• The word ‘trauma’ describes events and experiences which are so stressful that they are overwhelming. • The word ‘trauma’ also describes the impacts of the experience/s. The impacts depend on a number of factors. • People can experience trauma at any age. Many people experience trauma across different ages. • Trauma can happen once, or it can be repeated. Experiences of trauma are common and can have many sources. • Trauma can affect us at the time it occurs as well as later. If we don’t receive the right support, trauma can affect us right through our life. • We all know someone who has experienced trauma. It can be a friend, a family member, a colleague, or a client… or it can be us. • It can be hard to recognise that a person has experienced trauma and that it is still affecting them. • Trauma is often experienced as emotional and physical harm. It can cause fear, hopelessness and helplessness. • Trauma interrupts the connections (‘integration’) between different aspects of the way we function. • Trauma can stop our body systems from working together. This can affect our mental and physical health and wellbeing.
• While people who experience trauma often have similar reactions, each person and their experience is unique. • Trauma can affect whole communities. It can also occur between and across generations, e.g. the trauma of our First Nations people. • For our First Nations people, colonisation and policies such as the forced removal of children shattered important bonds between families and kin and damaged people’s connection to land and place. • Many different groups of people experience high levels of trauma. This includes refugees and asylum seekers, as well as women and children. This is not to deny that many men and boys also experienced trauma. • Certain life situations and difference can make trauma more common. People with disability of all ages experience and witness trauma more often than people without disability. LGBTQI people also experience high levels of trauma which is often due to discrimination.
Throughout the counselling I am regularly receiving, something which often gets raised is that although there’s quite a list of TYPES of child sexual abuse:
emotional or mental abuse, and
sexual abuse and includes signs, symptoms, and behavioral indicators of abuse.
There may be other TYPES, yet this is just a small example of where ‘traditional’ understanding clashes with the actual impact, victims try to live with, 247, also coping with COVID-19, trying to deal with Climate Change …
Raising awareness of emotional child abuse, its effects on adult survivors & the power of words on children
EMOTIONAL CHILD ABUSE DEFINED
“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 intimidating, 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.” (University of Illinois, Counseling Center)
However, when people discuss child abuse, they often refer to the physical abuse and sexual abuse of children, both absolutely horrific types of abuse. All forms of child abuse are terrible… but the one that underpins them all—the abuse that often gets ignored—is emotional child abuse.
Whereas physically abused and sexually abused children have the physical proof as witnesses to their abuse, the emotionally abused child often does not.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL CHILD ABUSE?
“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 where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of children: love and protection.” (child advocate, lawyer, and author Andrew Vachss, You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart essay)
“Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill-treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. It may involve causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill treatment of a child, though it may occur alone.” (Department of Health et al, 1999, p.5-6)
The words persistent and systematic are crucial to the definition of child abuse. Emotional child abuse isn’t a parent telling his child once, “Why did you spill the juice? Don’t do that again!”
Emotional abuse is systematic. It’s a consistent destructive force in a child’s life. For example, an emotionally abusive parent will tell a child,“Why did you spill the juice? You are so clumsy…” and then, at some point in time (close enough to be linked to the first event), “You spilled something again? Can’t you ever do something right?” and then later, again at another point close enough in memory that the child ties it together, “You are always spilling things because you’re not careful. You don’t pay attention. You’re always messing things up.” And so on…
In time, the emotionally abused child adopts the phrase into his or her memory as something that defines them: “I am always messing up. I don’t pay attention. I am not careful.” He takes the words as a description of who he is… and the phrases will come back to him often.
All the destructive words, whether encased in subtle phrasing or baldly hurtful, will become part of the child’s “self talk.” The words will become truths to the child.
Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.