Child Abuse Detection, Reporting and Treatment > Chapter 5 -The Signs of Emotional Abuse

Chapter 5: The Signs of Emotional Abuse

Case Vignette

"I can't even count all the names my dad called me. Stupid, idiot, moron, dumb ass, retard, worthless, sissy, fag, pain in the butt; these are just the tip of the iceberg. He found fault with everything I did; nothing was good enough for him. After my mother left and didn't take us with her, my dad worked during the day. He left detailed lists of thing we had to do, like calisthenics until we dropped, athletic practice, chores, homework, and we had to write book reports on books he told us to read, the classics. Still, we didn't do anything that pleased him. My father has never paid any of us a compliment in our lives. Always negative. He hired this housekeeper who was supposed to make sure we did what he wanted; she reported everything we did, or didn't to him. She sure didn't keep house, my brothers and I did. The only reason she was there was to spy on us and report everything to my dad. I never told my brothers, but I thought about suicide all the time. If I ran away, he'd find me. Death was my only way out. I can't explain why I didn't kill myself. After I left home, he knew exactly where I was, where I went to college, and where I worked. He never contacted me. I didn't speak to my dad for twenty years. Finally, I called him last year. He said he couldn't talk because he was meeting a friend for lunch; the "conversation" lasted less than five minutes. He hadn't changed at all."

signs of emotional maltreatment

This factual vignette identifies some of the forms of emotional abuse. According to a factsheet from Prevent Child Abuse of America, signs of emotional maltreatment include:

  • The child shows extremes in behavior, such as being overly compliant or demanding, extreme passivity, or aggression.
  • The child is either inappropriately adult-acting (e.g. parenting younger siblings) or inappropriately infantile (e.g. frequently rocking or head banging).
  • The child is delayed is physical or emotional development.
  • The child has attempted suicide.
  • The child reports a lack of attachment to the parent.
  • The parent constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child.
  • The parent is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child's problems.
  • The parent overtly and intentionally rejects the child.
[QN.No.5.One of the behaviors of an emotionally abused child is:]

While physical abuse can consist of beating a child, emotional abuse is a psychological beating. Injuries and wounds heal; psychological battery does not. Rather than debating which is worse – physical or emotional abuse – it is accurate to view both as insidious, extremely painful, and leave the victim with serious psychological issues later in life.

In an episode of the popular television show, "Law and Order SVU," Detective Olivia Benson disclosed that she was the product of her mother's rape by a stranger. Detective Benson vividly described being emotionally abused by her mother because her very existence reminded her mother of the rape. She talked about how difficult it was to try to gain affection and approval from her cold, emotionally distant mother who blatantly rejected and criticized her. She attempted to please her mother by being overly compliant and she had a lack of attachment to her mother. In "real life," Detective Benson would be considered an emotionally abused child. The fact that Detective Benson chose to work with the Special Victims Unit to protect abused children is very telling; she wanted to bring to justice those adults who abused their children.

These real and fictional vignettes indicate that emotional abuse is just as damaging as neglect, physical and sexual abuse. Words do hurt; in fact, they can destroy. Many suicides are linked to emotional abuse, as is the U.S.'s divorce rate – at least 60% of marriages fail in this country. While most divorces are not linked in any way to child abuse, some clearly are. Some serial homicides have a proven link to both physical and emotional abuse (Carich, Kohut & Fisher, 2004)

Case Vignette

"You just try living your life being told how useless and stupid you are. Try to live with a woman who is supposed to love you but who must hate you because of the things she says to you. Try to please a mother that won't let you please her. A mother who tells you she wishes she wasn't stuck with you. Never mind the beatings; the things that she said to me and about me were every bit as painful as her beatings. I hate her for that. I hate myself, too. In every lie my mother told us, there was a bit of truth. I wasn't perfect like she expected me to be."

Child Abuse Detection, Reporting and Treatment > Chapter 5 -The Signs of Emotional Abuse
Page Last Modified On: September 6, 2014, 10:02 PM