Monday, July 30, 2012

This Is News? Psychological Abuse as Bad as Physical Abuse

I get my news from various sources. In the morning, I listen to the radio, read the paper, and skim the Internet. All the news sources I consulted this morning had this story: Psychological Maltreatment Can Be as Harmful as Physical Abuse. My first reaction was, really? Wow. I'm glad that someone wrote a paper on that, otherwise we would never have known. But as I began writing this post, my sarcasm waned and I began to understand the importance of putting this out into the news.

Physical abuse is horrible and inexcusable. Thankfully, these days people tend to step in when they see it or learn of it. Children must be protected from those who are bigger and stronger - and there is never an excuse for causing physical harm to a child. But psychological abuse is another animal. It is often tolerated, brushed off, explained away. We close our ears and turn, because there seems like there isn't a lot we can do about it, we believe.

I knew a young mother who wasn't very nice to her children in public. She called them names, told them they were "retarded," and screamed at them. We never saw her physically hurt the children, but we definitely heard her go at it with her words. Many of us tried to talk to her about it, even people who worked with the children, but she didn't get it. She said that she loved the kids and they knew it. If we didn't approve of her child rearing, that wasn't her problem. There were no physical marks of violence. But you could see in their eyes, they were beaten down - I recognized it because I know what it's like. I often wonder if I could have done more and it haunts me sometimes.

After my initial "wow, thanks for telling us" gut reaction to the news, I began to think about it and understand why this is important news. It wasn't that long ago when people did not report sexual or physical abuse. It just wasn't talked about. If a child is going through something like that, once he or she starts trying to reach out to people - it's very difficult for them to understand why no one is trying to help. Now that the topic isn't as taboo as it used to be, help may be possible. As this type of abuse is talked about, the children may learn that it's not normal and it's not acceptable.

But psychological abuse isn't yet at that point. When a child experiences psychological abuse and no one steps in, it becomes normal. After all, if no one is trying to stop it, then - in the child's eyes - it must be ok and the adults who are doing this must be right. They must be stupid, ugly, fat, bad... But it's not right and it has to stop just as we want to stop other types of abuse. Maybe news like this will help raise sensitivity, maybe people will speak up. The problem is, what happens when you do and nothing changes?