How to Deal With Emotionally Abusive Parents

To ensure that the prerequisites for meeting our basic psychological needs are given, the caregivers must build a secure home for their children. Yet, not every child feels safe at home.

Experiencing emotional abuse from one’s parents can evoke strong feelings of fear, loneliness and helplessness.

Going through this traumatic experience can have severe consequences for a lifetime. That is why it is essential to recognize the signs of emotional abuse to understand its causes, cope with it effectively, deal with difficult situations involving your parent(s), and move forward when the parents’ house is left behind.

This article will outline how you can deal with emotionally abusive parents in the present, heal from past experiences, and create healthier relationships in the future.

emotionally abusive parents

Understanding Emotional Abuse

The first step is to understand what emotional abuse means: Emotional abuse is a form of psychological manipulation that can be just as damaging, or even more so, than physical abuse. It can take many forms and often goes unrecognized or unacknowledged by the victim.

As a result, victims of emotional abuse may feel like they are constantly walking on eggshells around their abuser, never knowing when the next outburst will come or what might set them off.

It is essential to understand that the child is never responsible for the behaviour of his or her parents. Rather, the source lies in the unresolved traumas projected onto the child.

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The most common signs of emotional abuse include:

Belittling comments, name-calling, gaslighting (manipulating someone into doubting their memory and perception), threats of violence or abandonment, withholding affection or attention to punish someone for something they did wrong, and isolation from friends and family members to control them better.

The first step is recognizing that these behaviours are not ‘normal’ and should not be tolerated in any relationship—parental or otherwise. Victims of emotional abuse often experience feelings of guilt because they believe they must have done something wrong for their parents to treat them this way; however, it is important to remember that no one deserves this kind of treatment regardless of what mistakes were made in the past.

Emotional abusers use fear tactics such as guilt-tripping to keep victims under control; recognizing these patterns can help victims break free from an emotionally abusive situation.

When recognizing retrospectively that such parental behaviour has been common during one’s childhood, victims need to reach out to trusted friends and/or family members to talk about what has been happening and seek out counselling services to heal from these severe childhood experiences.

In particular, talking through traumatic experiences with a trained professional can provide invaluable insight into why someone would stay in an emotionally abusive relationship despite all the pain involved. Taking care of oneself both mentally and physically during times like these is critical to getting back on track after experiencing a trauma caused by emotional abuse.

6 Examples of Emotional Abuse & How To Identify Them

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where a false narrative is created to exert power and evoke confusion in the victim’s mind. For example, the abuser may deny that something happened, even if it did, and then accuse the child of lying or exaggerating. Signs of experiencing gaslighting include doubting one’s feelings and perception of reality, feeling insecure and unable to trust one’s judgement, having the urge to apologize all the time and believing one cannot do anything right.

Criticism

Constant criticism can take the form of emotional abuse, for example, by name-calling, belittling comments about physical appearance or abilities, and insulting the child’s intelligence or character. Parents who over-criticize are typically never satisfied and constantly point out mistakes, causing the child to feel insecure and anxious.

Isolation

Emotionally abusive parents may isolate their children from friends and family members by making them feel guilty for wanting to spend time with anyone else. They might also threaten to punish them if they don’t comply with their wishes.

Manipulation

Abusive parents often use manipulation tactics such as guilt-tripping or threatening abandonment to get what they want from their children. They may also withhold love and affection until the child does what they want.

Unpredictability

An emotionally abusive parent may act erratically and unpredictably, leaving a child confused and scared because they never know how this person will react next. This kind of behaviour creates an atmosphere of fear in which a child feels unsafe expressing themselves honestly without fear of retribution from their abuser(s).

Control

Controlling behaviours such as monitoring phone calls, texts, and social media accounts, dictating clothing choices, curfews etc., are all forms of emotional abuse that take away autonomy from a young person’s life while simultaneously instilling feelings of shame & worthlessness within them.

Try to Express Your Emotions

Many people struggle with expressing their feelings when it comes to emotional abuse. Finding the words and courage to speak up about your feelings can be difficult. Yet, disclosing your feelings about your parents’ behaviour can relieve and empower you as it is the first step to reclaiming your voice.

A first step to expressing yourself can be (regularly) writing down your thoughts and feelings on paper or in a journal. Writing allows you to get out all that has been bottled up inside without fear of judgment or repercussions from anyone else. While writing can be very effective within your safe space, you can also consider showing what you’ve written down to someone you trust to share your feelings or non-verbally reach out for help.

