Psychological Abuse Can Be As Damaging As Physical

By Amir Khan on July 30, 2012 11:57 AM EDT

Children
Psychologically abuse can be as damaging as physical or sexual abuse, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Psychologically abuse can be as damaging as physical or sexual abuse, according to a new study, published in the journal Pediatrics. Children who are neglected, belittled or threatened can have the same problems as children who are victims of other forms of abuse, but have no scars to show.

"The main message for child health clinicians and people working with children is that psychological maltreatment is just as harmful as other types of maltreatment," Dr. Harriet MacMillan, study author and professor of psychiatry, behavioral neurosciences and pediatrics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, told HealthDay.

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The prevalence of psychological abuse is hard to estimate, researchers said, in part because there is no concrete definition of what constitutes psychological abuse. What some people call abuse others might call poor parenting, so understand what is abuse is difficult, experts said.

What experts do agree upon is that psychological abuse can take many forms. It includes belittling your child, neglecting them, ridiculing and humiliating them. It can also include withholding love and putting the child in dangerous situations. 

In some cases, the psychological abuse can be worse than physical.

"I once had a child who talked about being hit by his dad," MacMillan said. "The child said that the dad says things about me that make me feel badly, worse than the hitting."

MacMillian also said that many of the effects of psychological abuse are similar to other forms of abuse.

"We know that exposure to other types of maltreatment like physical and sexual abuse can be associated with a broad range of types of impairment in physical and mental health, and cognitive and social development," she said. "Similarly, we see these types of impairments associated with psychological maltreatment."

Alec Miller, chief of child and adolescent psychology at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City, said psychological abuse can be difficult to spot, which makes it dangerous.

"Psychological abuse is so insidious, and is not as easily recognized by the victim or other family members," he said. "If you see someone getting beaten, we all know it's against the law. It's demarcated as illegal and very unhealthy. Some of these other things are a little more slippery. If there is no bruising physically, it's harder to be convinced there is abuse."

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