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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 Unexplained sadness, angry outbursts, withdrawn behavior, and poor performance in school are just a few of the symptoms that a child is being abused emotionally, which can be caused from shaming,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 June 21, 2019

How to Deal with Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

How to Deal with Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

We all lose our temper from time to time. It’s a natural part of our emotions. And expressing anger is actually a healthy thing to do in our relationships with others. Expressing our differences in opinion allows us to have healthy conflict and many times come to an agreement or understanding that works for everyone.

That being said, too much anger is counterproductive. Expressing anger inappropriately can be harmful to relationships, both personal and at work. Inappropriate in this context can be too much anger, too often, or a times that are only going to make things worse, not better. In this article we will look at how to deal with anger and better control your emotions.

Let’s take a deeper look at how to deal with anger.

Expressing Anger: Unhealthy vs Healthy Ways

Anger is a natural and normal part of almost any relationship. This includes relationships with your spouse or significant other, kids, bosses, friends, family, etc. Anger provides us with valuable information, we just have to be willing to listen to it. It clues us in to areas where we disagree with others and things that need to be changed or altered.

3 Common Unhealthy Ways to Express Anger

Here’re some common yet unhealthy ways to express anger that you should avoid:

Being Passive-Aggressive

This is a term many of us are familiar with. Passive-aggressive behavior happens when someone is angry but uses indirect communication to express their anger.

Some of the more common passive-aggressive behaviors include the silent treatment, making comments about someone behind their back, being grumpy, moody, or pouting, or simply not doing tasks or assignments that they should.

This is a passive-aggressive person’s way of showing their anger. Not very productive but extremely common.

Poorly Timed

This is something I’ve been guilty of. I tend to be pretty open and out there with my emotions. As such, I’ve been known to express my anger in a situation where it can’t really do any good.

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An example would be getting angry at one person in front of a crowd of people. All that does is make people uncomfortable and shuts them down. It’s not a healthy way to express anger or disagreement with someone.

Ongoing Anger

Being angry all the time is most often a symptom of something else. It’s healthy and normal to express anger when you disagree with someone. However, if someone is angry most of the time and always seems to be expressing their anger to everyone around them, this won’t serve them well.

As a matter of fact, over time, people will start to avoid this person and have as little contact as possible. The reason being is no one likes being around someone who is angry all the time and it’s a no-win situation.

3 Healthy Ways to Express Anger

What about the healthy ways to adapt? Some healthy ways to express anger in our relationships include:

Being Honest

Expressing your anger or disagreement in an honest fashion. By this, I mean be truthful about what it is that is making you angry. Sometimes this will entail walking away and thinking about it for a bit before you respond. But that’s okay because you want to be honest.

Don’t say you’re mad at something someone did or said when it’s really something else that upset you.

Being Direct

Similar to being honest, being direct is a healthy way to express anger.

Don’t talk around something that is making you angry. Don’t say that one thing is making you angry when it’s really something else. And don’t stack items on top of each other so you can unload on someone about 10 different things 6 months from now.

Be direct and upfront about what is making you angry. Ensure you are expressing your anger to the person who upset you or you are angry at, not to someone else. This is very counterproductive.

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Being Timely

When something makes you angry, it’s much better to express it in a timely manner. Don’t keep it bottled up inside of you, that’s only going to do more harm than good.

Think of the marriages that seem to go up in flames out of nowhere when the reality is someone kept quiet for years until they hit their breaking point.

Expressing anger as it occurs is a much healthier way of using anger to help us guide our relationships in the moment.

How To Deal With Anger

So if you feel angry, how should you deal with it right at that moment?

1. Slowdown

Maybe this has happened to you as well. From time to time, I receive an email at work that makes me so angry that steam is probably pouring out of my ears.

In my less restrained moments, I have been known to fire off a quick response. And that typically has ended about as well as you might imagine.

When I actually walk away from my computer and go do something else for a while, I am able to calm down and think more rationally. After that happens, I am able to respond in a more appropriate and productive manner.

2. Keep It to the “I’s”

As in it’s you that is upset. You are upset because of something. Don’t accuse people of making you upset. You don’t want to place blame by saying something like “You always want to upset me because you don’t put away your dishes”. Say something more like “Having dirty dishes laying on the counter upsets me – can you work with me to come to a solution?”.

When you are accusatory towards someone, all that does is increase the tension. This doesn’t usually do anything except make your anger rise higher.

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3. Workout

I have definitely used this technique when I have been upset. If something happens that angers you, see if you have the opportunity to burn off some of the anger.

Being able to hit the gym to get a hard workout in is great. If this isn’t an option, see if you can go for a run or a bike ride. If you are at work when you become angry and the weather permits, at least go outside for a brisk walk.

Besides working some of your anger out through exercise, this also helps to give your mind a chance to work through some ways to address what it is that upset you.

4. Seek Help When Needed

There are times when we could all use some help. Life can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s perfectly fine to seek some help from an expert if it will help you get back to a healthy balance.

If you find that you are angry all the time, it might be a good idea to go talk to an expert. They can give you some sound advice and ideas on how to get your anger to a more manageable, and healthy level.

How To Control Your Emotions

Having out of control emotions other than anger can lead to similar challenges in our lives. If you find yourself with emotional overflow here’s some ideas to help get your emotions under control.

Practice Relaxation

We all seem to lead incredibly busy lives, and that’s a good thing if we are loving the life we are living. That being said, it is very beneficial to our physical and mental well-being to take time out for relaxation. That can mean spending time doing things that help us calm down and relax like being around people we enjoy. It could be making time for things that help bring us balance like a healthy diet and exercise.

Many people incorporate techniques such as yoga and meditation to calm their minds and balance their emotions. Whatever your choice is, ensure you take time out to relax.

Laugh

Incorporating humor and laughter on a regular basis will help keep emotions in check and things in a healthy perspective.

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Remember, life isn’t a race. It’s a journey meant to be enjoyed fully along the way. Make sure you take time out to laugh and have fun.

Surround yourself with people that like to laugh and enjoy life. Don’t work at a job that just causes you stress which can lead to anger. Work at something you enjoy doing and brings a smile to your face.

Be Grateful

I was just having this conversation with one of my daughters who was stressed about school. We talked about the importance of being grateful for the many things in our lives that we seem to take for granted.

It’s easy to focus on the bad in life and the things that cause us negative emotions. It’s vitally important to remind ourselves of all the wonderful things in life that bring us positive emotions, things that we easily forget because we get caught up in the whirlwind of day to day life.

Take time out each day to remind yourself of a few things you are grateful for.

Final Thoughts

Life can be overwhelming at times. We seem to have constant pressure to achieve more and to always be on the go. People we are around and situations we are in can cause stress, anger, and negative emotions. At times, it can seem to be too much and we get angry and our emotions start to get out of control.

During these times, keep in mind that life is an incredible journey, full of wonder and things that bring us smiles and joy. When you find yourself angry more often than is healthy, take time out to remember the good things in life — the things that we seem to forget easily yet bring us so much positive energy and emotions.

Use some of the tips included here to help with how to deal with anger and better control your emotions. You’ll be glad you did.

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Featured photo credit: Patrick Fore via unsplash.com

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