Other efficient ways of releasing emotions are art therapy or music therapy, which allow individuals to express themselves creatively instead of verbally or write down on paper. These forms of therapy also offer a safe space to express emotions individually and powerfully, reducing stress levels and making you feel more self-confident. Negative mental states can be counteracted, and trauma responses can be released.

A safe space to express and work through your emotions can also be created by a professional psychotherapist who provides guidance, support, and insight into what you’re going through. In addition, talking openly about your experiences will help you clarify why certain situations have happened in the past, how to prevent or deal with similar situations in the future and how to release attached emotions.

Difference Between Emotional Abuse and Mistreatment

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour that seeks to control another person through fear, intimidation, and manipulation. It can include verbal abuse such as name-calling or insults, threats of physical harm or abandonment, humiliation in front of others, gaslighting (making someone doubt their reality), and isolation from family and friends. These behaviours are meant to cause emotional pain and distress in the victim.

Mistreatment can be a single instance of treating someone unfairly or unkindly, where it does not constitute a manipulative pattern of behaviours. Experiencing mistreatment could include an argument with harsh words said on both sides, being ignored when trying to communicate something meaningful, feeling like not being listened to or respected, or even feeling taken advantage of in some way. While these actions also often cause emotional pain for the victim, they do not necessarily constitute emotional abuse.

The crucial difference between mistreatment and emotional abuse lies in the intention behind the action: mistreatment does not involve any attempt to manipulate another person’s feelings. In contrast, emotional abuse intends to gain power over another person’s emotions. Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviours purposely used to control, isolate, or frighten the victim, whereas mistreating someone is often regretted afterwards.

It’s also important to note that just because an experience doesn’t fit neatly into either category doesn’t mean it wasn’t damaging—it’s possible for people who have been emotionally abused but don’t recognize it yet due to its subtlety might initially label their experiences as “mistreatment” instead before realizing what happened was abusive behaviour towards them over time.

Recognizing patterns rather than individual incidents can help identify if you’ve been experiencing ongoing psychological trauma from an abuser so that you can take steps toward healing and recovery as soon as possible.

How to Deal With Emotionally Abusive Parents as an Adult

Also, as an adult, dealing with emotionally abusive parents remains burdensome after leaving the family’s house. Deciding to cut off contact or remain in touch can be difficult and overwhelming. In this case, professional help can be very beneficial in both ways. When transitioning to independence from your parents by cutting contact, the emotional aftermath and suppressed feelings from the whole period of direct confrontation with emotional abuse can be cushioned and worked through with a psychotherapist or clinical psychologist.’

If you want to stay in touch with your parents, a family therapist can help you by guiding you and your parents through uncovering and handling critical behaviours.

In either case, building a network of supportive people in your surroundings will strengthen your mental well-being. These people can provide emotional support when dealing with the effects of abuse from childhood and adulthood. It is scientifically proven that social support helps to prevent depression, so you must also reach out to friends and family members you trust.

It is part of the process when being affected by emotional abuse that it may feel like there are no options available at times. Yet, there are always small steps forward that will add up with time – whether staying in contact or cutting ties completely – but building awareness before making any big decisions is vital. Taking care of yourself first should always be priority number one; seeking professional advice and creating a solid network of supportive people around you will make all the difference in helping manage these situations more effectively over time.

When Going No Contact With an Emotionally Abusive Parent is the Only Option

Going no contact with an emotionally abusive parent can be one of the most challenging decisions a person has to make. It’s not easy to cut off all communication and support from someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally, but it may be necessary for your well-being. No matter the family ties, your mental health should never suffer repeatedly or continuously from a relationship, whatever kind.

When dealing with an emotionally abusive parent, it’s essential to recognize their behaviour is not your fault. Emotional abuse often stems from unresolved issues in the abuser’s life or childhood trauma that they haven’t dealt with properly. It’s also important to remember that abuse isn’t always physical; verbal abuse, such as insults, manipulation tactics, guilt trips, and other forms of psychological manipulation, is just as damaging as physical violence.

Whether or not to go, no contact should always be taken seriously. Consider discussing it with a trusted friend or family before making drastic changes in your relationship with your parent(s). You may also seek professional help from a therapist who can guide how best to handle the situation and ensure that you take care of yourself during this difficult time.

Feelings of guilt and regret over cutting ties with an emotionally abusive parent often arise after going no contact, but don’t let these feelings prevent you from standing up for yourself and protecting your mental health. Going with no contact doesn’t mean giving up on them entirely; it simply means setting boundaries so both parties can move forward healthier without harming either side.

