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What Are the Causes of Emotional Child Abuse?

By Lisa Mooney ; Updated June 13, 2017

Many children are victimized by physical, sexual or emotional abuse. The emotional types of abuse can be as devastating as the other forms. This psychological mistreatment can include verbal cruelty, coldness from the parent or caregiver, threats, intentional corruption of the young one, rejection and abandonment. Any child can become a victim of abuse, regardless of economic or social background. The causes of emotional abuse are varied, complicated and may be multiple in nature.

Abuser's Childhood

The abuser's own childhood can often influence how he treats his own children. Parents and other caregivers model behaviors from their background, which means the victimized children may grow up to be abusers themselves. If a parent was emotionally abused as a child, he may emotionally abuse his child. Professional therapy may be necessary to break the cycle of abuse.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can contribute to a caregiver's tendency to emotionally abuse the child under her care. Overuse of mind-altering drugs, including alcohol, prescription medications and street drugs can contribute to a person's propensity to emotionally violate a child. When someone is under the influence of a substance, he is more likely to ignore a child, make inappropriate comments or verbally lash out in ways he would abstain from when sober.

Untreated Mental Illness

One common cause of emotional abuse of children is a parent's undiagnosed mental illness. When someone has an illness of the mind, including a personality disorder such as manic depression, she may lash out at a child due to her own suffering. The caregiver's illness may make her withdrawn and, thereby, emotionally unavailable to her children. Certain mental illnesses can cause paranoia, which can extend to a parent suspecting a child of plotting against her. Once the abuser is diagnosed and adequately treated, she may be able to care for her child more appropriately.


Stress can cause parents and other caregivers to psychologically mistreat children. Someone under a high degree of worry finds it difficult to deal with the needs and desires of young people under his care. Life stressors ,such as financial worry, relationship concerns and difficulties on the job, can exhaust a caregiver to the point where he has little to offer his children. He may take his anger from his own problems out on his children by verbally abusing them.

Inappropriate Expectations

One often unacknowledged cause of parental abuse is inappropriate expectations of children. Some parents have unrealistic beliefs about how children should behave and achieve. When a child fails to live up to these exaggerated ideals, the parent may react by isolating the child, treating him coldly or placing even more expectations on her. These are all abusive reactions, though many parents fail to recognize them as such. For example, a parent may insist on perfect grades, and when the child's marks fall short, he may require impossible amounts of studying from the child and punish him by restricting all social activities. A parent often believes his reaction is appropriate but his response can be emotionally harmful to his child.

Absence of Parenting Skills

Caring for children comes naturally to many, but often an adult needs to learn how to effectively parent her children. Some parents do not know how to handle the physical and emotional needs of their children. These parents may not understand how to discipline their children without being abusive. The website reveals many people, such as teen parents, do not realize how much care and attention children require until they are faced with the everyday job of providing appropriate care. Fortunately, most communities offer parenting classes and support groups for those who need to learn how to adequately care for children.

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