You may think that your parents loved you unconditionally, but did they really? Or did they emotionally abuse you in ways that you didn’t realize until now?
Emotional abuse is a silent killer that can destroy your mental health and well-being. But what is it exactly?
Emotional abuse is any nonphysical behavior or attitude that is designed to control, subdue, punish, or isolate you through the use of humiliation or fear.
It can be hard to spot, as it often involves subtle behaviors that are disguised as “normal” parenting. But these behaviors can leave deep scars on your psyche that can affect you for life.
Here are some common signs that you have emotionally abusive parents:
- They are narcissists who love to manipulate you and make themselves look good. They may brag about their achievements, belittle yours, or take credit for your success.
- They have a pattern of verbal abuse, such as calling you names, criticizing you, or blaming you for everything. They may say things like “You’re stupid”, “You’re ugly”, or “You’re a disappointment”.
- They experience mood swings and make you feel like you are always walking on eggshells around them. They may be calm and loving one day and angry and cold the next day. You never know what to expect from them.
- They withhold compliments, basic needs, or affection from you as a way of punishing you or making you feel unworthy. They may ignore you, reject you, or give you the silent treatment.
- They enmesh or parentify you, meaning they expect you to take care of their emotional needs or act as their spouse or partner. They may confide in you about their problems, ask you for advice, or rely on you for support.
- They always expect you to put them first and disregard your own feelings, opinions, or interests. They may make decisions for you, interfere with your plans, or criticize your choices.
- They invalidate your emotions and tell you that you are too sensitive, crazy, or wrong. They may dismiss your feelings, deny your reality, or accuse you of lying.
- They gaslight you, meaning they make you doubt your own reality and memory by lying, denying, or hiding things from you. They may say things like “I never said that” or “You’re imagining things”.
- They isolate you from your friends, family, or other sources of support and make you dependent on them. They may discourage you from socializing, sabotage your relationships, or threaten to abandon you.
- They are overly controlling or permissive, meaning they either dictate every aspect of your life or neglect your guidance and protection. They may monitor your phone calls, emails, or whereabouts, or let you do whatever you want without consequences.
Emotional abuse can have lasting effects on your health and happiness. It can make you feel less-than, worthless, or not good enough. It can also cause changes in your body and brain that can lead to chronic stress , anxiety , depression , low self-esteem , insecurity , trust issues , relationship problems , and even physical abuse .
But there is hope. You can heal from the emotional abuse caused by your parents and regain your sense of self-worth and identity.
Here are some steps you can take to start your healing journey:
- Recognize that what is happening is not your fault . As one therapist said: “It’s not about you. It’s about the abuser’s need to control you.”
- Put more appropriate emotional distance between yourself and your abusive parents . You may need to limit contact with them or cut them off completely if they are toxic and harmful to your well-being.
- Take control of your own reactions to the situation . You can choose how to respond to their abuse and not let them affect your mood or behavior. You can also practice self-care and coping skills to manage your stress and emotions.
- Understand why your parents behave the way they do and recognize that this behavior comes from them, not from you . You may want to learn more about their own childhood trauma or mental health issues that may have contributed to their abusive patterns.
- Get the help that you need to cope with the abuse and start to feel better . You may want to seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in emotional abuse and trauma. You may also want to join a support group or find other people who have gone through similar experiences and can offer empathy and advice.
- Rebuild your self-esteem and identity . You may want to journal your reality and affirmations to counteract the negative messages you have received from your parents. You may also want to explore your interests, hobbies, goals, values, and dreams that make you who you are.
Remember: You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not worthless. You are enough.
You are recovering from a serious interpersonal trauma. But you can heal from it and live a happier and healthier life.