How Lasting is the Impact of Emotional Abuse in Childhood?

I’ve worked for a long time on rebuilding self-esteem, though I’ve never been sure whether the lack of it contributed to depression or the depression killed off the self-esteem. It hardly matters. When I was a kid, that confident, robust me, sure of who he was, feeling like a whole person, apparently never made it off the drawing boards.

Whatever happened back in childhood filled the psychic space that was trying to be me with a lot of broken pieces. Some gems, some junk. I never felt as a kid that it all added up the way it was supposed to. There was something wrong. A lot of these parts weren’t very good – or at least not good enough. Never good enough.

As a kid, of course, you don’t go around analyzing yourself. I just looked to my parents for – something, I couldn’t have said what at the time. Often, I didn’t get much of anything from them. Because I was looking pretty hard, though, the few things that came my way sank in deeply. I think those looks, words, and tones of voice that I was trying to get my cues from became more important than anything I might be feeling or thinking. I was anxious just waiting to get a signal. Had I done this well – or had I gotten it all wrong, once again?

Much later, all grown-up and outwardly capable but still shaky on the inside, I spent a lot of time with therapists. I made all sorts of connections between life with my “family of origin” and my current versions of self-defeating behavior and misery. I thought I had it down pretty well, and I’ve written here about several incidents and unmet needs. But the other day, I started to add up a lot of things I’d always thought of as isolated moments. Those parts of a long-gone past suddenly came together in a different way.

It happened while I was reading a report. It summarized a study on the impact of different forms of childhood maltreatment on the psychological problems that develop later in life, including depression. The study measured the effect of emotional attacks through verbal aggression as well as other forms of abuse, both separately and in different combinations. The language was technical but included parts of the questionnaire administered to 554 college-age subjects. Despite the jargon, it hit home.

The questions about the different forms of abuse were written rather broadly since the researchers wanted to come up with a scale of intensity that captured the full range of impact. My first reaction to all these forms of abuse was that they didn’t have much to do with me at all – I was just looking for material to write about.

I’ve never thought of myself as having been abused in childhood. Whatever had happened to me paled in comparison to the horrors of violence, sexual abuse and the psychic torture that some kids had to grow up with – and that several brave writers have detailed in powerful blogs like Clinically Clueless and Melindaville.

I still believe that, but as I looked at the details of the definitions I realized that my experience fitted a number of them – though at the lower end or midrange of the intensity scale. More important than that, though, was the study’s finding that multiple forms of abuse together had the most serious effect in leading to later disorders. That’s when I started adding things up.

Take physical abuse. Of course, I wasn’t physically abused by my parents – they never hit me. But naturally, like all younger brothers, I got beaten up a lot, and, well, I was afraid of what my brother could do to me if he really lost it. Sometimes he did. The definition included not only assaults resulting in serious injuries but also a series of four or more less serious attacks. Four? How about once every week or two for as long as I can remember until I got big and strong enough to punch him out?

As I thought it over, I realized that physical injury hadn’t been the problem. Instead it was living with the fear of his explosiveness and the constant humiliation of being helpless to fight back effectively. He could be wonderful and protective of me too, but I never knew which side of him I’d be seeing. (Thank God, he left physical violence and rage behind as he got older.)

History of witnessing domestic violence? Yes! Lots and lots of that. Searing, frightening, paralyzing. No broken bones, no black-and-blue bodies, no visits to the hospital. But that could hardly matter to a kid. In terms of my experience and that of my friends, my father and brother smashing each other, doors broken down, a gun leveled in cold fury. That was plenty.

Verbal abuse? Sure, my mother had said some incredibly vicious things to me, but not very often. Those were abusive but sustained abuse? – I didn’t think so. Then I looked at the list of verbal abuse components. Yelling? There was little yelling, at least at me (I worked hard to avoid that) and no swearing – at least by today’s standards. My mother and father just didn’t swear much, only a few stock phrases that sound pretty lame now.

