Childhood Psychological Maltreatment Can Be Worse than Physical or Sexual Abuse, Study Finds

A groundbreaking study recently published in ScienceDirect unveils the depth and breadth of the impact of verbal abuse during childhood.

This systematic review offers a comprehensive understanding of this understudied form of child maltreatment for the first time. It reveals how the consequences of verbal abuse can span cognitive impairments, emotional distress, and even an increased risk of chronic health issues later in life.

The Spectrum of Verbal Abuse Impact

Verbal abuse in childhood, although less noticeable than other forms of maltreatment like physical abuse or neglect, can have profound and lasting effects on a child’s development.

The investigation exposed a range of detrimental consequences that arise from verbal maltreatment. These could span cognitive impairments, emotional distress, and the onset of chronic health issues later in life.

It also determined that children treated with verbal abuse often struggle with learning and memory issues. They may have difficulties focusing or completing tasks, impacting their academic performance and future career prospects.

Additionally, the emotional distress resulting from verbal maltreatment can lead to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Perhaps one of the most alarming discoveries is the link between verbal abuse and chronic health issues in adulthood. The study found that children who experience verbal abuse are more likely to suffer from conditions like heart disease and diabetes in their later years.

Underscoring the Pervasive Impact

These findings echo a report from the American Psychological Association that outlines the long-term repercussions of various forms of childhood maltreatment.

The referenced study examined the effects of psychological maltreatment on a wide range of child and adolescent clinical and risk indicators compared with other forms of maltreatment.

Children who reported psychological maltreatment exhibited equivalent or higher baseline levels of symptom severity, risk behavior, and functional impairment compared with physically or sexually abused children.

Besides, children who had experienced psychological maltreatment had similar or higher frequencies than the physically and sexually abused groups on 21 of 27 indicators of risk behaviors, behavioral problems, functional impairments, symptoms, and disorders.

Unmasking the Hidden Scourge

Addressing verbal abuse poses a significant challenge due to its invisible nature. Unlike physical abuse, verbal maltreatment leaves no tangible marks, making it hard to identify and intervene.

However, the ScienceDirect study underlines the necessity of vigilance and awareness. Evidence from the review indicates that the psychological trauma inflicted by verbal maltreatment can be as severe, if not more, than other forms of abuse.

The study urges society to recognize the implications of verbal abuse and calls to implement measures to detect signs of this maltreatment. Such signals can range from changes in a child’s behavior or performance at school to indications of emotional distress or withdrawal.

Targeted Education and Intervention

The research underscores the importance of targeted education and intervention in curbing verbal abuse. There is a pressing need for awareness among parents, educators, and child service providers about the potential harm arising from verbally abusive behaviors. Understanding the nature and impacts of verbal abuse can lead to earlier detection and intervention, minimizing the long-term damage to the child.

These recommendations align with a UNICEF publication, which advocates for comprehensive training and support for professionals who work with children. Such improvement could include strategies for detecting verbal abuse, supporting affected children, and preventing further occurrences.

Pursuit of Expanded Research

While the study provides substantial knowledge about the impacts of verbal abuse in childhood, it also emphasizes the need for more focused research.

Due to the subject’s relative lack of exploration, a comprehensive understanding of the specific adverse consequences and most effective interventions against verbal abuse remains elusive.

The study calls for extensive investigation in the field, which could develop more effective policies and programs. It could create intervention strategies targeting specific age groups or environments, like schools or homes, based on the unique dynamics and challenges each presents.


This article was produced by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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