Emotional abuse

We look at and ponder the lives of women who lived to tell the tale of the psychological and emotional abuse perpetrated   on   them  whilst  young and vulnerable and  which has now come home to roost for our nation.  Those in power stood over  and  remained  determined  to  ignore  the  plight of those women  abandoned to the Magdalene Laundries over many decades, right  up to 1996.  The pain, the tear stained faces, the destruction of  lives ,  abandoned by Church,  State and family  are all evidence  of the long-term  and deep wounds that remain forever in the lives  of those who suffer emotional  and mental abuse and the rejection, fear and exploitation that  accompany  those who suffer psychological trauma.   Even  though  our  leaders  now  know the damage that cannot be repaired  by those who suffer like the Magdalene women did, we still have institutions of the state continuing to  inflict emotional and mental abuse on some of our most vulnerable  citizens.  Unfortunately  the home is where most emotional abuse is carried out that scar and damage children for all of their lives.

What is emotional abuse?

Studies have shown that the residue of emotional abuse of children who suffer rejection and a range of  other  abuses  that  effect  their  emotions  are more likely to exhibit hostility, aggressive behaviour, are emotionally unstable, have negative feelings about themselves and the world around them,  are likely to suffer delinquency,  interpersonal problems,  violent behaviour, and a diverse range of personality disorders.   Other forms of emotional abuse include degrading, terrorizing, isolation, exploitation,  denying   emotional  responsiveness  or  love  and bullying.  More subtle forms  are  insults, put downs, denial of previous abusive incidents, and the modern forms of cyber-bullying and abusive text messaging.   Other  forms  of  psychological  trauma  and  emotional  abuse include sexual abuse, employment discrimination, bullying, domestic violence, being the victim of alcoholic parents, extreme poverty,  verbal and physical abuse, name calling, and  intimidation.  All   have long lasting and negative consequences that last a life time and destroys lives and the happiness of the individual.

The perpetrators

Emotional and verbal abuse permeates all of society and its effects   are  often  silent  and  leaves wounds that change a child’s life forever.  Emotional abuse is often overlooked, unnoticed, or confused with other causes.   In the 1950’s our legal system recognised that words uttered can do injury and harm and today the law remunerates people who feel they have been injured by words. That’s alright when you are an adult with the resources to use the law, but children that suffer abuse have no redress, especially if that abuse is in the home, where the vast majority of emotional abuse happens which leads a child to think and see themselves as unworthy of love and affection.  When domestic violence is present in  the  home  with  yelling, shouting, screaming,  insulting, punching, kicking, pulling of hair, etc.  demeaning   remarks,  cursing  and sarcasm, these are all the stepping stones for children to suffer long term effects to their mental health.   These incidents lead a child to believe that they are unloving, worthless,   undeserving   and  set  the stage for full blown depression and anxiety in later life.  The results of verbal abuse and emotional trauma are considered to last longer as verbal and emotional damage to a  person’s  self  esteem  which is consistent  especially in the home leave an indelible negative mark..    As children grow older and their coping skills are unable to cope with painful memories, instead of addressing them and seeking help these lead to a complexity of disorders, mentally, emotionally and has consequences for the acts of self harm and suicide, paranoia, obsessive and compulsive disorders, like anorexia and bulimia,  addictions and  depression.   As teenagers they find it difficult to trust, achieve happiness with their peers and resolve the complex feelings left over from their childhood.

Long term effects.

Parental   verbal  and emotional  aggression all have serious consequences and   leave intergenerational problems where male children learn violent and abusive behaviour and where girls may learn that such abuse is a normal part of relationships.  Many end up having a lifelong pattern of depression, estrangement, anxiety,   inappropriate   or  troubled   relationships and lack empathy with family members.   As   parents   they   may  then  have  difficulty  recognising and appreciating the needs and feelings of their own children and emotionally abuse them in the process.   Most of the time   people  on  the  outside  are  completely unaware of signs and symptoms that may lead to suicide,  the worst possible outcome for people who suffer the irreparable damage of emotional despair.

Children who live under the constant erosion of their self-esteem end up with poor educational achievement, poor social skills, destructive behaviour like self harm, and  an internal anger that is difficult to control thereby leading to all type of aggressive and violent acts and juvenile delinquency.


All acts of abuse towards another comes from an imbalance of power, be that in the home, in school,  in  the workplace, or in institutions.   Dominant or jealous behaviour is nearly always preceded   and   accompanied   by  emotional abuse.  Men and women emotionally abuse each other at   equal  rates   and  both men and women who abuse have high rates of personality disorders.  Rates of personality disorders in the general population are roughly 15%-20%,  while  80% of abusive men in anger management programmes   have personality disorders.  Emotional and other types of abuse often begin by controlling practices like controlling the finances,  being manipulative, shifting the blame to the victim, and by humiliating behaviours leading to confusion and insecurity.  These types of actions all stem from emotional abuse when children, and carried over into adulthood when not  addressed .  How severe the  symptoms  are  depend  on  the  person  and  the  emotional support they receive from others.   Many turn to alcohol, drugs or   prescription   drugs  to escape these feelings.   Upsetting   memories,  thoughts  and  flashbacks   may haunt the person and nightmares may be frequent  adding  further to the distress that emotional abuse  harbours for its victim.   Insomnia may also occur as lurking fears and insecurity keep the person vigilant and on the lookout for danger both day and night.  Repressed memories can lead to the traumatic events being constantly relived and this leads to  mental  exhaustion  When  this  sets  in,   clear thinking is impossible and emotional detachment as well as “numbing out” occur and can produce a pattern of being emotionally flat, preoccupied, distant, and  cold.  The person can become confused in ordinary situations and have memory problems.

Ultimately other people’s words have an incredible power to affect how we see and feel about ourselves.  While   positive  words  of encouragement can uplift and inspire our lives  negative words cut to the  core  and resonate over and over again.  Emotional abuse have long-lasting   damaging effects  as the past painful memories keep repeating in the victim’s mind, years and years after physical bruises have healed.  When the old saying of “sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you” ,  people  obviously did not understand the deep wounds that never heal as can be seen by the belated stories of the Magdalene women, which highlight the lifetime effects of emotional and verbal abuse quite clearly.  Very   often   emotional  abuse ends  with the ultimate act of suicide   and has implications for family, friends and the wider community.   We should all be careful with our use of language and the eternal damage we can do to children and adults alike.  Always remembering unresolved pain never goes away.

Peg Hanafin MSc.