What Does Research Into Emotional Abuse Tell Us?
Research shows that emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical or sexual abuse (although it is only relatively recently that this has been acknowledged). In this article, I want to look at some of the reasons that its effects can be so devastating.
Emotional abuse not only negatively affects the child at the time it is going on (by lowering his/her self-esteem and causing him/her to live in a constant state of uncertainty and fear, for example), but, if there is no therapeutic intervention, leads to a deeply unhappy adulthood as well.
When a person has grown up in an environment which is emotionally abusive, his/her adult experiences will be viewed through the negative filter which was laid down during his/her childhood. This, in turn, is likely to lead to maladaptive (unhelpful) behaviours in adult life which may well jeopordise his/her career prospects, relationships and physical health, for example.
EFFECTS OF AN UNSTABLE EMOTIONAL ENVIRONMENT ON THE CHILD :
If as a child, you lived in an emotionally unstable environment, as I did with my mother until I was thirteen (when I was made to leave to go and live with my father and step-mother) you may, as I did, have felt that you were robbed of security and value.
As children, we desperately needed consistency and the knowledge that we were unconditionally accepted and valued by those who were supposed to deeply care for us. But, because an emotionally unstable environment is one which is devoid of consistency, children brought up in such a home never learn what to expect (their parent’/carers’ behaviour can wildly fluctuate in unpredictable ways) they are never able to feel the environment is under control – they never know what might happen next or what lies ahead; there is constant uncertainty and fear about how they will be treated. Anything seems possible. There exists in such children a permanent state of nervous anticipation, if not outright terror.
If there seem to be no boundaries on the parents’/carers’ behaviour, fear is the result. There is never a sense of safety. There is never a sense of securiy. The child can never relax. At any moment, unprovoked, can come verbal or physical violence. There develops a never ending sense of dread, there is always the question of how far the abuse might go. There is never a truly safe moment.
SUMMARY OF MAIN ADVERSE EFFECTS OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE :
I will end this article with a short list and summary of some of the possible main damaging effects of emotional abuse. They are:
– a necessity to be in a state of constant hypervigilence; this will often lead to acute sensitivity and easily triggered hostility (attack, in this case, being a form of defense)
– if, as children, we are constantly told we are in the wrong, this can lead to procrastination, indecision and inaction (we become constantly concerned anything we try will turn to disaster)
– if we are constantly provoked, we may start reacting with outbursts of rage
– being constantly treated in an unfair way can lead us to become obsessed with getting justice
– the constant psychological strain can lead to a state of emotional exhaustion – this can easily result in apathy and depression (including losing motivation and an inability to derive any pleasure from activities or social interactions)
– being perpetually criticized can lead to feelings of insecurity, shame and guilt
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).