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Research Finds Emotional Abuse Is As Destructive As Physical Abuse To Children

Research Finds Emotional Abuse Is As Destructive As Physical Abuse To Children

It’s widely known that physical child abuse has long-lasting and far-reaching consequences for people, from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression to toxic relationships.What few realize is that emotional abuse in children can be as damaging and insidious as physical violence.

Recent research demonstrates that emotional maltreatment destroys a child as thoroughly as physical harm.Utilizing data from a previous study, David Vachon concluded that “although some people assume physical abuse is more harmful than other types of abuse, we found that they are associated with similar consequences.” A pair of doctors at the University of Minnesota and the University of Rochester validated the study, finding, through working at a summer camp for low-income families, that different types of abuse share “equivalent, broad, and universal effects.”

What is emotional abuse, and how can it be identified?

Child abuse falls primarily into three categories: Physical, sexual, and emotional. While each chief form of abuse is addled with consequences that often shadow a person for life, identifying emotional abuse in a child presents complications.Far less evident than physical abuse, emotional maltreatment involves a broader spectrum of actions and often encompasses undetected violence. Unexplained sadness, angry outbursts, withdrawn behavior, and poor performance in school are just a few of the symptoms that a child is being abused emotionally, which can be caused from shaming, indifference, emotional and physical withholding of love, as well as unjust punishment and neglect.

Andrew Vachss, a lawyer and advocate who has devoted his life to protecting children, describes emotional powerfully and poignantly here:

“…of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest–lasting of all.

Emotional abuse is 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. It is designed to reduce a child’s self–concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.

Emotional abuse can be as deliberate as a gunshot: “You’re fat. You’re stupid. You’re ugly.”

Emotional abuse can be as random as the fallout from a nuclear explosion. In matrimonial battles, for example, the children all too often become the battlefield. I remember a young boy, barely into his teens, absently rubbing the fresh scars on his wrists. “It was the only way to make them all happy,” he said. His mother and father were locked in a bitter divorce battle, and each was demanding total loyalty and commitment from the child.

Emotional abuse can be active. Vicious belittling:

“You’ll never be the success your brother was.” Deliberate humiliation: “You’re so stupid. I’m ashamed you’re my son.”

It also can be passive, the emotional equivalent of child neglect—a sin of omission, true, but one no less destructive.

And it may be a combination of the two, which increases the negative effects geometrically.

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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.”

Sound terrifying? Read on.

The sweeping, long-lasting impact of emotional abuse

To think that emotional abuse has a statute is faulty: The Journal of Pediatric Care found that of 3,000 adults with a history of major depression, a staggering 93% reported emotional maltreatment, while 31% were determined to have suffered both emotional and physical abuse.

“Emotional maltreatment, even more than physical and sexual abuse, may predispose a person to developing depression or anxiety.”

Troublesome? Certainly. While the enduring impact of emotional abuse has not been studied widely, reports across the board have determined the devastating effects it can have on an individual. Reactive Attachment Disorder–or RAD–is just one manifestation of the traumatic impacts of early childhood emotional maltreatment. Defined as “markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate social relatedness that usually begins before the age of 5,” RAD is a rare, but potentially catastrophic, disorder. As infants and children, those with RAD cling indiscriminately to strangers and demonstrate developmental delay and disabilities; as adults, RAD can present itself as a failure to socialize appropriately.

More common than RAD, however, are a list of problems that are just as damaging: Anxiety, sleep problems, post-traumatic stress, and depression–not to mention substance abuse, obesity, suicidal ideations, and interpersonal complications. As one emotionally abused woman remarked, “I keep looking for the affection I was denied as a child in men.” Her choice in partners, she confessed, was “wildly inappropriate and careless,” and led to physical abuse, psychological torment, and too many heartaches to count.

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The effect of emotional abuse on intimate relationships

Indeed, interpersonal relationships seem to take the biggest toll when it comes to adults who were emotionally abused as children. In some cases, the abused adult will shy away from intimacy out of fear of the unfamiliar, while others–like the woman mentioned above–will develop indiscretion, anger, and aggression towards those with whom they become involved. Why? Because a healthy precedent has not been set. As one study put it,

“being exposed to emotional abuse is a predictor to developing ‘overt forms of aggression.'”

In other words, the anger an individual experienced but didn’t know how to express as a child builds over time and is released in the unhealthiest of manners–through outrage and violence.

The indiscriminate nature of emotional maltreatment

Certain socio-economic classes determine, in part, the rate of emotional abuse in children. Parents with limited means–or none at all–are more likely to be stressed out and financially strapped, and that anger and anxiety is often exerted on their children. However, a study at Midwestern University revealed that

“emotional abuse and neglect each continued to exert an influence on later symptoms of anxiety and depression even after controlling for gender, income, parental alcoholism, and other forms of child abuse.” (Wright, Crawford and Del Castillo, 2009).

