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Psychological Abuse: The Indirect Impact on Children -Shenae Osborn, LMSW, MA

Psychological abuse is something that is heard of but not really considered as abuse. This is most unfortunate when the abuse is brought into courts. Is it acknowledged? Yes…kind of but is it taken seriously? Not really. The most unfortunate part is that too many victims suffer in isolation. What can’t be seen isn’t real to others but the scars and mental bruises are real. The psychological destabilization, low self-esteem, and fear that victims experience isn’t always limited to the direct victim, often, but not always, the woman in the relationship. Children are impacted as well whether directly or indirectly. Direct impact, the meaning, is obvious but what is meant by indirect? When the children are witnesses (seeing and/ or hearing the abuse) they too are impacted and unfortunately, when the abuse is not acknowledged and treated, it can lead to children not living their ultimate life due to significant limitations. With over “4.5 million children each year exposed to intimate partner violence” which includes psychological abuse, children are more prone to experience limitations on intellectual abilities and increased “ perpetration of psychological and physical abuse in adulthood.” Just because something cannot be seen, doesn’t mean that it does not exist.

Children are often not given the credit they deserve when it comes to how they see things in life. The courts often do not take their concerns and requests into consideration only placing children right where they do not want to be and often for very good reason. Cases of child abuse are in courts all the time but reports of child abuse are not always taken seriously just like in the cases of two kids in New York. In the New York Times we read, “responding officers reported that they had observed the children in the apartment to be in good health with no visible marks or injuries” yet the children ended up dead later. Yes, these cases are quite disturbing and thankfully not an every day story but the reality is that abuse is happening everywhere, every day. It doesn't always have to be seen and it does not mean it is not traumatically damaging to the child now and eventually in their adulthood.

I have noticed that the teen years are especially difficult not only for the parents in dealing with raging hormones but also for the child. This is a normal part of life and boy is it difficult for the every day child and parent. However, a teen that has witnessed psychological abuse, even early in their childhood, seems to go through deeper pain and subconscious feelings of fear, anger, and the need to protect. They can seem distant and long for isolation. This is the desire to not have to address the truth because it is too painful. “Why get close to people when all they are going to do is hurt you?” For some of you reading this, it may be a familiar phrase. Teens that have gone through or witnessed some form of abuse but come from a loving, caring home (at least one parent) can feel confused and frustrated. This is the time to help your teen understand that you are there for them and that you will be there to help them understand what they are feeling. Pushing a teen into conversation will only push them further away but helping them understand that you will not abandon them… eventually it is the hope that they will reach out, when they are ready. Honestly, it is all so hard and confusing but the reality is that it is a part of life and we can only try our best.

As adults it is our responsibility to give children a stronger, brighter future. It is our responsibility to let them grow and learn. It is our place to ensure not only their physical safety but also their mental and emotional safety. The seed we plant for our children now and the care and protection we provide will either flourish or wilt. It is our responsibility as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and friends to support one another, listen to each other and understand that each voice matters. A child should have a choice when it comes to who will help them flourish in their future. Psychological abuse is real, it is damaging and it is cyclical unless we stop it.



  1. Aggressive behavior of children exposed to intimate partner violence: An examination of maternal mental health, maternal warmth and child maltreatment:

  2. The Direct and Indirect Effects of Domestic Violence on Young Children’s Intellectual Functioning:

  3. Family- of- origin maltreatment, posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, social information processing deficit, and relationship abuse perpetration:

  4. NY Times 1- Year- Old Is Killed, and Mother’s Boyfriend is Arrested:

  5. Photo compliments of Levi Bare on

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