“It was only emotional abuse, whatever that is . . . “ said a well-dressed middle aged woman with a smirk. She was gossiping with a friend about a woman they both knew who filed for divorce and child support. They couldn’t have known that the ‘perfect’ couple and their ‘amazing’ children held a secret that would shake their circle of friends to the core, prompting utter disbelief, and then scorn. In a classic pattern, they blamed the victims.
The dad, ‘Blake’, berated and belittled his son and humiliated him at the dinner table, following sporting events, or practice sessions, when his grades came out or when he left his shoes in the family room, or failed to take out the trash. He hounded and shamed his son, (even micro-managed him mowing the lawn), called him names, and bullied him: ‘You Wuss!’ His daughter experienced accusations, shaming and the silent treatment for things she wore, ate, friends she associated with, groups she was interested in, and endured the same treatment in a different way. ‘Just like your mother!’ echoed in her head. Blake’s wife fared far worse from the time he got home until bed time, which made dinners hellish and the kids tense and fearful, ‘Can’t you do anything right? My toast is burnt! You’re pathetic!’ It was the threat with which he controlled them that made the situation volatile, and ‘control’ was a tactic he employed effectively, and ruthlessly. In public, they looked to be the model couple and story-book family, acting their way through church, sports, and community events with plastered-on smiles.
The APA reports, “Children who had been psychologically abused suffered from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, symptoms of post-traumatic stress and suicidality at the same rate and, in some cases, at a greater rate than children who were physically or sexually abused. Among the three types of abuse, psychological maltreatment was most strongly associated with depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, attachment problems and substance abuse.” [Childhood Psychological Abuse as Harmful as Sexual or Physical Abuse October 8th, 2014. Source: Joseph Spinazzola, PhD, The Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute]
Author Maria Bogdanos of Psych Central identified five signs of emotional abuse. These include: “1. Humiliation, degradation, discounting, negating, judging, criticizing; 2. Domination, control, and shame; 3. Accusing and blaming, trivial and unreasonable demands or expectations, denies own shortcomings; 4. Emotional distancing and the ‘silent treatment’, isolation, emotional abandonment, or neglect; 5. Codependence and enmeshment.” The APA article cites statistics from the U.S. Children’s Bureau, that ‘nearly 3 million U.S. children experience some form of maltreatment annually’. The focus for many children service agencies is safety, healing, and teaching a new skill set to promote wellness and prevent trauma from occurring in the first place.
‘Out of the Fog’ is a support site for Emotional Abuse victims and links emotional abuse with borderline personality disorder. Their definition of emotional abuse is “Any pattern of behavior directed at one individual by another which promotes in them a destructive sense of Fear, Obligation or Guilt (FOG).” There is a more comprehensive list of the examples of emotional abuse, which the authors describe as, ‘The Bruise that Doesn’t Show’. As the site explains, “Many people who are victims of abuse live in homes or environments where they have become so accustomed to the situation they consider it normal. They do not recognize it even IS abuse sometimes, because there is no physical injury; instead an ongoing emotional barrage takes place which can be just as damaging.”
Psych Central reported on a University of Washington study which found that “Children as young as 15 months are able to detect adult emotions and use the clues to guide their own behavior . . . “ [Toddlers Detect Emotion, Change Behavior Accordingly by Rick Nauert Phd, Psych Central]. From the knowledge that minors are being shaped at each stage of development by those around them- from infancy on, and mirror their behaviors accordingly, it becomes critical to identify and stop emotional abuse. Recognition is the first step in emotionally moving to a new state of mind; realizing that each human being (self included) has value and merit, a lot of good to give going forward, and deserves to receive good in return.
[photo credit: Dreamstime]