Archive for March 4th, 2008

Girl behind bars (c) Lynda Bernhardt+++ trigger warning – I discuss specific forms of severe emotional abuse +++

In my last post, Child Abuse: Severe Emotional Abuses I Suffered, I shared my two most painful memories of trauma, both of which involved severe emotional abuse. Now, I would like to discuss other forms of severe emotional abuse.

The reason I have chosen this topic is to help people who have suffered from severe emotional abuse put a label on what they suffered. When a person suffers from severe emotional abuse, he might have trouble validating that the abuse was that bad because there was no physical or sexual abuse involved. As I shared in my last post, my most traumatic memory had no physical or sexual abuse involved, but it still managed to scar me deeply.

Some child abusers traumatize children in ways that do not leave any marks on their bodies or even involve touching the child. For example, a child abuser might lock a child in a wooden box. The child might lie in the dark for hours with no access to fresh air. The child might need to use the bathroom but have no way to do so without making his situation even worse. This form of abuse does not involve touching the child physically or sexually, but it definitely inflicts deep emotional wounds.

Another method a child abuser might use is burying a child alive. He does this by forcing the child to lie in the ground with a straw in his mouth. The child abuser covers the child with dirt, and the child lies under the ground, petrified about what will happen if the child abuser removes or blocks the straw. Enduring this kind of abuse is clearly emotionally damaging.

In Martha Stout’s book, The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness, she shares the story of a man who, as a child, watched his abuser kill his brother. If one of the boys did something “wrong,” the abuser would punish the brother for the transgression. One time, after the boy had supposedly done something “wrong,” the abuser went too far and kicked the brother until the child died. Obviously, this was extremely traumatizing to the boy who watched his brother die. The abuser never laid a hand on the child, but the emotional damage was severe. If I remember correctly, this man struggled with dissociative identity disorder.

If you suffered from a severely traumatizing experience that involved no physical or sexual touching, you were still abused. You do not have to be touched for the abuse to “count.” Severe emotional abuse can be the most difficult form of abuse from which to recover. The good news is that you can heal from all forms of abuse, even severe emotional abuse. Just receiving validation that the abuse was that bad can go a long way toward helping you heal.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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