Emotional abuse is an insidious problem that impacts the lives of countless children throughout the world. It is characterized by the repeated use of harmful words or actions for the purpose of control; emotional abusers seek to rule the lives of their victims by implied threats of harm, embarrassment, or abandonment. The systematic tearing down of a child, it destroys self-esteem and worth and can be committed by an adult or even another child (peers, bullies, or siblings). Much more difficult than physical or sexual abuse to prove and prosecute, emotional abuse of children often goes unrecognized and unpunished yet it can have even more long-lasting negative effects.
The forms of emotional abuse can include:
Belittling: Verbal abuse such as put downs and disparaging remarks that erode a child’s sense of worth and potential. Telling a child they should never have been born—that they are a mistake--or that they are bad, worthless, or stupid. Negative comparisons with others. Shaming. Guilting or blaming. Name-calling. Yelling and or excessive anger. Criticism. Any word or act that devalues or demeans a child.
Harassment: Threats or intentional infliction of stress inducing situations, such as doing something to provoke or frighten a child or using extremes in punishment, or deliberately playing on a child’s fears, such as being abandoned or alone. Repeated episodes severely diminish a child’s capacity to cope with day to day life and cause debilitating anxiety. Gaslighting is an extreme form of emotional abuse wherein incorrect information is given to a child that distorts reality, causes confusion, and manipulates the victim into doubting their own beliefs and perceptions.
Forcing a child to witness or participate in inappropriate behavior can be equated to an act of terrorism.
Coldness: Depriving a child of emotional security, stability, and love. Coldness and its more severe form, cruelty, are acts of mistreatment that destroy confidence and hinder intellectual progress as well as the ability to form healthy relationships and make positive social interactions.
Inconsistency: Intentional change of rules, consequences, or responses to confuse a child; malicious unpredictability damages trust in self and others.
Ignoring: Disregard for a child’s thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Rejection or withholding love and affection. Refusal to provide for or neglect of a child’s physical or emotional needs stunts vital social and intellectual development and compromises emotional stability.
Copyright © 2011 by Lori Nawyn
Children Learn What They Live
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte