Understanding Emotional Abuse: Silent Yet Damaging

Understanding Emotional Abuse: Silent Yet Damaging
Photo Provided by CBS News

If you have been following the news, you probably have read articles like this about the Rachel Canning case involving the teen who is suing her parents for access to her college fund and seeking financial support from them.  It is a very touching case that has sparked a nerve everywhere within social media. Unfortunately, there is one thing that social media has not touched on regarding this case: emotional abuse.

Personally, I can relate to Rachel's situation from a personal experience myself.  Her case has sparked a nerve for me. I have been in her shoes emotionally and psychologically when I was her age. I was told that I was a "problem child" and did not follow my parents' strict rules. I was told that I was not fitting their mold what they wanted me to be. I suffered from depression during my late teens because I could not deal with the pain that I was dealing with even though I was not strong enough to talk about it to anyone. I ran away at one point before my Senior year of High School. I was ashamed of what I was going through.  I thought I was alone, but I was not.

The signs of emotional abuse are very silent, but speak loud if you are willing to listen to those who are crying out for help. Here's some of the signs in accordance to the American Humane Association:

  • Ignoring. Either physically or psychologically, the parent or caregiver is not present to respond to the child. He or she may not look at the child and may not call the child by name.
  • Rejecting. This is an active refusal to respond to a child’s needs (e.g., refusing to touch a child, denying the needs of a child, ridiculing a child).
  • Isolating. The parent or caregiver consistently prevents the child from having normal social interactions with peers, family members and adults. This also may include confining the child or limiting the child’s freedom of movement.
  • Exploiting or corrupting. In this kind of abuse, a child is taught, encouraged or forced to develop inappropriate or illegal behaviors. It may involve self-destructive or antisocial acts of the parent or caregiver, such as teaching a child how to steal or forcing a child into prostitution.
  • Verbally assaulting. This involves constantly belittling, shaming, ridiculing or verbally threatening the child.
  • Terrorizing. Here, the parent or caregiver threatens or bullies the child and creates a climate of fear for the child. Terrorizing can include placing the child or the child’s loved one (such as a sibling, pet or toy) in a dangerous or chaotic situation, or placing rigid or unrealistic expectations on the child with threats of harm if they are not met.
  • Neglecting the child. This abuse may include educational neglect, where a parent or caregiver fails or refuses to provide the child with necessary educational services; mental health neglect, where the parent or caregiver denies or ignores a child’s need for treatment for psychological problems; or medical neglect, where a parent or caregiver denies or ignores a child’s need for treatment for medical problems.

The scars and other signs from emotional abuse come very deep and sometimes do not go away easily. These scars can be brought up " numerous behavioral ways, including insecurity, poor self-esteem,destructive behavior, angry acts (such as fire setting and animal cruelty), withdrawal, poor development of basic skills, alcohol or drug abuse, suicide, difficulty forming relationships and unstable job histories. (According to American Humane Association)."  Many of these children who are emotional abuse go one to be abuser themselves if they do not receive help to break the cycle.

In Rachel's case, she suffered from eating disorders, which may have been brought upon by the emotional abuse she dealt with even though her parents claim to be supportive during her treatment. I also believe that negative behavior that took place at school may be a sign or cry for help in her situation.  According of this article, she had repeatedly brought up the abuse to school officials especially after an incident involving the situation that caused her to leave home. Several school officials heard her parents "'began screaming obscenities' and the teacher in the room with her heard the curses. When Canning complained to the school about the alleged longtime abuse she had endured, the school called child services and her parents, in retaliation, then cut her off and directed her college funds elsewhere." (Source NBC New York)  I do not understand why there has not been much coverage of this information provided by the media instead of assuming that Rachel was a "spoiled brat."  When someone continuously asks for help repeated, it is serious attempt and cry for help. I am thankful that the school took her words seriously and are helping her out during the difficult time.

I admire Rachel's courage to step forward and speak out about her abusive relationship with her parents. The sad truth is that her voice has been temporarily silenced by the judge and by the media for now. I would like to see additional information provided to the media in regards to how much abuse Rachel dealt with.  I hope that her father's status in the community does not also play a negative role in her case as well. I pray that the slight setback that she had yesterday does not stop herself from moving forward with her case. I wish I had the courage to speak out and cry out for help when I needed it, but I was too scared to do so.

To all of the Rachel's out there, if you are suffering from emotional abuse, do not be silent. Ask for help.  Talk to a trusted teacher or counselor.  You can also call your local crisis center to speak to someone who can help you get out.  You do not have to live through the pain.  You are not alone.

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