes to negative behavioral adjustment in children at both 36 months and at 1st grade, with the effects at the earlier age more pronounced in children with difficult temperaments. Parents and mental health professionals who work to modify children's negative behavior should be aware of the unique impact that CP likely plays in triggering and maintaining children's behavior problems. Broad-based family policies that reduce the use of this parenting behavior would potentially increase children's mental health and decrease the incidence of children's behavior problems. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)"

  • Anonymous

    The vast majority of the available psychological and child development research disagrees with you. Moreover, as discussed above, the effects on the actual child are very difficult to predict. Why take a chance that your child might find the experience very threatening/upsetting when other methods of parenting are just as effective, if not more so? Why risk increasing your child's chance of depression and mental health problems?I'm glad you didn't notice any problems for yourself, and that's great. Just remember–not *everyone* who smokes gets lung cancer, so just because some people don't show effects does not mean that it's safe on a population level.

  • Lionel

    First of all, now you are doing what you complained that you thought I did. I never said that IS what she felt, just what it sounded like to me. Here's a direct quote of the post just above yours, if you need it. "I am not saying this is the case, but it seems to me that you were filled with bitterness from the other things your parents did, so this method only made that rage build more because you already felt controlled, and so you conceive it as abuse."Completely admitted that that may NOT be the case…..

  • Anonymous

    By golly why not go so far as to say slicing their fingers off. ???? How about tazing someone for completely ransacking a public place, yelling at the top of their lungs, and refusing to listen to the police when they are told to stop. That's corporal punishment and it doesn't sound that unreasonable anymore does it?

  • Libby Anne

    Lionel – I have been accused of bitterness on this blog a number of times, but I think in this case it's important to remember that until five or seven years ago, I would have said my parents raised me perfectly, and that I planned to copy them completely as I raised my own children. At the time I was spanked, there was most definitely no "bitterness." What I did feel at the time was simply rage. I believed my parents had the right to spank me, and didn't believe spanking was wrong, but personally, I always felt like I was misunderstood when I was spanked. Spanking just made me afraid of punishment, rather than teaching me to exercise better ethical judgement. Because I was taught, and believed, that God mandated spanking and without spanking kids would be ruined, I didn't reevaluate my stance on spanking based on the rage I felt when I was spanked. It was only starting a few years ago that I began to rethink the issue of spanking altogether, and it was in response to raising my own child, not in response to any sort of bitterness. I try only to share my experiences here, not to lash out in bitterness or any such thing.

  • Anonymous

    They sure can put me in handcuffs if I run… and that's touching my body, and verry uncomfortable… and therefore, degrading to my feelings.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, other Anonymous on 1/31, that IS illegal. The police are not allowed to "punish" anyone. That's what courts do. Civilized societies do not administer punishment on the spot, without determining guilt with due process. Police are only allowed to secure the safety of themselves & others, and can only taze if a person is so imminently dangerous that the only other option would be to shoot them. Any non-violent means of control is supposed to be used first. Using a tazer to obtain compliance is a disgusting tendency in our modern police state, but it is antithetical to the values of a free people.By the way, yelling is often free speech. Sorry if that annoys you, but I value freedom and human dignity more than quiet. And the police need to get over the idea that any order they give is "lawful"–it often isn't.

  • Anonymous

    I was not raised in a religious household, but I was spanked as a kid, and I have pretty much the same memories as you do about it. My parents brag that they did spanking "properly" (whatever that means), even as they refuse to understand why I don't confide in them, don't trust them, and refuse spend extended periods with them in their household. My parents spanked me until I was ten, and threatened spanking until I was about sixteen (when I told my father in an argument when he was threatening to "beat the shit out of" me that if he did, my next step would be the police station and after that, obtaining legal emancipation). Like your parents, even when mine were later proved wrong over something they were punishing me for, they didn't apologize. They refused to even admit they could be wrong. Spanking didn't teach me that it's wrong to hit (after all, my parents hit me, so it couldn't be wrong all the time). It didn't teach me that it's wrong to disobey (it only taught me that disobedience resulted in pain, so best to not get caught and make sure it's worth it). If anything, it taught me to be dishonest (after all, telling the truth would get me a spanking, while lying would keep me safe). And so on. The one message it sent loud and clear was that might makes right. If you're big enough to beat someone up, you can do whatever you want… and if you're too small to defend yourself, it's your fault if you get pounded. If I ever have kids, I don't want to teach that. I don't want them to grow up in a household where those principles hold true, and I don't want them to be exposed to those who think that sort of a philosophy is moral.

  • Anonymous

    I am 60 years old. I wasn't hit often as a kid, but it was always when my mother was in a blind rage–with belts, with wooden spoons (she broke one over my shoulder). She jammed hot pepper flakes or soap down our throats, and, on two occasions, she grabbed my hair and banged my head against the wall. And that was mild compared to what she did to my younger sister, the "bad" kid–were we kids today, DCS would have stepped in.As an adult, when I called her on this, she burst into hysterics and denied that it ever happened. She also claimed that she almost always "held back" from hitting us; my sister laughed in her face when she said that.My mother has been dead for twelve years, but, one day recently, as I was driving home from work, I found myself screaming, "I'm glad you're dead, you bitch!"–after not even having consciously thought about her.When my own child was little, I confess I did smack her a few times, because, as I thought, what I was doing was nowhere near as bad as what my mother had done to me. Then I realized that hitting kids is unnecessary and wrong. I thank God my daughter has no recollection of my ever having done this–she once said, "My mother never laid a hand on me," and I felt compelled to confess the truth. She is now the mother of a happy and well-behaved four-year-old, who has never been spanked and never will be.

  • Peaslepuff

    I’m really late to the game on this (I’m reading your whole log form start to finish, love it so far by the way), but I don’t associate many negative feelings with spankings. That said, there is one incident that sticks out in my mind. My dad (well, stepdad) spanked me after I got out of the shower because he found out that I had been chipping away at the paint flakes on the wall after showering. I think I had bruises on my bottom and I was afraid I was going to die. I was pretty young…must have been between 4-6…obviously I wasn’t hurt that badly. I always had an active imagination.

    But I think that was more because it was my stepdad punishing me rather than the spanking. I mean, he wasn’t even married to my mom yet! I wasn’t even calling him dad at that time.

    And then I guess I was pretty afraid of being hit by the belt, but the anticipation of the hit was always worse than the actual spanking.

    However, my mom did slap me across the face on a few occasions, and I did not take kindly to that AT ALL. There came a time where she came at me with her hand raised, and I raised my right back.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever spank my kids. I think I would only resort to it in the most dire of circumstances. Hopefully I just won’t have to get to that point. I will never, ever slap them, though. Or use a belt. I’ve also had some anger problems in the past, so I think any physical punishments would have to come from the father because I would be too afraid of taking it too far, so yeah, the more I think about it, the less likely it is that spanking will be acceptable with my kids.

    Oh, my mom’s raising my niece now, who’s three years old, and she’s never been spanked. I think my parents have better control of their temper now. I’m curious to see what will happen when she’s older, though.

  • gtg950w

    Since when are children the equal of an adult men? Their brains are no where near as developed. Parents who treat their children as their friends rather than as their children do them as much of a disservice as Parents who take discipline too far. There is such a thing as balanced discipline, and that can at times include spanking.

  • gtg950w

    Since when are children equal to adults??? A child’s brain is not fully developed. FACT. We can argue on the merits of spanking all day, but comparing the actions of a toddler to the actions of an adult is laughable to say the least.