But scolding, blaming, insulting, threatening (not physically, though), demeaning, ridiculing, criticizing, belittling? Each of those brought to mind a steady stream of my mother’s cutting words. They suddenly filled the gaps between the most vicious ones that cut into my memory. (Sorry, I just can’t write those down.) Some of it was offhand, matter-of-fact, even light-hearted when in the presence of a friend. (“Oh, isn’t it terrible when one of them takes after the wrong side of the family!” or “He always was a sneak!” – as I would sit there, a quiet, well-behaved 10 year-old.)

I started putting two and two together, as I hadn’t quite done before. The picture that emerged had much more detail than I wanted to recall, but the components of emotional abuse were all there. Not anywhere near the top in the study’s scale – probably below the level that gets into the charts, more in the category of serious or “unusual but not rare.”

Whatever personal insight I gained aside, the report’s conclusions were startling. The researchers gauged the effects of the various forms of abuse on later problems with anxiety, depression, anger-hostility and dissociative experiences, among others. Emotional abuse through verbal aggression, considered apart from other forms of abuse, turned out to have strong links to later depression, in particular, as well as to anger-hostility and dissociation. But the combination of verbal abuse and witnessing domestic violence had one of the most powerful connections to later depression and other problems, surpassed only by sexual abuse by a family member.

This study has its limitations and doesn’t pretend to be definitive, but it brings out the lasting impact of emotional abuse as few other studies have done. Currently, emotional abuse together with witnessing domestic violence is not considered to be trauma under the PTSD diagnosis. However, the combination of witnessing family violence and experiencing physical abuse does qualify as a traumatic event.

The researchers raise the question of whether threats to a child’s mental integrity and sense of self can be as traumatizing as physical threats and assault. I’m not sure what you should call it. All I know is that the events I had managed to keep separate in my memory of childhood actually worked together to hit me hard, over and over again.

Part of me broke back then, and I’ve had to spend far too many years trying to fix it.

Image Credit: Some Rights Reserved by woodleywonderworks at Flickr

26 Responses to “How Lasting is the Impact of Emotional Abuse in Childhood?”

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  1. Jeremy says:

    This is 6 years late to the post, but I thank you for some insight. I had a brother who was an emotional bully. I have always wanted to minimize the impact he had as well as my parents take which was one of ignoring or minimizing. The abuse was to such a high degree, I have had years of intense depression and shame. It has taken me over two decades to admit that this stuff that happened to me counts, that it wasn’t of the norm, but instead excessive and quite damaging, leading to my own choices of addictive behaviors and avoidance in adult life. I’m still have a petrified fear of the guy. I am wary of going down too many more rabbit holes with therapy and self-help and am ready to take those things I learned and hopeully start living life a bit more fully. This article helped me see with more clarity and helps me see the abuse for what it was/is. Thanks!

  2. Zoche says:

    Dear John,

    I just found out my mother died in February, 2014. In 2006, after being victimized again for the home I bought my parents not being good enough, I cut all communication with them. I finally wrote them to say no little girl should have lived through the abuses they doled out to me. An alcholic father screamed obscenities at me as long as I could remember. I was hit with a belt for eating baloney after school. From the age of 5, I took care of me. If I did not get the bedspread even on all sides, my dad ripped it off the bed and told me, “any idiot could make a bed, do it over” I was 6 years old. I do not how to be good enough or accept any type of praise. All I remember is being afraid and praying no one would ever notice me. I married the first guy I could to leave the house. I am now 60, I am still afraid! I still think I am not good enough to waste time on. I still think I am not worth knowing and do not want to be a burden to anyone. I spend 99% of my time alone. I wonder now she is gone, has the final shoe dropped and I can relax finally? I attend therapy but I can not figure out how to put me first. How do I let go of all memories that make me believe I am worthless? Does it ever really go away?

    • Mary says:

      I’m so proud of you for writing this letter. It really touched my soul. I wish I had some answers but Don’t quit and don’t ever give up on yourself. You are loved and priceless!!!

