Though we aren’t responsible for the complex damage done to us by emotionally abusive or neglectful parents,
we are responsible for healing that damage in our adult lives, so we can find happiness for ourselves.
That comes with a big dose of brutal self-acceptance, however,
& committing to undoing the damage that’s been years in the making.
We can find joy after waking up from an emotionally abusive childhood, but only when we accept both who we are & who we want to be.
Emotional Neglect occurs when our caretakers fail to appropriately respond to our emotional needs at critical stages in our development.
While child abuse is a very intentional act, emotional neglect generally occurs out of ignorance or as the result of an extreme form of narcissism.
It’s a failure to act & respond to a child’s emotional needs, & it’s an unwillingness to do the emotional work it takes to be an adequate parent.
Having an inability to rely on others or an over-the-top inner-critic that blames you for everything isn’t normal.
It’s more commonly a sign that you’re living with the idea that you’re unlovable,
an erroneous idea that was implanted in your head by a parent that didn’t live up to their responsibilities to you. ”
It can be hard to accept a childhood that was plagued with emotional abuse, but it’s a critical step in healing who we are.
Childhood is a crucial time and one in which we form our defining ideas on everything from romantic love to happiness. The relationships we share with our parents are important, but they can be damaging too.
When you’re the adult child of an emotionally abusive parent, the road is hardly ever a straight one. It’s up to you to find healing, though, and it’s up to you to let in the light of happiness and truth.
Though we aren’t responsible for the complex damage done to us by emotionally abusive or neglectful parents, we are responsible for healing that damage in our adult lives so we can find happiness for ourselves.
That comes with a big dose of brutal self-acceptance, however, and committing to undoing the damage that’s been years in the making.
We can find joy after waking up from an emotionally abusive childhood, but only when we accept both who we are and who we want to be.
Childhood memories are rarely a straight road
Our childhood memories often seem to be tinged with a touch of rose-tinted nostalgia. When you think of your childhood amid a stressed adulthood, you’re inclined to remember surprise Santa Claus visits or happy days on the playground with friends.
What about the hard stuff, though? What about those tough-to-swallow memories that make us squirm, or otherwise defined who we are?
Emotional neglect occurs when our caretakers fail to appropriately respond to our emotional needs at critical stages in our development.
While child abuse is a very intentional act, emotional neglect generally occurs out of ignorance or as the result of an extreme form of narcissism.
It’s a failure to act and respond to a child’s emotional needs, and it’s an unwillingness to do the emotional work it takes to be an adequate parent.
Because emotional neglect is so subtle, many of us fail to recognize its consequences in our lives until we are well into our adulthood.
Overcoming the effects of emotional neglect is a long process, and it takes a certain amount of brutal honestly, applied self-compassion and understanding. Getting ourselves back to true happiness and peace takes learning how to correct these flaws and start loving ourselves for who we are.
The 5 facets of childhood emotional abuse
Emotional abuse isn’t just screaming and stomping around. There are very different facets to childhood emotional abuse. From a reject of needs, to corrupting our sense of right and wrong — these are the 5 facets of childhood abuse which could indicate you were abused or neglected emotionally.
Rejection of Needs
An emotionally abusive parent is one who dismisses the emotional needs of their child, or otherwise refuses to show affection. This might occur by withholding affection when the child is perceived to have done something “wrong” or it may occur outright — by treating the child with cold and distant disdain.
The caretaker here is denying the child the affection it needs to thrive or feel secure, thus inflicting deep and long-lasting trauma that can make it hard for those children to have happy and balanced relationships in future.
One of the hallmark signs of abuse is, without question, isolation. Abusers isolate their victims because it limits the chances of discovery, and also allows them to exert greater control over those relationships.
An emotionally abusive parent might refuse to allow their child to take place in normal activities, or they might (once again) use isolation as a heavy-handed means of “punishment” though it is ultimately more about control and inflicting distress.
Terror, terror, terror
Terror doesn’t occur only in the home of the child who receives regularly beatings — it’s a foundation of emotional abuse too.
