Fewer children suffer emotional abuse than they do sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect. Yet it is among the cruelest forms of abuse because it cuts right to child’s soul, to his or her very core and image of themselves. It affects every facet of a child’s health and makes a child question why he or she is not good enough. It makes them wonder: What’s wrong with me? Why don’t my parents love me or appreciate who I am as a person?
Emotional abuse can be verbal or may be through parents denying affection, presenting poor spousal role models, or allowing bullying, either by a parent or by siblings or peers. Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse that includes regularly shouting at a child; calling her names such as stupid, backwards, or useless; or making belittling comments that point out a child’s deficiencies, such as, “Look at Bill’s buck teeth,” or, “Yes, it is a shame that Sally looks like her father.” It may also include making unwarranted threats, such as, “If you don’t behave, we’ll adopt you out.” Or “If you can’t keep your clothes clean, Daddy will leave.” Basically, it includes frequently engaging in behavior that makes a child feel bad about himself or herself.
Another type of emotional abuse occurs when parents or guardians deny affection or present with a distinct lack of affection. All children need love and attention from their parents. They require encouragement, praise, and hugs and kisses, and to know that they are loved and needed. Sharing affection creates a warm, cozy home, a place where the child feels safe, wanted, and loved.
Excessive discipline can also be considered a form of emotional abuse. Children need to be disciplined and to have firm boundaries set for them, but there is a right and wrong way to discipline a child. Constantly yelling or screaming at a child, threatening a child, locking a child in a cage or a dark closet, tying them up, or making them eat soap or hot sauce are all means of excessive discipline that constitute child abuse. The goal of discipline should be to teach a child the difference between right and wrong so they learn, consistently, what are acceptable behaviors. When discipline is measured and considered, children learn to respect the rights of others. The goal of a parent should be to help mold their child into an adult who feels secure and loved, self-confident, self-disciplined, and who knows how to control his or her impulses. For this reason, more acceptable and effective forms of discipline include taking away toys, time out, curtailing TV time or rewarding and encouraging good behavior.
Parents are role models for their children. They need to protect them from anything harmful, including emotional harm. Allowing a child to watch violent television shows because that’s what the parents want to watch, or to see adults in a drunken state or physically or verbally abusing each other are other examples of emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse undermines a victim’s ego and sense of self and can lead to poor self-esteem, constant sadness or prolonged depression, anxiety attacks, not wanting to go to school or playing truant, self-harming, drug use, promiscuity, and even personality disorders. In older children, especially girls, eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia may present a way to “control” their surroundings. Victims may also become abusive to other children or even become bullies themselves.