Verbal abuse such as shouting, denigration and threats can be as damaging to a child’s development as other recognised subtypes of maltreatment, including physical abuse, a review study found.
Researchers analysed a total of 149 quantitative and 17 qualitative studies to identify the outcomes associated with childhood verbal abuse (CVA). Though CVA is an aspect of emotional abuse, the study argues it should have its own category of maltreatment.
Shouting and screaming were the most documented characteristics of verbal abuse. But the research states it’s not just about the specific words. Rather, CVA definitions should also consider the intent, delivery, and immediate impact on children.
One recent UK study from Bellis et al showed adults reported higher levels of CVA (21%) than physical (15.9%) and sexual abuse (7.4%). And that the negative outcomes of CVA included poor mental health, substance abuse, time in prison, and becoming both the victim and the perpetrator of violence.
Co-author Professor Peter Fonagy said: ‘Using words to intimidate, shame and control may appear less obviously harmful than bodily threat but the same risks accompany this misuse of language: low self-esteem, increased nicotine, alcohol and substance use, increased risk of anxiety, depression [and] even psychotic disorders.’
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