scrapbook page with photo of dirty shoes, dried flowers and title breaking down mental abuse and neglect

Breaking Down Mental Abuse and Neglect

If you’ve been following along this month, I’ve been talking about the different types of abuse leading up to how it shows up in cycles and affects our relationships. This week, I’m going to focus on two major categories: mental abuse and neglect.

I’ll start with mental abuse.

Mental abuse comes in many forms and almost always has an influence on emotional, social and intellectual growth. There is no obvious physical evidence of mental abuse and sometimes not even a memory or realization of it. That doesn’t make it any less harmful. The scars of mental abuse are almost always much deeper than they appear.

Intimidation, oppression, threats, blaming, denying, isolation… These are all (but not the only) types of mental abuse. Verbal abuse is usually the most damaging to the self-image. The abuse can become internalized, leaving the victim feeling insignificant, useless and unlovable.

Sometimes the abuser has so much power over the victim that she is not aware of being abused.

This is done despite ridicule, isolation, humiliation, emotional distance and possessiveness. The process of keeping the victim unaware is sometimes known as gas lighting or brainwashing. Brainwashing can happen in a variety of ways but is usually achieved by manipulation and mind control. This keeps the control in the abuser’s hands so that the victim has no real control from routines to activities and even personality. The abuser in basic terms trains the victim and conditions her to be weak and therefore easier to control. Mental abusers also use verbal assaults, criticizing, sarcasm, belittling, domination, guilt, fear, denial, outburst, extreme expectations and constant drama to force the victim to lose self-respect and esteem.

Most victims of mental abuse begin to believe that the abuse is their fault.

The victim will often doubt her judgment, blame herself and no longer know how to think or feel. At times, the abuse is so shocking and incomprehensible that the victim can’t quite believe that it is even happening. According to survivors however, it is basically impossible for psychological abuse not to lower self-esteem or cause depression.

Emotional wounds, like all mental abuse, are most often harder to identify as abuse and are therefore harder to catch. This means that the abuse time frame is usually much longer and can therefore cause greater damage. Again, the key word is manipulation. If the victim is manipulated into thinking that she is not being abused, then the abuse can easily continue without opposition. This can lead to situations where the victim is then inflicting self-damage because she believes she deserves it.

Mental abuse can also come from witnessing someone else’s abuse. A prime example would be a child witnessing her mother being abused throughout her childhood by her father. This child may not only be dealing with the emotional havoc of seeing her mother hurt and being afraid of her father, but also may have trouble distinguishing right from wrong. She might believe that all families behave this way, not realizing that it isn’t normal. It’s possible that she might then mirror the abusive behavior towards others (or welcome it from others), due to watching her mother be a victim. Her overall ability to interact with others could be seriously damaged.

Victims are usually chosen carefully and specifically.

The abuser doesn’t often abuse anyone and everyone, but typically acts normal around others. The abuse benefits them in some way and they are usually able to hide it which shows that they’ve thought it through beforehand. The fact that the act is usually premeditated can add to the pain of the victim and worsen the self-destructive mindset that usually results from being abused. On top of that, the fact that the abuse is often overlooked can add to the feeling of self-worthlessness by the victim. It isn’t always easy for victims to believe that abuse can mean more than being physically attacked.

And now, I’ll move onto Neglect.

Neglect is one of the most prevalent forms of child maltreatment in the United States and can come in more than one version. The different types of neglect are physical, emotional, educational, and medical. Neglect can be active or passive, depending on the intent of the neglector. If the neglect is intentional, then it is active. If it’s unintentional, then it is passive.

Physical neglect

This means not providing for the physical needs of the victim. That includes things like food, housing, clothing, etc. Physical neglect typically occurs with children and elderly victims. Some of the cases seen most often include child abandonment, inadequate supervision or failure to keep the victim safe. The victim’s health and development are greatly affected and can cause a failure to thrive, serious illness and or physical harm.

Emotional neglect

This refers to not providing emotional support or attention. It can lead to the victim feeling worthless and stupid which effects how they allow others to treat them. Spousal abuse in front of a child is a type of emotional neglect not often acknowledged, as is belittling a child or refusing to show attention. Threatening, isolating or exploiting a victim can also have unacknowledged side effects, specifically to self-image. The National Department of Health and Human Services’ Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect also includes inadequate nurturing, permitted drug abuse, and refusal of psychological care in their definition of emotional neglect.

Educational neglect

This is most often seen with child victims. It occurs when the victim is not enrolled in mandatory schooling and can prevent the development of basic life skills as well as psychological growth. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act states that it is still educational neglect if a child with special needs is not attended to with their needs in mind, regardless of whether the child is in basic schooling.

Medical neglect

This is very dangerous as it places the victim at a high risk of disability, hospitalization or death. It is defined as the failure to provide health care and medical treatment, but not limited to emergency situations. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, about two percent of children in the United States were victims of medical neglect in 2005 alone. Religion, money and fear are some of the preludes to medical neglect.


This falls under each of the categories of neglect. The government defines abandonment as a child being left alone while the care-taker’s whereabouts are unknown. This would leave the child without anyone to ensure that she does not suffer from other types of abuse.

It is not always easy to see when someone is being neglected.

There are some indicators of maltreatment such as dirty skin, body odor, tangled hair, tattered clothing, itching, scratching, bruising, drowsiness, poor social skills, lack of confidence, depression, lies, theft or destructive tendencies. The neglector is likely to make false promises, miss appointments or leave the child alone.

Neglected children often develop trust and relationship issues, feelings of being damaged, and trouble regulating emotions. This stems from not being able to trust their caregiver along with the fear of being abused further. The earlier that neglected children get help, the greater chance they have to heal and to not perpetuate the cycle.

Okay, time for a break.

Just like last week, I’m going to stop before we get too overwhelming. But next week I’ll be back with some of the effects on relationships and how cycles form.

**If you or someone you know has been or are being abused in any sense of the word, please make sure that you seek out some support. Find a way to keep yourself and those you love safe.

The national domestic violence hotline is available 24 hours at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). They can help in many ways, from answering questions and talking through your options to helping you find a temporary shelter.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, you can dial 988 for immediate access to mental health crisis services.

And if you believe you are a witness to abuse, please speak up. If you are unsure, call one of the above numbers or talk to someone you trust. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Please remember that you are not alone and that your life has value.

Check out some of my other posts here. And don’t forget to subscribe for some awesome freebies and discounts!

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