The topic of emotional abuse among children is a difficult one for many, hindered by the struggle to determine a clear definition of what actually constitutes as ‘emotional abuse.’ It is, however, extremely important that we take the time to have this conversation and shine a light on this incredibly negative and harmful form of abuse.
In fact, the organization Prevent Child Abuse America states, “The emotional abuse of children may be the most damaging form of maltreatment, affecting their emotional and physical health as well as their social and cognitive development.”
Often the impact of this treatment carries well into the adult lives of the victims, continuing to influence the way that they act and react to the world around them. Understanding which behaviors are rooted in the way that you were raised can empower you to address these habits, working towards improving your life today.
Here are 24 things you may not realize that you do as a response to growing up with an emotionally abusive parent:
#1 – Blaming Yourself for Everything
As a child, your parents blamed you for everything that happened. In doing so, you were taught to live in a constant state of guilt, always assuming that you were responsible in some way for anything that didn’t work out. Carrying this into your adult life, you now continue to blame yourself. If something goes wrong at home or work, you immediately assume responsibility even if it wasn’t your fault in any way.
#2 – Chronic Insecurity or Low Self-Esteem
If you experienced a childhood full of name calling, belittling and verbal punishment at the hands of your parents this can have long-term effects on the formation of your self-identity and self-esteem. Creating a mental foundation of self-doubt, worthlessness, self-hatred, and guilt, you have spent most of your life being taught these negative opinions and this has clouded your ability to see the amazing, positive sides aspects of who you are.
#3 – Difficulty Accepting Compliments
Throughout the course of your childhood, you were consistently reminded of your mistakes, however, you rarely if ever received compliments for your achievements. Now that you are out in the world and around people who compliment you when you have done something well, you find it difficult to accept compliments as you subconsciously question their motives.
#4 – Needing Constant Validation
You didn’t have the encouragement and support of your parents growing up, validating the decisions that you make in life. Allowing their negative comments and opinions to influence your opinion of yourself, you began to create a close tie between the validation of those in positions of authority and your self-worth. As an adult, this carries over into your regular life. For example, your abilities as an employee are dependent on your boss’s validation of your skills.
#5 – Striving for Perfection
Throughout your childhood, all you wanted to be was ‘enough’ for your parents, authority figures and the people in your life. In order to do so, you would go to extreme lengths to be as perfect as possible. This need for perfection carries into your adult life, eager to achieve perfection in everything that you do.
#6 – Hearing Your Parent’s Voice Even as an Adult
Even if you have gone to the extremes of cutting all ties with your parents, you can’t help but hear their voice in your head. They may not be there judging you in person, but you can still hear their comments and criticism each and every day, continuing to tear you down.
#7 – Highly Pessimistic
Throughout your life, you have been taught to see the negative side to everything. The verbal and emotional abuse you have endured has slowly worn away at any feelings of hope and excitement for the world around you, leaving you with a dark opinion of what the world has to offer. You carry this into your adult life, assuming the worst in any situation you encounter.
#8 – Avoiding Confrontation
Even the idea of conflict and confrontation causes you a great deal of anxiety, situations that often escalated quickly in your home growing up. Rather than trying to work through conflict situations, you will go to great lengths to avoid them. Walking away from the situation entirely feels easier than figuring out how to avoid upsetting those that are involved.
#9 – You Feel the Need to Explain Everything
Due to the fact you were regularly judged and questioned for the decision and actions that you took, as a child you began explaining everything that you do to those around you. For example, you are unable to go out shopping without feeling the need to explain to others why you choose to buy what you chose. You believe that everyone is owed a detailed explanation in order to ensure they understand why you made the choices you did out of fear that they are already judging your decision.
#10 – Comparing Yourself to Others
You were likely raised in a situation in which you were regularly compared to the others around you. For example, if you are from a larger family, your parents likely compared you and your siblings, whereas if you were a single child you were most likely compared to other children that attended school with you or the children of your parent’s friends. This comparison was used to tear your down, always highlighting your flaws and weaknesses rather than your strengths. As an adult you now compare yourself, in the same way, always noticing the ways in which you feel like you don’t stack up to the people you encounter.
#11 – Questioning Your Parenting Abilities
While others may see parenting as a happy and easy experience, influenced by the flawless execution of the parents that always made it seem effortless to show them love and have fun in the process, this is far from your experience. You know first hand that a parent can have negative influences on their children, and you’re afraid that you will make the same mistake your parents made. The idea that you may inflict the same pain you feel on your child is a serious concern in your mind at all times, causing you to question and second guess everything that you do.
