Emotional abuse of a child is typically the least reported type of child abuse, although experts agree that it occurs simultaneously with other forms of child abuse and neglect. Although the effects of emotional abuse may not be as visible, they create serious and long-lasting psychological challenges. The statistics cited are from the Child Welfare Gateway.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is often referred to as psychological abuse and is generally defined as a pattern of behavior that impacts a child’s social-emotional development and feelings of self-worth. It can involve words, action, or indifference. It may occur without other forms of child abuse and neglect, but there is often an overlap. In 2008, national statistics show that 7% of all child abuse reports were considered emotional or psychological abuse. The statistics do not reflect how often emotional abuse may have been associated with another issues such as physical abuse. Emotional abuse can begin very young with infants and can continue through adolescence.
How do you identify Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is difficult to identify and to prove. The lack of physical injury or obvious mental trauma makes it challenging for protective service workers to intervene. Experts look at patterns of abusive behavior of the perpetrator such as continually shaming, humiliating or belittling a child; extreme criticism, terrorizing, exposing a child to family violence or the inability or unwillingness to provide affection and positive reinforcement. The child victims may exhibit a range of behavioral indicators such as compulsively seeking affection and attention, aggressive or antisocial behaviors, lack of self-confidence, inability to react with emotion or bond with others, or dramatic changes in behaviors.
Examples of Emotional Abuse:
- Failure to Thrive – involves infants and young children not meeting age appropriate physical, social and emotional development.
- Exposure to other forms of abuse or violence in the home.
- Rejection or ignoring a child.
- Blaming a child for problems of the family or home.
- Isolation – or keeping a child from normal daily activities or interaction with friends or peers.
- Excessively critical remarks creating feelings of worthlessness.
What are the effects of emotional abuse?
Research has shown that emotional abuse can create life-long feelings of poor self-esteem, worthlessness, anxiety and other forms of distress. As adults, many exhibit depression, a lack of empathy and inappropriate or troubled relationships. Emotional abuse may also lead to other self-destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, substance abuse and abusive relationships.
What can be done?
The longer neglect continues, the greater the potential for serious and long term emotional and psychological difficulties for the child. If you suspect a child is being neglected, please make a report to your local Child Protective Services Department (check your local yellow pages under child abuse). If a child is in immediate danger, please call the police.