      Best Always, Mary

    • Anyse says:

      I really had no violence in my upbringing and I grew up to be a pacifist. However, my twin brother was an emotional bully. The overall family derided me, made fun of me and treated me in ways that no other family member was treated. Nothing was good enough! Not me, my accomplishments, successes and more. NEVER! This continued through adulthood with my brothers participating and, of course, then the family also brought my spouses into the act! When I got divorced in 2009 after 22 years of marriage (I won’t mention all of them), it was the best thing for me! I was actually “alone” for the first time, disabled, diabetic, deconditioned after 10 years of also being bedridden due to chronic illness. I won’t go into what was said about me during my illness; of course, one can imagine all negative comments and attitudes toward my condition. So, I have learned only recently that, basically, I was being tortured by my family: emotionally! Undermining me when I was also diagnosed as a savant (which, I think scared them that I may know more than I shoule, I guess) or even mechanically smart (solutions were only attibuted negatively to “laziness”! So, after years and years of this and then it being carried into my relationships with spouses, I have learned that I have been and am one hell of a mess! So, now, I am working on this at 67! My mother, the alpha abuser died a few years ago and this has somewhat freed me. However, I also had to give up my brothers and their families as well as my own children who were poisoned over the years. I did not attend any family gatherings for over 20 years! I made a few errant missteps to do so; however, noting could help to relieve my anxiety, nervousness and the wait for that first psychological “cut” within moments of entering into this den of terrible people; well, at least when it came to me. So, there it is. I have said it. I have a lot of the symptoms of PTSD. I hate this! I will recover!

  3. rhianna says:

    hi,
    i really need answers because i think I’m being abused emotionally and physically by my brother. it first started when my mum broke up with my selfish, greedy, manipulating and abusive stepfather when i was 12 years old. that when the comments went from moderately mean to just plain cruel…he says things like ”this is the reason why your dad left you” and ”I hope you die” and ”your stupid, fat, ugly” and the list just goes on and on. having an older brother who punches you and pushes you is terrifying…he goes from fine to completely terrifying because he completely overreacts to everything. For example, if I forgot to put a dish in the sink he would go completely rage and tell me how worthless I am. Since my mum doesn’t seem to care about anything but her boyfriend she doesn’t notice me either…she always picked her boyfriends over me and my brother. she sometimes gets cruel too and say things like ”you should go fuck off to your dads because no one cares about you” and ”your attention seeking” and ”your a rude bitch who’s selfish and only thinks about herself” and ”your overreacting and disgusting”… I am now 14 and I feel terrified and scared and worthless…do you think what they are doing is normal or am I overreacting?

    • Andy Man says:

      Hi Rhianna,

      I read your post and wanted to reply because I sense the confusion and pain you’re in. First off, let me say that the behaviour of your mother and brother are not normal and not healthy. In fact, what you describe is extremely toxic and would be very damaging to anyone growing up in it. While it’s not “normal” it is, however, very common. You are not alone in your experience and how you feel — there are so many of us.

      I wanted to ask a friend of mine, who is so much more experienced than I am in dealing with such things, about what you should do. She says that there needs to be some intervention in your family and that your brother needs to be dealt with by an adult (you are not in a position to do things yourself). She suggests that you should try talking to your school counsellor.

      With regard my own experiences, my friend is the only person I have found who gave me real “validation” on my childhood. My own attempts to understand what had happened to me were always put down and rejected by the people I turned to, and I was even told things like, “That’s a terrible way to talk about your mother.”

      My friend explained to me that (these are her words)…

      “A child so desperately wants their parents approval and particularly the approval of their mother who bore them and is the closest bonded relationship that you can make. A strongly bonded baby can go forth with confidence and grow like a well tended plant. A child unable to bond with a rejecting mother (she may not even know she is rejecting) had no roots and survives confused and insecure which leads to feelings of inferiority and hostility. The hardest part for that child is that they become so hypersensitive to any perceived criticism or slight that they turn other people away.”