#12 – Fearing Abandonment
Your parents often gave you the impression that they would only continue to love you and be around if you did as they required, creating a fear that those that love you may leave at any time. As an adult, you can’t shake this fear. While you may eventually allow people to work their way into your life, you are constantly plagued with the fear that they may leave you tomorrow.
#13 – Constantly Apologizing
As a child you were required to apologize regularly as your parents stated that everything was your fault. You also learned that simply apologizing early could avoid a fight altogether, or end one quickly. This became a means of survival, an attempt to maintain a happier home life. Whether you were at fault or not was irrelevant, you would apologize anyway. As an adult, you continue to count on the power of an apology to maintain happiness, actively avoiding conflict.
#14 – Constantly Overthinking
Throughout childhood, you were introduced to many of the negative possibilities in life and the way in which things could possibly go wrong. Moving into your adult life, you continue to fixate on these negative possibilities. Always worried about what might happen next, you regularly overthink every situation that you are presented with, focused on whether or not you may be welcoming a higher level of negativity into your life.
#15 – Issues with Eye Contact
The way you were raised caused a great deal of stress and anxiety, always anticipating the next thing that was going to go wrong. You were taught to be submissive to your parents, avoiding anything that may remotely come across as questioning their authority in order to avoid the arguments that these actions would result in. Even as an adult you struggle to make eye contact with others, choosing instead to avert your eyes and stare at the ground.
#16 – Worrying Constantly About What Other’s Think
As a child your parents were always judging and criticizing everything that you did from the clothing you chose to wear to the way you chewed your food. This caused you to be highly self-critical, always worried about what they would judge next. As an adult, you now worry not only about your parents, but about the opinions of everyone that you meet. You can’t do anything in life without worrying about the opinions of others.
#17 – Avoiding Physical Affection or Intimacy
Growing up any type of physical affection or love was used as a tool for manipulation, causing you to create a negative association between these acts of love and the way that they make you feel. You avoid situations in which you may give someone this kind of power of you, protecting yourself by avoiding being vulnerable. You don’t trust that the people you meet can love you unconditionally, and so you avoid allowing them in to love you at all.
#18 – Craving Physical Intimacy
Lacking physical intimacy as a child with the exception of when your parents were using it to manipulate you, you can’t help but notice the intimacy experienced by many around you. Seeing the happiness of those on television, in the movies, or even around you as parents drop their children off at school or are walking together through the mall, you could see that your situation wasn’t the same as everyone else’s. You learned to crave the real physical intimacy that others had, a craving that you carried into your adult life.
#19 – Difficulty Accepting Gifts
Throughout your childhood your parents would often used gifts as a form of manipulation. No gift was given without conditions, and you quickly learned to expect these conditions right out of the gate. As an adult, when someone gives you a gift you always assume that there is some hidden meaning behind it that will come back to bite you down the road.
#20 – Difficulty Expressing Emotions
As a child, you had to learn to repress your emotions in order to avoid the emotional attacks from your parents. This was an important tool for psychological survival in that situation, however, as an adult, you now continue to practice this negative survival technique. You often feel numb, as if your feelings have been shut down and you are unable to turn them back on again.
#21 – Putting Everyone Else’s Needs Ahead of Your Own
As a child, you were undervalued, taught that your own needs were irrelevant. This is a habit that you carry into your adult life, always viewing the needs and desires of others as more important than your own. While there is nothing wrong with paying attention to the needs of others, in fact, it’s a great life skill, the fact that it’s driven by undervaluing yourself to such a high degree is the sign of a problem.
#22 – Inability to Trust Others
Growing up most children are taught to trust by their parents, the people in their lives that they learn they can always count on. Robbed of that opportunity, you now keep people at arm’s length at all times. You are well aware of how people can hurt you if you let them in and so, in an effort to protect yourself you choose not to trust anyone. If someone is willing to work at it, they can eventually build trust, but it would take an incredibly long time dedicated to proving you to you that they can be trusted.
#23 – Difficulty Making Decisions
Throughout your childhood you were told that every decision that you made was wrong, causing you to question your ability to make decisions at all. As an adult you struggle with indecisiveness, unable to make a decision out of fear that any decision you make will be incorrect.
#24 – Shutting Down During ‘Parent’ Related Conversations
Conversations with others relating to the involvement of their parents in their lives reminds you of the questionable childhood that you experienced. While you are happy for your friends and coworkers that they were blessed to have such great parents, you are overly aware that your experienced was incredibly different and you feel robbed.