Child Abuse and Emotional Neglect

Hitting Children

I’ve pretty much always believed that hitting kids is abuse and can’t possibly be good for them in any way. It doesn’t teach them right from wrong or whatever, it only teaches them to fear their parents.

I used to think that my parents were pretty good because they didn’t hit me. Except for that one time my dad hit me when I didn’t do some or other thing he asked me to do immediately. I don’t remember what I did, or what he wanted me to do. I only remember the look on his face, and how angry I was with him. I couldn’t believe that he had dared to do something so terrible as to hit me. I remember staring at him with my angry face.

I excused that though, because it only happened once, so I thought that must mean my dad learned enough from his mistake to not do it again. Maybe he learned something from my angry face. I know his dad was an abusive asshole, so I guess it was hard for him to figure out how to be a decent dad.

It’s natural for kids to want to see their own parents as good, and it’s really interesting what lengths they’ll go to in order to defend really, really bad behaviour from their parents, including blaming themselves for the fact that their parents abused them: “I was a terrible kid”, etc.

I had a few arguments with some friends about “spanking”, as they called it. It’s funny how when people talk about hitting children, they want to give it different names, like spanking, discipline, etc, in order to sugar coat it and make it seem like it’s really not that bad in their minds. Hitting is hitting. Calling it something else doesn’t change that.

An adult overpowering another adult and hitting them isn’t called spanking or discipline, it’s just called assault or abuse. So why on earth do people think it’s okay to do the exact same thing to children? That makes it even worse! Kids are small and vulnerable and dependant on adults for protection and support, and then the very same people they need to protect them are the ones hurting them? It’s completely insane.

Whenever anyone suggested that hitting kids was good, or that they were hit and “turned out okay” I’d get very angry with them. Anyone who thinks that hitting a child is acceptable did not turn out okay!

In recent years this seems to be catching on somewhat, hitting kids is becoming illegal in more and more places. So there’s some progress.

But this brings me to a far more sneaky form of child abuse, which is even more common, and far harder to talk about because it never leaves any kind of physical bruises or scars.

Emotional Abuse

Sexual and physical abuse are just the tip of the abuse iceberg. The bulk of the abuse in the “developed” countries in the world today is emotional abuse. – Steve Hein

All abuse is a form of control, and emotional abuse is no different in that sense. People abuse kids because they want to control them by making them afraid of consequences. In the case of physical abuse, it’s pretty obvious how that works, but emotional abuse is harder to see.

What is emotional abuse? There are many different categories of emotional abuse. Let’s start with some examples.

Verbal abuse

Most people have probably heard of this. Verbal abuse includes things like insults, yelling, shouting and hostile sarcasm.

It can also include things like non-constructive criticism, focusing on your flaws instead of positive qualities, always finding something wrong with everything you do, and never being satisfied.


Using guilt, fear, or any of your feelings, even your own compassion, to get you to do what they want you to do.

Threatening you with various consequences if you don’t do what they want. Bonus points if you’re never really sure if they’re serious about the consequences or not because they’re terribly inconsistent.

Invalidation and gaslighting

Invalidation is to reject, ignore, mock, tease, judge, or diminish someone’s feelings. It is an attempt to control how they feel and for how long they feel it.

Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity.

I would say that invalidation is a form of gaslighting. Invalidation is any way that a person tells you that your feelings are wrong, or that your perception of reality is wrong.

If these things happen often enough, it can make you doubt your own sanity.

Here are some examples of invalidation:

  • “You’re too sensitive!”
  • “You should be grateful!”
  • “Come on, it wasn’t really that bad!”
  • “At least it wasn’t (some other thing)!”
  • “Deal with it!”
  • “Smile!”, “Be happy!”, “Cheer up!” – Many people use these phrases thinking that it’s a way to comfort people, but it’s actually invalidation.

People might use invalidation when they’re uncomfortable with your emotions and that they want it to change so that they themselves can feel better. Or they might just be jerks.

