Standing in a passage outside some shops, I caught sight of a little girl enjoying her ice-cream cone, when its topping suddenly slipped to the ground. She started to cry loudly, upon which her mother, who had walked ahead, turned around, pulled her harshly to the side and lashed out at her for being careless. The child kept crying for her lost ice-cream, so the mother pulled the empty cone from the child’s hand and slapped her own intact cone into her palm, all the while giving her an angry stare. The dazed child was now sobbing, as she trailed behind her mum. The episode was over, but why did I feel upset over a common scene between exhausted mothers and their kids?
The episode had upset me, as I perceived this mother-child interaction in light of my research into both communication and trauma. The mother’s response seemed harsh to the point of abuse, as if she was taking out her frustrations on a vulnerable child. And the little girl was too young to make sense of her mother’s aggressive response – she could not see how her parent lacked the essential skills to console her. The interaction had left them disconnected.
When the word abuse comes up, physical abuse comes to mind. Despite the prevalence of psychological abuse, it generally goes unnoticed. This is because psychological abuse takes subtle, less visible forms that are more difficult to recognize and call out. Often the perpetrators of psychological abuse and their victims do not recognize it for what it is and its insidious impact on an individual’s psyche, self-concept, growth, health and relationships. Nor do we as a society understand its implications.
In the space of this article, I will attempt to give the reader an overview of what emotional and spiritual abuse is, how to recognize it, and what influence it has on the victims. I will also suggest some ways to bring change. I will look at this subject mostly in the context of parent and child relationship, but many of the basic principles are the same for instances of abuse in adult relationships.