This corroborates the findings of Vachon about the widespread effects of emotional abuse regardless of gender, race and/or ethnicity.

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Healing emotional wounds

Despite these recent discoveries–which might make many who spot a child that is alone and frozen in watchfulness think twice–the indiscriminate nature of emotional abuse and its lasting consequences need not deter individuals who have either suffered from it or witnessed it in another. Prompt identification and appropriate invention are assuredly key, but treating it after-the-fact has also shown to make a tremendous impact on one’s ability to heal. Vachss points out that,

“if you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self–help until you learn to self–reference. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what “goodness” really is. Adopting the abuser’s calculated labels—”You’re crazy. You’re ungrateful. It didn’t happen the way you say”—only continues the cycle.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life–choices: learn to self–reference or remain a victim. When your self–concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.”

Whether you are the victim, the abuser, or the witness to an unfortunate child, one fact remains the same: Scars are not just skin-deep, and there exists a salve in our souls.

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Last Updated on August 15, 2018

When You Start to Enjoy Being Single, These 12 Things Will Happen

When You Start to Enjoy Being Single, These 12 Things Will Happen

Being single can make you weary, especially if you didn't initiate a breakup, it could be easy to get carried away with reminiscing and what-if scenarios. Staying caught up in the past is toxic to your growth, however, and interferes with your ability to move forward. Single life can be self-actualizing and enjoyable, but you need to embrace it first. No matter where you are on your journey in coming to terms with being single, the following 12 fantastic things will happen when you accept it.

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1. You will be more focused.

    Once you start to treasure your new-found freedom, you will realize that taking time for yourself will show you what is most important in your life. Enjoying your single time will make what you want clearer and reveal which areas of your life you should build upon. Additionally, studies show that experiencing something alone results in our brain forming a more clear and longer lasting memory.

    2. You will be more active.

      Studies show that unmarried people are also more fit than their hitched counterparts. Let yourself welcome being single, and use this time to your benefit. You'll be more confident and in control when you do meet someone special.

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      3. You will be more likely to have high goals.

        Being single means you can't settle. In case someone who captures your heart comes along, you need to be at the top of your game. By embracing your time being single, you will be more able to pursue your goals and work towards a more complete, fulfilling future.

        4. You will be more creative.

          Spending time alone is also linked to an increase in creative thinking. Spending more time alone will force you to be a deeper thinker, and could lead you to solutions and projects you wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

          5. Your schedule will be your own.

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            Once you get past feeling lonely and realize how wonderful being single is, you will become aware of one of the best perks – your schedule is now completely your own. No longer do you need to have nights out approved, nor will long days at work get interrupted. Relax into loving your single life because nothing is quite as liberating as deciding every moment of your weekly schedule.

            6. You will likely save money.

              Dating is a great way to wave goodbye to all your hard earned cash. When you're with someone, there's nothing more important than impressing them, including your income. However, when the relationship fizzles, you realize how this tactic doesn't pay off. Not only are we more prone to spending when dating, married couples are more likely to have credit card debt than unmarried singles. So don't get depressed when you're eating cheap meals alone – it's really a form of investing in your future!

              7. You won't need to compromise on entertainment.

                Particularly if your significant other tends to have different tastes than you, being single can be a blessing. As soon as you can appreciate being single, you will realize how freeing it is to always watch exactly what you want. There is no longer any need to skimp on your favorite movies, plays, or TV shows that others don't appreciate.

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                8. You will have more time for your family.

                  Another thing you will realize once you learn to relish being single is you now have much more time for family. Especially when it comes to older relatives, time spent with them truly is precious. Make the most of your single time by reconnecting with family members in your life you may have been neglecting.

                  9. You have more time for your friends.

                    Once you start basking in your single glory, you will also find that you have more time for your friends. Not only will increased free time let you reconnect with friends you may have neglected while being half of a couple, studies also show that married people have much weaker social lives than those who are unmarried.

                    10. You will find new haunts in your city.

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                      Once you start to enjoy your single life again you will also find that you have plenty of time to rediscover your city. Where relationships see us fall into the same habit of favorite spots to drink, eat, or dance, when you're on your own you will naturally start to explore fresh venues again.

                      11. You'll find more interests.

                        Similarly, enjoying your time being single will give you more time to consider new hobbies and interests. Instead of repeating the same go-to dates, you can now freely explore activities that really make you passionate.

                        12. You will be more aware of what you want.

                          Ultimately, taking time to ourselves is an important ingredient in discovering what type of person is our ideal match, or what career we can happily commit to. By delighting in your uninhibited life, you are more able to experiment and thereby find out what works for you and what doesn't. Don't look at being single as a drawback, since learning more about yourself and finding out what makes you tick are crucial in forming balanced, healthy relationships in the future.

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