17 Signs You Had An Emotionally Abusive Parent

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By Luciana Oliveira

Emotional abuse is a silent predator, often lurking in the shadows of our childhood memories. It’s not always as evident as physical abuse, but its scars can run just as deep, if not deeper. And because is not as obvious, it makes it harder to seek the help you so desperately need.

Recognizing the signs of an emotionally abusive parent is the first step towards healing, understanding, detaching and moving forward. Here are 17 signs that you might have grown up with an emotionally abusive parent:

Table of Contents

1. Constant Criticism

One of the most common signs of emotionally abusive parents is their pattern of behavior that involves constant criticism.

Nothing you did was ever good enough. This kind of behavior can lead to low self-esteem in children, making them question their worth for their entire life and it affects how they perceive the world around them.

They will most likely become people pleasers and seek validation constantly, stalling their own growth.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

It is normally for parents to have some form or expectations for their children. At the end of the day, we want them to thrive. But there are boundaries and limits to be considered.

Your parent might have had unrealistic expectations, setting you up for failure. This kind of emotional abuse can make a child feel like they’re never enough, no matter how hard they try, leaving them feeling like they will never satisfy their parents or themselves.

3. Emotional Neglect

Emotional neglect is a form of emotional abuse where parents don’t meet the emotional needs of their children. They will force them to self-soothe when they don’t have yet developed the correct tools to do so.

Young children especially need emotional support, and neglecting such needs can have long-term effects on their emotional development and they could be very hard to revert the longer it goes unchecked.

4. Physical Abuse

While this article focuses on emotional abuse, it’s essential to note that physical abuse and domestic violence often accompany emotional abuse. Physical marks might fade, but the traumatic experiences remain.

5. Substance Abuse

Substance abuse by family members, especially parents, can lead to a pattern of abusive behavior. Children of parents with substance use disorders often face both physical and emotional neglect.

6. Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is a type of abuse that involves withholding affection or attention as punishment. It’s a form of emotional assault that can make a child feel invisible and unloved.

This one is often overlooked but is as damaging as the previous mentioned types of abuse and it can leave you as scarred.

7. Online abuse

In today’s digital age, abusive behavior isn’t limited to face-to-face interactions. Parents might use text messages or social media as tools for emotional assault, making their children feel trapped and isolated. It can also be used as a form or embarrassment, unecessary exposure and belittling.

8. Withholding Basic Needs

Denying children of their basic needs, be it emotional support, food, or extracurricular activities, is a clear sign of emotional abuse. Such behavior can have a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem and overall mental health.

9. Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse, a deeply traumatic form of abuse, can lead to a variety of mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders. This topic is very delicate and deserves its own in depth post.

10. Mood Swings

Parents’ mood swings, where they oscillate between being a loving parent one day and an authority figure displaying abusive behavior the next, can be deeply confusing and traumatic for young people.

This form of abuse can be extremely disorientating and affect the person in future relationships. They will develop a higher vigilance for changes in peoples behaviour and over analyse every move.

11. Passive Aggression

Passive aggression, such as giving the silent treatment or withholding affection, is a form of emotional abuse that can make a child doubt their true feelings and perceptions.

As a child you don’t have the correct tools to identify passive aggression and this will permanently make you question your interaction with people and what things really mean.

12. Blame

An emotionally abused child often feels responsible for their parents’ mood. If the parent had a bad day at the home office or elsewhere, they might take it out on the child, making the child feel at fault.

13. Manipulation and Control

Using manipulation tactics, such as guilt-tripping or playing the victim, is a sign of emotionally abusive parents. This kind of behavior can lead to unhealthy relationships in the child’s adult life.

14. Isolation

Isolating children from positive relationships, be it friends or other family members, is a desperate attempt to exert control and further the emotional abuse.

This can be extremely detrimental to the child and affect the development of their social skills.

15. Gaslighting

Making a child doubt their memories or feelings by questioning their reality is a form of emotional abuse known as gaslighting. It’s a tactic often used to maintain control and diminish a child’s sense of self. They will start question their own reality and learn not to trust themselves.

16. Disregard for Personal Boundaries

An emotionally abusive parent might invade their child’s privacy, reading their diaries, or monitoring their social media. This lack of respect for boundaries can lead to trust issues in adult children.

17. Belittling Dreams

Making fun of or belittling a child’s dreams and aspirations is a sign of emotional abuse. Such actions can affect a child’s growth and ambition, making them doubt their capabilities.

The Impact of Abuse

Psychological abuse, often intertwined with emotional child abuse, can be even more damaging than physical harm. It’s a silent tormentor, leaving no visible scars but deeply affecting a person’s mental health and well-being. In the United States, many individuals recount tales of childhood abuse that have left them grappling with mental health issues well into their adult years.

The foundation of parent-child relationships is trust and love. However, signs of emotional abuse can shatter this foundation, leaving children to navigate the tumultuous waters of negative feelings and self-doubt.

Examples of emotional abuse include constant belittling, shaming, and using fear as a control mechanism. Such experiences during the formative years can lead to a pattern of verbal abuse in romantic relationships later in life.

While the immediate danger of psychological abuse might not be as apparent as physical violence, its long-term effects on physical health are undeniable.

Adverse childhood experiences, including emotional and physical abuse, have been linked to chronic physical problems in adulthood.

The stress and trauma from such experiences can manifest as mood disorders, borderline personality disorder, and other mental health disorders.

Many who have faced emotional abuse at a young age find it hard to trust and form healthy relationships as an adult.

They might have a hard time distinguishing between genuine concern and manipulation, especially if their romantic partner exhibits signs reminiscent of their abusive past. It’s not uncommon for survivors to develop personality disorders as a coping mechanism to deal with the trauma.

Child neglect, a form of emotional abuse, can lead children to believe that their feelings and needs are unimportant.

This belief can carry into adulthood, making it challenging to express emotions or seek help during tough times.

However, recognizing these feelings and taking a deep breath to confront them is the first step towards healing.

Moving Forward

The important thing to remember is that healing is very possible. While the memories of children’s experiences with abuse might never fade entirely, with the right support and time, one can build positive, fulfilling relationships and lead a life free from the shadows of the past.

Recognizing the signs is the first step. Becoming self aware and removing the shame will lead you to your healing process.

Seeking professional help is fundamental as sometimes. You can be very determined to change and heal but sometimes that dedication alone is not enough, and professional help may be needed.

There is absolutely no shame in that. It only means you identified the issue and is trying to act on getting better, but need a little extra help.

Leaning on loved ones can make a world of difference. It’s a good sign when one acknowledges their past and takes proactive steps towards a brighter future.

If family members or a friend is able to hold a safe space for you to open up, it can be a transformative experience and you may even find that you have been through similar experiences, which can be extremely healing for whoever is involved.

Recognizing the signs of an emotionally abusive parent is crucial for the healing process. If you or someone you know has experienced such behavior, it’s essential to seek professional help.

The American Psychological Association and other organizations offer resources for those affected by various forms of abuse. Remember, acknowledging the past is the first step towards a brighter, healthier future.

It is an uphill and very long journey, but it is so worth it. You are worth fighting for so put in the work, take charge and be consistent with your healing. Also remember this very important tip….always repeat to yourself as many times as you need to for as long as it is necessary: It is not your fault!

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Luciana, a proud Brazilian, blends her passion for jiu-jitsu with a deep-rooted connection to spirituality and well-being. Her dedication to the martial art reflects not just a physical discipline, but a holistic approach to life, seeking balance in mind, body, and spirit. Whether on the mats or in meditation, Luciana embodies the essence of harmony and inner strength.

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