Emotional abuse is the most pervasive of all abuse committed against children.  It almost always accompanies the other kinds of abuse while also occurring on its own.  What is it? The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (London, UK) defines  Emotional abuse as the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development.

It undermines and ignores a child’s basic needs for self-worth, safety and unconditional love. This includes the need for shelter, nurturing, education and acceptance.  It is hard to diagnose and determine because the damage is internal; it’s internal to the child.  Usually the damage is psychological, emotional and spiritual and leaves the child feeling worthless, unloved, inadequate or unvalued, unless they can meet the needs of someone else.

Types of emotional abuse:

  • silencing the child or ‘making fun’ of them and/or their opinions
  • denying  the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate.
  • age or developmentally inappropriate expectations including interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capability
  • overprotection and prevention of the child having normal social interaction
  • being forced to witness abuse of others
  • cyberbullying

The types of emotional abuse are many and varied.  They move on a continuum from too high expectations to those that are too low.  And everything in between.   Noted here

For many adults, this treatment of children ensures they don’t ‘get too big for their britches’.  It usually stems from adults who don’t know any better, for emotional abuse is a multi-generational problem that requires an enormous level of self-awareness to be identified by adults in themselves.

For the victims, the results are often traumatic.  Developmental delays and failure to thrive are two visible signs of emotional abuse.  But it is often unseen, because emotional abuse can include being taunted, put down or belittled.

Symptoms may include

ƒ neurotic behaviour e.g. sulking, hair twisting, rocking

ƒ being unable to play

ƒ fear of making mistakes

ƒ sudden speech disorders

ƒ self-harm

ƒ fear of parent being approached regarding their behaviour

ƒ developmental delay in terms of emotional progress

Who are the perpetrators?

This is one of the biggest problems with emotional abuse of children, for any adult can be responsible.  Parents, teachers, grandparents, coaches, ministers, friends, aunts/uncles, extended family, peer group, siblings etc etc etc.  Anyone who is not respectful of a child’s emotional well-being can be guilty of emotionally abusing a child.

But before you begin to fret and fuss about what you’ve said or done to your children, remember that emotional abuse is continued and constant.  The occasional outburst is human, but repeated outbursts constitute abuse.

How is emotional abuse identified and treated in adults?

These victims may experience a lifelong pattern of depression, estrangement,

anxiety, low self-esteem, inappropriate or troubled relationships, or a lack of empathy.

They may also have difficulty trusting, difficulty forming stable long term relationships and are often unable to recognize the emotional needs of children around them, so the cycle continues. They may become desensitived and emotionally abusive to themselves.   Information from this website.

Ironically, victims of this type of abuse rarely define it as such.  It was their ‘parents’ style, or stressed life or some other excuse.  But the problems in their lives continue.

For most victims, long term therapy, often in conjunction with psychotropic drugs, is the only solution to this abuse.  Recovery is a long term, often expensive endeavor.   But it’s worth it.

Imagine feeling unafraid. Capable.  Attractive.  All the time.  Or almost all the time. Such positivity is beyond comprehension for most of us.  But it is a goal worth striving for.


About Louise Behiel

Author, coach, therapist, mother and grandmother. I'm on a spiritual journey and consciously work to grow every day.
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22 Responses to Week One: EMOTIONAL ABUSE

  1. susielindau says:

    I can imagine that they would really close themselves off from others. So sad.
    Great post!

  2. Susie, very true – relationships are difficult for these survivors.

  3. Jill James says:

    Emotional abuse is so hard to spot because most of the scars are on the inside. My grandson has been diagnosed with autism but I truly wonder how much of his behaviors are from his dad’s emotional abuse. We will probably never know, we can just help my grandson with where he is right now.

    • What an interesting question, Jill. I could see emotional abuse causing autism like symptoms. makes total sense. Must be very hard to watch and wonder. and yes, all we can do is help our little ones with where they are right now.

      I’ll say a prayer or three for him.

