Many child abuse survivors ask the question, “Which type of child abuse is the worst?” I guess child abuse survivors want to figure out where they fall in the pecking order of pain. Some might want to reassures themselves that their abuse really was that bad while others are still trying to convince themselves that it wasn’t.
I asked my therapist this question. He replied that there is no value in comparing abuses. Pain is pain, and all pain hurts. I agree with him that all abuse is bad and that even “just one time” is enough to damage a child’s spirit. However, the question still remains: Which type is worse?
As someone who has experienced most forms of abuse, I can speak intelligently to this question. Physical abuse is hard because it is physically painful, leaves your body sore as a reminder of the abuse, and is terrifying because a much larger person is manipulating your body. You have the fear of losing your life at the hands of a much larger person.
Sexual abuse is hard because the abuse moves inside of your body to a place where you thought you were protected. Sexual abuse feels as if the person is reaching inside of you to harm your spirit. Also, the body can “betray” you by responding with positive sensations as you are being harmed, causing you to question whether you have any right to complain.
Ritual abuse is hard because you are being abused by “professionals” who have a calculated plan of how to harm you. There is nothing impulsive about the things being done to you. It is hard to work through knowing that these people conspired to break you.
When I looked back over my child abuse memories, the emotional elements of all of these abuses have been the hardest for me to heal. While my body would heal from the physical abuse, the emotional scars remained. The sexual abuse left no marks anywhere except on my wounded spirit. What made the ritual abuse so bad was the emotional element: That is where my ritual abusers put their greatest focus.
So, my answer to the question, “Which type of child abuse is the worst?” would be emotional abuse, and emotional abuse is present in all forms of abuse. This brings us back to what my therapist said when I asked him this question: All abuse is bad.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt