a definition of verbal abuse
- You understand their feelings, but they never attempt to understand
- They dismiss your difficulties or issues as unimportant or an overreaction;
- They do not listen to you;
- They always put their needs before yours;
- They expect you to perform tasks that you find unpleasant or humiliating;
- You "walk on eggshells" in an effort not to upset them;
- They ignore logic and prefer amateur theatrics in order to remain
the centre of attention;
- Instead manipulate you into feeling guilty for things that have nothing
to do with you;
- They attempt to destroy any outside support you receive by belittling
the people/ service/practice in an attempt to retain exclusive control
over your emotions;
- They never take responsibility for hurting others;
- They blame everyone and everything else for any unfortunate events
in their lives;
- They perceive themselves as martyrs or victims and constantly expect
Copyright 2002 Abuse List.
Amedeo and I performed our duties with robotic smiles for years, and
then he cracked. He was thirteen years old and enough, enough. Out of
self-defence, he had devolved: non-feeling and non-sensing, hard. I
had been aware of his growing abstraction. It was as if he was being
gnawed. He often drank himself to sleep with vodka from Aldo's panelled
study. Unusual lights flared in his eyes and his fists were always by
his flanks, as if prepared for an attack.
On the morning of the now-legendary crack-up, Aldo had turned to him.
"Never had a girlfriend?" he provocatively asked. "You should just accept
that you're a eunuch. Don't let it bother you - some men are like that."
Only the customary criticism, customary sarcasm, customary
At such junctures, mother would always drift out of the room, patting
her hair and poetically murmuring to herself. I methodically consumed
my breakfast in silence, interrupting Aldo only to ask for milk or coffee
or the honey to his right. Amedeo and I never even dared interarch our
glances (this had been known to infuriate and was thus unadvisable).
That morning my brother left the house with an abundant slamming of
all doors. "The milk has CURDLED!" Thoth screamed at mother, who then
burst into a fantasy of tears. I grabbed an apple from the bowl and
left for school.
The Pure Weight of the
Heart, by Antonella Gambotto
what is emotional abuse?
There is no universally accepted definition of emotional
abuse. Like other forms of violence in relationships, emotional abuse
is based on power and control. The following are widely recognized as
forms of emotional abuse:
- refusing to acknowledge a person's presence, value or
worth; communicating to a person that she or he is useless or inferior;
devaluing her/his thoughts and feelings. Example: repeatedly treating
a child differently from siblings in a way that suggests resentment,
rejection or dislike for the child.
- insulting, ridiculing, name calling, imitating and infantilizing;
behaviour which diminishes the identity, dignity and self-worth of the
person. Examples: yelling, swearing, publicly humiliating or labelling
a person as stupid; mimicking a person's disability; treating a senior
as if she or he cannot make decisions.
- inducing terror or extreme fear in a person; coercing by intimidation;
placing or threatening to place a person in an unfit or dangerous environment.
Examples: forcing a child to watch violent acts toward other family
members or pets; threatening to leave, physically hurt or kill a person,
pets or people she / he cares about; threatening to destroy a person's
possessions; threatening to have a person deported or put in an institution;
- physical confinement; restricting normal contact with others; limiting
freedom within a person's own environment. Examples: excluding a senior
from participating in decisions about her or his own life; locking a
child in a closet or room alone; refusing a female partner or senior
access to her or his own money and financial affairs; withholding contact
with grandchildren; depriving a person of mobility aids or transportation.
- socializing a person into accepting ideas or behaviour which oppose
legal standards; using a person for advantage or profit; training a
child to serve the interests of the abuser and not of the child. Examples:
child sexual abuse; permitting a child to use alcohol or drugs or see
pornography; enticing a person into the sex trade.
denying emotional responsiveness
- failing to provide care in a sensitive and responsive manner; being
detached and uninvolved; interacting only when necessary; ignoring a
person's mental health needs. Examples: ignoring a child's attempt to
interact; failing to show affection, caring and / or love for a child;
treating a senior who lives in an institution as though she / he is
an object or "a job to be done."
- Emotional abuse accompanies other forms of abuse, but also may occur
on its own;
- No abuse - neglect, physical, sexual or financial - can occur without
psychological consequences. Therefore all abuse contains elements of
- Emotional abuse follows a pattern; it is repeated and sustained.
If left unchecked, abuse does not get better over time. It only gets
- Like other forms of violence in relationships, those who hold the
least power and resources in society, for example, women and children,
are most often emotionally abused;
- Emotional abuse can severely damage a person's sense of self-worth
- In children, emotional abuse can impair psychological development,
including: intelligence, memory, recognition, perception, attention,
imagination and moral development; and
- Emotional abuse can also affect a child's social development and
may result in an impaired ability to perceive, feel, understand and
how widespread is emotional abuse?
