The Indicators and Impacts of Child Emotional Abuse

What is emotional abuse?

Sadly, there are many cases of abuse during childhood. Defined as the cruel or violent treatment of another person, abuse can be conducted in many ways from physical violence and sexual assault to online bullying and mind games. Regardless of the form, abuse can seriously injure or distress the victim: in any of these scenarios, it can be incredibly challenging to accept what has occurred.

Any behaviour that frequently involves emotional manipulation is described as ‘emotional abuse’ or ‘psychological abuse’. The article will discuss some of the early indicators of emotional abuse as well as its effects on children.

The CSEW (Crime Survey for England and Wales) defines emotional abuse as someone experiencing any of the following;

  • being told they were not loved
  • being told that they should never have been born
  • being threatened to be abandoned or thrown out of the family home
  • being repeatedly belittled to the extent that they felt worthless
  • being physically threatened, or having someone close to them physically threatened
  • being emotionally neglected

The NSPCC stated that in the previous year, 3% of children aged 11 to 17 and 3.6% of children under the age of 11 had experienced emotional abuse at the hands of a parent or guardian.

How does emotional abuse affect children?

Emotional abuse takes many forms and, as every situation and child is unique, the effects can be vastly different. Common short-term effects include low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. In the long-term, victims of childhood abuse are thought to be at greater risk of experiencing chronic health issues including depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorders.

Recognising emotional abuse

As each case of emotional abuse is different, there isn’t a universal manual for identifying this in children. However, there are some similar behaviours and reactions that might suggest it is the case.

Useful indicators for detecting abuse are usually linked to behaviour – in other words, how the child reacts to particular circumstances. For instance, are they quiet and withdrawn when at home? Do they have trouble establishing and sustaining relationships? Are they separating themselves from their friends, parents, or other adults in social situations?

It is important to remember that a child may not be aware that they are dealing with emotional abuse.

Protecting children from emotional abuse

The sad truth is that children can be abused by anyone: parents, family members, adults, and other children.

If you feel that a child is in immediate danger, reporting the issue is vital for their safety. In these cases, it is advisable to call 999 right away. For less urgent cases that are associated with the workplace, follow your organisation’s child protection procedure – all companies dealing with children must have sufficient safeguarding policies and procedures in place.

If you are or have been a victim of emotional abuse, you should speak to a specialist team about your abuse claim and make sure that your voice is heard, so that you can get the justice you deserve.

It is the responsibility of parents and carers to do all they can to protect children from any form of abuse, and there are many UK helplines that are here to help such as Relate, the men’s advice line, and the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline. If you are afraid that a child is in a potentially difficult situation but not in danger, make sure to raise your concerns.


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