Child Psychological Abuse Just as Damaging as Other Forms

An unhappy child is ignored by a parent in the backgroundIn discussions of child abuse, it’s easy to forget about psychological abuse, and some parents even argue that yelling and name-calling can’t be fairly compared to sexual and physical abuse. According to a new study, though, psychological abuse and neglect can yield consequences even worse than the effects wrought by physical and sexual abuse. Almost 3 million children are abused every year, and psychological abuse is both the most common and most overlooked form of abuse.

The Dangers of Psychological Abuse

To evaluate the effects of different types of abuse on children, researchers from the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts used data from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Core Data Set to evaluate the experiences of 5,616 abused children. The study sample was 42% male, 38% white, 21% African-American, and 30% Latino. Most of the children had been psychologically abused in addition to other forms of abuse, and 24% had been exclusively psychologically abused. For this study, psychological abuse was defined as bullying, coercive control, serious insults, threats, unfair and overwhelming demands, shunning, and isolation.

Researchers found that children who experienced psychological abuse suffered from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal feelings, and posttraumatic stress at rates similar to, and in some cases greater than, children who had been sexually or physically abused. Emotional abuse victims were more likely than other children to experience general anxiety, depression, and social anxiety, as well as attachment difficulties and substance abuse. When psychological maltreatment occurred along with other forms of abuse, the emotional abuse greatly exacerbated the effects of other abuse.

Child protective workers may struggle to uncover evidence of psychological abuse, and this form of abuse is sometimes treated as the least severe variety of child abuse. This research serves as evidence that this type of abuse has consequences as far reaching as other forms of abuse.

To report child abuse, contact Childhelp, the National Child Abuse Hotline, at 1-800-4-A-Child (422-4453).


Childhood psychological abuse as harmful as sexual or physical abuse. (2014, October 8). Retrieved from

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  • ashleigh


    October 20th, 2014 at 3:59 AM

    I have no doubts that this is just as damaging, if not more so, than ohysical abuse. You can heal physically from the bruises and the breaks, but how do you ever heal that hurt that is caused by hate and spite and the abuse that is inflicted on you by words and emotions? These are wounds that run terribly deep, and while maybe not as dangerous in the moment like other forms of abuse, it is the kind of abuse that lingers and always comes back to haunt you. I am appalled that someone would actually think that this is a lesser form of abuse.

  • Rachel


    October 20th, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    Why would my husband tell his 6&7 year young daughters horrific stories of a crazy man decapitatiing victims and then go on to ensure them that its a true story. Is this abuse? It feels like it is because they were absolutely terrified!!!

  • Lizzie


    October 21st, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    Rachel maybe what your husband was trying to do was to put a little scare into them or tell them a ghost story but I think that he needs to maybe consider their age a little more and understand that this can leave a lasting and scary psychological impact on them. I think that I would definitely have a little talk with him about boundaries and it might be hard but I think that he really needs to know where you stand on the issue.

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