What Spanking Taught You as a Child & How to Unlearn It

Physical abuse scars often carry through into our adulthood.

“Real morality is not the product of fearing a spanking. But what does fundamentalist hell-belief encourage? It retards any developing moral judgment by freezing moral maturity right at the most primitive, most childish, stage: the fear of retribution-and fundamentalism threatens one hell of a spanking.” ― Robert M. Price

"Spare the rod, spoil the child" is used to justify physical violence towards children in the IFB. Parents are expected to start spankings when children are still in diapers. They are instructed to "break the will" of their child so that they will be more obedient to them, the church, and their God. Even some Christian schools implement spankings for mild infractions.

Although they are smart enough now to not do it in public, spankings still go on and are still encouraged by the IFB. They are also followed with a forced apology to the offended parent and a prayer to God asking for His forgiveness. To further confuse the child, this is also often ended with a hug and an "I love you".

But what is it really teaching kids? People who say they love you can and will be physically abusive towards you? To learn to give fake apologies? That you are "good" if you don't get that many spankings?

And how about the "picking and choosing" that the IFB does when it comes to the Old Testament?

Deuteronomy 21:18–21:

"If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear."

Glad the IFB decided to pass on that one! Instead, when parents have grown children, they are encouraged to banish their children and shun them from the rest of the family. Taking it from a physical abuse to an emotional and spiritual abuse.

So what did getting spanked teach you?

Morals vs. Fear

"Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper (right) and those that are improper (wrong). Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal." - Wikipedia

Did you do the "right thing" as a kid because you had decided that it was the right thing or did you do something strictly out of fear of a spanking or God's retaliation? Did you jump at the chance to help someone because you wanted to or in hopes of garnering favor from your parents?

Children need to learn early on what is good or bad or right or wrong. It helps them learn how to be in society and determine what kind of character they want to build.

However, if making good choices is only based on a fear reaction...what does that teach a child? And what does that do to us as adults? It can take years to get out of the mindset that God is going to punish you for every little thing. Did you help that senior citizen put his shopping cart back because you knew it was the moral thing to do or because you hoped God was watching and you'd get extra points toward the next time you did something wrong? Teaching fear-based morality to children does not allow for them to define their own morality. When they grow up to be adults they either stay close inside the IFB to have them show them right from wrong or they leave and have to discover their own ethics. This can be frightening when you no longer have someone telling you what to do! Could I have a beer? Can I go dancing? Do I have to believe in a higher power?

Take some time to really think about how spankings and fear modeled your morals and if those morals still work for you.

Hating What Your Parents Did Without Hating Them

The IFB teaches that if they are to be a good example as a parent and if they want to save your soul, they will hit you. This is not what all parents want to do and some feel great guilt about it. However, many more take a kind of delight from it. Putting the "fear of God" in a child and making them tremble when you get angry...some parents enjoy it. The IFB gives them basically a list of "what not to do" and they interpret it as strongly as they want. They decide if it's an open palm, a belt, a wooden paddle and how many "whacks" you're going to get based on the sin you're being accused of. More often than not, most spankings are for perceived "bad attitudes" which may or may not exist.

You're probably never going to hear an apology for a lifetime of physical abuse unless your parents have left the IFB. Healing from this takes time but it needs to happen. Consider when you're in a good space talking to your parents about it. Work on forgiving them even if you aren't allowed to speak to them.

Stop the Self-Harm

Often out of stress, IFB children will resort to self-harm. In a world where they have no say over anything in their lives or allowed to make any choices, self-harm gives them that feeling of power and releases anxiety. It can be anything from cutting, to pulling out eyelashes and eyebrows (Trichotillomania), burning yourself, etc.

Unfortunately, this can follow you into adulthood. Drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex just to feel something is very common in people who've escaped a religious strict cult. Either to punish themselves or to stop the pain of their childhood, people will hurt themselves.

Take a moment to really look at yourself. Maybe it's just your health that you don't take care of due to depression or anxiety. Maybe you stop yourself from having deep relationships because you think you'll be rejected. Self-harm comes in many forms. Don't continue the abuse.

Here is a list we're working on of therapists who specialize in religious trauma. Check back often as we'll continue to add to the list.


IFB Overcomers is an online resource for those who have left Independent Fundamentalism and are looking to heal and discover themselves. With a podcast, webinars, forum, blog and resources, we hope to help retrain your heart and mind from the mindset of the IFB and help you not only survive but overcome and then thrive!

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