It is reported that almost 75% of teenage girls and 50% of teenage boys have experienced emotional abuse in a relationship, and every 1 in 11 adults (approximately 3.8 million) in England and Wales report having experienced emotional abuse from a parent before the age of 16 years.
Emotional abuse has been a rising cause of concern over the years and with the last year being largely spent indoors, this has only increased. The events that take place behind closed doors cannot be changed without awareness and understanding. Therefore, in order to take the first step into preventing the effects of emotional abuse in children and teenagers, it must be defined and understood.
Defined as the continual emotional damage of an individual often characterised by humiliation and attempts to undermine, emotional abuse is also known as psychological abuse. Emotional abuse can be categorised into three main sub-groups – verbal abuse, rejection and gaslighting. Verbal abuse involves attempting to subdue or hurt through strongly worded speech. Rejection occurs when any idea voiced by the child is rejected without consideration, giving no value to their opinions or thoughts. Gaslighting takes place when the child or teenager is led to believe that their thoughts and opinions are inconsequent; in extreme cases this may even lead to them doubting their own mental stability. Emotional abuse also involves other aspects such as public humiliation, bullying and intimidation. While it is difficult to frame the exact definition of abuse, it is possible to identify which acts are considered to fall under emotional abuse. Moreover, while an act may not be seen as abusive at first glance, it may have devastating repercussions for the child who is subject to it. Such acts include casual put-downs that may seem harmless but actually work to destroy the child’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth.
It is important to emphasise that emotional abuse need not be practiced over a long period of time for it to make an impact on a child’s life. A few minutes of bullying or gaslighting are sufficient to cause a lifetime of doubt and insecurity. With this in mind, it is the complete responsibility of adults in positions of power to realise the effect of simple interactions that can make or break a child’s future.
In the case of children and teenagers, many figures of authority hold positions of power that can be exploited, resulting in psychological damage. Parents, guardians, teachers and similar representatives of authority are responsible for the emotional abuse experienced by children and teenagers. As adults with a direct responsibility of those under legal age, parents hold the most powerful position over children and while it is assumed that is power is used positively, more often than not it is exploited.
The primary aim of an emotionally abusive individual is to undermine the existence of those they harm. This is achieved through manipulation and although the effects of emotional abuse aren’t visible like those of physical violence, the impact is just as extreme. The reason there is less focus on the debilitating effect of emotional abuse is because it is intangible and can’t be physically shown. However, emotional abuse takes its toll on the child in the long term and may be the root of developing further mental health problems. As children and vulnerable and subject to manipulation at the hands of the adults around them, it is relatively easy to damage a child’s psyche with a few words. It must be noted that even when subjected to emotional abuse, rarely does the child question the perpetrator of the abuse. This means that when a child or teenager is psychologically abused, they are more likely to turn their negative emotions inward and cause further harm to themselves rather than lashing out at the adult who abuses them.
Emotional abuse need not manifest in the form of active damage in order to harm the child. Neglect and isolation can also be considered as part of emotional abuse as they also result in psychological damage that is often irreversible. Feeling unloved, uncared for and neglected could lead to child growing into an adult with a cripplingly low self-esteem and a desperate need to please those around them. It could lead to the development of an inferiority complex, depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. In addition to this, the child could also develop an abusive relationship with food or engage in substance abuse; these are the possible results of the child trying to bring a semblance of control into their adult life to make up for the lack of it during childhood, paving a dangerous path into extreme behaviour that could manifest as OCD.
As illustrated throughout this article, the effects of emotional abuse are varied, unpredictable and rampant in the current state of society. They are easily triggered and difficult to resolve. The main way in which to fight the rise and prominence of emotional abuse is to report it wherever you suspect it, as it may help to save a child or teenager from long-lasting negative consequences.
If you or someone you know is being subject to emotional abuse, contact these organisations for help:
https://www.childline.org.uk/ - Childline is a service specifically created to help children and teenagers tackle any issues they may have in their lives. Their support reaches beyond emotional abuse, and they can be contacted through telephone at 0800 1111.
https://www.themix.org.uk/ - The Mix is a service that provides support for anyone under the age of 25, on a wide range of issues including emotional abuse. They can be contacted through telephone at 0800 808 4994, through online chat or through email.
https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/ - YoungMinds covers a range of issues that children and teenagers face, providing important information on the steps to take to maintain a healthy mind. They can be contacted through the YoungMinds Crisis Messenger, the link to which is on their website, or you can text YM to 85258 to receive help from a trained volunteer.