I recently had a request from a good friend to talk about childhood verbal abuse and it’s long lasting effects on adulthood self-worth and depression. I do not personally have experience in this issue other than well-deserved tongue lashings as a child. I was not abused either physically or emotionally growing up, but I do remember some of the angry words spoken to me when I had misbehaved (sorry parents!). I cannot say that these have caused any of my mental issues, as I know they have not. My illness is a chemical and organ-based illness. I do know, however that many children do suffer in this way and it has a profound effect on them as adults. Because I do not have much experience in this particular area, I had to do some research on this topic. I found two Psychology Today articles which I really liked. They both go into the physical brain changes of abuse and how it profoundly changes the structures of the brain. As a psychology undergrad, I am fascinated by this phenomenon. I will link the two articles at the end of the blog for further reading. One is on enduring the pain of childhood verbal abuse, and the other is healing from the shame that is often felt by it.
According to the first article I found, verbal abuse from a parent can intensely change the family dynamics. Because a parent will put down and abuse a child, siblings may also pick on that same child. They will do this to please the parent or possibly avoid their own abuse by focusing on the abused. This will often cause shame in that child, as they will believe it is their own fault for “not behaving” or “being bad” or just not good enough for their parents. This negative self-view will transfer up to adulthood, often causing a very negative self-esteem and self-worth. Because they will feel shame for being so bad as a child and not good enough for their parents, they (to them) obviously aren’t good enough to be treated well by partners or friends as an adult. This will further propagate the abuse to the person, as this is all they know. It’s a kind of normal to them.
The second article I found I only really skimmed over unfortunately (it is 3 AM, I want to go to sleep but could not stop thinking about writing about this for my friend). This article spoke about how you can use self-compassion and forgiveness to help yourself heal from these traumas. Yes, they are traumas. Not all trauma is extreme violence or intensely disturbing situations, rather it is something that affects you moving through life and that you take to heart. This is something I’ve recently learned in group as well. In case you hadn’t noticed, group therapy for me has been a life-changing and educational experience. This article talks about three of the ways that childhood abuse may express itself in the future. According to the article (Engel, 2015),
- It causes former abuse victims to abuse themselves with critical self-talk, alcohol or drug abuse, destructive eating patterns, and/or other forms of self-harm. Two-thirds of people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children (Swon 1998).
- It causes former abuse victims to develop victim-like behavior, whereby they expect and accept unacceptable, abusive behavior from others. As many as 90 percent of women in battered women’s shelters report having been abused or neglected as children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013).
- It causes abuse victims to become abusive. About 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013).
In my therapy group, we often talk about self-compassion as a way to help ourselves heal from our own negative self-talk. Self-talk is having the biggest bully being in your head and constantly yelling insults to you about every little thing you do. I have a terrible time with self-talk, and I am very hard on myself. I don’t believe this has anything to do with emotional abuse, more so of the bullying that I received growing up, as well as a restrictive religion that uses shame to keep everyone behaving.
Because shame is such a huge part of verbal abuse, it’s essential to be compassionate and forgiving of yourself in order to help you heal. Now, I’m the worst person to teach about being compassionate to your own issues, but I do know it helps. If you can be kind and compassionate to others, certainly it can’t be that hard to forgive your own mistakes, right? Unfortunately, we are usually our own worst critics and are crueler to ourselves than others. My only advice in this area is to find a compassionate person to help you challenge your negative thoughts and use logic to show how they are not necessarily the truth. You can also do self-affirmations that are related to your shame and say these often. Perhaps put some on sticky notes and post them on your mirror, in your car, in your wallet, in the kitchen etc. Seeing these over and over are bound to bring them to your heart and you may start believing them.
If you need help challenging negative self-talk, I’d love the practice. I don’t have issues challenging other’s talk as much as I do my own. Alas, that’s the power of depression. As always, if you have anything you’d like to know more about, reach out to me! I’d love the challenge of researching and writing about experiences that I haven’t necessarily had. Thank you V for the idea!
Enduring Pain of Childhood Abuse: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-support/201611/the-enduring-pain-childhood-verbal-abuse?amp