World renowned expert in child psychology, Alice Miller, drew strong attention to the fact that emotional and psychological abuse could have just as dramatically adverse effect on a person’s life as other forms of abuse.
She was also of the view that most individuals’ mental health conditions were as a result of being treated abusively by their parents/primary caregivers.
She also believed that people developed addiction problems and/or turned to crime due to having experienced significant parental abuse.
Emotional and psychological abuse is sometimes blatant and obvious; however, often it is subtle, insidious, hard to precisely identify or pin down. For example, much of human communication is conducted through non-verbal means such as tone of voice and intonation, facial expression and body language. The power of nonverbal communication should not be underestimated; its effects can be psychologically devastating.
Indeed, I recall, more vividly than I would wish to, how, not yet a teenager, I would return home from school and, as I approached the front door, would sometimes catch the eye of my mother standing at the kitchen window doing the washing up. The look she would give me I can only describe as a mixture of hostility, contempt and disgust. When I rang the doorbell she would open it only ajar an inch and beat a hasty retreat, her back to me as I entered the house to be met with stony silence and seething, palpable resentment.
Another reason why emotional and psychological abuse can be hard to identify is that the child (or, indeed, the adult reflecting upon his/her childhood) may, as a means of psychological, unconscious self-defence, be in a state of denial in regarding the abuse s/he suffered. Such a state of denial may persist well into adulthood or even for a lifetime.
This situation is tragic as the individual who is in denial may have experienced severe emotional and behavioural problems throughout his/her whole life, but, not knowing the true cause, was unable to effectively deal with his/her difficulties.
The situation is complicated further by the fact that many psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and therapists are themselves parents and may, therefore, be reluctant to support the idea that parents are almost always the cause of their offsprings’ psychological condition as they would then have to blame themselves for any psychiatric problems their own children had.
Controversially, Miller was against the idea of adult children forgiving their parents. She felt this would lead to the repressed anger the individual felt towards his parent/s being DISPLACED onto SCAPEGOATS. This repressed anger may be acted out in the form of physical violence.
Indeed, she went so far as to suggest that Adolf Hitler displaced the rage he felt towards his abusive father onto Jews, homosexuals, the mentally ill and other victims of the Holocaust; and that many wars started due to world leaders displacing their own rage, acquired during their own childhoods, onto the enemy.
Miller, A., The Body Never Lies – The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005.
Miller, A., For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence. Hunter Hannum
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).