The Child’s Journey Out of Despair: The Power of Understanding and Journeying With the Other


This reflection is based on the actual experience of a young person I encountered in my therapeutic work.

The summer day arrived where the child entered this world. The mother laid hemorrhaging, barely conscious, and the child upon birth was whisked away from the mother to the neo-natal unit. The sounds of medical equipment, the frantic voices of the medical staff, bright lights, and poking and prodding by invasive medical instruments greeted the child’s entry to the world. From the hospital, the child would enter the family’s home for the first time. Once again only to be subjected to grave brutality as on the night he entered the home, his father intoxicated begins to savagely beat the mother. “I told you to shut up!” the father shouts and with a loud crack across the mother’s cheek, she falls to the ground clutching the infant in her arms. And this would continue day after day until the police one day arrived to escort the father to a long incarceration for his violent crimes and drug possession.

A few days before the arrest, the mother leaves the home to obtain groceries for the family. She instructs the father to bathe the child and place him in bed. The father once again becoming intoxicated places the child in the bathtub but too sedated to realize the temperature of the water, scalds the child, and he is left with a large burn upon the side of his head. A scar that still remains both physically and emotionally.

For the next four years, the child barely speaks. The trauma of his world has muted him. The mother in desperation seeks for another relationship that will ease the financial burden and maybe find her the fulfillment she has longed for. But again, she stumbles into an abusive relationship.

The new man in her life is more a monster than the first. Day after day he subjects the child to demeaning words.”You retard! Why can’t you do anything right?” “If you don’t get out of here, I will smash your head in.” One night the child sees the mother and her boyfriend fighting and shoving one another. He goes to bed only to awaken to find the mother and her boyfriend sitting at the breakfast table casually chatting. He asks about the night before. “What are you talking about? You must have been dreaming.”

The child dazes off confused and questioning his sense of reality. Was it a dream? The child became the scapegoat for the family. “If we never had you around, life would be good.” “You are the one who causes all the problems.” “Look what you have made your sister into.” Day after day, his esteem plummets to nothing.

The family continues their civil war. The demons of hopelessness and despair overtake the child. His light is nearly extinguished. The child begins to curse God. Where is God in this? Why must I endure this pain and turmoil. He expects to hear God speak to him, but he hears nothing. God appears distant, or maybe dead. The child has no voice and no relationships. No one to console him, no one to hear his cries.

And God too does not respond to his pleas. But even in this darkest night of his soul, the light is not extinguished. The child encounters one who for the first time hears his voice, and he begins to embark on a journey of renewal. The war around him has not ended, nor is there a cease fire to come, but the child through this alliance begins to realize that he is loved and that he is heard. He is encouraged to find value in himself. He looks deeply within and finds that life is impermanent. He begins to understand the cumulative sufferings we all endure.

But in this he realizes that there is a better way. The way out does not exist in self-destruction. Death and despair is not a better way but merely an escape. He begins to realize that he cannot change circumstances, he cannot change others, but he can change himself and he can change his mind. The child begins to lay aside the cumulative traumas. They no longer torment him but become an opportunity for sharing and growth. He unites his sufferings to the sufferings of others and realizes that his experience is valuable and maybe through his experience, he may lead but another soul out of the darkness.




Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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Dan Edmunds, EdD
Dr. Dan L. Edmunds is an existential psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in Northeastern Pennsylvania. His work has focused on drug free, relational approaches for those undergoing extreme states of mind as well as autism and developmental differences. Dr. Edmunds is the founder of the Center for Humane Psychiatry, an emancipatory movement for human rights in the mental health system. Dr. Edmunds has advocated for psycho-social approaches for those in distress that are affordable and accessible. Dr. Edmunds developed a therapeutic community project and is involved with autism acceptance and the autistic rights movement. Dr. Edmunds is the author of BEING AUTISTIC: AN APPROACH TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE; THEY SAY MY CHILD HAS ADHD: DEBUNKING THE BIO-PSYCHIATRIC PARADIGM; THE MEETING OF TWO PERSONS; and MYSTICAL METAPHORS. Dr. Edmunds is a frequent speaker on critical psychology issues.


  1. Thanks so much for this article, the tears begin to flow so heavily here, you also were talking about “ME”. This fits my child hood almost to a “T”. I have never being able to tell anyone(in detail) for the lack of trusting anyone, fear of rejection and betrayal all over again, all my years on this planet, I have pretty much been a “loner.” This article “really” touched my soul. Thank you.

    Thank you for your caring, compassion, in hopefully helping to make a difference for “others”.

  2. I read your story with interest as usual. You know, it needn’t be as dramatic and still have exactly the same effect on a child. I realise also when talking to my grown-up children that they did misinterpret things, I was trying to get accross to them and how frightened they were when my marriage went through a bad patch. Children soak up everything like sponges and tend to get things out of proportion.

  3. “For the next four years, the child barely speaks. The trauma of his world has muted him. ”

    I wonder how he escaped being labeled ‘autistic’ for his crime of barely speaking.

    Most ‘pediatricians’ would simply blame the kid’s brain.

    • He wouldn’t have escaped the labelling if his parents or teachers had decided to cart him to doctors and psychiatrists. Instead of leaving the child alone to develop at his own pace and instead of looking closer at the different relationships, teachers and parents are only too keen to label children it gives them peace of mind and they escape guilt.Personally I find it very worrying.

      • I agree with you about this. I am not a parent, and I know that it can’t be easy trying to guide a unique individual that you brought into the world, but I wonder why so many parents are so willing to absolve themselves from everything and all guild when one of their children develops distress and anguish. So many of them seem only too willing to look outward or pin it on something in the child, rather than being willing to look within themselves and say that maybe, perhaps just maybe, that they’ve had a hand to play in what has happened and is happening to their child. Naturally, it’s too simplistic to say that it’s only the parent’s fault, distress and anguish are complicated things with multiple causes, but parents need to investigate nnd see hwat part they may play in all of this.

  4. I hear many stories like this, though not usually so extreme, from members of the mental health day centre. They were often in contact with social services when children and the services failed them. They then end up with extreme distress as adults. Then adult services drug them up and do not look at why they are distressed. My day centre freaks when I suggest that they look at the role of trauma in mental distress or that they help members run groups on surviving family violence or surviving child sexual assault yet a huge proportion of members have experience of these and could find it useful to talk these things over. No, it is lunch clubs and dominoes that are the order of the day and a referral to services if people are going down hill. Hey Ho

  5. Oh, and it is shocking to read this, but also a relief to at last find someone who is able to look at the reality of the lives of many of us. We ignore these problems at our peril. It is a morally bankrupt society that ignores the ammount of child cruelty in it’s society.