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.
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.