Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Emotionally Abusive Relationships - Part One

Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA

Emotionally Abusive Relationships - Part One

A silent killer of self-esteem.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Recently I was sitting in a Starbucks catching up on my e-mail when it became impossible not to overhear the conversation happening in such close proximity at the next table.  A young couple was engaged in the seemingly benign task of deciding what kind of coffees to order.  What grabbed my attention was the subtle but powerful way in which the husband continually dismissed his wife’s timid declaration about what she wanted to drink. “I’ll have a latte,” she said in a whisper.  “You don't really want a latte,” he said with calm authority, “You claim you want a latte but then you never finish it,” he added without humor. “I don't want to order something you’re not gonna drink.”  His wife dropped her head and took on a kind of collapsed body posture.  It sounded like a father chastising a small child. She immediately acquiesced, “Okay, then don't order me anything.”
For the next 20 minutes they sat there.  He took his time with his large coffee drink and she patiently waited, drinking nothing.  He took out his phone and focused on it as if she weren’t there. The few times she tried to initiate conversation he either ignored her or put up his hand and subtly shook his head no, a clear non-verbal sign that let her know she was interrupting him and whatever he was attending to on his phone was more important.  When he was finished he said, “Okay, let’s go.” She dutifully got up and followed a few steps behind him as they left the coffee shop.
In all honesty there were several different times when I wanted to intervene.  Despite the fact that he never raised his voice, I could sense how controlling he was and how submissive she needed to be.  Looking at it through a therapeutic lens it was a powerful example of an emotionally abusive relationship. These are relationships that can seem unremarkable to the outside world. She had no visible signs of physical trauma, although I would argue that her constricted body language and timid voice spoke volumes. They were both very well dressed and the scenario of sitting in Starbucks seemed innocent enough. He never yelled at her and his dismissive gestures were extremely subtle.  Probably to an untrained eye, the entire encounter would have been ignored.
Although emotional abuse can be subtle the impact is profound and can create intense self-doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, and depression
I have worked with many women and several men, too, who were genuinely surprised at my suggestion that they were in an emotionally abusive relationship.  The word “abusive” is most often associated with overt behaviors that cause physical harm.  But dynamics of control, intimidation, treating a partner as “less than,” financially withholding, minimizing or belittling their thoughts, feelings, and needs are important signs that are often rationalized or excused by the victim. They are, in fact, indicators of emotional abuse that may or may not escalate to other manifestations of maltreatment.
Everyone has the right to feel safe, respected, validated, understood, and supported in their personal relationships. No one has the right to use power or control to manipulate, subjugate, or demean their partner. Although emotional abuse can be subtle the impact is profound and can create intense self-doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, and depression. If you are in a relationship where it doesn’t feel safe or productive to use your voice, or you’ve been made to feel unworthy, I urge you to get the support you deserve so you can re-claim your dignity, your voice, and your basic human rights.

In Part Two of this series, we will review some of the signs of emotional abuse in more detail.
Deborah Hunter-Marsh

I hope you liked this article as much as I did. I will post the second part as soon as it's posted on the website.
Here's a link to the original article.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect

Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect

Every child has a right to a safe childhood and a life free from violence. The experience of child abuse and neglect infringe upon that right.
The effects of abuse affect each child differently. While the effects of abuse can be severe and long-lasting, children who have been abused or exposed to violence can and do go on to have healthy and productive childhoods and adult lives. Children are resilient, and being able to discuss and guide our children through a recovery process is crucial to their success. It is often the first step towards healing. In most cases, once their safety is assured, children can overcome the effects of trauma through professional counseling or other supportive interventions.

Developmental and psychological and effects

The brain develops at an incredible pace during the early developmental stages of infancy and childhood. Studies about early childhood development indicate that the brain develops in response to experiences with caregivers, family and the community, and that its development is directly linked to the quality and quantity of those experiences. Meeting a child’s needs during these early stages creates emotional stability and security that is needed for healthy brain development. Repeated exposure to stressful events can affect the brain’s stress response, making it more reactive and less adaptive. With time a child may react as if danger is always present in their environment regardless of what the presenting situation actually is.1
Research has found that children exposed to violence or abuse, if left unaddressed or ignored, are at an increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems in the future.2 Children who are abused may not be able to express their feelings safely and as a result, may develop difficulties regulating their emotions. As adults, they may continue to struggle with their feelings, which can lead to depression or anxiety.3
The following are some of possible effects of child abuse and neglect on a child’s mental health:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dissociation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Academic problems in school-aged children and adolescents
  • Withdrawn and/or difficulty connecting with others
  • Flashbacks
  • Increased hypervigilance
  • Difficulty sleeping
The overall impact of abuse also depends on the child’s natural reactions to stress and ways of coping with stressful situations. Other factors can include age at which the trauma occurred, previous exposure to unrelated traumatic incidents and extent of therapy or timing of intervention.

Physical effects

Children are more physically susceptible to injury than adults as their bodies are still in development. When a child is being physically abused or neglected some of these injuries are apparent. However, there are times when a perpetrator is careful not to leave marks or injuries that are visible so that the abuse is not discovered. Being able to recognize the physical effects of abuse can be crucial in identifying an abusive situation and taking steps to protect a child from further abuse or neglect.
These are some common effects observed in children who have been physically or sexually abused and/or neglected:
  • Bruises, welts or swelling
  • Sprains or fractures
  • Burns
  • Lacerations or abrasions
  • Difficulty in walking or sitting
  • Torn, stained or bloody clothing
  • Pain or itching in the genital area; bruises or bleeding in the external genital area
  • Sexually transmitted infections or diseases
  • Lack of adequate supervision, nutrition or shelter
  • Poor hygiene
  • Inappropriate dress
Children may develop these as ways to cope with complex trauma, or perhaps even to forget or suppress the traumatizing memories.
Possible emotional and behavioral effects of trauma include:
  • Eating disorders
  • Drug use
  • Risky sexual decision-making
  • Self-harm
  • Troubled sleeping
  • Discomfort with physical touch
For more information, learn about the signs of child abuse and neglect here.

Effects on children who witness domestic violence

The emotional toll on children who witness threats or violence against others can be substantial, especially when those involved are familiar to the child and the violence takes place in the home. Children may be affected when they witness domestic violence, regardless of whether or not they are directly abused.
Current research has found that children exposed to domestic violence are at an increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems, including anxiety, depression and academic problems. The research also suggests that some children who have witnessed domestic violence show no symptoms of psychological distress.
Children's responses may depend on the severity and frequency of the abuse, the availability of family and community support, and the child's resilience. Once their safety is assured, most children can overcome the effects of trauma through professional counseling or other supportive interventions.

Once their safety is assured, children who have experienced abuse or neglect can go on to heal and thrive. Being able to discuss and guide our children through a recovery process is crucial to their success, and often the first step towards healing. Most children who have been abused go on to recover and live healthy, productive lives.

Next section: Resources

Previous section: About the issue

1 Stien, Phyllis T. and Kendall, Joshua, Psychological Trauma and Developing Brain: Neurobiological Based Interventions for Troubled Children, 2004, The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.
2 Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect,” Factsheets, (2008), www.childwelfare.gov.
3 Smith, Melinda and Segal, Jeanne, “Child Abuse & Neglect: Recognizing, Preventing, and Reporting Child Abuse,” (June 2013), www.helpguide.org.