      I also want to tell you that our childhood experiences and insecurities, no matter how bad, can be overcome, just like a tree that is wounded by a deep cut as a sappling. Nevertheless, the tree survives and grows. While the mark of the wound remains, the bark grows and furls around it, and eventually becomes an intrinsic part of the tree itself — making it unique and beautiful.

      Andy

  4. Leah says:

    Through out all my childhood I experienced mental abuse. Always being called names by mother telling me how worthless I was or how I could never do anything right. She always seemed to criticize and find some way to put me down. While I was in school I was actually pretty smart getting good grades and everything, but yet my parents never seemed to be proud of me no matter how good they were they were simply never good enough. In the other hand my dad well I guess I was just never important to him because he never seemed to care because he would always put my brothers first everything was always about them and never me. I always knew he preferred them over me and to this day I am sure of it. I am now 18 and the mental abuse I received for many years has effected me so much. It hurts me so much just thinking back about my childhood always wondering what I did to deserve this. It brings tears to my eyes because I feel like nobody will ever understand all these hidden scars I have in my heart and memories. Who would ever think that words could cause so much pain in just one person. Sometimes I think this pain has turned into resentment and hate against my parents because I blame them for everything. All I had ever wanted was just to make them proud or at least some affection that will actually made me feel cared for. To this day I believe they prefer my brothers over me because unlike me they get the whole world, when I got nothing but hurtful words.

    • Lee says:

      Leah, you have summed up exactly how I feel. Although my circumstances differ slightly. Being the only boy with 2 sisters you’d think that a father would be proud of his son. This didn’t happen in my family. Constantly told you are useless and pathetic or worse being told “I wish you were dead” definitely effects how you develop as a child and into adulthood. Minimal self esteem, depression, inability to build or maintain relationships (i think it’s because I’m constantly serking approval) and having difficulty trusting people are all issues that I deal with on a daily basis. To some extent I also resent/blame those who stood by and said nothing.

  5. lorachalm says:

    Hi John,

    This article was especially interesting to me, as I too, experienced a similarly “mild” dysfunctional childhood; in comparison to other REAL horror stories. However, just as you, I’ve been chiseling away at myself all these years, trying to get to the real me. It was much safer to become who it was I needed to be, in split-second timing, than to go with “my” feelings. After wasting all my formidible years doing this, I quite often wonder who I am.
    When I think back to my very early childhood, I remember being a child who loved to laugh for the sheer pleasure of it. I was spontaneous too. In looking at pictures from those years, I can see all those wonderful childish ways fading away way before their time.
    Thank you for this article!

  6. Dee says:

    Your words sunk in deeper than most I have read. I have gone through a lot throughout my life, and reading this has helped bring some grounding to my floating feelings of loss and worthlessness. Thank you.

  7. You explained the topic very well. The content has provided meaningful information thanks for sharing this.

  8. Lost in Life says:

    I have read this over and over today…I have made a few discoveries about myself and when I read this I thought it was me writing it…besides the fact I am a woman. I have struggled my entire life with issues just like these. I want to thank you for taking the time to write this so that I know I am not alone out here. One question…did you find a mate that was like your abuser/s? I sure did…I didn’t recognize what had happened until it was too late. I am working right now on trying to get out. Never ending cycle…that is a lie…I am ending it now. Thank you again for posting this. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Take care.

    • John says:

      Hi, Lost in Life –

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve been making these discoveries and can now end a harmful relationship. As to my partner, no, she’s nothing like my family – just the opposite, emotionally responsive and a great mother. Must be a lot right – we’ve been together for 39 years.

      Thanks for your comment. Hope to see you here again.

