Child Abuse: Emotional and Psychological

“There is always more than meets the eye”. A statement that is true in many respects, one of them being in regards to an individual who is emotionally and/or psychologically abused. Since this type of abuse is not easily identifiable, it is important to highlight the various factors, tell-tale signs, and next steps in order to fully grasp the breadth of this topic. Within this blog, I hope to consolidate the plethora of information that is out there regarding emotional or psychological abuse; and hopefully this resource will clarify any misconceptions.

How Prevalent Is It?

"The average age of victimization is 15 years old for both males and females"

Since this type of abuse is not readily identifiable, there is an underreporting of cases, and it is a relatively new category of abuse, the Canadian Statistics are not fully established as of yet. However, according to Statistics Canada (2016), the average age of victimization is 15 years old for both males and females, and in general, rates of this type of violence increase with age. Misidentification and little understanding of emotional and psychological abuse have led to widespread underreporting. Underreporting is also affected by the inability of children to foster a safe and open line of communication with police. According to the 2013 Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, 13% of substantiated investigations of child abuse in Ontario were related to emotional maltreatment, with 5,620 cases.

What Can It Look Like?

Emotional abuse can present itself in many forms. These can include belittlement, insult-ridden statements, and/or threatening violence (Even without carrying out these threats). A common misconception is that emotional abuse is solely verbal, however, having consoling physical touch is essential for a child’s development, so emotional abuse can also entail the purposeful deprivation of such touch. Additionally, this type of abuse can happen across several settings; including the home, school, and childcare centers — to name a few.

Children who have experienced or are currently experiencing such abuse may present signs such as…

  • Being fearful of a parent

  • Saying they hate a parent

  • Talking badly about themselves (Such as saying, "I'm stupid")

  • Seeming emotionally immature when compared to peers

  • Exhibiting sudden changes in speech (Such as stuttering)

  • Experiencing a sudden change in behaviour (Such as doing poorly in school)

  • Developmental regression issues in academic settings

  • Avoidance habits - With peers, teachers, acquaintances

Signs that a parent or caregiver may be emotionally abusive are...

  • Showing little or no concern for a child

  • Talking poorly about a child

  • Purposefully not showing a child any physical affection

  • Not tending to a child's medical needs

Potential Consequences of Emotional and Psychological Abuse

"The issues that stem from emotional abuse can certainly have lasting effects into adulthood if not addressed with early intervention"

The largest issue at hand with this “invisible” form of abuse, is that it is often treated as a private matter, if treated at all. However, the issues that stem from emotional abuse can certainly have lasting effects into adulthood if not addressed with early intervention. For instance, a child may later have difficulties maintaining healthy relationships due to their lack of trust and attachment within early relationships. Mental health issues such as anxiety, post-traumatic disorder, and depression can also stem from this abuse, from experiences with a lack of warmth and the gradual degradation of self-worth.

How Does This Relate to Intergenerational Trauma?

Studies have shown that this type of abuse is more likely to occur in homes that are having financial struggles, have issues with substance use, and are single-parent families. Many times, these risk factors are an ongoing, generational issue that is cyclical and repetitive. Intervention strategies applied as early as possible reduce the risk for victims of such abuse to displace this abuse on their children, and so on.

Written By: Daphna