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Emotional Child Abuse Effects

Emotional Child Abuse Effects

Emotional abuse effects are directly connected to the relationship between the victim and abuser; the closer the relationship, the more devastating the effects on the child or youth. As the intensity, frequency and duration of abuse increases, so does the effect on the psyche of that child or youth. The negative messages of emotional child abuse, causes inner damage that either destroys or impairs the development of a positive sense of self. This is what happened to me as a child, after suffering emotional abuse on a daily basis.

Emotional child abuse is by definition “constant negative messages”, but even a single message of rejection can have long-lasting negative effects on the child or youth. The effects of severe emotional abuse, however, may be more physiological than previously thought:

Fact: Studies on abandoned and severely maltreated Romanian children revealed striking lesions in certain areas of the brain. The repeated traumatization led to an increased release of stress hormones, which attacked the sensitive tissue of the brain and destroyed newly-formed neurons. The areas of their brains responsible for the “management” of their emotions were 20% to 30% smaller than in other children of the same age. It would be logical to conclude that this damage can result in any child (not only Romanian) who suffers such abandonment and maltreatment (Dr. Alice Miller, Childhood Trauma, presented as a lecture to the YWHA, New York City, 1998 (1)).

Physical Effects

  • speech problems
  • lags in physical development
  • failure to thrive (especially in infants)
  • facial tics
  • eating disorders
  • substance abuse
  • self-harm – burning, cutting
  • attempts at or completed suicide

Behavioural Effects

  • low self-worth
  • irritability
  • overly reactive
  • sleep disorders
  • inability to trust others
  • depression
  • inappropriate behaviour for age
  • withdrawal
  • profound sadness
  • habit disorders – sucking, biting, rocking
  • aggression
  • stealing
  • lying
  • self-harm
  • prostitution
  • engaging in risky behaviours
  • attempts at or completed suicide

Emotional Effects

  • inability to control emotions
  • questioning of religious beliefs



(1) Miller, A. (1998). Childhood trauma. Lecture to the YWHA, New York City.


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