While physical violence and sexual cruelty against children are to many of us clearly identifiable as abuse, emotional abuse can be harder to recognize. Certainly, most of us would not defend the parent who regularly hurls the label “stupid” at his child, but there are many forms of emotional abuse that are much more subtle.

Consider this relatively thorough overview of several studied forms of emotional abuse: Types of Emotional Abuse, Child Abuse Effects, Darlene Barriere.  With examples of each, Ms. Barriere lists six types of emotional abuse: rejecting, isolatingignoringcorruptingexploiting, and terrorizing.

Parents may hurt a child by leaving him or her alone for long periods of time – isolating/ignoring/rejecting. Several studies have shown that children in orphanages who are left in cribs for long periods of time, while having their basic needs provided for and not subjected to violence, nonetheless end up with mental and physical disorders and stunted development, in contrast with babies and children who are loved and provided with attention and affection. (Example MacArthur Foundation-financed study described in Boston Globe Article, Study on orphans sees benefit in family care, Nov. 11, 2006, The Boston Globe, showing lowered IQ in babies raised in orphanages). Ignoring one’s responsibility to show affection and positive attention to a child entrusted by nature to one’s care does have consequences.

Consider this study published by the Americal Psychological Association:  Social Exclusion Impairs Self-Regulation, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2005, Vol. 88, No. 4, 589–604, finding that being excluded or rejected caused decrements in self-regulation.

Available studies lead to the conclusion that when parent causes a child feelings of isolation (through means such as leaving the child alone for lengthy periods of time, keeping the child from social activities, and/or treating the child differently than other children to create circumstances of exclusion), this creates negative consequences in the child’s brain functioning. 

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