How to Identify Emotional Abuse

Three Methods:Analyzing Emotional Child AbuseIdentifying Verbal AbuseLooking for Controlling Behaviors

Emotional abuse happens to many people all over the world. Emotional abuse, in general, is a pattern of harmful interactions (ill treatment) that do not involve physical altercation, but cause harm to the person’s emotional health.[1] Emotional child abuse can occur when children are not appropriately cared for or are treated in a way that makes them believe they are worthless or unwanted. Emotional abuse can result in psychopathology, sexual difficulties, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, delinquency, and interpersonal problems.[2][3] Emotional abuse can come in different forms, such as: child emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and controlling behaviors.[4]

Method 1
Analyzing Emotional Child Abuse

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    Notice emotional unavailability. This can include unresponsiveness, parental insensitivity, and emotional neglect.[5] Analyze the way the caregiver reacts to feelings and needs of the child. Some warning signs are if the caregiver or parent is:[6]
    • Too focused on her own issues such as mental illness, substance abuse, or work responsibilities.
    • Unable or unavailable to respond to the child’s emotional needs.
    • Ignoring the child’s needs to interact.
    • Failing to express positive emotions to the child (smiling, laughing).
    • Showing no emotion in interactions with the child.
    • Rejection or hostility towards the child.
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    Search for developmentally inappropriate interactions. This occurs when the caregiver does not have adequate understanding of age-appropriate interactions and discipline. This may mean the parent treats the child as though he or she has the developmental capabilities of an older child or an adult. The parent may not intend to cause harm but can unknowingly engage in inappropriate interactions with the child.[7] Look for:[8]
    • Exposure to confusing or traumatic events that the child cannot process or understand. This may include exposure to domestic violence or suicidal behavior, such as self-harm or suicide attempts.
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    Understand failures to recognize individuality. This is the inability by the parent to fully understand that the child is a separate and individual person.[9] This type of abuse is common in divorces proceedings and custody disputes, and may appear as[10]:
    • Using the child for the fulfillment of the parent’s psychological needs.
    • Inability to distinguish between the child’s reality and the adult’s beliefs and wishes.
    • Lack of psychological boundaries (discussing issues with the opposite parent with the child).
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    Notice failures to promote social skills. This means the parents or caregivers do not help the child develop social skills.[11] This may include:[12][13][14]
    • Corrupting the child by giving them alcohol or drugs, exposing them to pornography or cruelty to humans or animals. Corrupting or not socializing also includes teaching the child self-destructive or antisocial behaviors, like bullying.
    • Psychological neglect (failure to provide adequate opportunities for brain development and learning).
    • Isolating the child.
    • Involving him in criminal activities.

Method 2
Identifying Verbal Abuse

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    Look for yelling. Getting angry every once in a blue moon or so is normal, but screaming practically every day is not.[15]
    • The abuser may become hostile and aggressive.
    • They may scream and swear.
    • If the person has anger management issues, try to get help for him.
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    Catch name-calling. Name-calling is the act of using offensive names to insult someone.[16] Name-calling can be a form of emotional abuse if it is very negative and repeated often. Some examples of name-calling are:
    • “Hey, stupid. You idiot. You are a dummy.”
    • “You wimp.”
    • “You Freak. Weirdo. You are so psycho.”
    • Note that if the individual welcomes the name as a joke of humorous, it may not constitute verbal abuse. For example, some girls may call each other names as friends and do not necessarily mean it as harm. However, these behaviors can still cause psychological harm if the individual is sensitive to the topic.
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    Identify blaming and shaming. Sometimes people who are abusive excuse or justify their behaviors by blaming the victim.[17] The individual may begin to believe that he is deserving of the abuse or it is somehow his fault.
    • Blaming might look like, “This is all your fault. Admit it. I had no part in this. Apologize.” It can also be more subtle such as, “I wouldn’t mistreat you if you didn’t act so badly.”
    • Shaming can be things like, “Look at what you did. You are a bad person. You should be disgusted with yourself. I am so ashamed of you.”
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    Look for inappropriate humor.[18] Joking around may seem light-hearted, but it can be harmful especially if the individual does have a particular sensitivity or disability.
    • This can involve inappropriately teasing or taunting someone. For example, teasing someone about his weight or appearance can be emotionally abusive.

Method 3
Looking for Controlling Behaviors

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    Notice if the person is making all the decisions in your life. If the person is telling you what to wear, what to eat, where you can go, and who you can see, this is a controlling behavior and a sign of emotional abuse.[19] The abuser makes you feel dependent on him and that you are unable to make your own decisions.
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    Recognize intimidation. Abusive individuals can be controlling and overbearing. This can manifest as a need to make decisions for others and tell others what to do. The person who is abusing others may expect people to follow his orders without questioning him.[20] Intimidation tactics may include:[21]
    • Making threatening looks or gestures.
    • Smashing things in front of the person.
    • Destroying property, harming pets, or putting weapons on display.
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    Listen for threats. Threatening is when the abuser tries to scare the other person into staying with them or possibly drop charges against them. An abuser may threaten the other person, the other person's loved ones, or even to harm himself.[22]
    • Threats can be vague such as, “If I can't have you, no one can,” or, “You’re going to get it. You’ll be sorry.”
    • The abuser may threaten to withhold food or other care the person needs.
    • Know that criminal threats are crimes. Report the person to the police if you feel you or someone you know is in danger. You can also ask for a restraining order.
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    Notice social isolation. Social isolation can be a form of control. The abusive person wants the victim to not have close friendships or relationships because this can limit the abusers control. The abusive person knows that the individual may seek help from social supports, and he may want to limit these supports.[23]
    • This may show up as isolating the individual or not allowing the person to be in social situations (such as go out with friends).[24]
    • The abuser may also try to prevent the person from attending school or work.[25]
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    Recognize Financial Abuse. Financial abuse can occur in intimate relationships, as well as against the elderly (called elder abuse). Economic abuse include any of the following:[26]
    • Rigidly controlling finances.
    • Withholding money or credit cards.
    • Forcing the person account for every penny spent.
    • Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter).
    • Restricting the person to an allowance.
    • Preventing from working or choosing a career.
    • Sabotaging someone’s job (making one miss work, calling constantly).
    • Stealing from the person or taking money.

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Categories: Abuse