Only a few studies provide insight about the prevalence of emotional abuse
in Canada. Emotional abuse is difficult to research because:
- Its effects have only recently been recognized;
- There are no consistent definitions and it is hard to define;
- It is difficult to detect, assess and substantiate; and
- Many cases of emotional abuse go unreported.
A recent study of Ontario investigations into child maltreatment found
that, in 1993, 10% of investigations alleged emotional abuse.
In 1993, 39% of women in abusive relationships reported that their children
saw them being assaulted.
In 1995, the Canadian Women's Health Test found that of 1000 women 15
years of age or over:
- 36% had experienced emotional abuse while growing up; 43% had experienced
some form of abuse as children or teenagers; and
- 39% reported experiencing verbal/emotional abuse in a relationship
within the last five years.
Statistics Canada's 1993 Violence Against Women Survey showed that among
ever-married or common-law Canadian women aged 18 to 65 years, emotional
abuse is widespread. The study found that:
- 35% of all women surveyed reported that their spouse was emotionally
- 18% of women reported experiencing emotional abuse but not physical
abuse in a relationship.
- 77% of women reported emotional abuse in combination with physical
abuse. In one Canadian study on abuse in university and college dating
relationships, 81% of male respondents reported that they had psychologically
abused a female partner.
In 1995, a study of seniors' client records from various agencies across
Canada found that psychological abuse was the most prevalent form of abuse.
The 1990 National Survey on Abuse of the Elderly in Canada estimated that:
- 4% of seniors residing in private homes reported experiencing abuse
- Questions about insults, swearing and threats were asked as a measure
of chronic verbal aggression. The study showed that 1.4% of seniors
experienced these forms of emotional abuse in the year prior to the
- Chronic verbal aggression ranked as the second most prevalent form
of mistreatment following material abuse.
facts to consider
Emotional abuse of children can result in serious emotional and/or behavioural
problems, including depression, lack of attachment or emotional bond
to a parent or guardian, low cognitive ability and educational achievement,
and poor social skills.
One study which looked at emotionally abused children in infancy and
then again during their preschool years consistently found them to be
angry, uncooperative and unattached to their primary caregiver. The
children also lacked creativity, persistence and enthusiasm.
Children who experience rejection are more likely than accepted children
to exhibit hostility, aggressive or passive-aggressive behaviour, to
be extremely dependent, to have negative opinions of themselves and
their abilities, to be emotionally unstable or unresponsive, and to
have a negative perception of the world around them.
Parental verbal aggression (e.g., yelling, insulting) or symbolic aggression
(e.g., slamming a door, giving the silent treatment) toward children
can have serious consequences. Children who experience these forms of
abuse demonstrate higher rates of physical aggressiveness, delinquency
and interpersonal problems than other children. Children whose parents
are additionally physically abusive are even more likely to experience
Children who see or hear their mothers being
abused are victims of emotional abuse.
Growing up in such an environment is terrifying and severely affects
a child's psychological and social development. Male children may learn
to model violent behaviour while female children may learn that being
abused is a normal part of relationships. This contributes to the intergenerational
cycle of violence.
Many women in physically abusive relationships feel that the emotional
abuse is more severely debilitating than the physical abuse in the relationship.
Repeated verbal abuse such as blaming, ridiculing, insulting, swearing,
yelling and humiliation has long-term negative effects on a woman's
self-esteem and contributes to feelings of uselessness, worthlessness
Threatening to kill or physically harm a female partner, her children,
other family members or pets establishes dominance and coercive power
on the part of the abuser. The female partner feels extreme terror,
vulnerability and powerlessness within the relationship. This type of
emotional abuse can make an abused woman feel helpless and isolated.
Jealousy, possessiveness and interrogation about whereabouts and activities
are controlling behaviours which can severely restrict a female partner's
independence and freedom. Social and financial isolation may leave her
dependent upon the abuser for social contact money and the necessities
Emotional abuse can have serious physical and psychological consequences
for women, including severe depression, anxiety, persistent headaches,
back and limb problems, and stomach problems.
Women who are psychologically abused but not physically abused are five
times more likely to misuse alcohol than women who have not experienced
Senior abuse is still a new issue and there is still little research
in this field on emotional abuse.
