The saddest part about suffering parental abuse is that you aren’t aware of it. You take it as the norm and not an aberration.
No parent is perfect. They too have their good days and bad. Sometimes they overstep the boundaries of good parenting and turn emotionally abusive. But that doesn’t mean they are abusive parents. We are talking about emotional abuse here and not physical or verbal abuse, which is easier to spot.
Before classifying anyone as an emotionally abusive parent, you need to be extra careful. You should check the facts repeatedly to ensure that you got them right. But the other side of the coin is also equally important. Emotionally abusive parents exist and their children are not aware that they are being emotionally abused.
Often, abused children learn about this by chance after they grow up. When someone talks about the emotional or verbal abuse they suffered at the hands of their parents, they find it vaguely familiar. This gets them thinking that their parents are not as nice as they thought they are.
So, what is the solution to this dilemma? How to identify childhood emotional abuse from parents early on?
Signs – they tell you the true story. This article explores this delicate topic and comes up with a list of signs to look out for to recognize emotional abuse from parents. A word of caution. Don’t jump to conclusions when you spot one sign. A one-off incident of abuse doesn’t make your parent an abuser. Look for more warning signs of emotional abuse from parents. And also ensure consistency before branding your parent as an abuser.
Have you been emotionally abused by your parent?
You have always believed that you had a happy childhood. Your parents loved you and did whatever they could within their limitations. There may have been undesirable incidents involving your parents in the past but you have always justified their behavior and made excuses for them.
Only recently you got wise to the childhood emotional abuse you suffered. This makes you wonder how much it damaged your own personality. To overcome these challenges, you need to understand the kind of abuse you experienced as a child and figure out how it impacted you as an adult.
You may find these warning signs helpful in identifying emotional abuse from parents.
1. They were always moody and irritable.
Having such parents is tough luck for a child. An open and cheerful environment is the most desirable for the emotional development of a child. If you had bad-tempered parents, you must have been nervous and scared all the time. You may have felt as if you were walking on eggshells.
You don’t know when your emotionally abusive parents will blow their fuses. You try to keep away to avoid bearing the brunt of their anger. Even if your parent never did or said anything bad to you, this will still constitute emotional abuse. The high levels of stress and anxiety you suffered have long-term consequences.
2. They were always critical of you.
Most parents want their children to be successful. While some rely on positive words and encouragement to make this happen, others use negative words to egg them on to do better. Instead of encouraging words like “You can do it”, overly critical parents say “You aren’t capable of doing it. Don’t bother trying” in the hope that you will take up the challenge and be successful.
These negative words may yield the same results but the damage they cause is hard to fathom. Such words will permanently damage your self-image and self-worth. It may make you feel insecure even as an adult. This may also get you into the habit of negative self-talk when you have absorbed the traits of your emotionally abusive parents.
3. They ignored and invalidated your emotions.
Think back and remember how your parents dealt with your emotions. Did they acknowledge and accept them? Or did they ignore and rubbish them?
How often have you been told that you are hypersensitive, headstrong, or high-strung? Or when you ever approached your parents asking for help to deal with your self-harming or suicidal thoughts, did they laugh it off saying you are seeking attention?
4. They played cold war with you.
In psychology, this is known as passive aggression. The person is calm and nice on the outside and cold and seething on the inside.
When your emotionally abusive parent is passive-aggressive with you, as a child you will always be second-guessing what they really mean and want. Even when they are angry with you, they won’t say it openly. This will make you feel confused and jittery.
5. They were unable to handle their own lives and asked for your help.
Parents are supposed to take care of their children and not the other way around. Some parents are so inept at managing their lives that they constantly ask their children to help out.
Parents who are unable to deal with their troubles are usually stressed out and anxious. As a child, since you’re keeping close company, you inherit their stress and anxiety. This may show up as physical or emotional health issues.
6. They guilt-tripped you.
Parents are expected to love and nurture their children. When some parents spell out their expectations for you and point out that you haven’t fulfilled your duties or obligations to them, they are trying to make you feel guilty.
They may even demand more favors from you as you haven’t been a dutiful son/daughter. They may point out all that they have done for you and you have given them nothing in return.
7. They subjected you to silent treatment.
Have you ever felt ignored by your parents when you didn’t toe their line? That is the silent treatment for you. They will spell out exactly what they expect from you. If you don’t comply with their rules and requests, you get the silent treatment until you relent.
For a child, this kind of behavior from emotionally abusive parents will create long-lasting damage in their minds. They feel alone and uncared for when they lack emotional support. When they try to discuss their problems with their emotionally abusive parents, they are given a cold shoulder because they were disobedient earlier.
Some more signs of emotional abuse from parents
Parental abuse can take a variety of forms depending on the character of parents and children. Here are a few more common signs to look out for.
- They are emotionally absent from you. They are present only physically.
- They are excessively involved in your life and deny you personal space.
- They twist facts and blame you for others’ mistakes.
- You exhibit self-sabotaging behavior.
- You have deep-entrenched resentment towards your emotionally abusive parents.
- You are always scared of the reaction of your emotionally abusive parents to your actions and decisions.
- You are over-controlling your partner.
- You end up in a toxic relationship.
Final thoughts on an emotionally abusive parent
Criticism, blame, rejection, mocking, humiliating, yelling, threatening, calling names – parental abuse can take as many forms as there are parents and children. Emotionally abused children may end up with academic difficulties, cognitive issues, mental health conditions, substance abuse, physical ailments, and career and relationship troubles.
Emotional abuse, especially from parents can be severely traumatic for children. The consequences include emotional wounds with prospects of lifelong aftereffects on mental health. The path to recovery starts by going back and understanding the root cause. Then, you can figure out how to heal your wounds.