Emotional abuse (also referred to as psychological abuse or mental abuse) is a form of abuse, characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing, another person to behavior that could result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or PTSD.
Unlike physical abuse, the people doing it and receiving it may not even know it’s happening. In some cases, it can be worse than physical abuse because it can undermine what we think about ourselves. Emotional abuse can happen between parent and child, husband and wife, among relatives and between friends.
So how do you know if someone is abusing you? Lots of people think that emotional abuse is defined as verbal insults. But that’s false. While it is the most common definition, emotional abuse can include any of the following:
• Telling you what to do and what to wear
• Stalking you
• Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from leaving them
• Regularly disregard your opinions, thoughts, and ideas
• Regularly pointing out your shortcomings, flaws, or mistakes
In a 1997 U.S. study, emotional maltreatment was reported in 15% of 817,655 or in 122,650 cases across 43 states (National Research Council, 1993). There are many signs of emotional abuse in a child. Some of these include:
• Being fearful of parent
• Saying they hate the parent
• Talking badly about themselves (“I’m dumb”)
• Sudden changes in speech (stuttering)
• Sudden change in behavior (doing bad in school)
Emotional abuse can restrict a child’s emotional development, including their ability to feel and express a full range of emotions properly, and to control their emotions. Children who grow up in homes where they are constantly belittled may experience self-confidence and anger issues.
There is a greater risk of developing one or more behavioral problems. These may include learning difficulties, relationship problems, difficulty socializing, aggressive, and violent behavior.
PTSD is also a side effect of emotional abuse. Contrary to popular belief, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Acute Stress Disorder are not typical responses to prolonged abuse. They are the outcomes of sudden exposure to severe or extreme stressors (stressful events). Any traumatic event can trigger it. Rape, assault, acts of physical or verbal violence, even repeated emotional abuse or the sudden split of a significant relationship can result in this.
In 2008, approximately 55,196 children were officially counted as victims of child emotional abuse. About 30% of abused children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse. The estimated annual cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States for 2007 is $104 billion.
So what are you supposed to do if you or someone you know is being affected by emotional abuse? You can call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD (1-800-422-4453) for information for free help wherever you are. You can report abuse anonymously.
It’s completely possible for anyone who has been emotionally abused to recover. Seeking help is the first and most important step. The next effort is to get help for the abuser and other family members.
Only if the emotional abuser acknowledges that they have a problem with emotional abuse and are prepared to openly deal with it can therapy even have a chance to be successful.
Anna Uhrhammer is a student at Mabel-Canton High School. She is one of eight area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its eighteenth year.