Emotional abuse of a child, otherwise referred to as psychological maltreatment, can range from blatant acts such as verbal abuse, terrorizing or victimizing to more subtle but equally damaging deeds like rejecting, ignoring or neglecting a child. Some parents emotionally abuse their kids because they were victims of emotional cruelty as children, the American Humane Association explains. The sooner an emotionally abused child gets the help he needs to heal, the better his chances of recovery and negating the cycle of abuse will be.
Emotionally abused children often grow up believing that they are somehow deficient. A child's perceived flaws can lead to low self-esteem, dysfunctional relationships and the inability to empathize, according to PreventChildAbuse.org. Long-term consequences of emotional abuse can also lead to emotional and psychological problems including anger, anxiety and depression. Kids who have been emotionally abused may also turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to quiet their inner pain. Healing from childhood emotional abuse involves peeling away the layers of damage caused by the mistreatment; healing is often a long-term process.
First Things First
Providing a safe haven is the first order of business for emotionally abused children to ensure they are out of harm’s way. A child who is afraid he'll upset his parents or doesn't know who to turn to about the abuse can call a 24-hour-a-day helpline, such as 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Once an abused child is in a safe environment, whether that means living, even temporarily, with a relative, foster parent or friend of the family, he should enter therapy to begin the healing process.
Therapy Topics and Goals
Play therapy may be part of the healing process for very young victims of emotional abuse. For example, a therapist may give a child a doll to help her act out her experiences. Counseling for children of emotional abuse generally focuses on the experiences the victim has been through, how she feels about those experiences and what concerns she has now and perhaps in the future. A therapist will work to help a child overcome feelings of worthlessness stemming from emotional abuse. The idea of sharing feelings can be scary for a child who is used to stuffing her emotions since she couldn't safely express herself at home. Therapy gives a child the opportunity to open up at her own pace and articulate her feelings as she becomes more comfortable. Substance abuse therapy may be in order for older children and teens.
When You Know an Abused Child
Emotionally abused children may think they deserved the poor treatment they endured, according to the AHA. Teachers, relatives and friends of the family of the victim may promote the healing process by repeatedly assuring the abused child that he is in no way to blame for the mistreatment. A child may remain loyal to his abuser, especially a parent, so it's important to never make disparaging comments about the abuse or the person who committed the abuse when the child is present. Talking from the heart about the abused child's attributes and talents and telling him he's good, kind and smart can also help him heal.
- American Humane Association: Emotional Abuse
- American Humane Association: Guidelines for Helping Children Experiencing Abuse or Neglect
- PreventChildAbuse.org: Fact Sheet: Emotional Child Abuse
- KidsHealth.org: How To Handle Abuse
- WebMD: Child Abuse and Neglect - Treatment Overview
- HelpGuide.org: Child Abuse And Neglect
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