Childhood Trauma – Signs and Effects of Psychological Abuse

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The effects of having been psychologically/emotionally abused when we were children can be devastating, and, without therapy, can last a life-time.

Indeed, we may find, as a result of our adverse early life experiences, that we have significant difficulties managing all the important aspects of our lives, including our social life, our work/career, our intimate relationships and our relationship with our wider family (to read my article about how childhood trauma can ruin our adult relationships, click here).

Because emotional abuse has no one, clear-cut, simple definition, in this article I want to look at some examples of psychological/emotional abuse. After I have done that, I will then list some of the main effects of this kind of abuse.

EXAMPLES OF BEHAVIOURS BY PARENTS/PRIMARY CARE-GIVERS TOWARDS THE CHILD THAT CAN QUALIFY AS PSYCHOLOGICAL/EMOTIONAL ABUSE :

– having significant feelings dismissed as of no importance

– frequently being on the receiving end of rage and intense anger

– being made to feel worthless

– being humiliated and derided

– being treated with hostility

– being threatened with physical abuse/assault

– constantly being criticized

– being ignored

– not being treated as an individual with own unique thoughts, opinions and feelings

– being treated sarcastically

– being treated with contempt

– being humiliated

– being devalued and demeaned

– being treated very inconsistently

– being on the receiving end of unpredictable and wildly fluctuating changes in mood

– being on the receiving end of passive-aggressive behaviour

– being treated with indifference

– being manipulated by being made to feel guilty or ashamed

– being scapegoated for the mistakes of others (click here to read my article about BEING MADE A FAMILY SCAPEGOAT).

As I said at the beginning of this article, being treated in ways such as those outlined above can lead to the individual suffering very serious and long-lasting effects if therapeutic interventions (such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, or CBT, as it is abbreviated to) are not sought out.

Indeed, the earlier therapy is sought for an individual damaged by psychological/emotional abuse, the less serious and less long-lasting its effects are likely to be.

Tragically, some people go through their whole lives without seeking therapy or gaining insight into the cause of their psychological problems, making their lives far more painful and difficult than they needed to be.

So let’s now turn to the possible effects of having suffered psychological/emotional abuse as a child:

THE POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF HAVING SUFFERED CHILDHOOD PSYCHOLOGICAL/EMOTIONAL ABUSE :

– diminished capacity to love (because those we loved hurt us, we view love as risky and as something that will make us vulnerable to further emotional pain)

– a pervasive sense of insecurity (as we have learned that even those with a duty to care for us can be utterly undependable)

– frequent feelings of anxiety and fear with no obvious origin

– hypersensitivity/hypervigilance (always looking out for signs that others are a threat to us or might do us harm, often to the point of seeing threat that only exists in our imaginations – this is linked to our difficulties with trusting others)

– we may start to behave in the very ways those who emotionally harmed us did eg. flying into rages, being aggressive etc.

– find forming and maintaining relationships with others highly problematic

– we may become preoccupied with the notion of obtaining ‘justice’ for the wrongs perpetrated against us

– we may develop various addictions to cope with our inner pain (this is a psychological defence mechanism known as DISSOCIATION – click here to read my article on this)

– periods of intense anger followed by periods of apathy and depression

– irrational feelings of guilt and shame (sometimes because we have been scapegoated by our family – see above)

– a view of the world as being hostile, threatening, dangerous and unpredictable

RESOURCES :

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

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