It’s disturbing, sad and shocking to learn about the physical and emotional abuse Mackenzie Phillips experienced as an adolescent and young woman. How many other children and adults are hiding and trying to cope with unspeakable “family secrets” that get left unspoken and unacknowledged? What are the effects on young people who are trying to make sense of abusive behavior at the hands of the very adults they are supposed to trust?

One thing’s for sure. Children are easy victims of all kinds of abuse. They innately know when something is wrong, but can’t put a name on it or identify just what it may be. Often, they assume the problem must be them. Somehow, they are at fault – or this wouldn’t be happening to them. Even sadder, these victims often align themselves with the abuser, grasping at the awareness that it is safer to side with them than against them.

To this day Mackenzie admits she feels somehow to blame. I heard her confide on a TV interview that she never thought of her father as an abuser. She found ways to “understand” his behavior and accept it as rational – even okay. The thought of his betraying her trust and exploiting her was just too much to bear. It is for most children. Consequently they turn inward, keep the awful secret to themselves and try to “be better” in order to cope with or change their reality.

When children are acting out -- whether it’s drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, violence or other anti-social behaviors -- they are usually crying out for help. They can’t make sense of their world and they resort to behaviors that work on some level by making them feel in “control” of their out-of-control life circumstances. It is our responsibility as adults to seek out these children and young adults and offer them an ear. Hear them. Listen to their story. Find out what is happening behind the mask or the façade that covers up their pain.

Mackenzie was a drug-addicted adolescent hiding an enormous secret in the only way she knew how. Treating her drug addiction was only treating the symptoms of a psyche heavily burdened with unimaginable hurt. What was this young woman handling – alone, for so many years? The weight of guilt, confusion, anger, frustration, betrayal, shame – all tied together with no one to tell her “It’s not your fault!”
What can we learn from this most recent spotlight on child-abuse? For starters, that children are easy victims for trusted adults to pray upon. That even decades later victims will still see themselves as responsible for much of the abuse they experience. That we must be much more diligent when we see children acting out to uncover the triggers behind this behavior – and create safe places where such “secrets” can be shared. That our culture is more infected with abusive behavior toward the most disempowered among us than we’d ever like to admit. How much longer can we pretend not to see?

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Author's Bio: 

Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a relationship seminar facilitator and author of the new ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids … about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love!. For free articles, her blog, valuable resources on child-centered divorce or to subscribe to her free ezine, go to:

© Rosalind Sedacca 2009. All rights reserved.