Parents and caretakers terrorize their children with the promise of severe punishments, or the threat of something far more sinister which can cause them to hide or fear opening up.
This constant terror creates a climate of threat, which with it erodes all sense of trust and safety the child has in their home and their caretakers.
Ignoring & Dismissal
Emotional abuse doesn’t just come with terror and threats. It can include dismissal and emotional neglect as well.
When a parent goes out of their way to ignore the needs of their child, or if they are suffering from untreated mental illness, it can leave the child with a sense of being unwanted and unconsidered.
Children need validation because that validation guides them toward future social skills, abilities and understandings ; when they are denied that by their caretakers, it can lead to major emotional upsets later on.
Corrupting the senses
Perhaps the most insidious aspect of emotional abuse is that of emotional and social corruption. This form of abuse takes place when the parent or caretaker encourages their offspring to engage in malicious or antisocial behavior.
They might do this directly, or they might do this by responding to the child only when they are in an extreme or unpleasant emotional state.
Only receiving the attention that you need when you’re acting up, hurting yourself, or hurting others leads to the development of false values and even damaging behavioral patterns.
Why we don’t always recognize childhood emotional abuse
Unlike physical abuse, the scars of emotional abuse run deep and often far beneath the places we are comfortable lurking.
Because emotional abuse requires us to bury our pain and our experiences deep, and dismiss our base instincts, it can be hard for us to recognize and accept that we were childhood victims of emotional abuse.
Dismissal of Needs
As adults, we have a toxic way at looking back at the needs of our childhood as “trivial” or not that important.
More often than not, we brush-off the deep feelings of hurt, loss and rejection as common misunderstandings of childhood, rather than the definitive and scary moments they truly are.
Dismissing these needs only further buries them in our subconscious. The longer this goes on, the more serious the side-effects can become.
Normalization is one of the most common (and understandable) reasons that we struggle to resolve – or even accept – our childhood emotional trauma. This occurs when we accept the idea that our experience is common, and therefore invalid.
Because everyone has this experience, we start to believe that it doesn’t matter very much. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.
Just because something is common does not make it any less traumatic or damaging to who you are.
Children have an uncanny way of internalizing the bad things that happen to them, and that’s especially true when it comes to emotional abuse.
When we internalize our trauma, we start to believe that the poor treatment we received as children is our fault.
It’s my fault, we tell ourselves. Anything my parents did to me was because I deserved it. It happened because I wasn’t good enough. Internalizing your trauma can cause you to turn away from it, and accept it as an inevitable part of your insecurities.
Shamed into Silence
At one point in time, you might have known your trauma and named it for what it was. Things change, though, and the bonds we share with our families have a big part to play.
You may know that it’s wrong, but the familial ties you share with your abusers leads to a shamed sense of silence, or otherwise convinces you to bury away your trauma and pretend that it never happened.
The longer you allow yourself to be shamed into silence, the further you are pulled into shadow.
The most common long-term effects of emotional abuse
Emotional abuse can be subtle and, likewise, the symptoms we exhibit can take a long time to manifest and impact our happiness.
Having an inability to rely on others, or an over-the-top inner-critic that blames you for everything isn’t normal.
It’s more commonly a sign that you’re living with the idea that you’re unlovable. An erroneous idea that was implanted in your head by a parent that didn’t live up to their responsibilities to you.
Adult children of emotional abuse often find themselves struggling with self-esteem later on in life. Whether they learned to feel unworthy of love, or they learned that they weren’t smart enough, or pretty enough, or successful enough — the way we bond and interact with our parents plays a critical role in every facet of our adult life.
Holding onto the emotional traumas you share with your caretakers leads to a perpetuation of those negative and self-limiting beliefs, and forces us to accept the belief that we aren’t good enough or that we deserve to be treated poorly.
Because emotional abusers are so skilled at making the victim feel at fault, those victims can also find themselves struggling with a constant and permeating sense of guilt.
