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What is an emotionally abusive parent?

By Emma Davies


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 The truth is, people don’t like talking about mental abuse from parents as it’s quite a hard thing to talk about but it’s more common than we’d like to see. But what is it to be an emotionally abusive father or mom?

Emotionally Abusive Parenting

Emotional abuse means that you’re constantly treating your child badly by playing with their emotions. This could include things like wanting to scare your child or ignore them and humiliate them which results in them not feeling safe in their own home which is never good. It can be quite hard to spot the signs of emotional abuse from parents and that’s why we have you covered.

Examples of Emotional Abuse from Parents

You may be questioning yourself and thinking “my mom is emotionally abusive” and that’s okay because recognizing an emotionally abusive parent is often the first step towards healing. So if this is your case then we’ve compiled together a list of examples that may help you narrow it down a bit. If you’re ticking most or all of these examples off the list then chances are, your parents are abusive or you yourself are even an abusive dad or an abusive mother.

  • Criticizing your child in front of other people like friends, family, or teachers – This is quite a big sign of an emotionally abusive parent and it’s not good for the child in any way. If you’re constantly criticising your child in front of other people then you may actually be one of these verbally abusive parents and it’s not good for anyone, including your child.
  • Always demanding results and achievements that they know their child can’t achieve – It’s true that we all want our children to do well in school or their other activities but always demanding results and achievements you know they can’t achieve isn’t good and is one of the examples of parental emotional abuse.
  • Recommending for teachers or carers to cruelly discipline their child – All parents have different ways of parenting and that’s okay but actively telling your child’s carers to cruelly discipline your child whenever they misbehave is a good example of emotional abuse.
  • Denying problems at home – This is probably the most common example of emotional abuse from parents because denying problems will sometimes mean that there are of course problems at home. This is because nobody wants to reveal the fact that they’re emotionally abusive and that they don’t treat their child like they deserve.

Signs of Emotional Abuse from Parents

If you’re a teacher or someone who comes in contact with kids a lot then you’ll always have your eye out for any red flags like this. But, here’s a list of signs that you may see in children that could indicate emotionally abusing parents.

  • Change in academic performance or their normal behavior
  • Being nervous around some people
  • Avoiding some people
  • Very passive behavior
  • Anger or aggression
  • Not wanting to go home
  • Not much adult supervision
  • Very withdrawn
  • Not feeling confident
  • Struggling to make new friends or keep relationships
  • Not acting appropriately for their age

Signs of Emotional Abuse in Parents

In terms of the parent themselves, you may find the following traits in their parenting or their personality and their child could be a victim.

  • Terrorizing your child
  • Saying they don’t like the child
  • Always criticizing their kid
  • Always blaming their child
  • Trying to control every part of their child’s life
  • Not letting their kid have friends
  • Not being there as a parent
  • Manipulating their child
  • Never complementing or being proud of their child for something
  • Emotional neglect

Effects of Emotionally Abusive Parents

Emotional abuse can have a massive effect on your kid’s life and these effects are very negative causing them to struggle in later life with mental health and problems of the sort. So what are the effects of having emotional abuse from your parents?

  • Behavior problems – If parents are abusive then your child may suffer from behavior problems later down the line and it can completely change them as a person. Your child may used to have been one with a bubbly personality who’s ready to engage fully in the life around them but they may now be someone who doesn’t care about what happens to them. They could also want attention all the time or may even try to get people to dislike them so they don’t have a close circle of friends. In extreme cases, they may engage in bullying or stealing as some sort of escape from what they know at home.
  • Mental health problems – This is inevitable and will happen to most emotionally abused children. These mental health problems include things like suffering from depression or anxiety as well as suicidal thoughts. You may also find them struggling with language development and eating disorders and they may struggle to also form healthy relationships as they’ve never had a good model of one with you as a parent.
  • Emotional development – Of course, if your child is a victim of this emotional abuse then their emotional development won’t be as good as the others in their class or school year. They may struggle to communicate and show any emotion and you may find that they struggle to control their emotions too which could lead to them lashing out on other people. Due to their lack of confidence, you may also find that they develop anger issues or low self esteem.
  • Attachment issues – This is quite a common effect of emotional abuse as the child has never had that attachment or relationship with their parent and so some may have adult attachment disorders.

How Do I Deal with Emotionally Abusive Parents?

There’s no doubt that dealing with emotionally abusive parents is really tough and can have a very negative effect on your life. But, you can do this and we have some helpful tips that may help you cope a little bit better with everything that’s going on in your life. These could help you heal and even stand up for yourself so let’s take a look at them.

  • Realistic expectations – Having realistic expectations is a really good starting point because then you know exactly what you’re expecting from your parents. It can also help you cope a lot more and in a much healthier way. Of course healing doesn’t happen overnight but through setting realistic expectations, it may make it that much easier to cope and by hoping for slower changes in your parents’ attitudes, you can do it.
  • Setting boundaries – This is a really important part of healing and getting your life back a little bit. Setting boundaries may be hard if you were brought up by emotionally abusive parents and that’s okay- you never had that opportunity to learn what a boundary is. A good way to set boundaries is to think of what makes you upset or angry about your parents when they cross the line like conversations and so forth. You don’t have to take part in these conversations if you don’t want to, so try and identify what works for you.
  • Talking to a professional – Talking to a professional may be something to consider if you’re really struggling and that’s okay. Often there’s a massive taboo surrounding the idea of therapy but believe it or not, more people go than you think and it’s really helpful. Healing from emotional abuse can be really hard to do on your own so you may want to consider seeking some professional help.
  • This isn’t your fault – This fact is so important to remember and is a key part of healing. What you’re going through is not your fault and so you can’t blame yourself for it. Yes, sometimes it is easier to blame yourself for it but it’s not you, it’s your parents. As a child, you couldn’t control how they treated you and you couldn’t stand up for yourself because you were so little so please remember this – it’s tough but it’s true.
  • Self care – Some may think that this sounds a bit silly but self care is a really important part of healing. Whenever someone says the word self care, you may instantly think of facemasks and pampering but it could be something as simple as going on a walk and connecting with the nature around you. Do whatever makes you comfortable and relaxed and look after yourself. When you’re going through a tough time, you need to put yourself first and look after yourself – you’ve got this.

Am I an Emotionally Abusive Mother or Father?

The truth is, we can’t answer this question with a yes or no as it’s completely dependent on what goes on in your own home. But, if you’ve looked through our examples and our signs of emotional abuse by a parent and you tick all the boxes then maybe it’s time to get some help – don’t worry there’s plenty out there. There are many organizations that can help you become a better parent and to stop emotionally abusing your child before it’s too late.

About Emma Davies

Emma Davies is a freelance writer that specializes parenting and animal topics. With over 20 years experience as a parent there are very few topics that faze her.

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