Sadly abusive parents often emotionally abuse children in public, but this type of abuse is typically ignored or minimized. Children who are regularly abused in this way will seldom get help with the impact of this type of abuse unless it is accompanied by a physical form of abuse as well.
This is an overheard exchange between a parent and a child:
Son: I am so excited about my new trumpet, because my lips fit into the mouthpiece perfectly.
Mother: This was expensive, so be sure that you take good care of it.
Son: Last week I was assigned to 4th chair in the band. The teacher said that she could tell I'd been practicing and the new trumpet is helping me play better. I can now almost play my entire part without squeaking.
Mother: You are in the second to the last chair, that isn't very good. (1, 4)
Son: But I moved up a chair because I practiced so hard and am getting better.
Mother: When I was in band, I played first chair so I expect nothing less from you. (2,8)
Son: okay, but I am doing my best.
Mother: I know you like band and want to be the best, this is why I bought you the new trumpet (5,6,7)
Son: Looks down, begins drinking soda, and doesn't respond.
Mother: Get to first chair so I can be proud of you. (3,7)
Son: silently looks to his feet.
Below we identify the types of emotional abuse occurring in this conversation:
NEGLECT (1): the mother didn't recognize the child's accomplishment in any way.
COMPARISON (2): the mother used her own accomplishments to minimize the son's excitement.
WITH HOLDING (3): Mother says she can't be proud until son gets to first chair.
PUT-DOWN (4): Mother said accomplishment wasn't good because he was in second to last place.
WORD TWISTING (5): Mother was telling child what he wants
PRESSING (6): When the son became quiet, the mother ignored the signs that he didn't want to talk about it anymore and continued to press about how much he likes band.
FINANCIAL (7): Mother suggests that value is based on external factors.
MIRRORING (8): Mother says trumpet is only given to him because the son's desires match her own.
What happens in exchanges like this, is the child begins to relate his value as a human based solely on what he can or can't accomplish. The mothers desire is probably to encourage growth in her son, but this type of approach does lead to ongoing emotional disruption.
This conversation left the son with the impression that his efforts were not worth the excitement of his mother and he won't be good enough until he is as good as she was. While he may continue to work towards improvement skills, there is a good chance that this child will decide he isn't able to play at all if is is not able to be the best in the class.