Tag Archives: emotional abuse

What happens if no one does anything to help?

A true story.

This is a post from one of our contributors who wishes to remain anonymous.

In 1951 an unmarried woman (H) aged 23 had a relationship with a married man. Her parents sent her to a home for unwed mothers. In 1952 she gave birth to a daughter (C). Despite the social mores of that time and that place H decided to keep C. C was 2 years old when H’s parents allowed her to return to their home with C.

When C was 9 years old H returned home from work one day and announced that she had got married that afternoon. She had married a man that neither her parents nor her daughter had ever heard of much less met. The next day H brought her new husband (O) to her parent’s house to meet the family. The first shock was that O was 36 years older than H. He was in fact 12 days older than H’s father. Then the family was told that O was renowned in his artistic field.

Within a week H and C had moved into O’s home. C became increasingly unhappy and uncomfortable. Within 6 months what would now be called grooming began in earnest with H’s encouragement. It was ‘artistic’ for C to be urged to wander around only partially clothed. The female body was something to be celebrated, not hidden. C was nearly 11 when the active sexual abuse started. H was in hospital for a few days and O insisted that C sleep in his bed. The abuse continued covertly after H returned home.

Shortly after C turned 12, O informed H that he was divorcing her so that he could marry C. There were jurisdictions nearby where such a marriage would be legal. O presented C with a diamond solitaire ring. He then divorced H. H and C returned to H’s parents’ home.

A few months later O and H remarried. H and C returned to live in his home. H insisted that the diamond solitaire was merely a birthstone ring, not an engagement ring. C was forced to wear it. The sexual abuse resumed immediately. It continued for a couple of more years until O again divorced H. Once again H and C returned to H’s parents’ home.

A short time later O and H re-married for the third time. However this time C was allowed to remain living with her grandparents.

It should go without saying that by this time C was a deeply disturbed and depressed teenager. Although she was safe with her grandparents, she fantasised about how she could escape her excuse for a life.

C went to university when she was 18. During that academic year she made a ‘cry for help’ suicide attempt. She was admitted to the psychiatric ward at the hospital. For the first time she told someone about the abuse. She confided in her doctors. Somehow H discovered what C had said. The hospital bill was being paid for by H’s insurance. She told the doctors that C was lying and immediately instructed the insurers to stop paying the bill. C was discharged the next morning. C finished that academic year but did not return to university the next year. She found a job and a place to live and never returned to live at home again.

O died that summer. H had 3 months to vacate his home. She moved back in with her mother and filled her mother’s house to overflowing with O’s possessions.

C married at 21. She was 23 when she gave birth to her son (J). She was still disturbed and depressed. She probably also developed severe post natal depression. When J was 10 months old, C made an extremely serious suicide attempt. She was only saved by a miracle. She was again admitted to the psychiatric unit but this time it was her insurance paying for it and she received the help she desperately needed.

A couple of months after she was discharged from hospital she and her husband separated. C and J went to live in subsidised housing. C’s mother H also more or less moved in with them. To be fair the initial help that H provided enabled C to continue working. But soon that help turned into H attempting to take over completely. H also began a relationship with a man that reminded C far too much of O. J’s father had no interest in helping or supporting his son.

C took J and moved to another city. She was unable to find a job and a few months later returned to her home town. She stayed with friends. It was at this point that she had to accept that she could not provide for her son or give him the life he deserved. She had to make the most difficult decision of her life. She therefore took J to live with his father’s brother and his wife. They formally adopted him about 18 months later.

The after effects of all of this have plagued C for 30+ years. The demons are still there. C is beginning to confront them. But they are strong.

This is what can happen when child abuse is not acknowledged. This is what can happen when there is no help available. This hurts. It stabs and slices. C wishes there had been a service whose main aim was to protect children at risk when she was a child.

Be thankful for Social Services.

Emotional Abuse

The Systematic Diminishment of Another

The issue of ’emotional harm’ causes concern for some as they don’t think it is a sufficiently serious reason to justify removing a child from home. In this post we will examine some of the definitions of emotional abuse so you can decide for yourself whether or not you think this kind of behaviour can have serious consequences.

