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Emotional Abuse in Children

Helping Children in Difficult Situations

What is emotional abuse? It doesn’t leave any physical cuts or bruises, and to those who have never been subjected to it may find it a difficult concept to understand. Abuse can take many forms, and often the worst kind of abuse that doesn’t leave scars or broken bones.

Emotional abuse is a relatively undefined term. However, a general understanding of it would be: purposeful psychological harm over a long time frame. Emotional abuse cannot be put down to one or two arguments or episodes or bad parenting; it is something that is done constantly with the intent of upsetting or frightening the individual. It includes, but is not limited to: threats, rejection and humiliation. It can also take the form of coldness, neglect and inconsistency in rules or morals.

In a relationship, the abuser may display jealous behavior, harassment or control their victim by intimidating them or ridiculing them.

It is easy to build in our minds the stereotypical image of the male abuser and the female victim, howeveranyone can be subjected to emotional abuse. As emotional abuse does not take physical force or strength, it is a situation men can also find themselves struggling with at the hands of their female partners. Children are highly susceptible to emotional abuse as parents are in charge and if they step over the line they can emotionally abuse their kids in fits of rage or anger.

In an adult/ child relationship abuse could take the form of rejection, coldness or neglecting the child’s basic needs. Emotional abuse is particularly damaging in children as it can slow cognitive function leading to reduced intelligence, cause child mental health problems and anxiety later in life.


Children are easily manipulated, and their abusers may have installed fear or the idea that they will not be believed if they speak out. Emotional abuse in children can have a negative impact on future relationships. It has been reported that a child who is deprived of emotional nurturing is more likely to grow into an anxious and insecure adult, feeling as though they are ‘unlovable’ or ‘unworthy of love and affection.’

Although this is a term describing non violent behavior, it often goes hand in hand with physical and sexual abuse, and so spotting the often subtle signs that an individual is being mistreated is important in order to help them get the support they need.

Emotional abuse in both adults and children can cause major problems later in life. Individuals who have been emotionally mistreated have higher rates of suicide, mental health problems and criminality.

Some may turn to drink and drugs in order to get some kind of release which only makes the problem worse. Emotional abuse can seriously change a person, and can cause issues with anger, self control and lead to self destructiveness. If you suspect some one is being emotionally abused- talk to a counselor or check for a hotline in your area that can recommend services or options to pursue. 


Emotional Abuse

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