Why is emotional pain so devastating

Mental abuse as bad as physical

"Contrary to what was thought, all forms of abuse have similarly serious consequences - emotional as well as physical," says David Vachon of McGill University. The consequences ranged from behavioral problems, developmental disorders and aggression to fears, depression and trauma - even in children who were “only” exposed to psychological cruelty.

Mental damage

The psychologist used data collected through the Mt. Hope Family Center. Summer camps for children between the ages of five and 13 who came from difficult family backgrounds had been held there over a period of more than 20 years. Around half of the approximately 2,300 children were victims of emotional or physical abuse. The scientists compared these with any psychological and behavioral disorders. It showed that the psychological damage caused by emotional abuse was just as devastating as by physical abuse.

"It is a widespread cruelty that is also far less punished than other forms of child abuse," says Vachon. The psychologists call for greater awareness of the issue of emotional abuse and for the victims to be given appropriate therapeutic help.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse manifests itself primarily within partnerships and in the parent-child relationship, but is also possible in all other interpersonal relationships. It's much more common than physical violence - but just as destructive. Emotional abuse permanently undermines self-esteem and causes lasting fears. Previous research has shown that emotional abuse, especially in children, leaves scars in the brain: Among other things, it disrupts brain maturation. The children bear the consequences for a lifetime.

Examples of emotional abuse are behaviors like

  • Deprivation of love
  • Ignore to punish
  • Disparagement ("How can you be so stupid?")
  • Intimidation through aggression
  • Excluding joint activities
  • emotional blackmail ("If you do that, I don't love you anymore.")

Source:David D. Vachon et al .:Assessment of the Harmful Psychiatric and Behavioral Effects of Different Forms of Child Maltreatment, JAMA Psychiatry; October 2015