Home Psychology The Effects Of Childhood Emotional Abuse Spill Over Into Adulthood

The Effects Of Childhood Emotional Abuse Spill Over Into Adulthood

The Effects Of Childhood Emotional Abuse Spill Over Into Adulthood

What Is Emotional Abuse?

There is no single definition of emotional abuse since it can come in many forms. However, what all types of emotional abuse have in common is the attempt to control, manipulate, intimidate, or isolate another person by blaming, shaming, criticizing, punishing, or humiliating them.

When emotional abuse isn’t accompanied by physical, financial, or sexual abuse, it can be difficult to recognize. Some forms of emotional abuse are subtle, while other forms are apparent and manipulative. Regardless of the way emotional abuse is carried out, it can affect a person’s self-esteem and mental health.

People of any gender or age can be subjected to emotional abuse at any time in their lives. In addition, while this type of abuse commonly happens in romantic relationships, the abuser can also be your parent, caretaker, family member, friend, colleague, or business partner.

What’s An Example Of Emotional Abuse?

One of the most common forms of emotional abuse is verbal abuse. Unfortunately, some people are subjected to verbal abuse every day without even being aware of it because this type of abuse can be subtle. For example, words may be said in a quiet, friendly, or loving voice. They may even be disguised as a joke.

Overt verbal abuse, like lying, threatening, criticizing, belittling, name-calling, raging, and judging, is easier to identify. However, regardless of whether you are subjected to subtle or overt verbal abuse, both forms are hurtful and damaging since you can lose confidence in your abilities and start distrusting your own perceptions and feelings.

So, the question is: How do you know you’re a victim of verbal abuse?

Here are 7 signs that a friend, partner, family member, or colleague is verbally abusive:

  • They shame you.

The abuser may make derogatory or sarcastic comments about your physical appearance, intelligence, or the way you talk to make you feel ashamed of who you are.

  • They insult you.

Anytime someone applies rude names to you, it’s a form of direct verbal abuse. Sometimes the person verbally abusing you can be sarcastic and say rude things to you in a neutral voice to humiliate you and make you feel and look unworthy and inferior, which isn’t an acceptable treatment.

  • They humiliate you in front of other people.

To hurt your feelings and make you feel inferior, the abuser may try to humiliate you in front of those who are close to you or people you don’t know. Being humiliating in public can be very painful.

  • They make cruel jokes at your expense.

If you’ve ever been the butt of someone’s jokes, then you know what we’re talking about. To tease you, mock you, and ridicule you, the abuser may make jokes at your expense. They may try to do so, especially if they know your weaknesses.

  • They threaten you.

Threatening is one of the most common forms of overt and direct verbal abuse. When a person threatens you, they’re trying to intimidate and control you. They can threaten you because you have something, such as a piece of information about something they need, or to make you act the way they want you to behave.

  • They heavily criticize you.

We’re not referring to constructive criticism here. When the person verbally abusing you criticizes you privately or publicly, they don’t do this because they have good intentions. Instead, they criticize you for putting you down and making you feel inferior.

  • They yell or swear at you.

To intimidate you as well as make you feel powerless and inferior to them, the abuser might yell or swear at you. When someone is treating you this way, make sure you let them know that’s rude and that you won’t tolerate such disrespectful behavior.

What Are The 7 Types Of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse can take the following 7 most common forms:

1. Control

The person abusing you can try to maintain control over you in the following ways:

  • Asking you about your whereabouts.

They may often call you or text you to ask where you are, who you are with, and what you’re doing. They might even appear at your school or work out of the blue to see if you really went there.

  • Making all the decisions.

They might tell you who to make friends with or hang out with, what to eat, or what to wear. They might also demand that you cancel an appointment, leave school, or quit your job.

  • Regularly point out your mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes, but when you’re dealing with an emotional abuser, after you make a mistake, they list all of the mistakes you made in the past. They point out all of your mistakes and failures and emphasize that they consider you inferior to them.

  • Being unpredictable.

They can be kind and loving one moment and fly off the handle the next. You never know what version of them you’ll get.

  • Threatening.

To get you to do what they want you to do, they may threaten your outright or utter their threats in a neutral voice. Whatever way they threaten you, their intention is to intimidate and manipulate you.

  • Giving you direct orders.

They might act like they’re superior to you and expect you to behave as they tell you to without question. They might frequently tell you things like, “Delete your Facebook account,” “Either you finish this project, or you are fired,” or “Tell me what your account number is. We’re supposed to share everything.” 

  • Stonewalling you.

During an argument, they might refuse to talk to you to overcome the problem.

  • Frequently acting disappointed.

If you don’t keep your promise or do something they want you to, they might immediately get angry and start complaining about how inconsiderate and unreliable you are.

  • Spying on you on social media.

They might insist that you tell them your Facebook or Instagram password or email, and they might frequently check your emails, messages, newsfeed, and internet history.

2. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulation technique that someone emotionally abusing you may use to make you question your reality and doubt your judgments and even sanity. They do this by claiming that certain fights, agreements, or events never happened. By manipulating the truth, their goal is to make you question your judgments and feelings and doubt your perception of reality.

3. Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is another form of emotional abuse where a person manipulates your feelings to make you act in a way that suits them or see things the way they do.

To manipulate your emotions, the abuser may act in the following ways:

  • Pretending to be sad or disappointed if they want to make you behave in a way that suits their needs. 
  • Withholding affection.
  • Demanding that you stop hanging out with certain friends.
  • Making direct or indirect threats.
  • Acting loving and kind pressure you to do something they want you to do.
  • Giving you the silent treatment if you refuse to do what they want you to do as a way to punish you.
  • Showering you with compliments and words of praise when they want to get something from you.

