“Open terms of endearment could be heard, witnessed and experienced a decade ago when a parent or family member was addressing someone that was cherished. A sense of belonging, intimacy and protection was felt and believed from experiential knowledge from such endearments” (Scholl, 2006). Research presented will show that psychologists found conclusive evidence pointing to inherent memory that triggers past traumatic experiences causing severe reactions of an individual when trauma triggers are present. What once may have been a word of cherished endearment may now be a term of destruction. Terms of endearment should be saved and protected within a safe family environment where there are no secrets. The whole family knows the name, origin of the term and context in which it will be used. What was once held in high esteem and attachment has been contaminated by other motivations. To comprehend how words of tender meaning become destructive, a comprehensive view of definitions, research showing how terms of endearment can be triggers to traumatic events and the staggering results of statistics showing trauma and abuse, will demonstrate the need for refraining the use of these terms.
The encouragement to refrain from the use of terms of endearment has been met with strong opposition. Many refuse to accept the society ills of abuse. Persons in the medical and educational community argue that it is not possible to remember all patients/student’s names. In the general public people are offended when asked to abstain from endearing terms with children they do not know. Others in the faith community argue that, “The poor person/child needs love.” Or, “Oh, I just have to love on this child/person.” This statement is selfish in motivation to fill the need for the one with the strong emotion to love, not the child/person with whom the endearment is focused on. “A child/person that has experienced trauma finds that their worst enemy is the well-meaning person that does not have all the facts” (Scholl, 2006). Yes, a person/child does need love and endearments; however, those expressions have therapeutic value towards healing when the primary caregiver uses such terms in a safe and healing environment to enhance attachment and rebuild the ability to trust. (Thomas 1997).
A person will use terms of endearment with the intent to engage in conversation or greeting, especially with a child. Children are taught not to talk with strangers. When someone addresses a child with a term of endearment, without a prior relationship, confusion is experienced for a child in not knowing how or if they should respond. This interchange is out of the need and desire of the initiator and does not meet a need in the recipient. There is lack of intimacy within a relationship.
Intimacy is when two people are in a safe relationship where reciprocal behavior is exchanged between the persons. There is a sense of security to allow this other person to, Into Me See (transparent enough for the other person to see the real me). Terms of endearment are an expression to relay the message of being cherished. “To cherish is to hold dear: feel or show affection for: Nurture. To keep or cultivate (to prepare for raising); to foster growth of: to improve by care and affection. (A feeling or emotion; a tender attachment) To harbor in the mind deeply and resolute with what you are hearing. (Bold: steady) (Webster 2003).
“When a person experiences a stressful event that causes emotional and physical effects of trauma, the reactions to this stress are often brief; however, when this event threatens a life or severe injury occurs (whether the victim or the witness to the event) the effects are more damaging causing reactionary symptoms” (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 1999). A well-meaning person sees an adorable child cups the cheeks commenting, “Oh, I just want to eat you up!” can cause severe reaction in this child who has prior events of another person grabbing the shoulder/ face area declaring,” I am going to beat you up.”
“A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma” (Grohol 2008). A lady at the church social is loud and vibrant with an armful of love to give. This lady’s emotions are touched by the new foster child in attendance. To show her understanding of love, this lady welcomes the child, “Oh honey, we are so glad you are here.” The fragrance of this lady’s perfume is the same as the child’s aunt who no longer could keep the child. The feelings of rejection resurface reminding the child of why she is no longer with her parent. The tone of pity throws this child back to the moment of her trauma.
Memory is the ability of the brain to store, retain, and subsequently recall information” (Science Daily). The last time a particular child was lured by, “Sweet heart, come here. I have something for you,” the special attention was not a treat. The daycare worker using this same phrase, while following the daily routing of snacks does not understand why the child will not come. The coaxing to participate reinforces the recalled memory embedding a belief that the worker is not safe. Danger is near.
“Memories are a result from combining incoming information with previous experiencing.” (Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner pg 206). A child walks into your home seeing you and your spouse by the Christmas tree in the corner. She is asked to sit on the brown plaid sofa, suddenly she goes numb. The memory of another time is evoked and the emotions of that memory become too strong to handle. What should be a joyous occasion becomes unconscious unawareness to the occasion. “These experiences come from a common theme of sensory stimuli, producing just as intense feelings in the present as it did during the original trauma” ( Triggers & Flashbacks).
“Our strongest and most vivid human memories are usually associated with strong emotional events. These events are associated with extreme fear, love and rage” (University of Queensland 2008). A comforting sense of awe sweeps over me during a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms are a reminder of sitting on the back porch soaking in the care and wonder of the storm with my father. For my friend, she is terrified. Her father would have them sit in the stair well until the storm was over. In life experiences, I am the one that faces the storm head on. She hides till it is over. The strong tie to these memories transfer into our real-life experiences dictating a behavioral response that is associated by these extreme emotions.
“Evoked memories and emotions intertwine with what you are hearing, seeing and smelling, making your perception of an event and therefore your experience of that event unique.” (Schacter, Gilbert, Wenger pg 124). For the one who heard the term of endearment, sweet heart, terror was instilled. The fragrant perfume reinforces rejection from past memories of parental abandonment. The brown sofa triggers memory of violence with a vow, “never see” what is happening again. The thunderstorm brings peace or drives into hiding. For each of these persons, their experience is unique from any other person, drawing their own conclusions about these stimuli’s.
