National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Emotional Child Abuse Is Real and Its Effects Last Long Into Adulthood


This hit close to home. Throughout childhood and adolescence, I experienced near constant emotional abuse. I remember feeling trapped; my inner critic certain that I was a “bad” child. Years later I battle my inner critic. I hear the critic less, yet I still hear the whisper. This post did a remarkable job explaining emotional child abuse. I found it to be a great resource, especially considering how little we hear about it.

The Invisible Scar

Editor’s note: April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month. The Invisible Scar is dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse, so in honor of this month’s focus, we’ll revisit the definition of emotional child abuse, types of emotional child abuse, and its effects for those who are not yet familiar with the fact that emotional child abuse is real.

[photo credit] [photo credit] When child-advocate lawyer Andrew Vachss was asked, “What is the worst case you ever handled?” when protecting abused children, he answered, “Of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest-lasting of all.”

When compared to physical child abuse or sexual child abuse, why is emotional child abuse the worst kind?

It’s because emotional child abuse seeks to destroy the person’s very being.

“Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another,” Vachss writes in You…

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10 thoughts on “National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Emotional Child Abuse Is Real and Its Effects Last Long Into Adulthood

  1. Alaina says:

    I agree that “Of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest-lasting of all.”

    My mother trying to gas our whole family to death was extremely traumatizing – but it did not damage my psyche nearly so much as her day in, day out, constantly telling me every frigging thing that was “WRONG” with me, on top of her periodically telling me “I love you, of course, because you are my daughter. I just don’t like you!” When I was about eleven I finally worked up the courage to ask my mother WHY she did not like me. I wanted to know, so I could change whatever was wrong with me, you see. But she replied, “It’s just you, it’s just the way you are.” Later she added, “It’s the way you think.” How does a child change that? How does anyone?

    Well-meaning busy-bodies have advised me to “just get over it,” because my mother’s emotional abuse happened in the distant past. But it’s not in the past for me. Although it happens a lot less frequently now than it used to, I still sometimes hear her hateful judgmental voice inside my head, like an irritating song you can’t stop thinking about no matter how hard you try. I’m in my early 60s and I can still hear it! Also, my mother’s last hate campaign against me happened less than four years ago, in May 2011, when she sent me a letter that was over sixty pages long, telling me everything that was wrong about me, and she sent copies of her hate-my-scapegoat letter to others in my family (which is why her sister, my aunt, finally wrote my mother completely out of her life). So my point is that my mother’s emotional abuse isn’t in the “distant past” at all. For me it has been lifelong, and I carry it with me everywhere I go.

    I’ve spent most of my life struggling to believe that I am “good enough.” Good enough to be liked, good enough to be loved, good enough to refuse to be abused, and good enough to be treated with simple human courtesy.

    Why any “mother” would deliberately destroy her child’s self-esteem, I can’t understand.

    • bdlheart says:

      People who haven’t lived it sometimes seem t lo have a difficult time understanding how much words hurt. The old saying “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt” is simply not true.

    • bdlheart says:

      Good lord. Hadn’t finished the last comment before accidentally hit send. The saying isn’t true especially if your own mother says such hurtful things. For example, I will never forget when my mom called me a “little bitch” because I was laughing at a TV show when my grandpa had recently died. He was the world to me and I remember feeling so much shame and confusion from these words. Sometimes I still slip and call myself this when at heart I’m far from it. Just human. I too hear you about never feeling good enough. Often I’m critical of my ability to write. This block has prevented me from working freelance writing jobs I desperately need to pay back student loans, etc. My goal this week is to sign up to freelance again with Elancer. That was so cruel that your mother wrote that letter. Hugs and more hugs!

  2. ahardreset says:

    It has taken me years of therapy to get to a point where my inner critic stopped sounding like a refrain of my mother’s voice. Even better was the day that it became, as you put it, a “whisper.” Now, that whisper is barely audible. Soon, it will be nonexistent. I am not sure I will ever understand why my mother acted the way she did, even when she was told that it hurt me. I don’t understand how any parent could.

    • bdlheart says:

      It is difficult to understand a mother harming a child. Unfortunately in my family as I’m sure in many families it was simply passed down from each generation. Somewhere in their minds it was justifiable because they knew no other way. I never had children but I’ve worked with them for many years and I don’t understand how you could hurt them. Thank you for commenting and giving me hope that one day the voice will no longer be audible.

  3. giasuniverse says:

    Thank you for this Bdlheart! I feel for you Alaina! It is very hard to get over something like that when it is still happening! It is very hard to get out of that pattern of behavior with your abuser. I know, my own father keeps on doing it, and I would have gladly just forgot all about it, but he won’t stop being a bully. I finally came to a conclusion that I am done trying and going there to visit my parents to keep the little of what’s left of our family together.
    I will no longer put myself in that situation. I will still see him, and if he is civilized-fine, the moment he starts I am removing myself from there immediately. He will not have that hold over me any more. Oh, and he himself told me that I should have been over it by now, because it was long time ago-his own admission that he did it, but no remorse, no apology, just further attacks on me-I am the over reacting weirdo that should surely get over it by now…. Oh well at least I don’t have to deal with it now, I am very far away and with people that love me and are very kind to me. Keep being strong ladies you are amazing and very special! xoxox

    • bdlheart says:

      It is as though we continue to be children in their minds. I have to be careful not to get caught up in it too much now because it quickly takes me to a sometimes dangerously low place. Gia you are doing the right thing distancing yourself. So glad you are surrounded by loving supportive people now. Yes Alaina is an amazing survivor. You too are amazing! Thanks for the compliment.

      • giasuniverse says:

        Yes that’s so true, but I was also guilty of turning into that kid every time I was near him, but not anymore! Thank you for your support and your writing! xox

  4. giasuniverse says:

    And yeah the disbelief and constant asking why would your parent be so horrible to you is with me all the time, I don’t get it at all. I thought maybe I am not his kid. A therapist says there might not be any reason-only that he enjoys doing it as it gives him a sense of power. Since he is a sad person disappointed with his own life.
    I also identify with your not good enough feelings, yep…the constant need to prove myself. Also when something nice happens to me I feel guilty to enjoy it like I don’t deserve it. But I am getting better. We are all deserving and good enough!!!! Lots of love xoxox

  5. bdlheart says:

    “Sense of power” says it perfectly. When something good happens I don’t always know how to believe it. I’m getting better in baby steps. Hugs and love to you!

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