Commentary By Kim “Supermutt” Goodman
When most people think of abuse, they think of physical or sexual abuse. Many people can picture a stressed-out or irritated parent beating their child, or a father or mother’s boyfriend having sex with or fondling a young girl, but a lot of people have a problem picturing emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse happens in many homes each day and is usually done by a parent or the child’s primary caregiver. It can be done along with other types of abuse and it can also be done alone. The people who are most likely to do this type of abuse are parents who have addiction problems, mental illness, those who are stressed out, those who were abused or neglected as children and those who are not ready to be parents.
When a parent emotionally abuses a child, they may fail to nurture the child’s emotional or mental needs. They may not be affectionate enough with their child; they may call their child names, make fun of the child’s abilities or interests, and use excessive amounts of negative criticism. These parents fail to make their child feel valued or loved.
Some parents may try to control their child by hovering over them and trying to think for their child. Many of these parents have an idea of how they want their child to be and try to force them to be who they think they should be instead allowing them to be their own individual person. These parents only praise or encourage their child when they are doing a task that they approve of. If the child chooses a task that the parents don’t approve of, the parents may find fault in it or make the child feel as if the task is wrong. This type of parent teaches their child to feel helpless and become dependent on them and discourages them from seeking independence.
The child with mild developmental disabilities is often more of a target for emotional abuse because many parents don’t notice that their child is slightly behind their peers. So they set goals that are too high for their child and when the child fails to meet their goals the parents criticize or lash out at them for not doing things that they feel are age appropriate.
A child who suffers from emotional abuse often grows up feeling unloved, unvalued, and inferior, as if it is wrong for them to be themselves. He or she is also unable to hold their head up high, feel proud of themselves, or have the courage to try new things; they often blame themselves for their failures. By their teen years emotionally abused children look outside of their homes for someone to meet their emotional needs. Many children with developmental disabilities are also picked on or bullied in school in addition to dealing with abuse at home.
Children who were emotionally abused were taught the worst lesson of all, how to abuse and neglect themselves. If the child has a developmental disability, they may believe that their mistreatment is connected to their disability. They may feel that things would be different if they were “normal.” Children who were emotionally abused as children grow up to be adults who have difficulties building relationships with others, have low self-esteem, lack confidence, or may find it hard to know their value. They may also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety Disorders, Depression or other psychological disorders and/or unexplained physical illnesses such as stomach, head or muscle aches.
Children with mild developmental disabilities often grow up to be adults with moderate developmental disabilities because their parents failed to nurture their minds and help them grow. Many times the abuse and neglect slows down the person’s mental and emotional development and causes them not to develop properly. These people often find it difficult to survive in society because even though they are adult biologically, they may still think like a child. To those who were abused as a child, the world may be a highly stressful, irritating and confusing place because the expectations for them are too high for their emotional and mental ability as adults.
Many people with developmental disabilities don’t live up to their full potential. Most are very talented or creative in some way but not mentally or emotionally mature enough to use their talents to go far in the world. They may still think like children or teenagers and are still looking for that patient person to provide them with encouragement, support, help and guidance that they missed.
A lot of people take the wrong path in life. Life becomes too difficult for them to deal with so they may turn to alcohol or drugs to comfort themselves because they don’t know any other way to deal with their never-ending pain. They may not know how to control their emotions or impulsive behaviors properly and may have aggression problems. The person that may not know how to take care of themselves properly, or they may end up with regular run-ins with the law or even in prison. Some find jail to be a safe and comforting place because they have sought a stable place that has structured activities and strict rules. Many make the street their home because they don’t know how to take care of themselves and lack the social skills, confidence and self-esteem to get and keep a job.
Some people who were emotionally abused as children could be successful with therapy if they could afford it. Others continue the cycle of abuse by continuing to abuse themselves, their mates and children. So until there is a therapy or support group that serves the needs of adults who lack the mental and emotional maturity, many people will continue to travel down the wrong paths in life and not living up to their full potential.
Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published Sept. 2011 Cleveland, Ohio