A subtle but potentially powerful form of verbal abuse involves trivializing or discounting the child’s A) feelings, B) Ideas, C) Perceptions, D) Accomplishments, or E) Desires. For example…
“Stop being such a baby.”
“I don’t want to hear about it.”
“Big boys/girls don’t cry like that.”
“That’s a stupid reason to be so upset.”
“I don’t care how you feel.”
“Stop being so sensitive.”
Discounting and trivializing:
“Who do you think you are?”
“You’ve always got to put in your two cents.”
“Nobody asked you.”
“What makes you think you know it all?”
“Anybody can get straight A’s. That’s not really all that special.”
“You wouldn’t know about these sorts of things.”
“Nobody would ever care what you think!”
“I’m the adult, you’re the child, which means my opinions matter and yours don’t.”
“Children are to be seen but not heard.”
“One of the worst things that could possibly happen to a child would be to have his feelings be, not just ignored and undefined, but also denied as if they were not real, and suppressed so that they could not be felt.”
– Patricia Evans (1993, p. 173)
All such statements invalidate the child as a person and tell them that they’re feelings/wishes/desires don’t matter to you. How much they sting largely depends upon the context in which they are used. Emotional disregard over little things like injuries and the like will sting the child and make them upset, but they’ll usually get over it. (Of course, if such things happen repeatedly, it begins to translate into the message than mommy doesn’t care about what I feel and may produce a lasting negative impact.) Emotional disregard over something much more personal, such as discounting a child’s frustration that her father no-showed for visitation again, can leave a more indelible mark.
Emotional disregard can also be much more severe and blatant. For instance, one girl reports that “I started self-harm when I was 11,” (a common coping mechanism among disturbed youth, which generally involves cutting themselves with a razor blade). She adds, “I told my mom, and she said, ‘Why don’t you just kill yourself?'” (Glock, 2009, p. 102) Taking such a dismissive attitude towards a child’s serious problems or emotions is a potent rejection of the child. Such a statement shows complete disregard for the child as a person, and in these 6 little words can cause more hurt than most traditional forms of abuse. The child learned just how valuable she is: utterly worthless, and this coming from the lips of the most important person in her life. Of course, considering this girl was already cutting herself and contemplating suicide at age 11, it’s very likely this wasn’t the first verbal/emotional abuse her mother had dished out. It’s also testament to how destructive such statements can be.
Depreciation and devaluation
These statements are all part of a general pattern that psychologists refer to as “depreciation.” A parent depreciates a child by devaluing or undermining the child’s feelings, achievements, or self-worth. Depreciation can also occur when a parent overemphasizes negative qualities, such as when a parent exaggerates a child’s misbehavior. Often times, emotionally abusive adults will come at a child from both ends: devaluing their feelings and self-worth while simultaneously elevating their undesirable qualities.