"Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we'll ever do."
-Brene Brown, Rising Strong
I have seen it time and time again in the counseling room: the adult client that does not claim child abuse as part of her history, but carries invisible wounds. Her heart is bleeding, and she feels anxious and depressed. Her mind is broken; she believes she is not good enough, and this effects everything she does. Her soul is lost, and she feels isolated and alone. In her relationships, she has trouble trusting others. As a mother, her days are plagued with debilitating guilt. She is a victim of emotional abuse as a child, and she does not even know it.
Most people consider child abuse to include physical and verbal forms of abuse, but emotional abuse is another type of abuse that doesn't receive as much recognition. It's not as easily detected, because you can't see the breaks and bruises, but the internal trauma caused by emotional abuse effects social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive functioning. Quite often, parents do not even realize they are traumatizing their children in this way, and the negative impact of abuse carries on from generation to generation.
So what is emotional abuse? The Department of Child Welfare defines emotional abuse as, "injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition," and "injury as evidenced by anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior." Emotional abuse can include:
- Belittling a child and minimizing her concerns
- Humiliating, criticizing, and judging
- Ignoring emotional needs or neglecting to provide emotional support
- Controlling, manipulation, and obfuscation
- Disrespecting a child's boundaries (i.e. forcing physical affection or relationship on a child, not giving her space when she needs it)
- Giving a child responsibilities that should not be hers (i.e. caring for dad while he is intoxicated)
- Sharing inappropriate information with a child (i.e. talking badly about another parent or partner), using a child as a friend
- Enmeshment (being too close to your child; your child needs to be her own person)
- Frequent yelling or angry outbursts directed at a child
- Allowing a child to witness the abuse of another individual
Most parents do not label themselves as abusers. "Abuse" feels like a strong word that we reserve for "bad people." But parents that traumatize their children through emotional abuse are not bad people. They are typically people that have been traumatized or abused themselves. They hurt and they are unintentionally hurting their children.
Do you know a child that has been impacted by emotional abuse? If you know a child that needs help or you think you may be a victim of emotional abuse yourself, please seek help by contacting a mental health professional. Please do not allow feelings of shame to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Freedom is attainable and it feels good! You are loved, and you deserve to experience love through the lens of truth. It's never too late to heal your invisible wounds.
If you suspect a child is being physically, verbally, or emotionally abused, please call the Child Abuse Hotline at 877-237-0004.