If you hear stories of children being physically or sexually abused by their parents, it sounds horrible, and anger is your common response to it. You can never imagine this would happen to you or what kind of parent can do that to their child. But what if parental abuse comes in a different form? What if you’re not physically hurt, but there is parental emotional abuse through words and actions? 

You’ve heard of daughters having “daddy issues” or grown-ups who have “resentment” towards their parents. Is this a product of emotional abuse from their parents? What really happened during their upbringing? 

Did you land this page because you’re trying to find answers about your emotionally abusive parent? Or do you know someone who is emotionally abused by their mom or dad? Keep an open mind while reading this post. Here’s what you should know about an emotionally abusive parent, the signs, and how to handle the situation. 

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Psychological or emotional abuse in children is hard to detect. Some people may be unaware that this exists. Most of us understand that abuse is about physically hitting or beating up someone. Little did we know, abuse comes in many forms. And sometimes, child emotional abuse leaves a scar more profound than you can ever imagine. 

There are many types of emotional abuse; it can be verbal abuse, being too demanding, controlling, belittling, name-calling, and all other words or actions that can negatively affect a child’s emotional development. Do you know what happens to a child growing up emotionally abused? Low self-esteem, poor relationships, sad childhood, poor performance at school, angry at the world, and long-term resentment towards their parents. 

It’s hard to detect this because, as they say, “parents know what’s best”, or do they? When do you know if it’s just a strict upbringing or if it’s already emotional abuse? Emotional abuse is an immense feeling for a child to digest, and its long-term effects do no good. 

Here are the key points to remember about parental emotional abuse:

  • Verbal or psychological abuse is the most common form of abuse kids experience. 
  • Kids who experience emotional abuse may feel worthless, have low self-confidence, low self-worth, be angry, have problems forming meaningful relationships, may end up with substance abuse disorders or other mental illnesses.
  • The abuser, in this case, the parent, may reject, become hostile, tease, bully, yell or criticize the child too much.
  • Domestic violence is as harmful as emotional abuse. 

Signs of Emotionally Abusive Parents

So what are the signs of emotional abuse? How can you differentiate it with tough love and merely from strict parents? We all know that our parents discipline us because it’s for our own good. But what if the discipline becomes too much that it’s becoming one of the signs of emotional abuse? Here’s what to look out for: 

  1. Narcissistic Parents

A narcissistic parent shows signs of emotional manipulation. What does this mean? Over-controlling, overbearing, neglecting, over-protective, or unrealistically high expectations. They show the world how good of a parent they are to gain praise from others, but what happens inside the home is totally different. 

What does this do to a child? They get confused and scared. They may get confused about what will their parents do next. Or the child may get scared to be reprimanded or belittled if they don’t meet their parent’s expectations. 

  1. Patterns of Abuse

It is usual for a parent-child relationship to have disagreements and quarrels along the way. What is the difference between normal disagreements and patterns of emotional abuse?

ScenarioNormal DisagreementEmotional Abuse
Name-calling?NoYes, with personal attacks or character assassination.
Happens every day?No, if there are issues that arise only or out of frustration.Happens frequently accompanied by screaming or yelling. 
Compromise?There is compromise on what to do next and how to move forward.There may be a compromise or no compromise at all. The issue may be brought up in the next argument. 
Listens to the child?Yes. Even if they don’t agree completely, the parent listens to what the child has to say.In most cases no. Also, the child gets blamed for causing the argument even though it’s not the case. 
  1. Mood Swings

Mood swings are inevitable for parents, especially when they’re going through a stressful time. May it be due to pregnancy for mothers, stress at work, or financial problems. What happens when parents are stressed? They lash out at their kids even their partners. But what if the mood swings seem uncontrollable and are starting to affect the child psychologically? 

If a child feels like walking on eggshells, getting anxious about the next mood swing their parent may throw, this may be a sign of emotional abuse. The child may always get scared of the next explosion and is worried about what to do next. 

  1. Withholding Compliments

Compliments or praises from parents help a child develop high self-esteem and self-confidence. A child will do everything to make their parent proud, whether in their academic performance, extracurricular activities, or even just household chores. Is it child abuse if a parent does not give compliments to a child? Not directly, but it may damage the emotional state of the kid. 

No matter how hard the child tries, they never receive a compliment or hear the words, “I’m so proud of you”. They don’t hear the credit they deserve. Instead, they only get recognized when it’s time for criticism or when they did something wrong. This is where the popular statement among kids comes from, “My mother only sees me when I do something bad”

  1. Constantly Being Compared To Others

“Your cousin is the captain of the cheerleading team. You should be too” or “Your sister is a doctor; you should follow in her footsteps”. All these comments and being constantly being compared to others is a sign of emotionally abusive parents. Some parents think that comparing their child to others may make them an achiever, become more competitive, or excel. Well, in fact, it does the opposite. 

Parents should highlight their child strengths, not bringing up their weaknesses at the forefront. You can’t be compared to others because you are not like others. Damaging the self-esteem of a child is one of the signs of emotional abuse. 

  1. Parental Neglect

Parental neglect is defined as the failure to meet the child’s basic needs. May it be physical, mental, emotional, educational, social, and medical needs. As sad that it may sound, some parents cannot provide clothing, food, shelter, and protection to their children. Neglect is one of the signs of emotionally abusive parents. 

Children who do not receive necessary medical attention are a sign of abuse and are against the law, under the child abuse law. Children who experience different emotional or physical neglect may grow up to do the same to their children. Neglect can make a child feel unwanted or unimportant, which can be damaging to their mental health. 

  1. Parents May Isolate Their Child

It’s normal for parents to protect their children; it’s their moral responsibility. But what if a parent is overprotective that they end up isolating their child? What if they overly control every aspect of their life? Not allowing them to make their decisions? Meet their friends? Go to the prom? 

It may be okay for preschoolers or grade school students to be protected, they are young, they need guidance. But reaching high school or college with this kind of overprotectiveness is suffocating. Taking control of every aspect of the child’s life may be a form of emotional abuse. It may be as simple as “Don’t hang out with that friend because her brother is in prison”, or “Don’t go to prom because I didn’t go to prom myself; it’s not necessary“. 

Teenagers or young adults, should not be isolated. They should learn independence, make decisions of their own, learn from their mistakes, and stand up when they fall. Isn’t the point of parenting raising independent children? 

How To Recover From Parental Psychological Abuse

Emotional abuse may lead to life-long struggles in a child’s life and can be brought up to adulthood. It can affect their ability to form meaningful relationships, have healthy emotional development, have childhood trauma, lead to depression, erratic behavior, distance from other family members, or mental disorders. Emotionally abused children can’t wait to leave their homes when they reach 18 years old and live the rest of their lives resenting their parents. 

This message is for children who think they are experiencing emotional abuse or mental health problems: The best thing you can do is to seek support from another family member, may it be an uncle, grandma, or a cousin. Express your concerns, and maybe this can open up an opportunity for your parent to hear you out. The next thing you can do is to seek help from a mental health professional. If you don’t have the means to pay a therapist, you can ask for help from another family member. No matter what age you are, you’re going to need help.

This message is for emotionally abusive parents: Remember that what you do today can leave a life-long impact on your child’s life. Do you have erratic behaviors, and you end up lashing out to your child? Maybe you need to sort some personal issues in your life. Do you want to salvage your relationship? Seek support from a mental health professional. The parents have a responsibility for their child’s mental health

Seek Support Now

You and your child deserve to have a healthy relationship. Life is too short to live on negativities. One wrong move may create a ripple effect of negative emotions. Put an end to this now and talk to a therapist at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC)

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