We do know that senior emotional abuse and neglect can be personal or
systemic and that it occurs in a variety of relationships and settings,
including abuse by:
- a partner;
- adult children or other relatives;
- unrelated, formal or informal caregivers; or
- someone in a position of trust.
Seniors who are emotionally abused may experience feelings of extreme
inadequacy, guilt, low self-esteem, symptoms of depression, fear of
failure, powerlessness or hopelessness. These signs may be easily confused
with loss of mental capability so that a senior may be labelled as "senile"
or "incapable" when in fact she or he may be being emotionally abused.
Abusers may often outwardly display anger and resentment toward the
senior in the company of others. They may also display a complete lack
of respect or concern for the senior by repeatedly interrupting or publicly
humiliating her or him. Not taking into account a senior's wishes concerning
decisions about her or his own life is an outward sign of abuse.
detecting emotional abuse
Emotional abuse may be difficult to detect. However, personal awareness
and understanding of the issue is key to recognizing it. The following
indicators may assist in detecting emotional abuse.
possible indicators of emotional abuse
- low self-esteem;
- severe anxiety;
- failure to thrive in infancy;
- emotional instability;
- sleep disturbances;
- physical complaints with no medical basis;
- inappropriate behaviour for age or development;
- overly passive/compliant;
- suicide attempts or discussion;
- extreme dependence;
- inability to trust;
- other forms of abuse present or suspected;
- feelings of shame and guilt;
- frequent crying;
- overly passive/compliant;
- delay or refusal of medical treatment;
- discomfort or nervousness around caregiver or relative;
- substance abuse; and
- avoidance of eye contact.
Legal intervention in cases of child emotional abuse and neglect is
governed by provincial and territorial child protection legislation.
All jurisdictions require that alleged or suspected child emotional
abuse or neglect be reported to child protection authorities or the
police. In some jurisdictions, failure to report child emotional abuse
or neglect may result in a fine or imprisonment.
Emotionally abusive behaviour such as repeatedly following the other
person or someone known to her or him; repeatedly communicating, directly
or indirectly, with the other person or someone known to her or him;
harassing the other person with telephone calls; besetting or watching
the other person's house or place of work; and / or engaging in threatening
conduct directed at the other person or a member of her or his family
is criminal harassment.
These behaviours must cause a person to fear for her or his safety or
the safety of someone she or he knows.
Other forms of emotional abuse such as insulting, isolating, infantilizing,
humiliating, and ignoring, although serious, are not criminal behaviours
and cannot be prosecuted under the Criminal Code of Canada.
what can you do?
If you are being abused, remember:
-You are not alone;
- It is not your fault;
- No one ever deserves to be abused; and
- Help is available.
if you suspect/know someone is being
- Let the person know about available support services; and
- Report suspected or known child abuse or neglect to a child welfare
agency or the police.
if you are a service provider
Work with other organizations to:
- Increase awareness of emotional abuse;
- Address the needs of those who have been or are being emotionally
- Keep informed of resources and materials relating to intervention
and prevention of abuse.
- 24 hour help-line or distress line;
- transition house or shelter;
- social service agency;
- child welfare or family services agency;
- legal aid service;
- health professional (e.g., nurse, doctor, dentist);
- community health centre;
- public health department;
- community counselling centre;
- home support agency;
- seniors' centre;
- community living association;
- friendship centre;
- religious/spiritual organization.
child sexual abuse prevention kit
Developed by the Caring Communities Project includes "how to" handbooks,
tools and activities, 20 case studies of prevention initiatives and
resource lists of books, programs and videos. The kit is available in
both English and French. Contact: Canadian Institute of Child Health,
384 Bank Street, Suite 300, Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1Y4. Tel: (613) 230-8838;
fax: (613) 230-6654; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A support and educational program for parents of children from birth
to age five. This program is available in both English and French. Contact:
Nobody's Perfect National Office, 384 Bank Street, Suite 300, Ottawa,
Ontario K2P 1Y4. Tel: (613) 237-7667, ext. 225; fax: (613) 237-8515;
2002 Laura E. Stevens
A favorite Dolphin Research Center program, allowing people to enter
the dolphins environment and participate in a playful, structured swim
session with the dolphins. Participation in educational workshops completes
the experience. The program costs $135 per person and requires advance
reservations. Minimum age is 5 years old. Children ages 5 - 12 must
have an adult in the water with them for the swim. Understanding of
spoken English is required.
Reservations can be made the month before you wish to swim. Call the
reservation line in Florida on (305) 289-0002. For a reservation schedule
and more information about the program, click
Absolutely no reservations will be accepted by mail, fax or electronic
Copyright 2002 The
Dolphin Research Center