I think that most often when people think of abuse, they generally think of physical battering. They imagine scars, bruises, scratches, and perhaps broken bones. There are negative impacts resulting from physical abuse that last longer than the physical wounds. However, what gets lost in the discussion of abuse is that of emotional neglect and psychological maltreatment. These are hidden scars, the damage that cannot be immediately seen. And those scars too can last a lifetime.
According to the U.S. Children’s Bureau (2010), approximately 3 million children experience some form of maltreatment every year. The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children defines psychological maltreatment as “a repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or a serious incident that transmits to the child that s/he is worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another’s needs.” In other words, children grow up feeling worthless, unworthy of love and affection, invisible, abandoned, and often times there only to serve others. Boundaries are crossed and violated, leading to difficulties in relationships and self-care for years to come.
Psychological maltreatment results in such behaviors in youth as frequent inattention, aggression, noncompliance, hyperactivity, conduct problems, and delinquency (Monitor on Psychology, 2015). Children and adults often present with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well.
Not long ago, I wrote another blog about the ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experiences). This showed that despite children experiencing things such as parental addiction, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or community violence, resiliency was strongly predicted by the presence of Safe, Stable, Nurturing Relationships. Sometimes it’s just one adult in that child’s life, sometimes many over the course of their childhood and adolescence.
So what does this mean? There’s so much to this issue that can’t be written in such a short blog. But the next time you’re wondering about why a child is acting out, “ADHD”, or constantly needing discipline at school or in the home, perhaps it would be helpful instead to wonder what happened to them, instead of what’s wrong with them?
If you or someone you love has been impacted by psychological maltreatment, therapy can assist you to work through the negative core beliefs and live a meaningful life. The first step is finding the right therapist. Call Specialized Therapy Associates at 201-488-6678 to speak with an intake specialist to get matched with someone who is right for you. After all, you’re worth it.
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