How to Recognize and Respond to Emotional Abuse from Parents

Parents are the foundation of our lives and we expect them to provide us with love, support, and guidance. Unfortunately, not all parents are capable of providing these basic needs.

In some cases, parents may even inflict emotional abuse on their children, leaving them feeling scared, confused, and isolated, which can have serious and long-term consequences on a child’s mental health.

Many children and young adults may not even realize they are being abused until they reach adulthood.

To help prevent this from happening, it is important to know how to recognize signs of emotional abuse and in order to protect yourself from further harm and take steps to heal.

emotional abuse parents

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is an invisible form of psychological maltreatment that can be difficult to identify.

It occurs when someone in a position of power, such as parents uses their words or actions to control, belittle, intimidate, or humiliate someone else.

It can include:

  • Verbal abuse such as name-calling, insults, ridicule or swearing.
  • Criticizing or belittling a child’s feelings or opinions.
  • Ignoring a child’s basic needs or refusing to respond to their requests for help or support.
  • Isolating a child from friends and family.
  • Threatening a child with physical or emotional harm.
  • Exposing a child to violence or the threat of violence.
  • Intimidating a child with aggressive behavior, such as screaming or intimidating body language.
  • Controlling or manipulating a child through guilt, fear, or manipulation.
sad young woman

Signs of Emotional Abuse from Parents

Emotional abuse can be difficult to spot because it is often not as obvious as physical or sexual abuse.

It typically involves a pattern of behavior that is psychologically manipulative, such as name-calling, shaming, criticism, belittling, humiliation, and more.

It can also involve isolating children from their friends or other family members.

Some common signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Your parent(s) consistently make negative comments about your appearance or abilities without offering any constructive advice or feedback.
  • They frequently criticize you or put you down in front of others.
  • They constantly compare you to other people in a negative way (“Why can’t you be like your sister?”).
  • They pressure you to do things that make you uncomfortable or threaten consequences if you don’t comply with their demands.
  • They restrict your freedom by not allowing you to see certain friends or participate in activities outside the home.
  • They use guilt trips and manipulation tactics to get what they want from you (e.g., “If you really loved me, then…”).
  • They ignore your needs and feelings by not listening when you try to talk about them or dismissing them altogether (“You don’t need to feel that way”).
unhappy child

What is the impact of emotional abuse on children?

The effects of emotional abuse can be long-lasting and damaging to a child’s mental health.

It can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and difficulty forming relationships.

It can also lead to problems such as substance abuse or eating disorders in adulthood.

sad young man

How to Respond to Emotional Abuse

It can be difficult and even scary to confront a parent about their abusive behavior, but it is important to be honest about how their behavior makes you feel.

If possible, try talking with them in a calm and respectful manner, in order to avoid the situation escalating and becoming even more heated.

Here are some tips for responding appropriately when dealing with emotionally abusive parents:

emotional abuse parents

How to Respond to Emotional Abuse from Parents – Set Firm Boundaries

Setting boundaries around acceptable and unacceptable behavior is essential for responding to emotional abuse from parents.

It is important to be direct and clear when communicating what will not be tolerated, even if it means having to take a step back or put distance between you and your parent(s).

Be consistent in asserting these boundaries as this can help create a safe space in which both parties can work towards improving the relationship.

If your parent(s) continues to cross the boundaries that have been set, it may be necessary to step away temporarily until they are willing to make progress in resolving the issues.

stay calm

How to Respond to Emotional Abuse from Parents – Stay Calm

Staying calm and composed when responding to emotional abuse from parents can be extremely difficult, but is essential for ensuring that conversations remain rational and productive.

Taking deep breaths and counting to ten are two good strategies for calming oneself down before engaging in a difficult conversation.

It is also important to practice active listening in order to truly understand what your parent(s) is trying to convey while avoiding getting defensive or offering snap judgments.

This will enable both parties involved to gain a better understanding of the situation as well as allow you to express yourself in an assertive, yet respectful manner.

If needed, it may also be beneficial to take a break or step away temporarily until emotions have calmed down so that further discussion can take place with each party having greater clarity on their feelings about the issue at hand.

emotional abuse parents

How to Respond to Emotional Abuse from Parents – Speak up for yourself

Speaking up for yourself and letting your parent(s) know how their words make you feel can be a very difficult and intimidating process.

However, it is essential in order to clearly communicate the effect their behavior has had on you.

Instead of avoiding the topic or engaging in heated arguments, it is important to remain calm and express your feelings in an honest yet respectful way.

Use “I” statements such as “I feel hurt when I hear those comments about me all the time” to assertively but non-confrontationally convey the impact of their actions.

Doing so can help create a more productive space for dialog and ultimately lead to better outcomes for both parties involved.


How to Respond to Emotional Abuse from Parents – Ask for help if needed

If you are struggling to cope with emotional abuse from your parent(s), it is important to seek help.

Seek out a trusted adult such as a teacher, counselor, or family member who can offer support and guidance through this difficult time.

You do not have to face your challenges alone; having someone there for you to talk about your experiences can make all the difference.

They may be able to provide valuable resources and advice that can assist you in managing the situation and finding a positive outcome.

self care

How to Respond to Emotional Abuse from Parents – Practice self-care

Practicing self-care is essential when dealing with emotional abuse from parents.

Prioritize your own mental health by engaging in activities such as exercising regularly, meditating or practicing mindfulness, and eating nutritious meals.

Getting enough sleep each night also provides an opportunity to recharge and reenergize yourself. All of which can help to lower stress levels, allowing you to cope better with the situation at hand.

Additionally, look for opportunities to engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation like reading a book, painting, or listening to music; these activities can provide much needed relief from the trauma of emotional abuse.

emotional abuse parents


It can be difficult to recognize emotional abuse from parents but it is important that we do so in order to protect ourselves from further harm.

Identifying the signs of emotional abuse early on helps us take appropriate steps towards healing such as setting boundaries around acceptable behavior and seeking professional help if needed.

Most importantly though, take care of yourself first! Prioritize your mental health by engaging in activities like exercise, eating well, and getting plenty of rest each night so that you are better equipped to handle whatever comes your way.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narcissism

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Respond to Emotional Abuse from Parents

What is emotional abuse from parents?

Emotional abuse from parents refers to any pattern of behavior that negatively affects a child’s emotional well-being. It can include constant criticism, belittling, humiliation, manipulation, rejection, or neglect.

How should I respond to emotional abuse from my parents?

Responding to emotional abuse from parents can be challenging, but some steps you can take include setting boundaries, seeking support from trusted individuals, considering therapy, and prioritizing self-care.

Is it possible to repair the relationship with emotionally abusive parents?

Repairing the relationship with emotionally abusive parents is not always possible or advisable. It depends on the severity of the abuse, the willingness of the parents to change, and the impact it has had on your well-being. Professional guidance can help you navigate this complex situation.

Should I confront my parents about their emotional abuse?

Confronting your parents about their emotional abuse is a personal decision. Before doing so, consider your safety, potential reactions, and the likelihood of productive communication. It may be helpful to seek guidance from a therapist or counselor to prepare for this conversation.

What are some coping mechanisms for dealing with emotional abuse from parents?

Coping with emotional abuse from parents involves finding healthy ways to manage and express your emotions. This can include practicing self-care, engaging in activities that bring you joy, building a support network, journaling, or seeking therapy.

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