Tag Archives: Myth busting

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)

Views from a Disabled Parent about getting help and support

 Being disabled doesn’t make you a bad parent.

  • You may feel very worried, or a failure or scared that ss will think you are a bad parent BUT anyone who says you are by definition a bad/ neglectful parent because you are disabled is discriminating against you. It’s not legal to say this.
  • ask for an assessment from adult ss before anything else takes place. You can self refer or ask your GP to refer (GP channels urgent referrals and get you seen quicker).
  • adult ss will send an assessor out to your home to do a thorough assessment of your needs. It’s important to find out your council’s criteria and levels for providing help.
  • after your needs have been assessed adult ss will decide whether you’re entitled to any help. It’s in their interests to score your needs as low as possible, as they are legally bound to provide help if you’re assessed as needing it.
  • its adult ss responsibility to meet your needs as a disabled person in all your roles (personal care, as a parent etc). This could be through direct help (providing council or agency carers), or via direct payments (where you have a budget to spend on your care). Sometimes they may refer you on to other services such as charities and home start organisations.
  • The budget for your care should come from adult ss but could in some circs be topped up by children’s services.
  • the theory is that if your needs are being met as a disabled parent, your child should have no remaining needs unmet. However there are situations where councils agree a shared budget.
  • Do find out very clearly on what grounds you are receiving help. Do not agree that your child is at risk of neglect just because of your disability.

Mythbusting – why is it important

The contributors to this site all have a lot of experience of the system, from many different perspectives. We agree that sometimes professionals can act in a way that isn’t professional and this has the potential to do a lot of damage and cause a lot of stress and fear. However it is very important to remember that there is no ‘conspiracy’ and we hope this site will help you understand why certain things might be happening to you and your family.

We have a whole page dedicated to   ‘common concerns we hear from parents’  which we hope will reassure you.

We also direct you to this very useful advice from the suesspiciousminds blog that a lot of parents have told us that they have found very helpful.


We accept the professionals involved may not always get things right….

Lawyers, Social Workers and doctors are after all just other human beings. And we all have good days and bad days, we can all make mistakes. The mistakes that the professionals make however do have the potential to cause enormous harm. So we need to look out for bad practice and deal with it.

Sometimes doctors don’t agree about the medical evidence. Sometimes it is very difficult to predict what people will do, as we can see from the Serious Case Review into the death of Mick Philpott’s children.


what we don’t accept are the views of some that the whole system is just corrupt; that SW routinely lie to take babies away because they get cash bonuses paid for doing so. We don’t accept it is ever good advice to leave the country rather than work with Children’s Services.


What we hope to do here is set out some of the more commonly repeated ‘myths’ that we think do the most harm. We are always open to discussion about what should be included here or what you think is unfairly included here. We just ask that the discussion is polite and based on evidence, wherever possible.


What we think is really bad advice….

Again we re-direct you to the suesspiciousminds blog  who already has some really good advice on this subject.

However we do want to say that the most important thing you can do is work with social services and not against them.  There are a lot of scaremongers out there who will tell you differently but usually their advice (flee the country, refuse to work with social services etc) only makes things worse for you and your children. If in doubt for the best advice consult your legal team. They are not part of a conspiracy. Honest!

This is an example of a serious case review when things went very badly for a family because they did not want to work with Children’s Services:


And here are the views of one mother who went through the system and kept her child

These “theories”, the statements being bandied around as fact yet without evidence, the advice that is being given to flee, to run, not to work openly and honestly, not to seek help when it’s needed, to be coached to say the “right” thing, never to trust a system or it’s workers – it’s not helpful to us, it frightens us even more. We hear these statements and believe them – because we are threatened with losing the most precious thing to us. And in a lot of cases we believe them because it’s easier than confronting our own failings as parents.

Yes, there are mistakes and miscarriages of justice. Nobody denies that. And it’s abhorrent and I for one feel sick for those children and parents.

But they are in the minority. It just feels like they aren’t because the public is much more likely to hear about them via the media.

As I said upthread, ss took my baby at birth. I believed that to be the wrong thing for MY CHILD. So I contested their plan of “forced adoption” and – lo and behold – justice was done and – very very recently – I won. I was steadfast, I did not give up.

But – more importantly – I confronted the reasons why this was happening to my family. And I worked and worked and worked to repair the damage I had done. I educated myself on the law, I searched desperately for advice […] I eventually put together bits and pieces of advice, put my case together and fought. In my search I came across the Theorists. They absolutely terrified me. I took their advice on board – noting that the path of staying, confronting, fighting was the much more difficult option.

I can categorically say if I had taken the Theorists advice, I would have lost my baby forever.

Having the balls to stay, to fight, to work in partnership with the very people opposing me meant my baby and I are to be together.