  4. This is an important topic, Louise. Our children will one day take over this world. We want the next generation — in fact, all future generations — to be healthy both mentally and physically. Not all people should be parents. It’s a shame this isn’t a bigger part of the school ciriculum.

    • I agree Sheila. We should be paying more attention to these issues. Unfortunately, people raised in these environments think of them as normal and raise their children in this same way. Our children are our future and they need to be protected and taught differently.

  5. At first, I was surprised to see overprotection on your list of emotionally abusive behaviors, but it makes sense and is fitting that it’s there. This is an important essay, Louise.Both you and August are doing a public service with your new series of blog posts.

    • Pat, thank you so much for your kind words. My first indie release is about a man who was raised by an overprotective mother. Hmmm I had never thought of this book in those terms before. Thank you for that connection.

      I so love August’s blogs. I’m honored that you would consider mine in the same breath.

  6. K.B. Owen says:

    Louise, you are spot on with these symptoms and descriptions of the types of abuse. I think over- protection works in the abuser’s favor; isolation only serves to keep the child ignorant of how other parents treat their children in normal ways, and cuts down on the opportunities for a child to trust another adult enough to confide what’s going on (even if the child doesn’t know it’s abuse, he/she knows it’s a bad feeling, for sure, and could turn to someone else for comfort if given the chance). I’d also add that perfectionism is a symptom of someone who’s been abused.

    It’s so sad, and getting the message out there can only help!

    • Information and education are the way to bring child abuse to an end. I am appalled at how much of it exists in our world and how little it is recognized. thanks for stopping by.

  7. Emma Burcart says:

    such an important post! Emotional abuse is the hardest to recognize and definitely the hardest to report. And the way it is responded to totally depends on the economic level of the area. In the schools where I have taught emotional abuse is not big enough to make it on the agency’s radar. They will make a note, but you know that nothing will happen. It is also tough because I hope that most parents don’t realize what they are doing. They are completely overwhelmed with what is happening in their lives and they don’t know anything other than what their parents did to them. It doesn’t make it excuseable, but I really hope it isn’t something parents plan to do.

    • I agree with you, Emma. I don’t think it’s intentional, it’s simply that people raise their children the way they were raised and the patterns continue over and over. I can’t imagine the kind and depth of abuse you see in the classroom. Poor children.

  8. Such an important post and series, Louise. Thank you for giving child abuse victims a much-needed voice. (Fantastic use of sources as well… :))

  9. Coleen Patrick says:

    Great work on putting together another difficult post Louise!

  10. I think that a lot of emotional abuse these days comes from peers. I’m always sickened by the stories of bullying in the news. And then there are the popular kids who look down their noses at the others. They can really damage the self-esteem of shy and insecure students. But you have to wonder what happens in the homes of these children and teens that causes them act like this. I tend to think they’re abused in some way, even if it’s just parents who expect far more from them than they should.

    Excellent post. Glad you’re bringing attention to this!

    • i think much of emotional abuse is unknowing on the parents’ part. If you don’t know that your behavior is damaging, you do what was done to you. One of my kids had a teacher who believed that anything worth doing was worth doing well. She meant perfectly. It took lots of work to get my son out of her class and into a room with a teacher who loved kids and worked on building his self esteem. and yet I think that earlier teacher did lots of damage. And I didn’t see it because of the childhood I had. When I got enough therapy to help myself things started changing with my kids but by then it was pretty late – they were 6, 8 and 10 by then.

      it’s all very complicated, isn’t it?

  11. Amber West says:

    Thank you for raising awareness about the effects and seriousness of emotional abuse.

    Having someone in my life that underwent severe emotional abuse, I can see firsthand the toll it takes in adulthood. Sadly, those who have suffered can feel that their abuse is inconsequential because there are no physical scars, making the healing process that much harder.

    • Emotional abuse is harder to heal for the exact reasons you mention Amber. And most of us don’t realize how ‘abusive’ it really is – after all it’s only words. But over time they pile up and destroy a child’s fragile being.

  12. Pingback: 4 Stages of Healing from Childhood Abuse | Louise Behiel

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