Just because you don’t beat your child doesn’t mean you’re not abusing them. Psychological abuse can be as damaging or even more so than physical abuse.
Many parents don’t understand, or don’t care, that the things they say to their children and how they treat them can have long-lasting effects on that child’s personality and how they interact with the world as they grow up. That old rhyme “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is actually quite false. When parents and peers say hurtful and degrading things to children, it can do just as much damage or even more than if the child were subjected to physical abuse.
I can speak from experience that verbal abuse can leave very deep scars. When your family goes out of their way to tear you down every day, it sinks in to a point where those words become part of who you are. Bruises and cuts heal, but psychological abuse can wound you well into your adult years. There’s a good reason there are psychiatrists that deal specifically with victims of mental abuse.
I’ve known parents and families that actually believe that constantly putting their kids down was a good way to get them to toughen up and become something more. It’s disgusting, and makes no sense. It’s hard to believe there are fathers who think that telling their sons that they’re “girly”, “sissy” or “weak” will make them more masculine. Some mothers think that telling their girls how fat and disgusting they are will encourage them to get in shape and take care of themselves. They never seem to realize the damage they’re doing, and if confronted, they’ll say there’s nothing wrong with their style of parenting.
It has taken me a long time to get over all the things that were told to me on a daily basis as I was growing up. I was a straight A, Honor Society student, but I was always told I was stupid and couldn’t do anything right. I was (and still am) a talented writer and artist, but I was told I was useless and would never amount to anything. I was told that I was ugly, fat (even at 92 pounds), no one would ever want me, I was to useless to be loved… the list goes on.
After years and years of constantly hearing these things, I believed that they must be true. My entire family perpetuated these hurtful lies, and I believed them. The very same thing happens to kids all over the world every day. Parents and family are supposed to love you, so if they always tell you how horrible you are, it must be true, and you must need to work harder to change. It took me a long time to realize that they were just people with mental issues trying to assert control over someone weaker, and keep them weak and compliant. Now I know that none of those things were true, and I have spent many of my adult years working on changing the programming that they worked so hard to drill into me.
I’m lucky in the fact that I’ve had a strong will for a long time, and I started fighting against the mental abuse in my late teens, and kept fighting. I’ve found people that have helped me to see the truth, and realize how wonderful I really am. A lot of kids never get to that point. They never realize that they’re being ma manipulated, and they succumb to the abuse. Teens commit suicide or turn to drugs and violence every day all over the world because they can see no other way to escape from the horrible treatment by their parents and families.
More people need to realize that emotional and mental abuse are a real problem, and that everything you say to your child has an effect on what kind of person they will become. Berating and belittling a child is rarely going to make them into a better person. They are not going to get smarter or stronger, they’re going to be miserable and have issues dealing with people and the world in general when they become adults, if they manage to live long enough to see their adult years.