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What Is Emotional Abuse ?

Child abuse is more than just broken bones and bruises. While physical abuse can leave visible scars on the outside, there is another type of abuse that is not often that obvious. Emotional abuse. This abuse leaves scars that go deeper than the skin and can leave long lasting scars that take longer to heal than a band-aid or plaster can do.

"Backing me into the corner until I was whimpering and crying, he would just laugh at me and walk away, satisfied by my distress." These are the words of a young girl talking about how her father emotionally tormented her.

But what is it exactly?

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment or emotions neglect of a child so as to cause damage to the child’s emotional health and have adverse effects on their emotional development.

A study of high school students in Mpumalanga looking at the prevalence of abuse in their childhood found that of the 559 students, 70.7% reported psychological abuse (14.4% had extreme cases of this), 35.3% were emotionally abused. 22% of the emotionally abused said they had unhappy childhoods.

What does this emotional abuse include (among others)?

  • Telling a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or conditionally valued

  • never showing any emotions, this is considered emotional neglect

  • humiliating or constantly criticising a child

  • threatening, shouting at a child or calling them names

  • making the child the subject of jokes, or using sarcasm to hurt a child

  • blaming, scape-goating

  • Calling names and making negative comparisons to others.

  • Telling a child he or she is “no good," "worthless," "bad," or "a mistake."

  • Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.

  • Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving them the silent treatment.

  • Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.

  • Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet.

There are two types of emotional abuse and these can affect the child in different ways:

Passive emotional abuse: where the parent/caregiver is emotionally unavailable for whatever reason and in some cases they may forget to praise and encourage the child

Active emotional abuse is where the parent is over-protective, expects the child to meet their own emotional needs, having the child take on more responsibility for their age and taking out their frustrations on a child.

Emotional abuse is found to be the second most common reason why children need protection from abuse. Often overlooked and not taken as seriously as other forms of abuse, emotional abuse is just, if not more harmful to the victim.

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