Emotional abuse from parents is far more common than we’re willing to accept as a society. One study in the US found that 1 in 7 children suffer abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents. We’re a society that likes to hide behind the idea that parents know what’s best for their children and get to exercise full control over their lives.
We also take physical violence more seriously than we do emotional abuse which leaves no scars or bruises. For this reason, many people who grew up with emotionally abusive parents don’t always recognize that abuse for what it was.
Many only come to realize their upbringing was different when they share their home stories and are shocked to find that that’s not everyone’s experience. Here are some signs of emotional abuse by parents.
Types of emotional abuse by Parents
Emotionally abusive parents engage in behaviour like:
- Constantly criticizing the child
- Frequently negatively comparing the child to others
- Playing favourites and encouraging sibling rivalry
- Blaming the child for adult problems
- Rejecting the child repeatedly
- Dismissing the child’s feelings
- Deliberately causing the child emotional pain
- Ridiculing the child or mocking them
- Humiliating or publicly shaming the child
- Talking down to the child
- Undermining a child’s success or achievement
- Calling the child names
- Getting angry at the child often
- Yelling or swearing at the child
- Threatening to abandon the child
- Threatening to harm the child or their friends, other family members or pets
- Intimidating or scaring the child
- Coercing or manipulating the child, including blackmail
- Guilt-trip the child
- Gaslighting the child
- Frequently harassing or picking on the child
- Ignoring the child or using silence to control their behaviour
- Withholding love, support and guidance
- Refraining from physical contact e.g., hugging and other ways of showing affection
- Conditional love (only when the child meets certain expectations)
- Neglecting to care for the child and their needs
- Use the child to take revenge on their spouse or ex
- Allowing the child to witness domestic violence and abuse
- Intrude on the child’s privacy and deny them privacy
- Unpredictable behaviour which leads everyone to walk on eggshells
- Pushing the child too hard to achieve forcefully imposed aims and targets
- Making the child the parent’s confidante or emotional support even with explicit issues
How to deal with emotionally abusive parents
If the above list has too many things that were present in your childhood and in your present relationship with your parents, here are some ways you can deal with the situation.
Identify the patterns
The first thing you need to do is recognize their behaviour for what it is, emotional abuse. The next thing is to determine their pattern of abuse. When are they most likely to be volatile? It could be something like at the end of the month when the finances are low, just before payday. Keep your interactions with them to a minimum during these periods.
Change your reaction
Now that you can in some ways predict the worst times, brace yourself and change your reaction. If you usually try to defend yourself when they yell at you for no reason, deist from doing so. Don’t engage because it could negatively impact your mental health. Focus on distracting yourself or trying to calm yourself through breathing. For some people, engaging with them while they’re angry can just spur them on further.
It’s not your fault
Remind yourself that it’s not your fault, regardless of what they say, especially if they repeatedly blame you for their misfortunes. They are responsible for their actions.
Talk to an elder or professional
Consider talking to your parents about their actions and the negative ways it’s impacting your life. If they are not the type you can speak to, consider talking to an elder in your family that they would listen to. You can also consider seeking professional help in the form of therapy.
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