      John

  9. michael says:

    much has been written about abuse from the abused persons perspective,,a lot of sympathy and understanding is stated over and over again,,,i was not abused, but my wife was,,so i have 20 years experience of what abuse does,,,do you want to know my findings,,,its like a horror story,,she was incapable of affection,either verbaly.psyicaly.emotionaly,,,,these damaged people spend their whole life,in deep SELF introspection,,they are busy working on them selfs..to the exclusion of all others,they lack empathy,conscience,guilt,,,,,when you got tooth ache..who do you think about? emotional pain is the same,,so when some abused person tells of their tragic life,,remember,,this is a possible abuser in the making,,,when i meet abused people in my life,,i know,,they NEVER EVER require empathy conscience

    • John says:

      Hello, Michael –

      It sounds like you’ve had a lot of frustration, but I think you’re making a sweeping and completely unfair generalization based on your experience. There are thousands of cases of abuse that show just the opposite, that people abused in childhood tend to punish themselves and feel tremendous guilt, as if they had done wrong rather than the abuser. It’s true they often have trouble forming relationships as adults, but that’s not because they think only of themselves or are emotional zombies. After betrayal by the family members who are the most trusted people of all, it can take years to trust anyone enough to get really close. That’s not necessarily narcissism, though some people do come out of that background with major personality disorders. I can see how frustrating it can be if you’ve committed to a long term relationship with someone who grew up with serious abuse. You might well feel that you’re not receiving back the love you’ve felt and given generously. No one chooses to be traumatized by abuse as a kid, and it’s not a choice to live for years with the aftermath of PTSD. True enough, some victims of abuse later become abusers of their own children – and the pattern can repeat for generations. Every abused person, though, is not an abuser in the making.

      When you think about the millions who were abused as kids, you’ll find examples of just about anything among them, as you would in any group that big. I hope you’ll allow for the possibility.

      John

  10. Meaghan says:

    my name is meaghan and i am turning 13 on 19 feb 2011.
    my dad yells at me and calls me names. He never really loved me in my opinon. when i was 4-5 i got leuckimia. he tootk 6 months leave because of it but never vistited me until my mum made him. they would always arrange a time and when that time came she would leave. my dad would always be late with the excuse that he had to buy me a prestent. he got these present for 2 dollars and i was always too old for them. when he arrives at the hospital he would stay for 15 mins the he would leave. i would be alone for a long while until my mum came back.

    last year he yelled and called me names for every little thing i did wrong. i eventually stoped sitting with my friends at school and started to sleep more. i stoped doing the thing i loved like singing and listening to music. i eventually talked to some one and they took me to a councellor it helped a bit but everything was just covered.

    now everything has come back. i just wan’t to dissapear.

    • John says:

      Hi, Meaghan –

      I’m sorry that you’ve had to live with so much hurt from a man you need love and support from. The behavior you describe in him is completely unacceptable, but I’m afraid troubled parents, especially men, often take out a lot of their anger and frustration on their families. Whatever problems they have don’t justify being abusive to the people who look to them most for love and support. It’s especially painful to hear about all the things you do to cut yourself off from friends and the activities you most enjoy. I guess that’s because you feel depressed – wanting to disappear, sleeping a lot, keeping to yourself. What you’ve been going through is damaging to your sense of yourself. When I faced similar anger in my family as a kid I came to think of myself as having something wrong with me.

      Whatever happens, it’s not your fault – you’re the victim, and there’s nothing wrong with you. Unfortunately, a lot of kids – and this was true of me growing up – never get that message and feel more depressed. That can go on for your whole life, so it’s important to get more help and support. I’m so glad you’ve been to a counselor. I would hope that you could talk to your mother about how you’re feeling and work again with a counselor. It takes time, but believe me it can help you get back a sense of yourself as a strong person and be less depressed.

      Please have faith in yourself. We don’t want you to disappear – you’re too valuable to get lost that way.

      Let me know how things go for you.

      John

  11. Will C says:

    “I guess you’re much more cynical than I am. I think there’s at least a fighting chance.”

    John,
    I’m sorry. Please don’t let my depression with this issue influence you unduly. I have personal experience with an abusive psychologist; reason could not reach him. I have much more hope for greater humanity. Perhaps I over-estimate the callousness of the psychological profession and many of the roadblocks I see are more illusory than substantive.
    But whatever the case, I firmly believe there is always a fighting chance for change. There’s always hope. In this instance, all that’s required, really, is substantive political will and enough drive to see it through. My efforts were aimed at highlighting the difficulties in that regard.
    By no means, let my pessimism dissuade anyone from pursuing passionate right action.

