Attending a conference that focuses on understanding and preventing emotional abuse was the highlight of my year. Women Healing and Empowerment network holds a yearly conference focus that focuses on abuse and it’s impact on the lives of men and women. Interestingly, most of the presenters repeatedly stated that they were set up for abuse. Some had spent years in the abusive relationships, this expression got my attention, but I was also puzzled by its meaning? This was a conference addressing the impact of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, I hoped the meaning to their statement would become clear as the meeting progressed.
Understanding emotional abuse can be a complex and painful journey. Nevertheless, as I work with different people dealing with various aspects of emotional abuse there seem to be one recurring theme; The absence of connection with parents contributed to many seeking love in all the wrong places, repeatedly making the same mistakes. It is important to note that abuse whether emotional or physical is never the victim’s fault. However, having an understanding of patterns of behaviour could help the next generation before they too begin to make similar choices.
Another interesting fact was noted, some people are unable to identify their needs because they have never had their needs met. They have never been encouraged to verbalise or acknowledge them; therefore, they struggle with the question. This seems prevalent, especially when asked to name emotional needs. To some extent, I can relate to this. Mothers are often the primary caregivers for our children, we wipe the tears, soothe the hurts, cook, clean, wash and undertake the multitude of other tasks that goes with raising a family. With busy schedules, there is little time left for us to think about our needs, and put a plan in place to meet them. Could this be one of the reasons those presenters refer to when they spoke about being ‘set up for abuse’? Is it possible that emotional disconnection from primary caregivers create the situation where children grow with a low sense of self and may be more susceptible to abuse? Getting the answer to this question could lead us to understand better the dynamics present in emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse has lasting and damaging effects on an individual and this pain can last a lifetime if help is not sought to understand and process the hurt. As I mentioned above, sometimes parents are carrying their own pain and this makes it appear impossible to be present for their children. I would encourage you to seek help if there is anything here that resonates with where you are.
Parents also work very hard to provide and as such sometimes are unable to discern their emotional needs. For some the question might be, where do I begin? Some have never received it and, therefore, cannot give it; I will reiterate that if you are reading this and need help to process your pain I would like to encourage you to identify a therapist who can help.
The good news is that children are resilient and will find ways to cope nonetheless; they sometimes protect self by shutting down or numbing their emotions. They then become adults who are unable to show themselves empathy or even defend self when necessary. Emotional abuse can then recur to the unsuspecting benumbed individual.
So how do we make the decision to push beyond where we are as adults and seek out and meet the needs we can see in our children? Here are 5 strategies that could be employed to nurture the hearts of your children and lessen the likelihood of emotional abuse. These activities will demonstrate care and attention. They will teach children that they have value and are valued. It will help build their self-esteem and ground them in who they are as people and as individuals and prevent the likelihood of the cycle of emotional abuse continuing.
1. Special family time
My children love the idea of camping out in the living room, they have a tradition with their father that whenever mommy is away on speaking engagements or doing retreats they camp out in the living room. Though they hate me being away they love having this special time with their father. Special time build bonds and create fond memories that will last a lifetime.
2. Join them in their play
It is important that we join their play it communicates love and acceptance. As oppose to adults joining and changing the game or the rules they have devised. This teaches acceptance and leadership qualities. It teaches them to explain their ideas and they derive value from being listened to and have someone follow their instructions. The process of learning how others respond to them will help them identify when emotional abuse presents in their lives when older.
I cannot overstate how crucial this is. If you are a parent reading this, I am sure we can all remember a time when we wish we had listened longer or pay more attention to what was being said. When my eldest was younger and he wanted to speak to me if my attention was anywhere else he would stop talking and turn my head in his direction to ensure we had eye contact. The lesson there was I need you full attention as we communicate.
Listening is a wonderful gift that we give to each other, the woman working through and trying to make sense of abuse, whether physical, sexual or emotional will value the space to talk, be listened to and validated.
4. Learn what makes them happy
It is important to learn what makes them happy and respond to that. I have three children and all receive love in a different way. One loves my time and devises ways for us to spend time together; the other loves gifts and one word of affirmation. It can be a balancing act trying to remember the different likes and ensure all are met, especially when there is more than one child. This is why it is crucial that we process our own pain, it will help us have the emotional capacity to be present for our children. Dr Gary Chapman wrote an exciting book ‘the five love languages of children’ this can help you get more understanding of how your child receive love. you could do a profile here http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/childrento learn more about your child.
5. Be available
Be there to listen to their chatter as they share what is important in their world. Sometimes it takes a conscious decision to stop and be available to children when they need to share something or would like us to spend special time with them.
This list above is not exhaustive in any way nevertheless, when these are followed they can help to build self-esteem in our children and help them become more cognizant of who they are. Good self-esteem also enables them to make good choices and gives them the courage to walk away when the situation warrants it.