What Factors Increase Child’s Risk Of Emotional Maltreatment?

 

emotional maltreatment

According to the National Incidence Study Of Abuse And Neglect (NIS 4, 2010) children are more likely to be emotionally maltreated if (all else being equal):

  1. they live in a household in which there is parental unemployment
  2. they live in a household of low socio-economic status
  3. they live in a household in which there has occurred a family-structural breakdown
  4. they live in a family in which there are many other children
  5. they live in a rural county

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail :

1) They live in a household in which there is parental unemployment : children who live in a household in which neither parent is employed are at double the risk of being emotionally abused and are 3.5 times more likely to suffer emotional neglect than children who live in households in which there is no parental unemployment

2) They live in a household of low socio-economic status : children who grow up in households categorized as of low socio-economic status were found to be at four times greater risk of being emotionally abused and at five times nigher risk of being emotionally neglected.

3) They live in a household in which there has occurred a family-structural breakdown : children living with a single-parent (with or without a live-in partner) are 3.5 times more likely to suffer emotional abuse and/or emotional neglect than those children who live with both biological parents.

Also, children who live with a single parent and this parent’s unmarried partner are at greatest risk of suffering from emotional neglect.

4) They live in a family with many other children : children who live in families in which there are four or more children are at greater risk of both emotional abuse and emotional neglect than are children who live within smaller families (as regards the number of children)

5) They live in a rural county : children who live in a rural county are at twice the risk (on average) of suffering emotional abuse and/or emotional neglect than are children who live in urban counties.

NB : All of the above statistics relate to the U.S.

 

 

 

The above statistics, as has been seen, relate to both emotional abuse and emotional neglect ; I differentiate between these two types of emotional maltreatment below:

The difference between emotional abuse and emotional neglect :

Emotional Abuse : this entails an act of commission (i.e. something the parent actively did against the child, such as constantly telling him/her that s/he was never wanted or that s/he is ugly).

Emotional Neglect : this entails acts of omission (i.e. something the parent did NOT do for the child, the omission of which caused the child psychological damage, such as when a parent never displays love or affection for the child.

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‘Humor’: How Parents May Use It To Emotionally Wound Their Children

 

How can parents’ use of ‘humor’ potentially hurt their children?

I remember when I was very young, perhaps 3 or 4 years of age, my father would ‘play fight’ with me. For instance, he would ‘scissor’ me between his legs, exerting enough pressure for it to be painful, or, his speciality, hold me down and tickle me relentlessly to the point, in fact, when I would tearfully BEG him to stop. Laughing and crying at the same time was a peculiar sensation.

Most bizarrely, too, and, retrospectively, disturbingly, he once told me (again I’d have been about 4 years old), that if I misbehaved he would take down my shorts and underwear and lift me up over the garden fence so the neighbours could see my naked lower body and laugh at me. Disconcertingly odd behaviour on his behalf, surely?

The ‘tickling’ (‘tickling’ can actually be used as a form of torture, by the way, so don’t underestimate its potential effects – just because the victim’s laughing doesn’t mean s/he’s enjoying it!) was carried out by my father under the guise of ‘playing around’ as, to a much lesser degree (I took the threat seriously), perhaps was the threat to humiliate me in front of the neighbours.

Looking back now, it is clear to me both acts were, in fact, acts of mild sadism, even though my father may have claimed (I never brought the subject up whilst he was alive, which I regret) he was just ‘kidding around’.

hurtful_humor

Parents Who Use Destructive ‘Humor’:

Indeed, many parents emotionally wound their children under the guise of ‘kidding around’ or ‘just trying to be humorous.’

Destructive, hurtful or harmful humor is usually an expression of underlying negative feelings such as hatred, anger, hostility, resentment or, as in the case of the personal examples that I’ve provided above, sadism. 

Often, too, these underlying negative feelings have not been caused by the victim of the destructive humor, but by others who the user of the destructive humor is not in a position to inact revenge upon – instead, s/he displaces the underlying negative feelings onto an innocent victim.

