Most parents have good intentions. Most children are brought into the world with a family who loves them warmly. But, life takes hold. Child-rearing is a long journey. Families can have some serious problems along the way. This is especially the case when one or more members of that family have unresolved emotional issues. These issues fester and brew inside a family to create conflict and drama.
In the best case, children build an emotional shield around themselves. In the worst case, children lose their sense of self completely and learn to construct a completely different identity for themselves to cope.
Emotional abuse is a topic that is frequently shoved under the rug.
How can we prove there’s abuse in the family? The child have no visible scars that we can see with our eyes.
The thing is that there are signs. There are signs everywhere if you know where to look. I’m not an expert in this area. However, I had personal experiences as well as the stories from my friends growing up to draw upon to create this list of signs. I’ve validated some of them with expert websites listed at the end of the article. The classic signs are anxious behavior, withdrawal, self-harm, soiled clothes and aggressive behavior that may be easy to spot. This list is about the subtle signs that we often overlook.
I write this article in hopes that parents will see those signs. They will evaluate their own performance by observing their own children. They will start improving their own family’s life by getting to the bottom of family issues that hurt their own children.
They will make an effort to fix their own issues.
I also write this article for teachers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who care about all the children within our community, let’s not miss these signs in our children.
Let’s at least ask some questions to find out what is really going on.
Have you ever met a child who doesn’t laugh or cry with a sense of freedom?
This is especially true in younger children of the preschool and kindergarten age. When children are young, they don’t normally have a rigid sense of control over their emotional life. If a child tries very hard not to laugh too loudly at jokes, or to cry hard when hurt, then you want to question whether the family system allows for such freedoms.
Have you ever met a child who is overly friendly with strangers?
At a certain age, a child should be self-aware enough to avoid harm. Parents who care will have discussed boundaries with the child: don’t cross the street without holding an adult’s hand, don’t talk to strangers. But, more importantly, in a healthy home, children who have attached firmly to their parents, will feel a safety net in which to park their emotions. Because of the safety net, they are able to establish boundaries with strangers such as: hesitating before engaging, questioning the stranger’s motives or running away in an attempt by the stranger to engage the child.
These children are not overly eager to establish relationships because their relationship needs are fulfilled.
On the other hand, a child who does not have an emotional safety net will seek to engage anyone to establish a semblance of emotional closeness. This child will readily speak to strangers without any adequate boundary. This child may readily disclose information about himself or herself that are private such as interest, passions, friends, and family.
Have you ever met a child who does not run up to the parents at pickup time?
When children have a firm emotional base with their family, they will miss their parents when they are at school. The instant they see their parents, they will “light up”. On the other hand, when children don’t have this strong emotional base, they will be indifferent when their parents enter the room. Their relationship with their parents will seem almost transactional. Sometimes, they will keep playing with other children and ignore their parents altogether.
Have you ever met a child who does not stand up for himself or herself? When you deliberately ask the child what he or she wants, that child responds with indifference: “Whatever you want.”?
When a child is persistently told to deny his or her needs from a very young age, that child gives up asserting himself or herself even when the situation calls for it. It’s almost as if the child does not want to rock the boat. The child lost trust in adults a long time ago. This child will obey. This child will listen. But, this child will subtly rebel since the child does not know “how to” assert himself or herself.
Have you ever met a child who is smart, talented and a real joy to be around at school, but when you meet that child outside the school in the home environment, that child seems aloof, lackluster and tired?
When a child’s personality is not consistent within different environments, then it’s an indication of discomfort. The reverse is also true with a child who may be bullied at school while having a wonderful family life. That child may appear aloof, lackluster and tired in the school environment or the abused environment. In the non-abusive environment, the child may seem to have recovered emotionally. However, there may be pain bottled up inside the child if the issue is not discussed and addressed with an adult. Later on in that child’s life, that pain may show up in rebellious, aggressive, and self-harm behaviors even in the non-abusive environment.
I hope I have highlighted signs that we may all miss in our children living with emotional abuse. It’s my sincere hope that some of our emotionally abused children will experience warmth in their lives, and heal from their emotional wounds before becoming adults.