When you’re really little, your parents can do no wrong — mostly because you don’t exactly know what wrong is yet.
As you get older, you begin to wonder about the way you were parented, and you might have even had a friend’s parents offer a contrasting example to your own. However, the largest influence in your life is still usually your parents, so they predominantly form your outlook on life and how people should treat you.
By the time you grow up, your perspective has been cemented by your childhood– and much of that can happen within the first few years of your life, before you even have a clue of what it means to have an emotionally abusive parent or guardian.
But emotional abuse can scar your life. Numerous, deep, and resounding, these marks leave a trail that you can unearth if you’re willing to walk the journey to yourself.
It’s not about wallowing, but taking the first step to seeking out a better you, free of the effects of your childhood emotional abuse.
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 six signs you had an emotionally abusive parent and didn’t know it:
1. You seek out unhealthy relationships (that mirror how your parents treated you)
What kind of relationships do you typically have? How does the other person treat you? If you’ve noticed– or are noticing now that you’re reflecting on it– a pattern of emotional abuse in your relationships, then it’s a good sign you had an emotionally abusive parent.
However, even more than that, having an emotionally abusive parent can compromise your ability to trust others, a common defense mechanism adopted by the mind to keep it from future harm, making even positive relationships difficult for you to maintain.
2. You have low self-worth
Low self-worth is one of the primary signs of having had an abusive parent.
While it’s not the only cause, it is one of the most likely, as low self-worth takes time to develop. Generally, in children, this comes down to home and school, with an emotionally (or physically) abusive parent or bullies being the source of low self-worth.
Emotional abuse has a heartbreaking effect on children, from low self-worth to even depression in some cases, and that impact bleeds into the rest your adult life– until you choose to stop it.
The brain learns to cope with abuse in many ways. One way is to close itself off and repress emotional pain, especially if you were treated like expressing your emotions was a sign of weakness as a child.
Even if that wasn’t the kind of emotional abuse you experienced, though, it’s common for abuse survivors to learn to repress emotions as it is the brain’s way of protecting itself.
4. You seek out attention
As we talked about earlier, emotional abuse can result in low self-worth or self-esteem.
Sometimes, as a result of this, the person grows up seeking attention and validation to “band-aid” the problem, making themselves feel better– often only temporarily– by getting the attention they didn’t as children.
This can manifest itself in several different ways, from seeking professional recognition and accolades to love and attention in relationships. But, ultimately, it’s the same thing you’re searching for: validation because you feel unworthy.
5. Nothing you do is ever good enough (for you)
If you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough– like that project was horrible, your performance is all over the place, or you’re a bad partner in your relationship, you may have had an emotionally abusive parent.
A common form of emotional abuse is achievement-based, where the parent pushes the child to achieve and never offers any love or affection no matter how well they do. Everything they ever do isn’t good enough, even if you got first place that trip-up in the third quarter or that sloppy posture at the end of the game was pathetic.
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.
6. They tried to make you feel guilty
Guilt is one of those things that parents sometimes use in a way that is totally normal and natural.
When a child begins to pull away in their teens, parents can often react in a way that is somewhat selfish, trying to make their child feel guilty for leaving them or forcefully keeping them close as long as they can due in part to the love and attachment they feel toward their child (even though, if they think back, their parents did the same to them).
Parent(s) learn to let go of this with time. However, there’s a much more damaging version of this which is subtly different, where the parent is acting completely in their own interest, emotionally abusing their child on purpose consistently and relentlessly due to this behavior.
This version of guilt-tripping is heavy and aggressive as the parent is trying to make the child feel horrible for how they’re acting, like what they’re doing has created a great and lasting pain to them.
If you remember this kind of behavior from your mother or father, there’s a chance you had an emotionally abusive parent and didn’t know it.