The Causes, Effects And Warning Signs Of Emotional Abuse On Kids

mom holding daughter
Heartbreak, Self

Just because you can't see the damage, doesn't mean it isn't there.

What do you think of when you hear these words? No marks, but scars. Invisible cries. Longing for love and appreciation. "Let me just be a kid." False expectations. Worse than physical abuse.

I gathered that list from the testimonies of two adults (who are both survivors of childhood emotional abuse) and kids who come to my office as cutters—children who cut themselves because they no longer feel acknowledged or heard, or they have lost the power of their voices and are unable to find the words to express themselves.

Emotional abuse is a type of child abuse that is subtler than the other types of abuse and less detectable, but sometimes it's MORE dangerous than physical abuse. It can destroy a child's sense of self.

Parents with negative attitudes may say hurtful things to their children, or they may fail to give their full attention to their children. That does not make them bad parents, nor is it emotional abuse. However, when parents present a persistent pattern of negativity towards their child ... THAT is emotional abuse.

It can happen to any child. Emotional abuse is deceiving since it does not leave a physical scar. Many times, children are not able to express themselves, and the hurt they experience leaves them with low self-esteem—without words to say how much they have been hurt.

What Are Some CAUSES Of Emotional Abuse?

  • Parents who experienced abuse as children
  • Parents who are under undue stress, whether it's financial, health, relationship or work-related
  • Unwanted pregnancies
  • Parents who have a drug and/or alcohol addiction
  • Mental illness or learning disabilities
  • Poverty

What Are Some EFFECTS And Signs Of Emotional Abuse?

  • Due to verbal assault, the child is left wounded mentally with the feelings of being belittled and ashamed. The child tires of people making fun of him or her, which leaves him or her feeling humiliated.
  • If they experience this as a newborn during their first year of life, they may fail to thrive and even die if they do not receive the basic emotional nurturing they need.
  • An older child can experience problems with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, insecurities, withdrawal, anger, and problems with relationships as well as self-destructive behavior (drugs/suicide).
  • Kids may also experience trust issues, fears and phobias, sleep disorders, speech disorders, excessive crying, and avoidance of eye contact.
  • They may detach from parents, friends and siblings.
  • Emotionally abused kids learn to hide their feelings inside and can have trouble regulating their behaviors. Sometimes they can end up causing harm to themselves as they try to express themselves or experience unexplained anger.
  • The worst tragedy is if these kids become parents one day. They may end up continuing the cycle of emotional abuse with their own children.

Kids deserve consistency and a stable home and school environment. They need to know that they someone loves and accepts them for their unique and individual personalities.


  • There is no need to label or compare a child to someone else, especially to another sibling. Never call a child names.
  • Give your child a chance to experience pride—compliment him or her often.
  • If you must discipline your child, allow the him or her the right to know beforehand what the rules are AND a chance to explain.
  • Do not humiliate your child or break his or her free spirit. Allow space and time for the proper expression feelings.
  • If you feel you are angry or that you are going to lose control, walk away from the situation and give yourself time to cool off.
  • If needed, get help from your local church, doctor, mental health office, or family or school counselor.
  • If you lose your temper, it's OK to say you're sorry. Don't hesitate to apologize to a child when necessary. Leting your child know that you love him or her will help immensely.

Remember, emotional abuse is hard to identify because it doesn't leave any physical signs. Do your best to support the child, and if you suspect any signs of abuse, vigilantly stop it.

You can report abuse anonymously. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong with a child, better safe than sorry.

One must keep in mind the effects of child abuse. No matter what form it is, it may last a lifetime. It's up to all of us to stay aware and to let your voice be heard on behalf of the children who have lost their voices.

For the sake of our young children and so they may have a peaceful and rewarding life, please spread the word about how emotional abuse is, in fact, child abuse.

—Dr. Christina

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.