Unfortunately, not every child is raised by nurturing and loving parents. Luckily, the number of emotionally abusive parents are decreasing. However, it is the worst kind of abuse and has far-reaching consequences well into adulthood.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

What do emotionally abusive parents do to children? What are the signs of a child that has been emotionally abused by his or her parents? It’s hard to categorise emotional abuse. It’s a lot easier if you call it psychological abuse, like bullying behaviour or gaslighting.

Remember, a parent’s role is to support, nurture, encourage, and love their child unconditionally. Parents should be attentive to their child’s needs, they should set boundaries and provide a stable home environment.

The child should feel safe and secure at all times. The child should feel part of the family and involved with their siblings.

Types of Emotional Abuse by Parents

Here are examples of emotional abuse:

  • Ignoring or making fun of the child
  • Constant criticising or humiliating
  • Threatening behaviour towards the child
  • Openly admitting to wishing the child hadn’t been born
  • Frequent absences from the home
  • Lack of warmth or love towards the child
  • Having unrealistic expectations of the child
  • A cold, uncaring attitude
  • Blaming or scapegoating the child
  • Allowing the child to witness violence
  • Belittling the child in public
  • Being indifferent to the child’s needs
  • Putting their needs before the child’s

7 Signs You Were Raised by Emotionally Abusive Parents

It’s only when we become adults that we can look back at our childhood and recognise the damage inflicted by our parents. So what effect does having emotionally abusive parents have on us once we’ve grown up?

Let’s examine some examples of emotional abuse and see how they impact us.

  1. Being ignored as a child – You have problems forming relationships as an adult

Our most important relationship growing up is with our parents or primary caregiver. Child psychologist John Bowlby wrote extensively on the need for a child to form healthy attachments in early childhood, particularly between the ages of 0-3 years old.

Research has since shown that disruption in forming these attachments is linked to an inability to form healthy relationships in adult life.

We learn by watching and mimicking behaviour from those around. If we never experience a loving relationship when we are young, it makes sense that we cannot replicate it when we are older.

  1. Being constantly criticised or ridiculed – You have a nasty sense of humour

Someone that is mercilessly mocked and humiliated by their parents as a child soon learns to develop a very thick skin, and a dark sense of humour. You were the butt of your parent’s jokes and you had to deal with it. You hid your tears and pushed down your pain so now it’s only fair that it is someone else’s turn.

So you lash out and watch their eyes widen in shock and fill up. You feel a sense of satisfaction until you see everyone’s reaction to you. You don’t understand what the problem is. Why isn’t anyone laughing as they did at you when you were a kid?

  1. Threatening behaviour towards the child – You are a people-pleaser

You would think that children who had been emotionally abused by their parents would hate them, but often this is not the case. Children can become desperate for love and attention from the very people that are abusing them.

In fact, this is one way police and detectives spot the signs of abuse in families. Inappropriate affection from a child to an adult stranger is another sign in childhood.

In adulthood, not being able to say no and trying to please everyone all the time could be a sign you were emotionally abused by your parents.

  1. Lack of warmth or love: You have been sexually promiscuous in the past

Children that lacked love and affection often try to find it in other places. This usually happens either as older teenagers or as soon as they leave home. They equate sex with love because they crave the physical intimacy they never experienced when they were younger.

However, they do not have the maturity to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with all the feelings that having intercourse naturally brings up. For young girls, this can often lead down a very slippery road of low self-esteem where they do not value themselves.

  1. Your parents are cold and uncaring – You don’t talk about your emotions

Having cold and uncaring parents doesn’t lend itself to an open and nurturing relationship. You wouldn’t have felt comfortable sharing your fears or anxieties with your parents. Instead, it is more likely that you would have felt pressured to keep quiet and shut down.

The problem is, nowadays every man and his dog are talking about their lives and what’s going on in their head. Being open about mental health is the new normal. The trouble is, you don’t know how.

  1. Being indifferent to the child’s needs – You have low self-esteem

A parent that is not interested in their child impacts greatly on our confidence when we are children. Unless we work hard to correct this it will carry through to adulthood.

We learn our worth from our parents. If they show us that they are invested in our education, our health and mental wellbeing we know we are valued and our efforts to please them are rewarded and validated. As a result, our confidence grows.

Even as very young babies we take our cues from our parents when it comes to facing the outside world. Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation study shows that children with secure relationships with their mothers went onto have higher self-esteem and become more popular as they got older.

  1. Putting their needs before the child’s – You have no empathy

Children that have emotionally abusive parents do not learn the correct way to process their own emotions. If they have never been shown how to love, it is difficult for them as adults to understand what a healthy relationship looks like.

They may find it hard to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. This is because no one has ever loved them. No one has ever taught them what love, caring, and affection is.

Final thoughts

As I said at the start of this article, unfortunately, not every child has the luxury of loving and nurturing parents. But if your parents were emotionally abusive, you can break the cycle with proper help. This doesn’t have to be your legacy.

Don’t let the mistakes or the crimes of your parents dictate the rest of your life.

Copyright © 2012-2024 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.

power of misfits book banner desktop

Like what you are reading? Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss new thought-provoking articles!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Marina Parks

    I always feel like my existence is a burden to my parents that neither of them were equip to handle. My mom was still in collage when she had me and dropped out to marry my father, he was basically living in a different city all the time by the time I was 2. They divorced when I was 4, I’ll never know the real reason because everyone on either side wants their kid to look like a saint. I remember wanting to know why my dad didn’t love me enough to stay and why my mom didn’t love me at all.

    My grandparents basically raised me for the entirety of my young life, which was a small blessing. However, my grandfather wanted to excel in a movie making career and my grandmother was overworked and basically bullied by the rest of the family. Look, I love my family -even if that word means nothing to me anymore- but they are seriously fucked up and fucked me up because of it.

    1. Ailsa West

      Please see a psychotherapist. Best thing I ever did for myself. Cost me a fortune but worth every cent. I can really relate to what you said.

  2. Kelly Taylor

    I think my mother would have preferred not to have me and just have had my younger sister instead. I remember talking to her about how I felt overlooked when I was about 8 years old (with examples of why I felt like that) and after denying my perceptions, within a day she was doing exactly the things I told her made me feel like I was feeling.
    As an older adult now, I’ve found no lasting emotionally satisfying relationships with other humans in my life and feel discouraged that I am somehow so permanently flawed that It’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to connect with anyone in a mutually supportive and nourishing way.

  3. Julie

    Thank you Janey. Helpful information.

    1. Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

      Thank you for reading Julie!

  4. Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

    To Marina and Kelly, I really hope you get some counseling for your childhood, it certainly helped me deal with a cold and emotionless mother.

Leave a Reply