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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 Unexplained sadness, angry outbursts, withdrawn behavior, and poor performance in school are just a few of the symptoms that a child is being abused emotionally, which can be caused from shaming,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 October 5, 2020

How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

We are given life with many opportunities to make it everything we want it to be and more. If you find that you’ve slipped into living a boring life, it’s time to take a hard look at what you’ve been doing and what you can start doing now to make it more interesting.

Maybe you’ve been doing the same thing and living the same life for too long, or maybe your daily routine is limiting your growth and happiness. Whatever your reason is, the following list can definitely make any day or life more interesting. Some of them are silly, while some are more meaningful, so hopefully just reading the list makes your life less boring and sparks your creativity.

Let’s dive in the list to quit your boring life and start living an interesting (and meaningful) one!

1. Channel Your 7-Year-Old Self

Imagine being a young child. Life was never boring, was it? That’s because children harness every ounce of creativity they have in order to try new things.

What would your 7-year-old self want to do in this moment? Maybe they’d pick up a paintbrush and try to paint the landscape around them. May they would go outside and build something with random materials around the yard. Maybe they would raid the fridge and put together a dish they’ve never seen before.

Just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean any of this stuff will be less enjoyable than you remember it. Give yourself permission to play and use your creativity to its fullest.

2. Go Play With Kids

Speaking of little kids, if you have your own (or a niece or nephew), go play with them!

Kids are absolutely hilarious, so it’s simply impossible to be bored when you’re around them. They also keep things so simple, and we can really stand to be reminded of this and stop allowing ourselves to get bogged down in boring details.

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3. Play Cell Phone Roulette

You’ll need at least one buddy for this, but this is a great way to avoid a boring life. Scroll through the contacts in your phone, stop on a random one, and (if it feels right) call the person.

You could spark an incredible catch-up session or, at the very least, remind someone that you’re thinking of them. Neither are boring.

4. Fill out a Pack of Thank-You Cards

This is a great part of a gratitude practice. We often forget to thank the people who do things for us, especially if we have come to expect those things. For example, have you ever thought about thanking your mom for that weekly phone call? Or thanking your sister for always sending you a homemade gift on your birthday?

Take time to think of at least 5 people you would like to say thank you to and write out a card. You could even write them out for random people in your neighborhood, like the local librarian, a teacher at your child’s school, or the accountant at your bank.

Anyone and everyone appreciates being thanked for their efforts.

5. Sign up for a Class

Nowadays, there are classes for everything. To make it as interesting as possible, try finding one that you wouldn’t normally consider doing, like salsa lessons, improv, or boxing.

Otherwise, try to find a course on something you’ve always wanted to learn, like pottery, photography, or a foreign language course.

What’s good about joining an interest class is that you will also meet new people, which will add even more interest to your life!

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6. Talk to Your Grandparents About Their Lives

We often underestimate how interesting the elderly are. You can rest assured that any elderly person you talk to will not have had a boring life! Take some time to talk to them and hear their interesting stories. You may even find that this motivates you to go out and find your own interesting experiences.

7. Get up on Stage at an Open Mic Night

Whether you’re funny or not, get up on stage. If you’re not into comedy, find an open mic that focuses on reading poetry or short stories and bring your own. These groups tend to be incredibly supportive for anyone who is willing to be brave enough to get up and try.

8. Do Something for Someone Else

Showing kindness automatically makes you feel good, but doing these small acts will also help to ensure that you don’t have a boring life. Try doing one or two things each week that are outside your normal routine.

For example, you could make a batch of cookies for the mailperson or help your elderly neighbor organize one of their rooms. There are a million ways to show kindness to those around you. Tap into your creativity and find your own or use some of the ideas from the image below[1].

Do random acts of kindness to avoid living a boring life.

    9. Start a DIY Project in Your Home

    If you have your own place, there is always a project that needs to get done. Many people simply pay for someone else to do it in order to avoid the hassle, but taking on a DIY project can make a boring life much more interesting.

    It doesn’t have to be super complicated. Maybe you repaint an old vase or build a spice shelf out of used pallets.

    If you need ideas, you can also check out these 30 Awesome DIY Projects that You’ve Never Heard of.

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    10. Plan a Weekend Trip or an All-Out Vacation

    This will give you something to look forward to. One study actually found that most travelers are happiest before a vacation[2]. Therefore, simply planning a trip will boost your mood, even if you can’t actually take the vacation right now.

    Even if you don’t have the time or money to go on a vacation, plan for a staycation, which is also fun and relaxing!

    11. Go People Watching

    Find a bench in a crowded area (centers of transportation like airports, bus stops, and train stations are great for this!) and just observe[3].

    People are infinitely interesting. Try to imagine what their lives are like, what they’re thinking, or where they’re going. You’ll never know if you’re right, but it will give you something to focus on and also help you practice empathy.

    12. Eat Something You’ve Never Eaten Before

    You can try that new Moroccan restaurant down the street and pick the most interesting dish on the menu. Or, you can raid your own fridge and throw together a dish you’ve never made before.

    If you’re up for a trip to the grocery store, try picking up a new fruit or veggie from the produce section. You may find a new food that you love!

    13. Dance

    You can get your friends together for a night on the town or just pull up a video on YouTube and bust a move from your own living room.

    If you’re feeling extra brave, you can even dance in public or join a flash mob.

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    14. Pick up a Book and Start Reading

    Reading a good book can keep you occupied for hours. It will also transport you to a life that isn’t your own, and one that likely will be the opposite of a boring life. You’ll be amazed by what you can learn from those pages.

    Pick on of these inspirational books to start reading: 10 Best Inspirational Books That Can Change Your Life

    15. Spend Some Time With People You Care About

    Facebook stalking doesn’t count as real social interaction. Call up a friend you haven’t seen in a while, or bring a coffee over to your parent’s place and catch up. They’ll appreciate the gesture, and you’ll avoid boredom.

    16. Check out a Museum You’ve Never Been to

    Some people are bored by museums, so if that’s you, skip to the next one. However, if you love art, history, or culture, this one is for you!

    17. Write a List of Things You Desire and Truly Want

    This is a great way to help you figure out the real reason why you’re feeling bored about your life. Maybe you haven’t really done things that you truly enjoy? Maybe what you’ve wanted to do all the time has been left behind?

    Think about the list of things you really want to do, and ask yourself why you aren’t doing these things (yet). Then, start taking your first step to make it happen.

    Now, go make your life interesting and live your dream life!

    More on How to Quit a Boring Life

    Featured photo credit: Alex Alvarez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] FECAVA: Random Acts of Kindness
    [2] Applied Research in Quality of Life: Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday
    [3] Psychology Today: The Expert’s Guide to People Watching

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