Child abuse experts say that psychological abuse in young children can be just as damaging to their physical, mental and emotional health as a slap, punch, or kick. Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and pediatrics of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and the Offord Centre for Child Studies, was quoted as saying, “We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behavior that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted,” said this after giving some extreme examples of physical abuse or neglect, like a mother leaving baby alone all day.
Belittling, denigrating, terrorizing, exploiting, emotional unresponsiveness, or corrupting a child to the point where their well-being is put at risk is an especially prevalent and difficult to diagnose form of child abuse and neglect. It’s the day-to-day messages that get yelled at the child or sometimes even said very matter-of-factly, letting them know they are a bad, terrible person, that they weren’t wanted in the first place or are defective or unlovable in some say
The first three years of life can be particularly devastating and set up a life-long feeling of unworthiness, feeling unloved, unwanted or just downright worthless.
This kind of mistreatment happens in many families and tends to show up most in homes with family conflict, violence, depression, mental issues or addictions. But it can show up anywhere, in some very surprising places.
There are very few studies showing the effects of this kind of psychological, verbal abuse. A couple of studies in the US and UK estimate that 8-9% of woman and 4% of men reported this type of abuse during childhood. My personal sense is that these numbers are quite under-rated. I’ve done my own personal questioning of friends and others I’ve encountered in some of the workshops I’ve done and that number is a lot closer to 50-60% or higher in my very unscientific study.
Another issue with this type of abuse is that even in later life, it’s harder to acknowledge the reality of it and to thus seek help in healing the scars. I know many people who didn’t even realize until they were in their 50s and above that the say they were treated had huge effects on their confidence.
Are you, perhaps, one who suffered and hasn’t really allowed that into your awareness. What are the critical voices you hear in your head? Do they remind you of your childhood? Do they tear you down instead of build you up? If you said “yes”, you may have internalized what you heard as a child and are still in “replay” mode.
Doctors who are following up on the effects of verbal abuse say that pediatricians need to be more aware of the possibility of this issue, although unlike physical abuse, there aren’t clear signs or guidelines for recognizing it. Perhaps more collaboration between physicians, medical health professionals, and protective services and social workers will help to identify the at-risk children and get them some help.
Here’s where I get up on my soapbox a bit. In reading this, what occurs to me is that identifying and helping parents and caregivers who are under stress can go a long way in prevention. I’ve long thought that parenting classes and counseling for expectant parents would give them better coping skills and a more solid foundation for raising their children. We currently get more training in driving a car than we do in taking care of a baby or raising them until adulthood.
In past times there were extended families so the elders were around and able to provide more help and guidance to the new parents. But this so often is not the case now. So what can be done to give parents the coping skills and assistance they need? What can be done to protect the children who are at risk? Is there a child in your life who is being abused? What can you do to help the child and/or the parents?
Unfortunately, I don’t have answers, only questions. If you have some suggestions, answers, or sources of help, we’d love to hear from you.
Inspired by a couple of Ivanhoe Newswire reports