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
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
neurotic behaviour e.g. sulking, hair twisting, rocking
being unable to play
fear of making mistakes
sudden speech disorders
fear of parent being approached regarding their behaviour
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.