    • john says:

      Hi, Will –

      I’d probably feel pessimistic about the possibility of change too if I’d had an abusive therapist. I read online about a lawsuit filed against a therapist by a combat veteran with PTSD and traumatic head injury – the reason was pushing the guy into an affair with her when he was just getting his mind back together. The worst I’ve had to deal with is incompetence.

      I think there is a fighting chance for change, partly because there are so many different groups of psychotherapists with different professional interests and, of course, lots of disagreements within each group. They’re not monolithic – and when people start serious grassroots campaigns, politicians often bend to the numbers. E.G. sexual abuse of women and children was not discussed publicly at all until an influential study in the 60’s create a sudden outcry for criminal legislation, treatment facilities, etc. A slower version of the same thing happened with PTSD – so these things do happen. It’s just that in this country it takes a big scandal or disaster for people to pay attention.

      John

  12. Will C says:

    John,
    I really think that’s going to be a serious, uphill battle, getting emotional abuse defined as a traumatic state. The major hurtle will be getting emotional abuse clearly defined, which the psychological community balks at pinning down.
    Did you know there is no ethical cannon for what sorts of psychological manipulation psychologists can engage in outside practice or research? Research programs have all sorts of ethical hoops to jump through, and in a clinical setting there is an understood consent, that the client is open to beneficial manipulation by the therapist. Outside those settings, psychologists don’t have that sort of scrutiny or permission, yet are free to utilize their knowledge in any way they see fit. A lot of very sophisticated psychological manipulation gets utilized by advertising, marketing and politics, for instance, for no more beneficial purpose than to gain money and/or power for the manipulator. There are no standards to enforce how much of this is appropriate or inappropriate. Likewise, many clinical therapists utilize their skills at home and in their daily life; even if unintentionally, surely some of that takes advantage of the unwary. Why is it that if you slip past the defenses of a computer in order to change it’s behavior, causing it to do as you wish for your own profit and power, that’s illegal, but do the same thing to someone’s mind, and it’s just considered ‘persuasion’ or ‘using psychology’ and seen as perfectly acceptable?
    Then, resolving this dichotomy is not in the interests of the psychological community; first, because acceptance of such would cause inconvenient, ethical restrictions to the use of their knowledge; second, because such restrictions would be a tangled, politically-correct nightmare of legal issues; and lastly, because such restrictions would be rather impossible to enforce. As a consequence of such cognitive dissonance, without thoroughly exploring the idea some will deny that such abuse can or would happen, others will say that the question is moot or irrelevant, and a few will claim that such is just the way of the world.
    But, even if you get past those hurtles, or you can find an idealistic or politically naive individual on the consulting board of the DSM to champion the cause, there will still be the objection that “emotional abuse” is a vague term. For instance, many of the social maladjustments that therapists deal with stem from some form of emotional abuse, whether intentionally caused or not. And, obviously, the intent of the abuser cannot be the defining character of what constitutes emotional abuse, because there can be no test criteria that one could perform on the victim. So, either there needs to be clear definitions of cause, detailing what interactions are acceptable, within what limits and to which ends–which, as I wrote before, the psychological community balks at defining–or else clear definitions of effects need to be worked out, which most will argue are variously covered throughout the DSM already.
    Although I totally agree emotional abuse is a specific condition, with it’s own unique psychological byproducts, I’m telling you, it’s a *seriously* uphill battle for recognition.