There are several categories of harmful and destructive humor which include the following:

– ridicule/sarcasm

– put-downs/derision/belittling

– ‘humor’ that demeans and devalues an individual

– sarcasm

– sexist/racist/otherwise offensively discriminatory ‘jokes’

– practical jokes

– tickling

It should be borne in mind, also, that if we complain about being the object of cruel and hurtful humor, we may find ourselves accused of ‘not being able to take a joke’, or of ‘being oversensitive’ , that it was ‘just teasing’ or, especially irritatingly, being told that we need to ‘lighten up.’

There are, however, various methods that can be used to discourage others from using destructive humor. These include:

– don’t ‘play along’ by joining in the laughter just because you feel pressured to do so

– bluntly state you do not find the ‘joke’ funny or that it’s not your kind of humor (people who laugh at everything, paradoxically, often have little sense of humor and certainly lack discernment)

– start defining limits and boundaries if someone continually oversteps the mark by making so-called ‘funny’ comments are hurtful

– ask the individual to explain precisely why s/he considers what s/he said to be amusing

– respond with bored indifference, perhaps even feigning agreement.

 

With all these strategies, it is usually best to stay calm and not to display anger, if at all possible.

 

RELATED POST :

You may also wish to read my related article entitled : Being Constantly Humiliated By Parents May Damage Brain’s Corpus Callosum.

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Were You The Emotional Caretaker Of A Parent As A Child?

 

I have written elsewhere that, not long after my parents divorced when I was eight, I, in effect, became my highly unstable mother’s emotional caretaker – a kind of pint-sized, fledgling, incipient counsellor, if you will. Indeed, even before I had reached my teens, my mother would, not infrequently, refer to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist’ (apologies to those readers who have read that in other articles on this site – I mention it again for the enlightenment of new readers).

Being cast into such a role when very young, especially after a divorce of parents, when it is the child’s emotional needs that should be paramount, is, of course, extremely developmentally inappropriate. Indeed, many children who have been placed in such a position have, as a result, developed psychological difficulties and mental illnesses as adults, including:

– depression

– anxiety

– inappropriate guilt

– a proneness to outbursts of extreme anger and rage

arrested psychological development

(NB.  The above list is not exhaustive).

 

The child who becomes the emotional caretaker of a parent is placed under severe stress and is enormously overburdened, during a period of his/her life which ought to be made as relatively care-free as is reasonably feasible.

Some children in this situation may appear to be coping on the surface ; for example, during the period I was caring for my mother, I did well at school due, at least in part, to the fact that I would immerse myself in school work as a coping mechanism : a diversion, distraction and temporary escape from obsessively ruminating on my mother’s psychological problems.

Also, I was fastidiously tidy around the house. For example, my mother demanded the bathroom always be left spotless and in perfect order. For instance, the towels had to be hung back on the towel rail perfectly symmetrically so that their ends lined up exactly and ran completely parallel to the floor. However, this meticulousness on my part was due mainly to fear of my mother’s wrath should I fail to complete such tasks with military precision.

The child who is the emotional caretaker is forced to grow up far too soon and to shoulder responsibilities which s/he is not emotionally mature enough to deal with. In effect, the child is turned into the parent’s parent (the child is, in the language of psychologists, parentified), forgoing his/her essential needs as a child : in effect, his/her childhood is stolen.

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Emotional Abuse and The Law

emotional abuse and the law

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is essentially where the perpetrator uses FEAR, HUMILIATION, or VERBAL ASSAULT to, for example, undermine the victim’s self-esteem, confidence and trust in their own judgment.

Many believe if they are not being physically harmed, then what is happening does not count as abuse : THIS COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH – in fact, protracted psychological abuse can damage the way , for example, the AMYGDALA (a brain region that’s function relates to emotional control)  develops, which can then HAVE DEVASTATING EFFECTS ON THE REST OF THE VICTIM’S LIFE.

SOME RESEARCH INTO THIS AREA SUGGESTS PEOPLE WITH DAMAGE TO THIS AREA LIVE, ON AVERAGE. NINETEEN YEARS LESS THAN THE AVERAGE PERSON – reasons include ruining health with drink / drug addiction and suicide.

Emotional abuse can be compared to BRAIN WASHING  ; I have already said that it undermines the individual’s belief in his own judgments – it can, too, make them question THEIR OWN SENSE OF REALITY AND THEIR OWN SANITY.