Sensory information from the external world is received by the central nervous system. The central nervous system has several branch systems that connect to the brain, body’s organs and muscles. The Somatic Nervous System conveys information throughout the central nervous system. Humans have control over this system and use it to perceive, think and coordinate their behaviors. The Sympathetic System (in the central nervous system) controls the organs to take action and flee the situation or fight it.” (Schacter, Gilbert, Wenger pg 87-88). A child is in a doctor’s office during a routine exam. The nurse walks in and calls the child sweetheart. The child’s muscles tense, a head-ache starts and the child’s behavior is starting to deregulate. Unaware to the medical staff, this child had been someone’s special little sweet heart. Being another person’s sweetheart had resulted in a trip to the doctor. The smells of the medical office brings back the feelings of pain. On the way home from the doctor the child lies down on the seat of the vehicle, trying to shut out the memory. The parent arrives home just in time for this child to run to the restroom and discard any earlier food consumption of the day. The term of endearment, the smells of the medical office link this external experience with the internal world along with the perceptions and belief transferred to,” This nurse is not safe for me to be around she will hurt me too.” The intent and motive of this medical personnel was not to cause harm; however, for this child every encounter out of home where specific terms of endearment are used reinforces the past trauma. The nausea feeling and headache results in major eating disorder and lack of weight gain, for this particular child. This is destruction to life.
When other motives get in the way of these cherished words of endearment there is confusion to the individual with whom the terms are used. This looks more like, “You are my special little….We have a secret. Don’t tell anyone.” The context of this motivation is to cover up a form of abuse. When a child has been programmed to keep “the secret” panic arises when the child is address by this same term by another person. The question may arise, “Does this person know the secret? I will be in trouble.” Or,” Can I trust this person or do I have to be their special little…also?” (Scholl 06)
When a child has done a disapproving act, the tone and phrase, “Now sweetheart_____” demeans and belittles a child- it tears them down. “Oh Honey” gives the tone of pity. (Scholl 06) “Pity causes one to feel they are regretted; beyond ones (adults) control, distressing emotion, a disappointment (Webster 2003). Although a child fights for control, they do not feel safe unless the adult can and does remain in respected position of control (Thomas 1997). Most of these usages depicts having authority over, manipulation, control and the suggestion that the child is in some form of trouble. It suggests having ownership of. The symptoms of destruction come from inward personal conflict resulting in outward behaviors from past abuse. Abuse comes in the form of physical, emotional, sexual and mental, most accompanied by a form of verbal abuse.
According to research and studies, statistics are staggering windows into the epidemic proportions of abuse in our culture. In a Domestic Violence Overview: “Around the world at least one woman in ever three has been beaten or abused in her lifetime. Physical violence is estimated to occur in 4 to 6 million intimate relationships each year in the United States. Up to 35% of women and 22% of men presenting to the emergency department have experienced domestic violence.” (Newton 2009).
According to the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12 years old. 7% of girls and 3% boys in grades 5-8 have been sexually abused. In 1995 the local child protective services identified 126,000 children who were victims of substantial abuse. Of these, 75% were girls and 30% were children between the ages of 4-7 years old. Juvenile sexual assault victims know their attackers. 34.2% of attackers were family members. 58% were acquaintances and only 7% were strangers (RAINN 2009). According to this research family members are the main offenders of abuse. These same offenders warn children about dangers in talking with strangers. Imagine the fear and uncertainty whe, a stranger attempts to engage a child in greeting or conversation. The adult with whom the child should be protected by may be the very one performing the abuse. Do not doubt that a child feels unsafe by a stranger using same terms of endearment that are used by their offenders.
If you know a person, address them by their name. The name is theirs and shows respect for who they are. If you do not know a child, a smile of greeting is sufficient. The definitions, research of memory that shows how terms of endearment can be triggers to traumatic events and the staggering results of statistics showing trauma and abuse, demonstrate the need for refraining the use of terms of endearment.
These overwhelming statistics show devastation and destruction within the family unit where terms of endearment should be used to nurture and protect. An adult in the community who uses these same terms will enhance the destruction on the mind of this individual, producing results of mistrust and possibly severe mental health issues. Life and healing will be void. Words producing trauma triggers bring destruction. The worst enemy of a traumatized child/person is the well-meaning person who does not have all the facts especially in the choice to engage conversation by using a term of endearment. Terms of endearment should be saved and protected within a safe family environment.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatr (1999). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. . No.70, Retrieved 04/02/09 from http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/posttraumatic_stress_disorder_ptsd
Grohol, J., What is a Trigger. (2008, July). Retrieved 4/2/09. http://psychcentral.com/lib/2008/what-is-a-trigger/
Newton,C.J. Domestic Violence: An overview. (2/20/09). Mental Health Journal. Published Find Counseling.com
Abuse Statistics. Retrieved (4/21/09). http://www.rainn.org
Schacter,D., Gilbert,D., Wenger, D. (2009) New York NY. Worth Publishing.
Scholl,K. (2006) Terms of Endearment Terms of Destruction. Lancaster Pennsylvania.
Thomas, Nancy. (1997). Love is Not Enough.
Triggers & Flashbacks. Retrieved 4/2/09 from http://www.ualberta.ca/~uasac/Triggers.htm
University of Queensland (2008, October 29). New Understanding Of How We Remember
Traumatic Events. Science Daily. Retrieved April 2, 2009. from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/0810281028103111.htm
Retrieved 4/2/09 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/article/m/memory.htm
Webster, M. (2003). Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh Edition. Massachusetts.Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com