In general, the people in our society get up in arms about child sexual or physical abuse. Which is totally right. Occurrences often end up on the news. These types of abuse are described as “sick” and “wrong” and “travesties”. Which they are.
But I feel that verbal and emotional abuse is a travesty as well. They are just as sick and wrong. But, they are often minimized and discounted by these same people who are horrified by other types of abuse.
If a child or teen confided in a trusted adult that one of their parents hit them, or touched them in an uncomfortable way, that trusted adult likely would tell authorities and would try to rescue that child.
But, if a child or teen confided that one of their parents yelled at them a lot, hurt their feelings, or said mean things to or about them, or any other variation of verbal and emotional abuse, that child would likely just be told “everyone has times they don’t get along with their parents”, “your parents are probably under a lot of pressure”, “I didn’t get along with my mom either”, or some other variation of minimization that would inadvertently make the abused child feel like they must just be too sensitive, it shouldn’t hurt as much as it does, and maybe it isn’t such a big deal.
But, like M. Russel Ballard has stated, emotional abuse is equally severe. The effects of consistently being sent the message that you are worthless, hateful, stupid, unloved, helpless, etc. has deep, long-lasting effects.
When a child is hit or kicked or choked, or even if a bone is broken, the physical injury is often healed in either a matter of days or a matter of months. But the emotional effects from that violence—the fear, the feeling of being unloved and worthless that your parent would do that, etc—that emotional damage continues long after the physical wounds heal.
It is the same with sexual abuse. The damage that usually lasts the longest is the fear, the sense of betrayal, the effects of emotions being stimulated too early, the self-hatred that is generated,etc.
It is not so much the physical damage that you experience that significantly harms you when you are physically or sexually abused, but the harmful and long-lasting thoughts and feelings and emotions generated within you by those acts of aggression against you.
So in a way, ALL abuse is emotional abuse. And the emotional damage from all kinds of abuse—physical, sexual, and verbal/emotional—is the abuse that causes the most extensive and long-lasting damage.
All abuse is equally damaging—whether it comes in the form of sexual, physical, verbal, or neglect.
So why does society minimize the abuse that comes from the mouth while decrying the abuse that comes from the hand or foot or other body part?
As I think about the abuse I have personally experienced or witnessed—physical, sexual, neglect, verbal—the parts that were most painful at the time and the parts that still hurt me now, are the feelings of betrayal, the fear, the anger, and the message that I was worthless and that I didn’t matter.
And when I think of the abuse I most wish I had never experienced, it is the verbal abuse I wish could be erased—the words that were beat into my mind and heart and their effects on my view of myself, others, and life.
Update 5/16/2015 I wanted to share a link to an article about a Harvard study that found that emotional abuse is equally damaging: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/04/verbal-beatings-hurt-as-much-as-sexual-abuse/