Forms of Verbal Abuse
A child may experience verbal abuse from family, friends, teachers, siblings, and bullies. Parental verbal abuse can be debilitating. Children may become so conditioned to believing what's being said to them that they don't get help until they become adults or not at all.
Sometimes, parents are repeating insults from their own childhood while others combine verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse. Common put-downs include insulting the child's appearance or intelligence, telling them they'll never amount to anything and wishing they were never born.
Verbal attacks from people outside of the home may not be detected, especially if the child has been threatened if he tells. If children do tell but parents don't take them seriously or tell them that they're being too sensitive, then this is verbal abuse in itself and only adds to the emotional turmoil the child is suffering. They begin to believe that their pain isn't important which erodes their self-esteem.
Long-Term Effects of Verbal Abuse
A study published in 2006 in the American Journal of Psychiatry(1) was done to determine how the effects of childhood verbal abuse compared to those experienced from physical and sexual abuse. Researchers found that young adults who were verbally abused as children by parents had moderate to large problems with depression, anger and dissociation. In some instances, the effects were found to be greater than those found in physical and sexual abuse survivors.
This study only measured effects on a small group of people. So, it's difficult to say what percentage chance played in the results. However, this research points to something that survivors of verbal abuse and their counselors have known for some time—that verbal cruelty leaves lasting emotional scars that take time to heal from just like other forms of abuse.
Besides the effects mentioned above, some others include(2):
- Low self esteem
- Relationship problems
- Propensity toward drug and alcohol abuse
- Withdrawal from society
- Violent behavior
- Abusing their own or other children
As an outsider, you may be hesitant to report verbal abuse because you might think it won't be taken seriously. But you aren't required to make a judgment as to the severity of abuse. For all you know, verbal attacks may be a sign of other abuse going on in the house. You may just be saving a child's life by reporting your suspicions to law enforcement. Even if it turns out that the child isn't a victim of domestic violence, you may be giving the parents a wake-up call to the horrific impact of their words and they might get help to change their behavior.
1. Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood Maltreatment. The American Journal of Psychiatry, American Psychiatric Association, 2006.
2. Emotional Abuse. American Humane, accessed August 2010.