By Suzanne B. Russell, LPC
A mom calls her daughter a _ _ _ _ and a worthless _ _ _ _ _. The dad never has one kind word for his daughter. A father threatens to beat his son to a pulp while raging for 45 minutes. Are the parents abusing these children/teens? Most definitely!
Patricia Evans states in her new book, Teen Torment, it is estimated up to 50 percent 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 lots 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!”
• “I’m going to take you to Brentwood if you don’t straighten up!”
• “Stop crying; you are just too sensitive!”
• “You look like trailer trash in that outfit”
• “Can’t you do anything right? Where is your brain or do you have one?”
These statements are abusive to the child’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 is 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 who stated, 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 a “girl,” “lazy,” or something worse. Teachers who may use threats such as, “You are going to fail if you don’t _____,” or, “You are just plain stupid.” 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, you are worthless.” A girlfriend who rages when her boyfriend can’t text, visit, play Xbox at her demand! 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:
1. Increased defiance, refusing to do anything a parent asks;
2. Cursing or raging at parents/grandparents
3. Isolating, withdrawing, and spending more and more time alone;
4. Self-destructive behavior(s) such as alcohol/drug use, cutting, threats of suicide, suicide attempts;
5. Running away from home or never wanting to be home;
6. Decrease or increase in appetite;
7. Significant increase or decrease in sleep;
8. Refusing to participate in any school or family activities;
9. Begging not to be left alone with mom or dad or not wanting to go to school;
10. Increased apathy, not caring about appearance, school, extra-curricular activities, etc.;
11. Anxiety symptoms such as chronic chest pains, stomach pains, headaches, hair pulling, obsessive hand washing, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate;
12. Depressive symptoms such as intense anger/rages, crying, isolation, increased/ decreased appetite, sexual promiscuity, cutting, increased/decreased sleep, and/or frequent episode of defiance.
Note alcohol and/or drug abuse and juvenile delinquency can be symptoms of emotional/verbal abuse. The teen acts out because he or she is so angry that no one seems to care about how he or she feels. Then the teen disconnects from his/her own feelings with substances and illegal behavior.
Often when one parent is abusive, the other parent attempts to compensate by being especially nice to the child thinking 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, and 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, fear 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 is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Ridgeland, with 14 years of experience as a therapist and over 20 years’ experience as a classroom teacher. She specializes in treating children and teens with ADHD, depression, and anxiety. For more information call 601.707.7355.