Most people look for bruises and broken bones as signs of child abuse. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, also leave deep, lasting scars. And the scars it leaves are not always obvious. Abuse comes in all forms; ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or dumb are also child abuse. Regardless the result of child abuse is serious, emotional harm.
Myths about child abuse and neglect
MYTH: Violence equals abuse.
Truth: Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. And since they are more subtle, many are less likely to intervene.
MYTH: Good people do not abuse their children.
Truth: Unfortunately it's not always so clear. Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don’t know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problem.
MYTH: Most child abusers are strangers.
Truth: Most abusers are family members or others close to the family.
MYTH: Child abuse doesn't happen in “good” families.
Truth: Child abuse crosses all racial, economic, and cultural lines. Sometimes, families who seem to have it all from the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors.
MYTH: Those who were abused as a child always grow up to be abusers.
Truth: Abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle as adults, unconsciously repeating what they experienced as children. However many adult survivors of child abuse are strongly motivated to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.
Effects of child abuse and neglect
All types of child abuse and neglect leave deep lasting scars and not just physical. Emotional scars have long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self, ability to have healthy relationships, and ability to function at home, at work and at school. Some effects include:
- Inner feelings of being “worthless” or “damaged.” Being repeatedly told as a child you are worthless and dumb can be very difficult to overcome. As an adult, the abused shies away from more education, or settle for a lower paying job. Sexual abuse survivors, often especially struggle with a feeling of being damaged.
- Lack of trust and relationship difficulties. The old saying “If you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust?" is unfortunately an ironic phrase as it pertains to child abuse. Abuse by a parent and or primary caregiver damages the core relationship as a child—ripping apart the belief that they will safely and reliably get their physical and emotional needs from the person who is responsible for their care. Without this security foundation, it is very difficult to learn to trust people or know who is trustworthy. This will later manifest into difficulty maintaining relationships for fear of being controlled or abused. It can also give a false or unreliable notion of what healthy relationships are, and thereby lead to unhealthy relationships.
- Trouble regulating emotions. Abused children are unable to safely express their emotions. Adult survivors of child abuse can struggle with unexplained anxiety, depression, or anger. Alcohol or drug abuse becomes a crutch for the abused, hoping to numb out the painful feelings.