Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is often undetected, leaving in its wake deep scars.  In the raising of children it’s quite a set up. Your parents are supposed to use their wisdom to guide you, to teach you right from wrong. But in many homes there is little wisdom and the guidance is a whiplash of verbal insults, put downs and anything that will make you feel “less than.” Think about it. Why would your mom and dad, who are supposed to love you most in the world, want to rain down on you anything but compliments, loving words and pride in you? Good question. If your parents are already dysfunctional themselves most of their world is about them, not about you. If you are annoying them while they are paying bills, talking on the phone or fixing dinner, they are not going to be happy about that. Isn’t is so much easier to say, “Not right now sweetheart, can we talk about this later,” than to take their bad mood out on their children? Then why don’t they? Why do they have to take their bad temper, their worries, their own “I feel less than” that they would never want to impart to the world, out on you? This type of child rearing has a serious and sorrowful side effect. Those who come from childhoods where emotional abuse was a regularity often wind up marrying an abuser who picks up where their parents left off, liberally sprinkling emotional abuse throughout your day. It, like child sexual abuse, is a multi-generational problem.

I remember when we were growing up, my older brother, Scott, at the age of ten went into the kitchen to ask my mom something. She responded with a resounding, “Go away. I don’t have time for you,” or heavy handed words to that effect. He did exactly that. We were living in Tucson, AZ at the time. It is a big city and was at that time as well. My brother took off and wandered through the city all day and into the night. When he didn’t come home for dinner and my parents couldn’t find him they called the police. I remember peeking through my bedroom door listening to them talk to an officer. I was terrified that I would never see my brother again. All night long the police searched for him. By morning my parents were white with anxiety (this is before our house turned into a nightmare because of my father’s sexual abuse) and all of us were convinced Scott had been kidnapped and a ransom note was soon to follow. He wandered into the house around noon, surprised that anyone even cared enough about him to call the police. He had walked as far as the airport (an hour’s drive from our house), spent the night sleeping there and then wandered home. To this day he doesn’t remember the desperateness of two parents terrified they would lose their son. He remembers only a mother who told him to go away.

Sometimes emotional abuse is worse than physical abuse. When we were growing up our house was like the Gestapo. Our every move was thwarted by stern rules. No one was allowed to feel good about themselves. That was a cardinal sin punishable by lecture after lecture about your behavior and how bad it was. Then came the punishment: standing at attention for hours (my dad was an ex-Marine), going to bed without dinner, writing a hundred times, I will not be prideful, (citing the biblical verse, Pride goeth before destruction) and other such abuses designed to tear you down, to make you feel “less than.” How were we expected to grow into a confidant, strong and wise adult with that kind of childhood?

Other scars left by emotional abuse are many: lack of confidence, hopelessness, a negative attitude, the inability to have faith in your own dreams, neurotic tendencies and so on. One of the worst scars we inculcate into our children is expecting too much out of them and then hammering away at them about it. Years ago I heard of a young lady who graduated number two in her senior class at a well-known university. All her father had to say afterwards was, “Why weren’t you number one?” Depending on the severity of the emotional abuse an adult who suffered such child abuse could wind up an addict, an insomniac, needy, suicidal, have weak boundaries, make unhealthy choices in members of the opposite sex, have eating disorders and/or severe depression; all this because of a parent who didn’t take the time to make you feel valued as a human being.

When you are given a child an unspoken agreement comes with them. You are the parent. You teach your children love, kindness, generosity of spirit, sensibility, prudence, knowledge, visualization, feeling, foresight and the best one of all, a sense of their own importance. Not arrogance, not disrespect, not egotism, just a sense of their own importance. This last is vital. This unspoken agreement is a thing of beauty. You must not betray He who gave you that child and instilled this unspoken agreement in you.

When you think of a world where the majority of people were emotionally abused in their childhood with the resultant lack of belief in themselves, one wonders how the world manages to get on with the business of living. If you have children, please remember to lavish praise on them, to give them hugs in abundance, to let them know how important, how smart they are and how much you love them. Validate all that they are. Remember, if you don’t, it’ll trickle down to the next generation and your grandchildren will have a similar lack of self-esteem.