Emotional abuse of adults

Domestic Violence UK use the definition put forward by  Andrew Vachss, who described emotional abuse as:

the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event.

Hidden Hurt a website offering information about domestic abuse, say:

Many forms of abuse are obviously cruel. Emotional abuse is more subtle. Quite often such abuse goes unseen, as even the victim does not recognize that she is being abused. Although emotional abuse does not leave black eyes or visible bruises, it is often more seriously damaging to your self-esteem.

Of course, we all have bad days, we can all lose our temper and shout and snap at the people we love or say hurtful, belittling things. But one bad day doesn’t make you a bad parent or a bad person. The key thing is to be honest with yourself – why am I behaving like this? Am I tired or stressed out? Am I sorry? Can I stop? Do I want to stop? Do I think there is a problem?

If you think there is a problem and you want to do something to change it then this is very positive.  Most abusers find it very hard to admit to anyone, least of all themselves, that they are treating other people badly. If you can show you have insight into what is going wrong, you will find it easier to ask for and to accept help.

 

Emotional abuse of children

Andrew Vachss further describes emotional abuse of children  in these terms:

Emotional abuse can be verbal or behavioral, active or passive, frequent or occasional. Regardless, it is often as painful as physical assault. And, with rare exceptions, the pain lasts much longer. A parent’s love is so important to a child that withholding it can cause a “failure to thrive” condition similar to that of children who have been denied adequate nutrition.

Professor Iwaniec (1995) defines emotional abuse towards children as:

hostile or indifferent behaviour which damages a child’s sense of self esteem, degrades a sense of achievement, diminishes a sense of belonging, prevents healthy and vigorous development and takes away a child’s well being.

NSPCC definition of emotional abuse of children

The NSPCC say that emotional abuse includes

  • humiliating or criticising a child
  • disciplining a child with degrading punishments
  • not recognising a child’s own individuality and limitations
    • pushing them too hard
    • being too controlling
  • exposing a child to distressing events or interactions
    • domestic abuse
    • substance misuse
  • faling to promote a child’s social development
    • not allowing them to have friends
  • persistently ignoring a child
  • being absent
  • never expressing positive feelings towards a child
  • never showing any emotions in interactions with a child (emotional neglect).

 

Who can help

If you are worried that a child is being subjected to emotional abuse or any other form of abuse, you can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 for help and advice on what to do.

If you are worried about the way you treat your partner or ex partner, call Respect who offer a confidential and anonymous helpline and who can offer you help, advice and support.

See our links and resources page for further information.

Further reading

  • Research shows that the consequences of emotional and physical abuse can be similar for children.
  • The Government proposed in 2014 to introduce a law that would make emotionally abusing a child a criminal offence – there is a good article discussing this here.
  • See here for  a useful article by Andrew Pack looking at the issue of emotional abuse and how often it appears in care proceedings. 

 

What do people mean when they talk about Emotional Abuse?

Concerns about ’emotional abuse’ play a big part in some people’s anxieties about how the current child protection system operates. Some worry it is too nebulous or uncertain a concept, or it isn’t serious enough to justify removing a child from parents who love him. Some go as far to say that only a criminal conviction for assaulting a child should be reason to remove.

We want to try and dispel some of the myths and fears about ’emotional abuse’ and explain why it is so serious and can be so damaging. Here, an abuse survivor gives her view about the meaning of ’emotional abuse’, the common ways we try to deny it is happening and why it so important to protect children from it.

 

Myth Busting about Emotional Abuse

Something that I was really shocked to learn recently is that hardly anybody has a clue about what emotional/psychological abuse is. Unfortunately, many people are enough powerful to be given space on newspapers and media outlets and they keep spouting nonsense about the matter. Now…. As a child abuse survivor, who stood emotional abuse for years in my family, I will try to bust a few myths and wrong assumptions about it. I am, of course, no journalist or psychiatrist so I will also quote other websites that clearly explained it better than I ever could. I will start with myth busting and then I will list a few things that constitute emotional abuse.

