What subtle child abuse can look like

Child abuse has a long human history. In Ancient Greece paternal infanticide was permitted whilst child ritual sacrifice was documented in ancient Sub Saharan Africa. In Eskimo culture offering a baby girl to a guest as a sign of generosity and hospitality often resulted in death during the sexual encounter. Even during the industrial revolution children had fewer legal rights than animals and were often used for profit by their own parents. This culture persisted until the more widespread adoption of compulsory child education in the 19th century yet still persists in countries marked by political instability, poverty, corrupt institutional structures or devastated by war or natural disaster. We humans, have a cultural and idealogical history and collective psyche that is inherently geared towards the exploitation of children.

According to the WHO globally 75% of children between two and four years old experience regular physical or emotional abuse from their own parents. In the US alone 80% of child fatalities involve at least one parent.

These examples of abuse that are documented and described as explicit, evident and reported. However, there is a far bigger shadow. It is subtle and well disguised abuse, hidden under the thick heavy veil of human self ignorance and denial. Here are some examples. These are examples that adults, many decades later, are in therapy for trying to heal from.

Here are some examples of subtle childhood abuse from preconception to teenager:

Pre-conception: 1) Having a child to fix the feeling that something is missing within you, to mask grief, inadequacy or discontent / boredom with life / job / progress, to give yourself something to do, to get extended maternity leave because you are unhappy in your job but need financial security

2) Having a child to fix the relationship you are in or to create closeness or intimacy that isn’t there, to create hope or to avoid being abandoned or relationship ending

3) Having a child to adhere to a cultural or familial or societal expectation, to be accepted, to belong, to feel a sense of accomplishment, to please others, to avoid criticism, to receive love from, to replace a child that was miscarried or that passed earlier



4) Emotional distancing / checking out from baby due to personal overwhelm as a result of difficult pregnancy or birth or unresolved trauma, lack of self soothing, unresolved trauma, chronic stress, unable to find a state of rest or peace within, unable to connect at a deep level with the baby, baby is treated as object and gets superficial comfort but not deep emotional attunement

5) Toxic feeding patterns - mother’s body is toxic and stressed and baby is being fed constituents of the mother’s fluids; patterns of breastfeeding that involve underlying emotions of frustration, stress, resentment, pain. Avoiding breastfeeding all together, feeding in an environment that is chaotic, noisy and where baby sympathetic state is activated 6) Unpredictable emotions or behaviour in the house as a result of chronic stress, addiction such as one parent being an alcoholic, emotions in the house that are felt beneath the surface but are never spoken of,



7) Ordering rather than explaining, creating a culture of obedience over expression and conformity over safety, parental level of control is neurotic or severe and the atmosphere is one of fear and punishment. Studies show that mothers who experience high levels of trauma symptoms are more likely to parent using authoritarian or permissive behaviors.

8) Subtle remarks on character when child exhibits a behaviour - thereby linking identity to behaviour e.g ‘you’re just like your father when you do that’ not being able to offer space for behaviours to be explored and enacted without being labelled 9) Using scare tactics such as disappearing, threatening to withhold affection or food, recalling past fearful experiences as a potential consequence of behaviour, shaming. Shame is a big part of the dissociative experience and can stay with children until adulthood. Maternal dissociation due to a betrayal trauma was found to significantly predict dissociation in children.


Teens 10) Diagnosing and labelling psychological and behavioural adaptive traits as disorders without the context of the familial and parental dynamic and root causes, thus giving the child the burden of collective trauma to carry alone whilst pretending to be the well intentioned, well informed and well meaning parent

11) Refusing to accept child is not you, cultivating a relationship where boundaries are not respected or where exploitation of boundaries is unconsciously rewarded, teen can only exist safely when they are adhering as much to parental behaviours and norms as possible e.g parents do not experience joy in the house, teen does not fully experience joy in the house

12) Emotionally unstable and traumatised parents gaslighting the teen, using emotional blackmail as a disciplinary tool, using the teen as a negotiation between partners or a spying tool.

13) Imposing cultural or religious duty as a means of the teen accessing a sense of belonging and acceptance, enforcing cult like expectations or prescribing a career path


If you're reading this and it's sounding familiar and you want to heal subtle experiences of abuse or otherwise get in touch with me Email safa@kimiyahealing.co.uk