I just read once again a story of someone telling themselves that the abuse they experienced was just emotional, which is not as bad as physical or sexual abuse, so they felt like they were wrong for experiencing so many of the same of the negative effects. Such stories make me sad. It is true, in one sense, that physical and sexual abuse are “worse“, but that’s not, strictly speaking, because they are more severe. Rather, the last bastion of our self-hood that we have is our body and when that is violated, generally by those we love and trust, it strikes immediately and without mediation to the core of our personality and being.
Yet the lasting damage is almost never the physical. Our bodies are resilient and they heal all but the worst damage. No, the lasting damage is always the mental and emotional effects of the abuse. Physical and sexual abuse are only “worse” than “merely” emotional (or spiritual) abuse in the sense that our bodies provide a more direct and certain route to our psyche. A broken bone will typically heal in 6-8 weeks. The emotional damage from that broken bone can easily thread its way through an entire life lived.
Emotional abuse is not somehow easier or less serious because there is no physical damage. The adage, “Sticks and stone can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” describes a child’s fantasy of the world he desires, not the world as it actually is. In truth, we all know that words can inflict more lasting damage than any stick or stone — and we use them accordingly.
The title is misleading. Any abuse you suffer is necessarily “worst”. There is no comparison and no way to compare it.
Or so it seems to me.