Parental verbal abuse creates a feeling of worthlessness in children

Child abuse includes verbal abuse, and considering its potential destructiveness, I am surprised at how little is written about it. Writers in general consider it part of emotional abuse, but I believe that it deserves separate treatment. Joan Arehart-Treichel maintains that parental verbal abuse is extremely detrimental to children. We have seen how verbal abuse affects adults. I believe that the impact on children is greater, because abuse becomes part of their formation, and helps to define them. The small child has no hope of detecting verbal abuse, sees it as normal, and their self-worth is stillborn in the noxious cradle of negative comments. Our self-view is partly defined by labels, and if the labels are negative, the child will have a negative self –view or self-image. She internalises the negative messages, and the ‘you are good for nothing’ eventually becomes ‘I am good for nothing’. Childhood verbal abuse makes us feel worthless, and many adults verbally abused as children often say to me ‘I am a waste of space’.
When I explore childhood verbal abuse with adult clients, I sometimes do the ‘ear exercise’, whereby they draw a big ear and write in negative comments made to them as children. Comments such as ‘you are useless’, ‘you are like your mother/father’, ‘you only got 90% in your test’, ‘you’ll never be any good’, are common.
I remember my mother saying ‘you’re a crow’, when I tried to sing. She did not mean it, but it helped to define me as a singer, so when I occasionally sing nowadays I see the image of a large crow cawing. I see the funny side of this, but it illustrates how emotionally loaded words, and the images they represent, remain with us all our lives.
In her blog, A Mother’s Tongue, Carolyn Denise calls verbal abuse a silent killer. She describes victims being put down and made to feel unwanted by their mothers. Verbal abuse is a deliberate behaviour that can be tailored and rationed to achieve power and control. Carolyn shows how one young victim was manipulated into losing weight through verbal abuse. When she succeeded, her mother praised her, but when her weight increased again, she was vilified and ridiculed. Another ill-advised mother praised her daughter’s beauty and convinced her that her looks would garner her success in life. This mother discounted education. Her daughter’s looks eventually faded, and she never reached her potential as a person, but spiralled into shame and promiscuity.
Child verbal abuse is sometimes used in more subtle ways to meet the needs of parents. The child is brainwashed, giving rise to disastrous long-term consequences. At one time, the Fourth Commandment ‘honour thy father and thy mother’ was a favourite way to muzzle the child, and prevent them from expressing their feelings. Guilt was often sown by the phrase ‘you don’t love your mother’. Eventually this guilt gives way to rage. Threats of abandonment fill a child with fear and give them a sense of not being wanted. The words ‘I wish you were never born’ remain imprinted in memory forever, and create a sense of being unloved. Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

Posted in abuse, Child Abuse