The Rise of Emotional Abuse


Psychological abuse (also referred to as psychological violence, emotional abuse, or mental abuse) is a form of abuse, characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing, another person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

– The British Journal of Psychiatry (1996)

In the last century, no topic has been as demonized or been commonly denounced as physical abuse in relationships, any relationship. Today, however, a light is being cast on the realities of emotional abuse and coercive control. Specifically, there must be a spotlight on the emotional abuse of children.

New figures published in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s How Safe Are Our Children? report shows the number of calls made to the charity’s helpline about children being subjected to emotional abuse increased from 3,341 in 2010 to 10,009 in 2017. That’s more than a 200% increase, dramatic numbers for the UK.

In the United States, Child Protective Services has confirmed that 1 in every 8 children has experienced maltreatment and that of those maltreated 20% are emotionally abused. That is over 5 Million confirmed cases of emotional abuse of children in the United States since 2012. Devastating numbers for such a large nation.

The results of emotional abuse are indisputable, scary, and deadly. Children can be forced into a corner where they do whatever it takes to make their parent happy regardless of the path they must take. Children are forced to take a backseat their parents wishes, being stonewalled. Children are told they’re not worth what they are. The end result is depressed children, higher rates of suicide, children turning to drugs, to drinking, to smoking, to anything that they can use to contain their fear, their anxiety.

I can’t argue with her about it, because everything will get worse.

– Anonymous

Anyone who has ever had to use the above phrase when talking about a parent’s decision is describing an emotionally abusive moment, if not their parent’s general behavior. This leads inevitably to the cliche, “I’m right because I say so, I will take something from you if you aren’t in agreement.” Some children know where to turn to and others have no idea, and when they have no idea, the world closes in.

So what has led to such a large uptick in not just regional but worldwide emotional abuse towards children? Change. The differences between the world of the 2000s and the world of these children’s parents are so great it is truly hard to pinpoint one cause, though a few causes shall be listed here:

  • The Internet has revolutionized the way the world interacts. People now have “internet friends,” people they just know through the internet. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter all have resulted in a world so interconnected that Parents sometimes cannot understand, refuse to understand, or cut off their child’s use of these sites, refusing to hear refutations and new information that may be useful in their decision.
  • The world is more politically split than ever before, with a sharp rise in violence all over the world over political disagreements. Children who are gay, trans, bi, or are of a different political belief than their parents are common victims of emotional if not physical abuse.
  • The world is changing religiously. Children growing up in homes under Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism are increasingly atheist or agnostic. Their reasons are not always clear, not always enough for their parents and their parents’ insistence on their religious beliefs may lead to confusion, anxiety, and fear of being wrong. It can lead to the children growing up to refuse the help of the medical industry as they attempt to follow their parent’s maxims.
  • The world is strongly shifting towards individual freedom and no one yearns for this freedom than the child. Whether they are able to handle such freedoms at young ages is up for debate but the drive is none the less there. How are parents supposed to react to such desires? The common reaction is to regulate them and give them boundaries, but increasingly so the reaction is to clamp down and control. At the macro level the UK has left the EU and at the micro level, the child leaves the home.
  • The world has seen a dramatic increase in nihilism in many forms. Humanity has experienced nihilism since ancient times, but nihilism is becoming increasingly prevalent as humanity becomes more technologically advanced. We don’t have to work nearly as hard for the things we desire. Survival is definitely not too large of a problem – we can get food, water, and all of our basic needs with relative ease. It seems with ease of survival, our mission and our purpose seem more obscured. How then is a parent supposed to respond to this increase in loss of direction than to try and guide the child, point them? This is all well and good but when that guiding and point turns into orders and control it has evolved from mentorship and parenting into emotional abuse.
  • Life isn’t as satisfying. As technology lowers the amount of effort required to obtain our wants/needs, those wants/needs become less pleasurable. However, perhaps “the net amount of pleasure in life” works differently from how we perceive it to. The millennial and post-millennial generations are universally acclaimed as “different;” as changing societal norms. Leading to a widespread fear among older generations that these recent peoples are lawless, as in need of control, as in need of direction and while in moderation this has been true for all childhoods it has increasingly turned to total control and emotional abuse.

There is, again, no specific cause, there is just too much different and children feel the effects. From a 200% increase in cases in the UK since 2010 to the 0.9% of the American Population under 18 receiving emotional abuse, there is a clear symptom. There is no obvious solution: suggestions of compromise, suggestions of intervention, therapy, and court intervention are all possible solutions but they are all so rarely listened to or used.

While organizations like Prevent Child Abuse America and National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are doing the best they can they are not always able to as much as they would care to do. Emotional abuse of children seems difficult to solve and it certainly won’t be easy. No one knows where it will start and how it will end but we all know we must do our best to prevent it and try to learn from the mistakes of our parents.

This large uptick in emotional abuse is naught but a symptom of change, the result of vastly different worlds. It is hard to spot, hard to stop, and it destroys lives. People in these relationships feel stuck, feel trapped. They often end up suffering from chronic anxiety, depression, and are heavily correlated to a rise in suicide numbers. The world is changing and how we react to that change reflects on our values. Let those values be valued by our children, let them cherish not fear us. Stop the abuse.


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