Here are some examples of gaslighting:

  • “Forgetting” certain things that happened and then acting like you’re being ridiculous for saying that it happened.
  • Being very erratic and unpredictable. This can be something like having random mood swings, or reacting in a positive way to something one day, and reacting in a negative way to the exact same thing on another day. This is stressful for you because you can never fully relax, you’re always on edge and waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Never apologizing for things they did wrong, and acting like it never happened.

Emotional Neglect

Emotional neglect is not really a measurable thing, it’s more like the absence of a thing. It’s like missing something that should be there, but never quite knowing what’s missing.

Children have lots of needs, everyone knows this. Most people talk about their physical needs, food, physical safety, etc. But they have lots of emotional needs as well. The need to feel loved, cared about, understood, protected, safe, valued, belonging, etc. If the child’s emotional needs aren’t met adequately, it can stunt their growth and cause lots of problems, aka trauma. It is literally traumatic.

According to Pete Walker, emotional neglect on its own, even without any other more obvious type of abuse, is enough to cause Complex PTSD.

He says this:
Traumatic emotional neglect occurs when a child does not have a single parent or caretaker to whom she can turn in times of need or danger, and when she does not have anyone for an extended period of time who is a relatively consistent source of comfort and protection.

Nearly anyone can make a baby. The ability to be a parent isn’t any sort of guarantee that a person is capable of genuine love and empathy. They could be severely traumatized themselves and not have the ability to love their own child, or have empathy for them.

Children are hard-wired to feel afraid when they are not close to a caregiver for even short periods of time. This is because the human brain hasn’t changed a whole lot since the era when we were still hunting for food. Back then, leaving a baby or small child unattended for even a few seconds was like asking a predator to come over and have a snack. Not a great idea. So there’s a very good reason why babies and small children are so clingy, and also a very valid reason why they seek attention. They literally fear for their lives if they don’t get enough of it.

How often do we see parents just ignoring their kids when they cry? “Oh, leave him to cry, he’ll learn to self-soothe!”. Uh, no, he won’t! He’ll learn that his parents don’t care about him and are willing to leave him to get eaten by wild animals. The fear is the same, regardless of whether or not there are actually any predators around.

Children learn a lot from their parents, and emotional regulation is one of those things. Because my parents were unable to regulate their own emotions, I didn’t learn how to regulate mine. What I did learn to do was to dissociate, like my mother, with the occasional eruption of rage and various other random feelings that seemed to come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. I didn’t understand my own feelings at all.

It took me many years to even start to learn about my own feelings, and I needed a lot of help from other people, and I had to do a lot of reading, journaling and meditating. It was a pretty huge setback. But it also has allowed me to appreciate my feelings in a way, maybe more so than people who didn’t have this much of a setback, and who might just take these things for granted.

Most People Are Traumatized

If you, like me, have ever wondered why humans are so fucked up, here’s your answer. Most modern, “civilized” cultures are traumatic and dehumanizing, and based on a history of war and genocide. Some are worse than others, and some are worse to certain groups of people than to other groups.

People who believed they were better than other races raised children. Those children grew up and raised children too. Also, people who were treated like shit by other races also raised children, etc. That’s a lot of traumatized generations, who grew up with certain beliefs just being accepted as normal instead of questioned.

Things like:

  • Children are basically property of their parents. Their feelings are cute and/or annoying, but don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Hitting them is how you teach them right from wrong.
  • Humans are born bad, and are naturally greedy and violent. Discipline by parents, and/or religion is the only way for them to turn out good.
  • Our people are better than those other people over there.
  • People who look like that are probably dangerous and I need to avoid them.
  • Anyone who doesn’t believe in our religion is bad.
  • The only way you’re worth something in life is if you make a lot of money.
  • Working hard is a good virtue.
  • If you’re not making enough money, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough, or you’re lazy or dumb or something. The system is totally fair and has been fair since the beginning of time.
  • People don’t deserve to just have food and shelter, they should earn it.
  • This is really the best way for things to work – look at that other country where they tried that other thing, and how badly that failed. You don’t honestly want THAT, do you?

Even if people don’t actively believe these things, or they think they don’t, those beliefs are still embedded into the culture that surrounds them. Their subconscious mind is infected by it, and it takes a lot of time and effort to change the subconscious mind. Most people don’t do much of that, not on purpose anyway.


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