By the time you grow up, your subconscious has been programmed from your childhood experiences. If you experienced an emotionally abusive relationship with a parent, chances are you don’t realize it and may just think it’s normal. Your gut and your anxiety may tell you otherwise, but who listens to those guys? Do you find yourself on the defensive whenever your abusive parent drops by? Do you act a certain way or find yourself walking on eggshells? Heaven forbid, You say the wrong thing, because you know you’re going to get blasted (verbally) for it.
Emotional abuse can scar your life. Cruel remarks, disrespect, guilt trips, withdrawal of affection and shame can leave you vulnerable for a long time until you face the truth. This is not about wallowing in self-pity but taking an honest inventory of how the abuse affects you now.
When a person only knows abuse, they shift their whole emotional and spiritual life into the context of that abuse. If all you’ve ever known is to be hurt by the one that pretends to love you, then many times you go to the one who hurts you for love.
Here are eight toxic behaviors you may have experienced as a result of an emotionally abusive parent;
1. You continually get into an unhealthy relationship and can’t understand why.
These relationships can be abusive friendships, bosses, partners or spouses. You just can’t seem to get away from them. Or, Sometimes you take on the role of the abusive parent without realizing it. You take on some of those characteristics whenever you are with a partner or friends. You want to be in control, you make the rules, you become competitive, and oftentimes, needy. But when your parent walks in the room, you become the child again, feeling somewhat intimidated.
Look for similar patterns in your relationships. Ask close friends what they think. “Am I becoming my parent?”
2. You have a hard time trusting others, especially your mate. Parents who use guilt trips on their kids are actually lying to them. The parent is telling you something that has either been exaggerated or an out right lie in order to manipulate you to do something they want. This inability to trust is a common defense mechanism adopted by the mind to keep it from future harm, however it also backfires when we can’t even trust our good relationships. We end up sabotaging them somehow.
3. You have low self-worth (on the inside), but it may manifest differently on the outside. A Parent has the power to build or destroy the self- worth of a child just by the way they act or speak towards them. The parent is the authority over the child until they reach a certain age. Until that time, the child will interpret the parent’s words and actions as fact. If a parent tells me I am ugly, then I am. If they withdraw their attention from me, then I must be undeserving of their time. If they make me feel guilty, then I must have done something wrong (even though I can’t quite figure out what it was).
A diagnosis of a low self-worth takes time to develop. It’s a process of continual negative reinforcement. Generally, in children, this comes down to home and/or school, with an emotionally (or physically) abusive parent and/or being bullied from a sibling or the mean kids from school who threaten to hurt you if you tell. A supportive parent would never allow this to continue if they knew.
4. You hold in your emotions, the good ones and not- so- good. The brain learns to cope with abuse in many ways. One way is to numb out and repress the emotional pain, a defense mechanism that helps to protect the soul of the child. If you were called names whenever you cried or slapped if you got angry, you come to believe that expressing emotions are not acceptable. Young boys are often made to believe that expressing your emotions is a sign of weakness, so they learn to tough it up instead.
5. You Become Needy for Attention and Validation. You tend to become needy for your partners time and attention as well as validation from others, especially from ones in authority. You can be hypersensitive to constructive criticism from a co-worker or Supervisor. You could also be sensitive to a partner’s criticism when it wasn’t meant to be hurtful. If all you ever heard as a child was negative feedback, you grow up seeking attention and validation as being someone special or having value, but it only works as a temporary fix. You only feel better until the next person comes along and says something negative. Then you seek another fix.
6. You Feel Like Nothing you do is ever good enough. If you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough most likely you try hard to be a perfectionist in whatever you do. Men oftentimes have to be the best in sports, or best at other games and activities. If they can’t win, they don’t want to play.
At work, both sexes will work harder and longer to make sure the job is completed perfectly. You often beat yourself up because your performance is just not good enough and because the boss looked at you funny, you must have done something wrong. (seeing any similarities)? You may think you are a bad partner, or a poor lover and you don’t deserve to be with such a nice person.
Another form of emotional abuse that creates this “never good enough” belief is achievement-based. The parent may push you in to a career you really didn’t want (like the family business), or they want you to do something that would benefit them. Be a lawyer, a doctor, hairdresser, nurse etc.. They push you to achieve but don’t offer any love or praise no matter how well you do. Even if you go on to be the most successful person you know, far more successful than your parents ever were, that critical voice remains always reminding you that you’re not good enough.
7. They try to make you feel guilty. Guilt is one of those things that parents sometimes use in a way that is totally normal and natural for them. Parents use it as a way to discipline because they have no idea how to do it any other way. When a child begins to pull away in their teens as they should, a parent may feel threatened and can often react in a way that is somewhat selfish, trying to make their child feel guilty for leaving them alone, or for not calling them enough. They may feel threatened by your friends and/or your significant dating partners. Normal parents learn to let go eventually but controlling toxic parents will continue to give guilt trips even after you’ve left the nest.
This version of guilt-tripping is heavy and aggressive as the parent is trying to make the child feel horrible for how they’re making them feel hurt by how they are acting toward them, or by the words they are saying. Whatever it is you are doing or saying is going to cause some traumatic event. I used to watch Sanford and Son as a kid and Fred Sanford (The Father), would always pretend to have a heart attack whenever the son would threaten to do something Dad didn’t like. It may be a bit exaggerated on television but there are parents who have actually threatened suicide in order to manipulate clients I currently counsel. This is very real to my clients and not nearly as funny when Fred Sanford faked a heart attack.
8. You have a hard time reading people. A parent who acts passive-aggressive can cause your head to spin and continually leaves you doubting yourself and your abilities to listen to your gut. A passive-aggressive parent is opposite to the rage-o-holic parent who gets mad at everything and his rage leaves you terrified. Passive expression of anger is still anger but not quite as obvious.
Some people are not able to be straightforward about what they really feel, but if you confront them about it, they’ll eventually tell you. This is not true with a passive-aggressive parent. They use mixed messages to confuse and manipulate you and if you insist on the matter, they’ll just become defensive, find excuses or deny everything.
You can tell by the tension in the air and the way they stand-off when you ask them, “what’s wrong?” You know they are upset about something but always deny it with, “nothing, I’m fine”. They say everything is ok, yet they’re still withdrawing from you. These mixed messages make it hard for you to trust your gut even when all the signs indicate there is a problem.
Any one of these toxic behaviors can cause a child some emotional scars unless they confront the damage and reprogram the subconscious. Until that time, I teach my clients to either set some boundaries with their parents or choose to avoid them altogether until they are strong enough to confront them.