How To Protect Children From Emotional Abuse – What Really Matters.

09 Aug 2016

How do you protect children from emotional abuse when you  don’t protect yourself?  A relationship with an emotionally abusive partner is fraught with terms and conditions. In their attempts to – try to – make the relationship, victims of abuse have to prioritize their partner’s feelings, and put themselves last.

The price of staying in an emotionally abusive relationship is that the victims, essentially, have to give up on themselves.  However, they do NOT give up on their children.  Rather, they worry themselves sick over the question of how to protect the children from emotional abuse.  An emotionally abusive relationship is the triumph of self-abnegation over self-worth.

In this article, we shall be looking at what does and does not work, as well as the heartening  reality that victims of emotional abuse completely overlook.

Emotional abuse sufferers never actually say out loud:  “ I am prepared to give up on my hopes and dreams, my confidence, and even my identity, in order to have a good life with this person – with whom I have a terrible life – .” If they were to say as much out loud, they might just shock themselves awake.   But how could they? They are, after all, people whose hyperactive fear reflex leaves them no time to truly listen to themselves.

Yet, these same victims of abuse, who will accept any amount of hurt and humiliation for themselves, desperately want better for their children.  As one reader wrote:

“My abusive husband says that our children are not affected by our fights. I worry that they are affected. Who is right?”

Children are neither stupid nor insensitive.  Children learn what they live. Therefore if they live in an environment of emotional abuse (and, possibly, physical violence, also) they can only be affected by it.

You cannot protect children from emotional abuse when you live in a climate of fear and powerlessness – much as all of us might wish it could be otherwise.

I say this as someone who has been there.  Profoundly motivated though I was to protect my child from emotional abuse, I could not do it. I did my very best , but I did so without changing the scenario in which she was a witness to emotional abuse. That left me resorting to the ploys that we all use to protect children from emotional abuse.

Ploy #1 To protect children from emotional abuse: “Not in front of the children” 

In an emotionally abusive relationship, the victim soon learns that they cannot manage – or contain – their partner’s outbursts. So they try, instead, to conceal them. What the child does not see cannot harm them –or so the argument goes. In reality, this argument fails for two reasons.

  • Children register far more than we might wish they did. They can pick up on atmospheres, and feelings in a heartbeat.  They have an unerring nose for knowing when something is wrong.
  • You may try to keep the ugly reality from them, but an abuser has a rare talent for involving them in the conflict. If children are in bed, a good bit of door-banging and voice-raising will work wonders. An abuser does NOT see a problem with his abusive behavior – and therefore feels no need to hide it from the children. Plus, he may well try to get the children to take sides against his victim.

Ploy #2 To protect children from emotional abuse: Denial 

We use explanations – often containing the word “really”, as in: “We love each other really.”

and “We’re happy together really.”  Or else, we might go for the would-be reassuring explanation – which in reality only serves to baffle, by saying things like: “He may have said a lot of horrible things, but he doesn’t mean them.”  Or else, we may say: “He had a difficult childhood.” or “He’s going through a hard time at the moment.”

In our attempts to protect children from emotional abuse, we thereby teach them not to trust the evidence of their own senses. They know that he means it.  That is precisely what is so troubling to them. We also teach them to excuse adults for saying acutely hurtful things.  So they learn that cruel adults are not to be held responsible for their bad behavior – while children are held accountable and taught that bad behavior is unacceptable.

Ploy #3 To protect children from emotional abuse: Minimization

When children see – and learn – that cruel, hurtful behavior is not that important in the great scheme of things, they learn that their feelings are not that important.  Children learn, by extension that they are not that important.  They learn, also, that they are unsafe. When hurtful attacks on a parent are condoned, how safe can a child possibly be?

Ploy #4 To protect Children from emotional abuse. Sweeping it under the carpet 

Sweeping “It” under the carpet is Denial taken to the nth degree. This is the “It-never-happened” ploy. Mr. Nasty goes into temporary Good Boy mode, you get caught up in the Hopium Addiction, and everyone is meant to play Happy Families – for as long as it lasts.  If you have ever been on the receiving end of this radical rewriting of the truth, you will know just how upsetting it is.

The heartening news

While it is true that children are anything but blind or immune to the toxicity of emotional abuse, the heartening news is that they are also remarkably resilient.  (So, too, are adult victims  – provided they do a thorough and appropriate abuse detox.) In order for children to thrive despite the damage they have experienced through their exposure to emotional abuse, they need just 2 things:

  1. Safety This is the most basic human need, and one that cannot be met in an emotionally abusive home. As you already know to your cost, in an emotionally abusive environment, your safety is always at risk.


  1. Love Children (just like the rest of us) need love in order to thrive. There is every reason to suppose that you are a very loving parent. However, it is extraordinarily hard to be consistently warm, loving, and available when it requires most of your energy just to stay afloat.
  2. Truth Children have to make sense of the world and find their way in the world. If their world is not grounded in truth, then they are forever trying to maintain some kind of balance in a world of shifting sands. Children who are taught not to trust their own perceptions and intuition learn not to trust themselves. Not trusting themselves will leave them terribly vulnerable to predators  – especially abusers.
  3. A positive role model. Back in the day when I was struggling to hold my emotionally abusive relationship together – for my child’s benefit, no less – I thought I could be a good enough role model if I at least “talked the good talk”. Needless to say, that didn’t work at all. Children need their role model to be the road map. “Do what I say. Do NOT, under any circumstances do what I have done – and am doing!” only gives them mixed messages. Mixed messages lead straight to a dead-end. Most commonly, they lead to the children emulating the roadmap rather than the role model spiel.

How do you protect children from abuse if you do not show them, by the way, you live your life, that it is vitally important to protect yourself from emotional abuse?  You protect children from abuse when you show them – by your example – that you will not compromise your own well-being and happiness  If you are committed to their well-being and happiness, then you have to commit equally to your own also.  Nothing less will do.

Please share this post on social media if it either resonates with you or if you know someone else who could benefit by reading it.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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