By: TLB contributor and CPO staff writer Kat Shumaker-Ellis
When we hear someone yelling at a child in a store, we think, “Man that poor child!!” But do you really know what is being done to that child?
Verbal abuse is just as bad as hitting a child.
Child abuse is more than bruises or broken bones. While physical abuse is shocking due to the scars it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional harm.
MYTH #1: It’s only abuse if it’s violent.
Fact: Physical abuse is just one type of child abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging and, since they are more subtle, others are less likely to intervene.
MYTH #2: Only bad people abuse their children.
Fact: While it’s easy to say that only “bad people” abuse their children, it’s not always so black and white. Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves and don’t know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problem.
MYTH #3: Child abuse doesn’t happen in “good” families.
Fact: Child abuse doesn’t only happen in poor families or bad neighborhoods. It crosses all racial, economic, and cultural lines. Sometimes, families who seem to have it all from the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors.
MYTH #4: Most child abusers are strangers.
Fact: While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or others close to the family.
MYTH #5: Abused children always grow up to be abusers.
Fact: It is true that abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle as adults, unconsciously repeating what they experienced as children. On the other hand, many adult survivors of child abuse have a strong motivation to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.
Effects of child abuse and neglect.
All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical but emotional scarring has long-lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self, ability to have healthy relationships and ability to function at home, at work and at school. Some effects include:
- Lack of trust and relationship difficulties. If you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust? Abuse by a primary caregiver damages the most fundamental relationship as a child—that you will safely and reliably get your physical and emotional needs met by the person who is responsible for your care. Without this base, it is very difficult to learn to trust people or know who is trustworthy. This can lead to difficulty maintaining relationships due to fear of being controlled or abused. It can also lead to unhealthy relationships because the adult doesn’t know what a good relationship is.
- Core feelings of being “worthless” or “damaged.” If you’ve been told over and over again as a child that you are stupid or no good, it is very difficult to overcome these core feelings. You may experience them as reality. As adults, they may not strive for more education or settle for a job that may not pay enough because they don’t believe they can do it or are worth more. Sexual abuse survivors, with the stigma and shame surrounding the abuse, especially struggle often with a feeling of being damaged.
- Trouble regulating emotions. Abused children cannot express emotions safely. As a result, the emotions get stuffed down, coming out in unexpected ways. Adult survivors of child abuse can struggle with unexplained anxiety, depression, or anger. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the painful feelings.
Emotional child abuse
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me? Contrary to this old saying, emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health or social development, leaving lifelong psychological scars. Examples of emotional child abuse include:
- Constant belittling, shaming and humiliating a child.
- Name-calling and making negative comparisons to others.
- Telling a child he or she is “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake.”
- Frequent yelling, threatening or bullying.
- Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment.
- Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses or other signs of affection.
- Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling or even a pet.
If you are or some one you know needs help, please seek it out. You are more important then anything. There are places where you can find help. There are people out there that want to help you.
Here are places to contact:
Links for helping children: