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Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse, also referred to as psychological abuse is an abuse of the mind. Some children are subjected to psychologically harmful behaviours which can cause them to lose confidence and their sense of self-worth.

It can involve the wilful infliction of emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, insult or other non-verbal contact. However emotional abuse may be inflicted unintentionally and yet cause the same emotional harm to the child e.g. telling a child that they were unplanned or a mistake.

Emotional abuse encompasses all forms of childhood abuse because of the betrayal of trust from the abuser to the child. e.g. a child who is sexually or physically abused is almost certain to suffer psychological effects as well.

Emotional abuse can often have a much more severe effect than, ostensibly, more serious sexual abuse, principally because of the effect it has on the mind, particularly when it occurs over a long period of time.

Bullying at school, for example would come under the heading of emotional abuse, where the perpetrator is a peer child rather than an adult.

Emotional abuse can happen in family homes (or indeed at school or in care homes) where there is an atmosphere of fear, berating, humiliation, name calling, and cruel taunting. Once again it involves one person exerting unreasonable power and control over another person, the effect of which is psychological distress.

It was not uncommon in Children’s Homes, for example, for a care worker to verbally abuse children by telling them that they are worthless, and unloved by their parents, and to humiliate them, which sometimes had a more severe effect than physical or sexual abuse.

What can emotional abuse include?
  • Threats
  • Name calling
  • Silent treatment / ignoring a child
  • Public and/or private ridicule / humiliation
  • Withholding love and affection
  • Constant put-downs
  • Frightening & intimidating a child
  • Caregivers abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Giving conflicting and/or inconsistent messages
  • Being treated differently from siblings
  • Witnessing Domestic Violence 

What effects does emotional abuse have on a victim? 
  • Low self esteem
  • Attachment Disorder
  • Depression
  • Anti-Authoritarian attitude and possible an anti-social personality disorder
  • Paranoia
  • Insecurity
  • Repressed anger
  • Other forms of mental disorder

What prevents a victim of emotional abuse coming forward for many years until later in life? 
  • A fear that they will not be believed
  • Threats by the abuser
  • A desire not to split up the family
  • Shame or embarrassment
  • They think they are to blame.
  • Threats that a pet or loved one will be harmed.
  • They don’t have the words to describe or explain the abuse.
  • Feel powerless to stop the abuse 

We thank NAPAC (National Association for Prevention of Abuse in Childhood) for allowing us to use this and other definitions).

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