    • john says:

      Hi, Will –

      Thanks for putting the issue into such a broad perspective. I wouldn’t be quite so pessimistic though. First, I think the concept of the emotional abuser is already sharply defined enough through clinical experience, if not formal research, to be quite distinct from the very widespread forms of psychological manipulation. I agree that you can hardly get away from manipulation – every news commentator, politician, propagandist of any stripe, advertising copy writer, corporate publicist – and on and on – consciously manipulates the public by applying psychological knowledge. Marketers pride themselves on their ability to do this – there are even formal research programs at universities to sharpen the understanding of how “influence” works in changing minds and behavior. And certainly professionals in many fields in addition to psychology do the same thing. There are unethical practitioners in every field, and some of them are emotional abusers. But that terms describes a more specific type of power-driven behavior within the context of the family and intimate relationships to achieve total dominance, quite often through physical abuse. This campaign to gain recognition for a distinct disorder from the psychiatric profession seems analogous to the one for PTSD. That was a hard fight, initially won through a sustained political campaign, by veterans, and the definition was expanded – and is being worked on now in DSM-5 – to add various forms of traumatic experience besides combat. The DSM resistance so far on emotional and physical abuse seems based partly on dissatisfaction with the proposed definition as too broad and evidence that doesn’t meet research standards -at least that’s what they claim. I think it also has to do with the origin of the research from outside the profession, a lot of it from social workers and social programs helping the most seriously abused women and children as well as the entrenched resistance of psychiatrists who have their own prejudices and have built reputations on ideas inconsistent with this new effort. I guess you’re much more cynical than I am. I think there’s at least a fighting chance.

      Thanks for this great comment.

      John

  13. ClinicallyClueless says:

    John, first off, thank you for the kind words and link to my blog. I believe that low self-esteem is part of what causes depression and then once depression takes hold self-esteem decreases.

    I also believe that emotional abuse can be as damaging as other forms of abuse at different level. Unfortunately, emotional abuse seems to get discounted as not being as “bad.” To me that helps me to deny the impact that it has had on my life, but it does have a tremendous impact and I believe part of my PTSD…researchers sometimes do not reflect my experience which is what matters the most.

    • john says:

      Hi, CC –

      I believe there’s starting to be more serious attention to emotional abuse as a traumatic experience, especially since it tends to go on for a long time. I read recently about a campaign (that’s what it takes) to get a new diagnosis before the DSM-5 people. Even though it’s based on extensive clinical evidence, DSM has turned a cold shoulder. They didn’t like the proposed diagnostic criteria and claimed the effects are already covered under existing diagnoses. It may well be that this particular proposal isn’t precise enough, but that’s no reason to discourage the whole idea. I guess the most influential people on that issue within the DSM committees just don’t buy it, and they don’t want to be bothered with new facts. I wish their often arbitrary decisions didn’t have such an impact on what people think they’re going through. You know what’s important in your life and what you have to deal with – and DSM and research preferences can’t change that.

      John

  14. Will C says:

    I was in therapy, back in college, when I discovered the idea that I had been a victim of familial abuse, to my counselor’s chagrin. Despite his misgivings, I didn’t dwell on the idea, but just recognizing it was an epiphany of sorts, a different perspective from blaming myself, allowing me to put together a clearer picture of my childhood. I’ve long since realized that putting that period of my life into crisp focus may never be possible, and continually trying to figure out my family-of-origin only promotes my more self-destructive aspects. Yet, the objective viewpoint is essential to the letting go and recognizing abuse as abuse remains essential to emotional objectivity.
    Sometimes it’s freeing to see one’s self as a victim, if only briefly.

  15. Gianna says:

    this article is in keeping with your piece

    http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/short/appi.ajp.2010.09020178v1?rss=1

    and also with what Alice Miller teaches…virtually no one escapes trauma of some kind…

    thanks John for another intimate and lovely post

    • john says:

      Thanks, Gianna –

      That looks like an important, and hopefully influential study. (I do wish the full text were available – the prices journals charge for a single pdf are outrageous!) It’s not only more recent, but the research design – esp. the sample and longitudinal dimension – is much stronger. The Teicher study I’m referring to (and I apologize for leaving out the reference-I’ll add that tomorrow) describes quite carefully the limitations of the sample and method – so it’s important to see support for some of its findings in a more rigorous study.

      Thanks for reminding me about Alice Miller. It’s been a long time since I read her work, but I’m reaching right now for the books of hers I have, especially For Your Own Good.

      All my best to you –

      John

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