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The Power Of The Tongue - Effects Of Emotional Abuse

The tongue is known to be the strongest muscle in the body. The words it speaks it is said have the power of life and death in them. We’ve all heard the adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” but contrary to this and what many may not realise is that words have both the power to destroy and to heal. Emotional abuse can damage a child’s mental health and their social development and leave life-long, deep rooted scars that are not easy to heal.

When one thinks of child abuse the first thing that comes to mind is the visible bruises and broken bones that cannot be hidden. The sight of these is often a shock to the system, but there is another kind of abuse that is invisible to the naked eye but the unseen wounds go much deeper. The abuse a child suffers may be different, but the core impact of all of these is the emotional scarring and trauma that children carry throughout their lives.

Emotional abuse is considered by some as being “not serious” simply because unlike other forms of abuse such as physical abuse, there are no immediate physical effects. But, in the words of Larry James “emotional abuse us just as damaging as physical abuse. The only difference between the two is with physical abuse you are wearing it on the outside for the world to see and the other is deep inside. Others cannot see the bruises on your heart”.

All forms of abuse leave scars. Victims of emotional abuse have scars that they carry long into adult-hood. Some of the effects of emotional abuse are:

  • Feelings of being unworthy or damaged- lack of self love. It is very difficult to overcome a history of always being told that you are ‘useless’, ‘not good enough’ and others. This can be carried by them into adulthood.

  • Trouble regulating their emotions. Abused children aren’t able to safely express their emotions and as a result, they can come out in unexpected ways such as depression, anger, anxiety and substance abuse.

  • Difficulty in having open, healthy and trusting relationships

  • Inability to function at work and at school

Over time, a child’s social emotional and physical health gets hampered as a result of the abuse.

Getting to the heart of matters in any situation is often tricky. Like any other forms, cases of emotional abuse need to be dealt with in a sensitive manner. Feelings of brokenness, self-blame (where the children start believing the words they hear) and general distrust towards others are common. However, the sooner the abuse is confronted and help is sought for the victim, the sooner repairing the damage inflicted by the words can begin.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:

What make many people hesitant to step up and speak up about their suspicions of abuse are the myths regarding abuse such as:

  • What I have to say won’t make a difference. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, chances are it is

  • I don’t want to be a busy-body and interfere in someone’s family

  • My speaking up will break up the family home

  • If I report it, they will know it was me

When you talk to a child who is being abused, there are a few things to remember:

  • Be calm and don’t be in denial- you may hear shocking stories about the words they have had to endure. The key is to not sure any shock or disgust as this may cause the child to shut down.

  • Don’t overwhelm the child with questions- let them tell you in their own words their experience.

  • Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong and it is not their fault. They have taken a big step in opening up to you and trusting you with their pain and it’s important that they know they are heard and you take them seriously

  • The welfare of the child is top priority. Report the problem to the police/child protection services and leave them to take care of the situation going forward

In the words of Maya Angelou, “people may forget what you did; people may forget what you said. But people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Nelly Kgoabi

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