18 Clues Your Upbringing Was Emotionally Abusive

Relationships with parents can be complicated, especially if you have somewhat of a negative view of your childhood. Emotionally abusive parents can hugely impact a child’s sense of self and cause issues with confidence and relationships with others in adult life. Check out this list of 18 clues that might show you experienced emotional abuse growing up.

Constant Criticism and Comparison

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Emotionally abusive parents will often criticize you constantly, making you feel inadequate and impacting your self-esteem. According to Psychology Today, “constant criticism early in life can leave the impression that what you think, feel, or do is somehow wrong. As a result, you’re often plagued by self-doubt.”

Withholding Affection as Punishment

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When a parent withholds their affection, attention, or approval as a form of punishment, it is often in an attempt to manipulate their child’s behavior and decision-making. This can create an environment of insecurity and anxiety where children see their parents’ love as conditional.

Neglecting Emotional Needs

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Emotional neglect is where a parent may ignore or fail to respond to the emotional needs of their child. This can lead to children feeling unimportant, unworthy of attention, and emotionally abandoned. In the long term, it can impact someone’s ability to form healthy relationships.

Invalidation of Feelings and Experiences

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Dismissing or belittling emotions or feelings can make you second guess your emotions and experiences and undermine your sense of reality. According to Psych Central, emotional invalidation “can often lead to feelings of worthlessness and self-isolation.” In the long term, it can cause difficulties trusting your own judgment and a tendency to ignore your emotional needs.

Ridicule and Humiliation

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Humiliating or ridiculing children, especially in front of others, is a common tactic used by emotionally abusive parents. It can have a severe impact on self-esteem and lead to feelings of shame. This can contribute to social anxiety and withdrawal.

Excessive Control and Overprotection

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By excessively controlling your activities, choices, and friendships, overprotective parents can stifle your independence from a young age. Healthline says this can impact you throughout your life, and “an overprotective parent can create a child who’s unprepared to deal with what life may throw their way.”

Unrealistic Expectations and Pressure

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Another sign of emotionally abusive parenting is setting unrealistic expectations for children, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear of failure in later life. Where it becomes a problem is when parents put extreme pressure on their children to meet their expectations, and failure to do so results in criticism or punishment, regardless of the child’s effort or circumstances.

Denial of Abuse and Gaslighting

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Abusive people will often deny their behavior, suggesting that the victim of the abuse is exaggerating or misinterpreting the situation. This is a form of gaslighting and can cause the victim to doubt their memories and experiences.

Isolation from Peers and Family

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Often, abusive parents will try to isolate their children from friends, family members, or support networks in order to increase their child’s dependence on themselves. This can increase feelings of loneliness and helplessness and, in the long term, impact the child’s ability to form healthy relationships.

Lack of Empathy and Emotional Support

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A lack of empathy can leave children feeling alone and unsupported. Children may also grow up to feel emotionally disconnected and find it hard to form secure emotional attachments. According to Verywell Mind, if you face a lack of empathy from a loved one, you should “establish boundaries, nurture your relationship with other people, and avoid seeking emotional validation from that person.”

Exposure to Parental Conflict

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If a child is put in a position where they constantly witness conflict or hostility between parents, it can be a form of emotional abuse. Exposure to conflict can cause feelings of fear, insecurity, and a distorted view of what a healthy relationship looks like.

Unpredictable or Volatile Behavior

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An unpredictable home environment creates a sense of constant uncertainty and fear in children. This may cause children to become hyper-vigilant or develop anxiety as they try to anticipate and navigate their parents’ mood swings.

Using Guilt as a Manipulation Tool

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According to Verywell Family, guilt tripping is “a way of shaming or blaming a child in order to convince them to do something or to comply with a request.” A tactic often used by emotionally abusive parents, it can leave children struggling to set boundaries or assert their needs.

Indifference to Pain or Distress

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If a parent ignores or is unbothered by their child’s pain or distress, it is a form of emotional neglect. This act teaches children that their feelings are unimportant and impacts their ability to empathize with others.

Intimidation to Enforce Obedience

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If a parent used fear or intimidation to make you act the way they wanted, they were most likely emotionally abusive. Generally used to enforce obedience or control the way you behave, using fear in this way can have long-lasting psychological effects.

Withholding Communication as Punishment

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Giving you the silent treatment is a common tactic used in emotionally abusive relationships, and when used by parents, it leaves children feeling confused and abandoned. It teaches children that their worth is tied to the caregiver’s approval and can affect a child’s trust in relationships.

Ignoring Boundaries

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Boundaries are essential in any relationship, and a healthy relationship will respect both physical and emotional boundaries. Parents who ignore these teach their children that their needs and comfort are unimportant, which can impact healthy relationships as adults.

Undermining Accomplishments

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Downplaying or dismissing a child’s achievements can be a subtle form of emotional abuse that is used to undermine a child’s sense of self-worth. An example of this is the suggestion that an accomplishment is down to luck rather than skill.

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