The effects are the same regardless of whether a child experiences physical or psychological abuse. Both wear down a child's sense of self and the ability to trust others, themselves, and the general world.
However, psychological abuse is much less noticeable and not as clear-cut as physical abuse. It can go on for a long time without the child ever realizing they are being subjected to psychological harm. Additionally, society does not talk about psychological child abuse as much, making it even more likely to go unnoticed. It can leave the child feeling confused or scared without knowing why.
The severity and effects of psychological abuse are broad and largely dependent on the perception of the one being abused. However, the frequency and intensity play a significant role as well.
On the 'milder' side, psychological abuse can include periodical yelling, invalidating the child, or shutting down their emotions. An example of this would be if a child is afraid of something and starts to cry, and their parent reacts by telling them to "stop being such a baby" or comparing them to another child who is not expressing the same level of emotion. This is especially common with young boys who are told to "man up" or "stop acting like a girl" when they become upset.
When children's emotions are not validated, it may cause the child to suppress or deny their emotions. They may also begin to believe there is something wrong with them for having challenging or unpleasant feelings in the first place.
Other forms of psychological abuse include calling the child names with a judgmental or harsh tone, insulting them, putting them down, making them feel less than or incompetent, and consist of shaming or humiliating a child in public.
On the more extreme side, psychological abuse can involve withholding affection, attention, or love, ignoring the child, threatening violence, or witnessing violence between other family members. These behaviors instill fear in the child.
What are the short-term and long-term effects of psychological child abuse?
The short-term effects of psychological child abuse might include a depressed mood and clinging to people who will give them attention; a child might display acting out behaviors, social withdrawal, difficulty sleeping, or regression in certain behavioral milestones such as potty training.
Long-term effects of childhood psychological abuse might include eating disorders, substance use disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Teenagers may struggle more in school, increasing the likelihood of dropping out. Additionally, people who were emotionally abused as children are more at risk for developing physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc.
How emotional intelligence can help us heal:
Psychological child abuse often stems from the parent's inability to recognize and regulate their emotions. Psychologically abused children learn to shut down or express their feelings in ineffective ways due to the modeled behavior of their parents and lack of know-how to do better. As a result, these psychologically abusive behaviors are often passed down through generations. The good news is that this pattern can be stopped, and the first step is to become aware of it.
When people become more aware of their emotions and how their past experiences have impacted them and their behaviors, they can use that knowledge to reconstruct new beliefs and ways of thinking that support personal growth.
When you understand how your upbringing is reflected in how you think and behave today and realize it is not a reflection of your self-worth, you can meet yourself with compassion and validate your own experiences and emotions.
This new knowledge can allow you to become more aware of your emotions and find new ways to express them. Despite what you may have learned as a kid, emotions are not bad. They help us to understand ourselves and others better. Working on your ability to recognize, understand, and accept your feelings can help you to move forward in a new and more effective way.