THIS LEADS TO THEM RELYING, AND BECOMING DEPENDENT UPON, THE VERY PEOPLE WHO ARE ABUSING THEM.

Emotional Abuse And The Problem Of Proof :

Emotional abuse can be very difficult to prove. One reason for this is  because it can be subtly inflicted over years (a kind of drip, drip effect) and leaves no physical marks. However :

EMOTIONAL ABUSE IS JUST AS DAMAGING TO THE INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGICALLY AS ANY OTHER TYPE OF ABUSE.

Types Of Emotional Abuse :

Emotional abuse, which can happen selectively (ie a particular offspring is targeted, as opposed to all the offspring) can lead to extreme anxiety, self-harming behaviours, profound loneliness, acute depression and. without therapeutic intervention, personality disorders in later life, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD). In extreme cases, it can lead to suicide. It can include :

VERBAL ASSAULT : eg the issuing of threats

EMOTIONAL NEGLECT : eg showing no love or affection. In some cases, the parent might provide well for the offspring financially, but entirely neglect his/her emotional needs. It can, of course, include, too, being almost entirely ignored and treated with off-hand contempt.

THE DEVASTATING EFFECTS OF INVALIDATION : one of the most damaging forms of abuse is for the abusers to INVALIDATE the victim’s views and emotions in relation to his/her abuse. This is because IT MAKES THE VICTIM LOOK LIKE S/HE IS IN THE WRONG.

FORMS INVALIDATION MAY TAKE :

1) DENIAL – it may be that those who caused the childhood trauma simply deny it

2) TELLING THE VICTIM S/HE IS ‘OVER-ANALYZING’

3) TELLING THE VICTIM S/HE IS EXAGGERATING

4) TELLING THE VICTIM HIS/HER VIEW THAT S//HE WAS CAUSED/CONTINUES TO BE CAUSED SUFFERING IS WRONG, or, as it was once put to me by a family member, that we must stop ‘BLEATING ON ABOUT IT’.

THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE TRAUMA OFTEN TRY EXTREMELY HARD TO INVALIDATE THE VICTIM’S VIEWS SO THEY DO NOT NEED TO FACE THEIR OWN GUILT OR ALTER THEIR BEHAVIOUR TOWARDS THE VICTIM.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING ONE’S VIEWS THAT ONE HAS BEEN PSYCHOLOGICALLY SCARRED INVALIDATED?

Put simply, the invalidation can lead the victim TO BELIEVE S/HE HE MUST BE A BAD PERSON LEADING TO :

– guilt

– shame

 – self-hatred

– self-harming

– suicide

– drug/alcohol misuse

– rock bottom self-esteem

– rock bottom confidence

(the above list is not an exclusive one.)

HOW DOES THE LAW APPLY TO ALL THIS?

In the UK, it is likely emotional abusers may be prosecuted under domestic violence laws, if, for example, the abuse involves THREATENING BEHAVIOR ;

GOVERNMENT CONSIDERING MAKING EMOTIONAL CRUELTY OF CHILDREN AN OFFENCE :

However, in the UK, the government is considering introducing a new law which will make EMOTIONAL CRUELTY TO CHILDREN an offence. Such cruelty includes :

‘Controlling And Coercive’ Behavior :

Furthermore, the UK government has also introduced a law that makes ‘controlling and coercive‘ behavior an offence in the family environment. ‘Controlling and coercive’ behavior includes :

  • isolating an individual from friends and family
  • repeatedly invalidating the individual e.g. telling him/her that s/he is ‘worthless’
  • humiliating, degrading and/or dehumanizing the individual

This law applies when the individual being victimized suffers such treatment ‘repeatedly or continuously’ although there is no set number of incidents of the types described that must occur – each case is assessed by the courts according to its individual merits. The mistreatment must also have a ‘serious effect’ upon the individual and must either make him/her fear that violence will be used against him/her or have caused him/her ‘serious alarm and/or distress.’

However, like many areas of law, this can, potentially, be a confused and hazy area. For this reason, I would like to add the disclaimer that legal advice should be sought before taking any action, and, also, it is recommended in the strongest terms that someone who could be dangerous is NOT  directly confronted on the issues.

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc ; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery