The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious. -Lundy Bancroft
Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin. -Danielle Bernock
With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism, and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until he or she is incapable of judging a situation realistically. He or she may begin to believe that there is something wrong with them or even fear they are losing their mind. They have become so beaten down emotionally that they blame themselves for the abuse. -Beverly Engel
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA), psychological maltreatment of a child is “the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect” (Hibbard et al. Dec 10, 2019). Studies show emotional abuse may be the most damaging form of maltreatment causing adverse developmental consequences equivalent to, or more severe than, those of other forms of abuse (Hart et al. 1996).
Emotional abuse hides in plain sight, is the most damaging type of abuse and childhood trauma, and carries short-term and long-term consequences through adulthood. According to Enoch (2011) and Teicher and Samson (2013), psychiatric problems are common among survivors of trauma, including depressive and anxiety disorders, PTSD, self-injurious behaviors, eating disorders (Yates et al. 2008), attachment disorders, conduct disorders, personality disorders, aggression, crime, and suicidal behavior (Gilbert et al. 2009).
Emotional abuse includes consistent patterns of:
- Criticism – you can’t do anything right
- Accusations – frequently accused of having underhanded intentions, or being selfish and needy
- Verbal abuse – name-calling, derogatory language, intimidating tone/language, yelling
- Sudden rages – unpredictable and erratic mood swings
- Silent treatment – as punishment or to create pressure and discomfort
- Gaslighting – denial of or minimizing abuse, trivializing your response
- Shaming – belittling and invalidating your thoughts, feelings, actions, and response to their behavior on you
- Isolation – creating distance (emotional and/or physical) in conversations with others
- Threats – implied or explicit, to build fear of upsetting them
Many people who were abused as children become abusers themselves and perpetuate abuse, carrying the toxic and dysfunctional family behavioral patterns forward. Others repeatedly find themselves in abusive relationships and environments because it feels familiar. Historically, survivors of abuse have been encouraged to remain in abusive relationships, submit to abuse, and sacrifice their own welfare for the benefit of their abusers.
Especially in the case of emotional abuse, outsiders who have not been direct observers of abuse do not believe the victims, which contributes to the history of gaslighting already experienced in the abusive family. Abuse is commonly condoned within religious communities and accepted under the guise of “tough love”, whereas love has nothing to do with it. Most frequently, individuals and communities side with the abusers.
Considering this as the reality of the foundation and backdrop of an abused person’s plight, it almost requires an act of God for the abused to escape, recover, and thrive after such an upbringing. For many it is a lifetime quest and others never recover. There are several steps which are vital for a person to step away and recover from the devastating effects of childhood maltreatment.
- Remove Yourself from the Abusive Environment
This is so much easier said than done! First, the abused frequently have such low self-worth, they do not have the requisite self-confidence to step away. Second, many bystanders will shame you for leaving your abusive family or spouse. You will NEVER recover in a toxic, unhealthy, and abusive environment.
- Establish and Maintain a Base of Supporters
You will need emotional and sometimes physical and/or financial support to walk away. In most instances, the abused are shamed for leaving, and it is helpful to have understanding others for reassurance that it is wise and good to save yourself.
- Get Therapy from an Experienced Trauma Therapist
You will need this to recover. No matter how long it takes, do the inner work you need to heal and develop inner resources, thinking patterns, and habits to lead a healthy life.
- Develop, Implement, and Dedicate Yourself to a Healthy Lifestyle, Body, Mind, and Spirit
Because abusive environments are not healthy, you will need to research best practices for physical, mental, and spiritual wellness and apply them incrementally and diligently to your life. All aspects of yourself need to be retooled in order to lead a victorious life.
- DO NOT abuse substances of ANY KIND
Substance abuse gets in the way of the deep recovery work and sustained wellness that contributes to a beautiful life free from darkness, sadness, and abuse which permeated your early life. Do not abuse yourself!
- Dedicate Yourself to Daily Spiritual Practice
Spiritual practice can be deeply healing to the spirit and is a requisite component of wellness. Find a nurturing pathway to follow according to your cultural beliefs. If you come from a Christian background, concentrate your attention on the loving and restorative words and direct teachings of Jesus.
It is possible to thrive after childhood abuse. As many have noted, the path of recovery is much more challenging than covering the abuse with addictions and familiar poor behaviors. If you want freedom from a lifetime of misery, it can be yours, with a lot of hard work and dedication to creating your best life. If you want it, don’t let anyone hold you back from claiming the life you are promised.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” -Jesus Christ, John 10:10
Krista is a Certified Life Coach in the areas of Wellness, Transformational Change, and Spirituality who helps people implement an authentic healthy lifestyle, leave behind harmful habits and behaviors, and step into their highest potential. She is also a Certified Meditation Instructor and Yoga Teacher. For more information on her transformational change, wellness programs, and coaching visit www.theomshanty.com.