By Suzanne B. Russell, LPC
Suzanne B. Russell is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Ridgeland, MS with 14 years of experience as a therapist and over 20 years’ experience as a classroom teacher. In our April edition she addressed Emotional Abuse from partner to partner in her article titled “The Emotionally Abusive Relationship.” Her bio in the April edition was incorrect and has been replaced on our website and is correct below.
A Mom who calls her daughter names and tells her she’s worthless; the Dad who never has one kind word for his daughter; a father who threatens to beat his son to a pulp while raging for 45 minutes—are these children/teens being abused? Most definitely!
Patricia Evans states in her new book, Teen Torment, that it is estimated that up to 50% of children/teens endure such torment regularly. Why? Verbal/Emotional abuse is often a generational problem; parents speak to their children the way they remember their parent(s) speaking to them. If both parents emotionally or verbally abuse the child/children, then the damage is more severe.
And there is a lot of damage—a much higher incidence of underachievement, alcohol/drug abuse, severe depression/anxiety, self-harm such as cutting or burning, lower academic performance, eating disorders, and a much greater probability that the child will grow up to become an abuser or accept this treatment from a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. However, it must be noted that not all parents who were emotionally abused by their own parents repeat the pattern. Some choose to parent differently and they are to be admired.
Additional examples of verbal/emotional abuse include:
“You’ll never amount to anything!”
“Stop crying; you are just too sensitive!”
“Can’t you do anything right? Where is your brain or do you have one?”
These statements are abusive to a child’s/teen’s spirit. These statements are degrading, mean, and most importantly, they accomplish NOTHING worthwhile!
A child or teen being verbally/emotionally abused is intellectually unable to reject the message. Parents are the primary source of a child’s self-esteem. When even one parent is verbally/emotionally abusive, the child believes the message. By the time the child is old enough to counter the logic of the abuse, the self-image of the child may be crushed.
Looking into causes of violence in schools, the National Association of Attorney Generals conducted an investigation. They published a comprehensive report entitled “Bruised Inside.” The report’s title came from a middle school girl, when asked about physical violence, she said; “There is another kind of violence, and that is violence by talking. It can leave you hurting more than a cut with a knife. It can leave you bruised on the inside.”
Parents are not the only source of verbal/emotional abuse. Just as much abuse can come from a boyfriend/girlfriend, peers at school, coaches, and teachers. Examples include: coaches (who think they will toughen up a teen by calling him derogatory names; teachers who may use threats such as “you are going to fail if you don’t _____;” children or teens who tease by calling peers “ugly,” a “nerd,” or a “big, fat pig”. The list is endless! A boyfriend who controls with “Don’t let me see you talking to him again,” or a girlfriend who rages when her boyfriend can’t text or visit when she wants him to. All of these words wound; words do hurt and the hurt can last a lifetime.
Signs that your child/teen may be suffering from emotional/verbal abuse:
- Increased defiance, refusing to do anything a parent asks
- Cursing; raging at parents/grandparents
- Isolating; withdrawing; spending more and more time alone
- Self-destructive behavior(s) such as alcohol/drug use, cutting, suicide attempts, threats of suicide
- Running away from home or never wanting to be home
- Decrease or increase in appetite
- Significant increase/decrease in sleep
- Refusing to participate in any school activity or family activity
- Begging not to be left alone with mom or dad or not wanting to go to school
- Increased apathy; not caring about appearance, school, extra-curricular activities, etc.
- Anxiety symptoms such as chronic chest pains, stomach pains, headaches, hair pulling, obsessive hand washing, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate.
- Depressive symptoms such as intense anger/rages, crying, isolation, increased/decreased appetite, sexual promiscuity, cutting, increased/decreased sleep, and/or frequent episodes of defiance
Often when one parent is abusive, the other parent attempts to compensate by being especially nice to the child or teen thinking that that will make up for the other’s abusive behavior. Unfortunately, this does not work. The child or teen still gets the message of the abuser, and that message is “something is wrong with me, I will never be good enough, I am not worthy of being loved, I am not deserving of affection because no one at home is affectionate with me.”
I’ve talked with hundreds of people who have been verbally and emotionally abused in their childhoods, and even though they manage their lives, there are some who never feel adequate, who are always second guessing themselves, some who don’t have the skills needed to cope in everyday relationships. There are many who are on their second or third marriage because they keep marrying the same type of person as the abusive parent. Fortunately, these are issues that can be treated; no one should have to suffer the effects of verbal and emotional abuse alone.
Verbal abuse is much too powerful and destructive to ignore; it is rampant in our society, it is built into our culture. As with any social problem, awareness is first and intolerance of its continuance is next. When you hear something that sounds like verbal abuse, do not accept it. Say to the abuser, “What you have just said is abusive; stop it.” If he or she ignores you, then leave the room, the building, or the relationship until the abuser gets that you are serious. Condoning abuse just makes it easier for this insidious problem in our society to continue. If your child or teen has been abused, get her professional help. If you or your spouse fears that you have been abusive to your child or teen, seek the help of a qualified professional. No matter how long the problem has been happening, it is never too late for a turnaround—treatment works!
Suzanne B. Russell, LPC; PLLC, specializes in treating children and teens with ADHD, depression, and anxiety. For more information, visit her website at www.srusselltherapy.com or call 601.707.7355.