Disclaimer: I use the pronoun ‘he’ all through the article and it is just for convenience. I know very well that women/mothers can be abusive too.

 

Emotional abuse is always better than being physically abused.

No. “Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching,” or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones” (Engel, 1992, p. 10). I’ve really dim memories about my father beating me up, however it happened maybe four times in twenty years. It is not even something that can hurt you once the physical injuries are gone. Emotional scars can. They’re still with me at this day, the abuse lasted nearly twenty years, so be sure I do fully remember it.

 

Emotional abuse doesn’t exist and surely it is not something that you can report to police.

This is an assumption I often came across through all my life. Emotional and psychological abuse are classified as Domestic Violence in England and Wales (DA, Domestic Abuse in Scotland), yet you can’t report the abuser to police if what you’re getting is just emotional abuse. Given that it is not considered something you can get prosecuted for, many people assume it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t work that way. As reported in Women’s Aid website “One problem is that the criminal prosecution process focuses on incidents and ignore the fact that domestic violence involves a pattern of ongoing and controlling behaviour.  The criminal law can also only rarely provide a remedy for emotional abuse – which can also have a serious and lasting impact on a woman or child’s sense well-being and autonomy.”

 

Emotional Abuse is shouting

It can include shouting, but not necessarily. The most skilled abusers can abuse without ever rising their voice. It is what they say that counts, not how loud they say it.

 

I was abused by my husband/boyfriend/partner but children were in another room.

That is an excuse I often heard from my mum and it is pitiful. I lost count of how many times I told her we were not stupid and that her crying and being depressed and sad made us upset too. If a child loves his/her mother, it is quite natural that you are participating to her grief and sorrow and whatever is going on in other rooms. And if one of your parents is getting abuse, unless they are made of stone, it will show and children will see. The assumption “they don’t see, they don’t understand” makes your children feel stupid and encouraged to make assumptions on their own about what happened behind closed doors. DON’T do it, ever.

 

 I can’t be emotionally abused, he never hit me, assaulted or raped me

This is the most famous myth about emotional abuse. Whilst if you get hit or assaulted or raped you are also emotionally abused, it is not true the opposite. You can be emotionally abused although you’ve never been hit/assaulted/raped.

 

He is just depressed/bipolar/a mental health patient, he is not an abuser. We’ll solve it together.

Many people associates ‘abuse’ with ‘mental illness’. The most surprising thing is that usually they don’t go hand in hand at all. Of course, your abuser can also be mentally ill, but to say that all abusers are mentally ill is wrong. It is, very often, true the opposite… indeed many abusers are totally sane! Quoting L. Bancroft here “Their value system is unhealthy, not their psychology. An abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong” (‘Why does he do that?’ by Lundy Bancroft. Its price is cheap and it is an endless source of advice and information, buy it or borrow it if you can. It was an eye opening experience, believe me).

 

He is not well but he is doing everything in his power to get well.

I’ve very bad news for you. Only a few abusers ever recover, because to go through a counselling program that would improve their behaviour also means they’ve to admit they abused someone. That is unlikely to happen. Women like to think they can change their partners as well as children who think they can change their parents’ behaviour towards them. This is what is meant when you hear “risk of emotional harm”. The majority of women think that once the ‘issue’ of abuse is solved, even temporarily, everything will go well. It is just delusion. According to several psychiatrists and also Bancroft, “the majority of abusive men do NOT make deep and lasting changes even in a high-quality abuser program”. If your partner/husband is abusive and mentally ill, DO keep in mind they can be intertwined but if he gets treatment for his disease doesn’t automatically mean he won’t be abusive anymore.

 

He’s abusing me because he loves me. It is his way of loving me.

No, no and then.. NO! He is abusing you because he is angry, controlling and well… an abuser! Abuse is NOT love. It took me forty years to understand that but I’m now 200% sure that any loving relationship is an abuse-free one. “Many people reserve their best behaviour and kindest treatment for their loved ones, including their partners. Should we accept the idea that these people feel love less strongly, or have less passion, than an abuser does? Nonsense.” (L. Bancroft 2002)