This constant guilt can cause you to act out, lean into addictive or risky behaviors, or even deny yourself the opportunities that would otherwise allow you to thrive and reach your dreams.
It’s important to remember that, as a child, you were totally innocent. It is up to your parents to care for us, and provide us the emotional stability and affection we need.
If your parents constantly snooped on you, or exposed your private information to people you didn’t trust (or didn’t wish to share that information with), it can lead a hyper-sense of violation that follows us through life.
Because you never felt as though you had a sense of privacy, you might become an overly private or walled-off person in your adult life.
Burying all your important thoughts, emotions and vulnerabilities down deep — you might find it hard to connect with others on an authentic level.
Broken relationships with our parents equals broken relationships with our partners, friends and even our own children later on in life.
This comes down to the attachment styles we learn from our parents; as well as any other directly or indirectly instilled fears and insecurities like fear of abandonment.
The adult child of an emotionally abusive household might find themselves in emotionally abusive romantic relationships, filled with blowups and lots of drama.
It comes down to learning how to reshape the way we react and emote.
It’s hard to retain a positive outlook, when you spend your childhood having your feelings dismissed or demeaned.
Adults who were raised under the shadow of emotional abuse might find that their inner critic reigns supreme, and they may struggle to see anyone and anything in a positive light.
Because their baselines were formed in the midst of terror, isolation and even abandon — it can be easier for them to expect the worst.
It’s a coping mechanism, and one that’s meant to protect them from continued emotional harm (although, it does more damage in the long-term).
When you’re emotionally abused, you learn that it isn’t safe for you to express your emotions. As a child, when you expressed your emotions they were probably dismissed or they may have even caused anger in your parent or caretaker.
As an adult, this can lead to burying your hard or unpleasant emotions away; leaving them to fester and further manifest through subconscious patterns of behavior and reaction.
How to resolve your childhood emotional abuse
If you’re struggling with the fallout of emotional abuse as an adult, you can find peace but it takes a lot of hard work. Not all emotional abuse is created equal. Some hurts run deep and require the help of a mental health professional to overcome. For everything else, however, we are the only life raft that there is. If you’re struggling to find love in your life you have to learn how to love yourself, and let go of the things your parents couldn’t give you.
1. Get Honest about what went Wrong
The first step in recovering from the emotional abuse in your childhood is to get honest about what went wrong. This means accepting what happened, and accepting your parents and caretakers for the mistakes that they made.
You have to let go of the internalized guilt and understand that, as a child, you were not at fault for the pain in your past, and use that knowledge to create a plan moving forward.
Start small, and ease into the waters of acceptance with a gentle journalling or meditation practice.
Find a space where you can think uninterrupted, and put yourself back in a time when you felt that your parent didn’t listen to you, or didn’t respond to your emotional needs.
Watch the scene replay as though you were distantly removed.
How did your parent react to you? How did that make you respond? Consider that child as if it were your own, and let those emotions come back to you as if you were back in that moment.
Understand that your parents were human, with all the complex and flawed emotions and experiences that you have to. Use that understanding to cultivate an acceptance of what happened to you, so you can figure out how to fix it.
As you get more comfortable looking back into your past, lean into the big things. Don’t be afraid to shy away from the truth…no matter how much that might hurt.
2. Lean into your Boundaries
If you don’t carve out the mental space you need to detach from who and what was, you won’t be able to break free of the shackles your family past has over you.
Emotionally toxic or damaging childhoods never go away. They follow us, manifesting again and again in a number of different manners that undermine our overall mental and emotional health.
We have to set boundaries in order to let the healing process come full circle.
Have enough respect for yourself to set boundaries with those who injure you more than they lift you up.
Do whatever you need to do to protect yourself, and honor your worth by letting others know what you will and will not tolerate.
If the emotionally distant parent is still in your life, communicate your needs to them and let them know that those needs take priority in your life.
Embrace the emotions that make you uncomfortable and recognize the people and the triggers that bring out the best in you and your psyche.
Learning to love ourselves takes time and effort, but know our worth isn’t difficult. As a human alive on this earth, you’re worth all the happiness, love and effort in the world.
