Vinita Latham MSc. Psychotherapy & Counselling. BA, MBACP(Reg).

Emotional Childhood Abuse

Acknowledging a dysfunctional childhood isn’t about seeking to find fault, although those feelings may arise. Instead, it’s about finding answers and moving away from self-defeating behaviours and self-blame. Therapy is one way to release the past, free yourself from destructive behaviour patterns and begin to believe in yourself.

Childhood emotional abuse can have a negative impact throughout all areas of your life. As an adult, it’s sometimes difficult to relate current issues to your childhood experiences. However, acknowledging a dysfunctional childhood helps you in becoming more self-aware. It can help you accept yourself as you are and move away from self-defeating behaviours and self-blame.

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Childhood emotional abuse is complex, and its impact is often overlooked. As an adult, the long-term consequences develop into low self-esteem, self-defeating behaviours, depression, anxiety and a negative inner critic. A child learns about trust, care, empathy and love from their parents. If you were rejected, neglected, and experienced inconsistent harsh treatment as a child, then you did not learn how a healthy relationship feels. As an adult, you can find yourself drawn into dysfunctional damaging relationships and may suffer from low self-esteem and low self-worth. The long-term impact of childhood abuse can result in the debilitating symptoms of CPTSD complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Identifying childhood emotional abuse can be difficult as society accepts approaches to parenting that touch on becoming psychologically abusive such as shouting, yelling and emotional withdrawal. However, the following are some areas where a child is a victim of emotional abuse:

  • A parent who rejects, degrades and criticises their child. This can happen when a parent withholds affection and is cold and condescending toward their child or when a child is criticised and ridiculed. All children need love, encouragement and affection to thrive and feel safe and secure.
  • A parent who ignores their child’s need for affection. Not showing a child warmth, love and acceptance. Emotional neglect can deeply damage a child’s growing sense of self leaving them feeling unloved and unlovable.
  • Being the victim of emotional abuse can feel terrifying to a child. A child can experience the terror directly when threatened with injury, death or abandonment to themselves, people or things they love. A child can also feel terror when living in a household surrounded by verbal abuse or physical violence.
  • A parent may refuse their child opportunities to interact with others preventing them from participating in normal childhood activities. Isolation can also be another means of “punishing” their child.
  • An parent may encourage their child to engage in inappropriate behaviours to receive their attention – which can be any attention positive or negative.

Many adults who experienced childhood emotional abuse go on to maintain a relationship with their parents. The complex feelings that can arise when you acknowledge that you experienced emotional abuse as a child can be challenging to work through. Talking through your experiences helps you gain insight and understanding and supports you in expressing feelings you haven’t acknowledged. When you find clarity, understanding and acceptance, you move away from self-blame to build self-esteem and self-acceptance.