Recently I conducted a Google search for synonyms of emotional maltreatment. Phrases such as mental abuse and psychological abuse were fairly common. However, I also saw phrases such as The Quiet Killer and Invisible Violence. By any name, emotional maltreatment is destructive. Unfortunately, not all agree on what constitutes emotional maltreatment. On one hand, no one would deny that a child being called worthless repeatedly would be considered emotional maltreatment. On the other hand, experiences in which a child feels worthless because of constant racist or homophobic comments aren’t always seen as emotional maltreatment. Even more problematic, would be the discussion of whether racism is more significant than bigotry or whether sexism is more damaging than ageism.
The Children’s Resilience Initiative team takes the approach that emotional maltreatment is defined by the perception of the recipient. We have chosen to focus on a common dynamic of oppression that affects individuals when they feel ostracized for any reason. We don’t differentiate between individual and systemic forms of maltreatment. It is his or her perception of an experience that will dictate the significance of the maltreatment regardless of the form it takes. Our approach embraces the neuroscience that suggests it’s the subsequent manner in which the brain processes the experience that becomes the determining factor.
Critics may take offense that no distinctions are made between those who are teased because they wear glasses and those who have been teased for their gender expression. What those critics don’t know are the other neuroscience, epigenetic, or resilience factors that either enhance or buffer the affects of the teasing. Our hope is that when assessing, educating, or caring for children and youth, you will expand your awareness of emotional maltreatment. We also hope you will join us to prevent all forms of emotional maltreatment.