The effects of emotional abuse are often silent. Verbal and psychological wounds leave a child forever changed. Emotional abuse is often overlooked, unnoticed or confused with other causes.
Emotional child abuse attacks a child's self-concept. The child comes to see him or herself as unworthy of love and affection. An infant who is being deprived of emotional nurturing, connection and bonding through close contact, even though physically well cared for, can fail to thrive.
The wounds of maltreatment, in children who are shamed, I can't believe you embarrassed me like this!," humiliated, "You idiot!," terrorized, "You're really gonna get it now!" or rejected, "Go to your room!" are as equally significant, although seemingly invisible and harder to recognize or quantify than the wounds of the worst physical and sexual abuse.
Less severe forms of early emotional deprivation still can produce drastic effects of emotional abuse such as babies who grow into anxious and insecure children who are slow to develop and who may fail to develop a strong sense of self-esteem.
Other types of abuse are usually noticed because marks or other physical evidence is left, however, signs of emotional abuse can be very hard to define.
In some instances, the effects of emotional abuse are so subtle that an emotionally mistreated child may show no outward signs of abuse. For this reason, emotional abuse is the most difficult form of child maltreatment to identify and stop.
This type of abuse leaves hidden scars
that manifest themselves in numerous ways.
Insecurity, poor self-esteem, destructive behavior, angry acts such as fire setting or cruelty to animals, withdrawal, poor development of basic skills, alcohol or drug abuse, suicide and difficulty forming relationships can all be possible results of emotional abuse.
Emotional child abuse can result in other more serious psychological and/or behavioral problems. These include depression, lack of attachment or emotional bond to a parent or guardian, low cognitive ability and educational achievement and poor social skills.
One study which followed emotionally abused children in infancy and then again during their preschool years consistently found them to be "angry, uncooperative and unattached to their primary caregiver." These children more often also lacked creativity, persistence and enthusiasm.
The effects of emotional abuse in children who experience rejection demonstrate that they are more likely than "accepted" children to exhibit hostility, aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior, to be extremely dependent, to have negative opinions of themselves and their abilities, to be emotionally unstable or unresponsive, and to have a negative perception of the world around them.
Parental verbal aggression (e.g., yelling, insulting) or symbolic aggression (e.g., slamming a door, giving the silent treatment) toward children can have serious consequences.
Children who witness abuse in relationships or emotional spousal abuse demonstrate higher rates of physical aggressiveness, delinquency and interpersonal problems than other children. Children whose parents are additionally physically abusive are even more likely to experience such difficulties.
Children who see or hear their mothers being abused
are victims of emotional abuse.
Growing up in such an environment is terrifying and severely affects a child's psychological and social development. Male children may learn to model violent behavior while female children may learn that being abused is a normal part of relationships. This contributes to the multi-generational cycle of violence.
The consequences of emotional child abuse can be serious and long-term. Emotionally abused children may experience a lifelong pattern of depression, estrangement, anxiety, low self-esteem, inappropriate or troubled relationships, or a lack of empathy.
As teenagers, they find it difficult to trust, participate in and achieve happiness in relationships, and resolve the complex feelings left over from their childhoods. As adults, they may have trouble recognizing and appreciating the needs and feelings of their own children and emotionally abuse them as well.
If you grew up in a verbally abusive home, it may be hard to change your patterns of reacting or see a new way out of conflict with your children. I can help, if you're willing to look beyond behavior to the root causes of aggression, defiance and disrespect.
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