4. Blaming 

Whenever the abuser is faced with a problem, makes a mistake, or fails to achieve a goal, they might lay the blame at your door. They might say, “If only you had been a more loyal friend/ a more loving parent/a better partner, my life would be amazing.”

5. Accusing

The person emotionally abusing you might accuse you of saying or doing things you’ve never said or done. For example, they might accuse you of cheating on them or flirting with other men/women or say something like, “You would spend more time with me if you really cared about me.”

Or when you complain about something they did that made you feel bad, they might accuse you of being too emotional or sensitive or overreacting.

6. Isolation

To make you more dependent on them, an emotionally abusive person will do everything in their power to isolate you from your loved ones. For instance, if they want to isolate you from your friends, they might talk behind their back and try to convince you that they’re bad and that they don’t deserve your attention and trust. They might also tell your friends that you don’t care about them or no longer want to see them.

7. Emotional Neglect

An emotionally abusive person will try to make you prioritize their feelings, desires, and needs over your own. To do that, they may use the following tactics:

  • Invalidating you.

They might tell you directly or imply that your feelings, needs, desires, and boundaries have no meaning for them.

  • Shutting down communication.

During a conversation, disagreement, or argument, they will deliberately look at another person or something else when talking to you or change the topic of discussion to make you feel unimportant or make the topic seem irrelevant.

  • Withholding affection.

If you give them your promise that you’ll do something for them and you don’t fulfill it, or you complain to them about their behavior to punish you, they won’t hug you, kiss you, touch you, or have any intimate contact with you.

  • Disregarding your feelings.

Regardless of how you feel, they might instantly disregard your feelings. For instance, if you’re sad, they might tell you: “You don’t have anything to feel sad about,” or if you’re angry about something, they might say, “You attach a lot of importance to it.”

  • Denying support.

Don’t ever try to seek help for anything or emotional support from an emotionally abusive person because you’ll never get them. If you do that, they might call you weak or needy or tell you directly that it’s your problem and that you should deal with it yourself.

Emotional Abuse In Children

Emotional abuse in children is characterized by a pattern of behaviors that undermine a child’s self-worth and hinder their emotional development.

Emotionally abusive parents can show the following behaviors:

  • Criticizing
  • Name-calling
  • Belittling
  • Blaming
  • Disregarding their child’s feelings, needs, and desires
  • Threatening
  • Withholding affection or support
  • Giving their child the silent treatment

How Does Emotional Abuse In Childhood Affect You In Adulthood?

Your childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a significant effect on who you become and how you behave later in life. This is especially important for individuals that have experienced emotional abuse in their childhood. (1)

Children who have experienced childhood emotional abuse are scarred for life. Although the pain wanes with time, the effects of childhood emotional abuse are crippling and spill over into adulthood. They affect the child’s emotions and actions. For some children, this means having low self-esteem and being introverted. For other children, it means having trouble building strong and happy relationships with others. (2)

How does emotional abuse affect adulthood?

Although not all forms of emotional abuse are easy to recognize, and some are even repressed or forgotten by the victim, individuals that have been emotionally abused in their childhood most probably share these 7 traits in their adulthood:

1. Lack of self-esteem.

If you think that you’re not good and smart enough, it’s very likely you were constantly told this all your childhood. You lack confidence in your abilities. You doubt your decisions and every move you make. You frequently feel the need to be validated by other people because you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough. And you often try to prove yourself.

2. Introversion.

You often find yourself thinking that other people don’t deserve your loyalty and kindness. You’re always careful not to openly show your emotions and vulnerability to others because you’re afraid they might think you’re insecure, oversensitive, or clingy and that they’ll manipulate you. That’s why it’s hard for you to let other people into your life and trust them. You feel the safest when you’re on your own.

3. Bottled-up anger.

If you often lash out at people, go crazy when you face any form of injustice, find it very difficult to control your emotions, and feel constant anger that affects the way you think and behave, know that this is due to the anger you bottled up in yourself through the years. The anger inside you can burst out in the most unpleasant way and often in unexpected situations.

That’s why you need to learn how to control your unwanted emotions from your childhood and prevent them from interfering with your life now and in the future.

4. Conflict avoidance.

If you were a victim of emotional abuse as a child, you got used to your parents’ constant quarrels and shouting. This made you scared at the time and now any shouting, even the littlest arguments, triggers a painful memory from your childhood. Oftentimes, when you disagree with someone or want to complain about something, you don’t voice your opinions out of fear that they may fly off the handle. That’s why you do everything you can to avoid any kind of conflict or aggression.

5. Frequent apologies.

Having always been criticized and blamed for something in your childhood, you’re now always taking the blame for everything that happens. You often apologize to others for things that are not even your fault. For example, if you ask someone for something and they get annoyed, you immediately feel the need to say, “I’m sorry.” Or if someone doesn’t text you back, you think they’re mad at you for some reason, and you can’t wait to see them apologize.

6. Having difficulty making eye contact.

You often look away when you talk with other people. And when you try to establish eye contact, you start feeling uneasy and nervous. You also tend to get shy when you’re around other people and have difficulties expressing your opinions. You worry that others aren’t interested in hearing what you have to say or that they could laugh at you if you say something silly.

7. Having difficulty accepting compliments.

Of course, you don’t know how to accept and react to compliments when you spent your childhood with parents who constantly criticized and belittled you. You were made to feel like nothing you did was ever good enough. Your parents pointed out your mistakes and insecurities all the time and made you feel worthless. That negative image of yourself still lingers in your mind.


The Effects Of Childhood Emotional Abuse Spill Over Into Adulthood