Emotional abuse of children (sometimes referred to as psychological abuse) by their parents / primary caregivers can be divided into two types :
- PASSIVE EMOTIONAL ABUSE
- ACTIVE EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Let’s look at each of these in turn :
PASSIVE EMOTIONAL ABUSE :
Passive emotional abuse tends to be less obvious and more subtle than active emotional abuse and may, therefore, operate ‘below the radar’ and be difficult to precisely identify; however, its insidious nature can have a devastating effect upon the child’s emotional development. Specific types of passive emotional abuse, as proposed by Barlow, et al., (2010), are shown below :
DEVELOPMENTALLY INAPPROPRIATE INTERACTION WITH THE CHILD :
This can involve expecting the child to do things that s.he is not emotionally equipped to carry out. It can also involve the parent talking about, or doing things, in the presence of the child which s/he (i.e. the child) is not emotionally mature enough to deal with.
EMOTIONAL UNAVAILABILITY :
This refers to the parent / primary carer being very emotionally detached, distant and cold towards the child, displaying no love or affection.
NEGATIVE ATTITUDES :
This includes the parent not offering the child praise or encouragement and conveying the attitude that they have a low opinion of the child or that the child is ‘bad’ leading the child to internalize such negative views.
NOT TREATING THE CHILD AS AN INDIVIDUAL :
This can happen when a parent ‘prenotifies’ their child, treats the child, in emotional terms, as a ‘surrogate partner’ or exploits their child as an ’emotional caretaker’. All involve the parent exploiting the child to fulfil his/her own emotional needs while ignoring the child’s emotional needs.
ACTIVE EMOTIONAL ABUSE :
According to Barlow et al., 2010 and Cawson et al., 2000, active emotional abuse may involve :
- terrorising: this can involve threatening and intimidating behaviour by the parent towards the child including severe verbal threats, excessive teasing, threatening to throw the child out of the family home, publicly ridiculing the child, threatening to abandon the child, physically abusing other members of the family in front of (or within heating range of) the child, extreme, unpredictable responses to the child’s behaviour (this is nor an exhaustive list).
- isolating: the parent may isolate the child physically, socially or emotionally to increase his/her (i.e. the parent’s) level of control over him/her (i.e. the child). This reduces the child’s ability to compare his/her situation to that of others and to get help. The parent may increase the child’s level of disorientation by also using the technique of ‘gaslighting.’
- corrupting/exploiting: this involves the parent encouraging the child to behave in antisocial and self-destructive ways thereby reducing his/her ability to socially integrate in an acceptable way
Barlow, Jane & Schrader-MacMillan, Anita. (2010). Safeguarding Children from Emotional Abuse: What Works?
Cawson, Pat & May-Chahal, Corinne & Brooker, Sue & Kelly, Graham. (2000). Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: a Study of the Prevalence of Abuse and Neglect.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).