Finally, be aware that cutting contact won’t necessarily solve all of your problems overnight—it will take time for the healing process after such a traumatic experience—but know that there is promising hope for recovery down the road if you start now to take steps towards self-care and protection against future emotional abuse.

4 Tips on How to Deal With Emotionally Abusive Parents

The main thing to always remember is that your parents’ abusive behaviour is not your fault and that you have the right to stand up for yourself. Here are some tips on how to cope with an emotionally abusive parent when finding yourself exposed to them:

1. Set boundaries:

Establishing clear boundaries between yourself and your parent(s) is essential to distance yourself from their harmful behaviour. This can include setting limits on communication where the conversation should be stopped when it is starting to evoke strong feelings for you or you directly recognize your parents’ abusive communication patterns.

If you feel capable, you can also communicate with your parents, outlining which behaviours and topics you cannot tolerate. By this, you can set clear boundaries and make clear for the future which limits should not be crossed.

2. Speak up

When your parent is crossing a line, it’s important to speak up to protect yourself from further abuse or manipulation if you can. Otherwise, you can also choose to address the issue later, where you can communicate calmly but firmly when they have hurt you or crossed a boundary. Hence, they understand that their behaviour is causing them harm and should be undermined.

3. Seek support

Having someone who understands what you’re going through can make all the difference when dealing with an emotionally abusive parent(s). Having people around who will listen without judgment can provide much-needed comfort during this harsh time of distress. Generally, when feeling scared or intimidated by your parent’s behaviour towards you, reach out to adults in your environment (at school, your football coach, your piano teacher, your friends’ parents, etc.).

They can seek help from a professional counsellor who will guide them through their experiences and toward an appropriate solution for the situation they are finding themselves in.

4. Practice self-care

Taking care of yourself physically and mentally is essential for managing stress caused by emotional abuse. Make sure you get enough sleep each night, eat healthy meals throughout the day, exercise regularly, spend time doing activities that bring joy into your life (such as reading books or listening to music), and practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises whenever possible to keep stress levels low while navigating this challenging situation.

While it is not your responsibility that you have to go through such traumatic experiences, it is within your power to claim space for yourself again. All these exercises support your emotional balance and help your nervous system regulate healthily. By that, you will feel more robust and may build new energy to face your feelings and take action.

Understand That Verbal Abuse Is Never Your Fault

Parents are responsible for treating their children respectfully and can’t take a stance that hurts or blames them. You must be aware that it has no relation to you when abuse happens. Parents may emotionally abuse their children for various reasons, such as dealing with their own burdening mental health conditions, substance use problems, or not being emotionally ready to be a parent. They must take responsibility for their behaviours and work through the underlying issues behind their emotionally abusive patterns.

Accordingly, you must remember that you are never to blame for their actions. Understanding that still changes nothing because it is not your responsibility to help your parents with their psychological struggles that may cause these behaviours. It is their role to take care of you, also if this means seeking help for themselves from professionals. As the victim, you only have to focus on healing and keeping yourself safe.

Seek Help From A Professional Therapist Or Counsellor

Experiencing emotional abuse from one’s parents can be a traumatic and damaging experience that typically has long-lasting effects on the victim’s mental health by causing significant distress and lasting harm.

A psychotherapist or counsellor can provide a safe and supportive environment to process and heal from the abuse. They can help you understand the patterns of abuse and develop coping strategies to manage the effects of the abuse experience.

They can also provide guidance and support in navigating complex family dynamics and making decisions about one’s safety and well-being. Seeking help from a professional can be a key step toward healing and regaining a sense of control and self-esteem. Here is a short outline of how the process of finding and making use of psychological services works:

  1. Research: Research local mental health services, group practices, and online directories to find licensed therapists in your area. You can also ask for recommendations from friends, family members, or your primary care physician.

  2. Check credentials: Ensure the therapist you want to see is licensed and registered with the relevant provincial psychology regulatory body.

  3. Contact: You can contact our therapy practice by phone or email to inquire about our services and schedule an initial appointment. We also offer online or teletherapy services, which can be convenient.

  4. Initial appointment: During the initial appointment, the therapist will assess your needs and concerns and discuss their approach to therapy with you. Ask questions and express concerns to ensure you feel comfortable with the therapist and their approach.

  5. Begin therapy: Once you have established a relationship with the therapist, you can attend regular therapy sessions. This can be a process of healing and growth as you work through your emotional challenges with the support of a trained mental health professional.

Reaching out for help can be a challenging but brave step toward improving your mental health and well-being. Remember that you are not alone.

Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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