Only you can allow someone else to deny you that. When you start to recognize this, you’re on the path to being whole again.
3. Find Comfort in your emotions
Growing up in a household that is devoid of the right emotional connection can make it hard for you to recognize your emotions, and even harder for you to manage them.
More often than not, our caretakers distance themselves emotionally because they don’t know how to deal with their own emotions.
Only by learning how to confront our emotions can we deal with them efficiently and get back to the happiness we deserve.
When we find ourselves in a stressful event, we often feel a flood of emotions all at once which makes it hard to process and orientate ourselves.
Though we are often told the best way to deal with these emotions is to ignore them, we actually gain more benefits by learning how to identify each emotion as its experiences in a technique that’s known as emotional differentiation.
Differentiation stops negative emotions from getting worse by building up our confidence in facing them.
It allows us to identify what we’re feeling and (eventually) why we’re feeling that way, which leads to true resolution and clarity and, thus, higher levels of happiness and contentment.
When we learn how to see our emotions for what they are — and where they come from — we can accept them and then get better at managing them.
It’s like being a manager in a restaurant. If you really want to be effective, you have to get to know your staff and figure out what works best for everyone.
4. Get professional help
Facing and resolving the emotional neglect in our pasts is not something that we can always do alone and it’s not something that can be managed simply with the help of a few good friends.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to find a specialist when dealing with childhood neglect of every kind; but it’s important to make sure you’re finding the right person to help you resolve past issues.
Trauma symptoms vary from case to case and, as such, need to be assessed by qualified and experienced trauma professionals. Finding a therapist who has experience treating trauma like yours can take time, but cognitive-behavioral therapists and EMDR professionals are a good place to start. Take your time and don’t rush into anything that doesn’t feel right.
A professional can help you get to the root of your problems, but you need to be ready to open up and need to know what direction you want to head in.
Healing is hard but living eternally in pain is harder.
If you think you need more serious help, reach out for it. When you feel better physically, you have more strength to engage in the mental and emotional war of healing and resolution. This puts our overall wellness in clearer focus and makes our efforts to heal more effective and less costly in the long run.
5. Practice Self-Compassion
The act of applied self-compassion is a powerful tool in recovering from the pain caused by emotionally neglectful parents.
Self-compassion is not self-kindness and it’s not self-pity either.
It’s taking an active role in your own healing, and it involves embracing your faults, mistakes and suffering as equally you celebrate your joys, successes and triumphs.
When we utilize real self-compassion in our lives, we extend the same kindness, caring and understanding to ourselves as we would to a friend or a loved one.
More than just being nice to yourself, you also have to dig deep into your common humanity and become mindful of the way you both react and interact with your real, internal self.
Self-compassion is a powerful tool, when we know how to wield it, but it takes a big commitment and it takes a lot of work each day to build.
Look at things from the perspective of your inner child. Are you finally standing up for the little boy or little girl and protecting them, the way they should have been protected all those years ago?
Be mindful of yourself and of your needs, both emotional and physical.
Let go of your need to be perfect for anyone, and instead on becoming the best version of yourself – for yourself.
If there’s something you don’t like about yourself, make a plan to change it, but only after looking it boldly in the face and accepting it for what it is.
Spend a few minutes each day practicing this, and use it to get beyond the pain of your estrangement.
6. Be more Grateful
Gratitude is one of the best ways we can deal with our negative emotions. It doesn’t matter who you are, or whether you’re surrounded by a million people you love or not.
If you’re a living human being — you have something to be grateful for. Big or small, there are beautiful things all around us that have the ability to give our lives meaning, or remind us of the good things that are just within our reach.
Take 5 minutes to sit down each day and make a list of all the things in your life that you’re grateful for. List the great things in your life and the things that make you smile. Read through the list a few times and make sure not to forget the simple things.
You’ll start to really connect with yourself and your emotions when you begin to remember that it’s not all doom and gloom.
There’s something out there for everyone to love in life and if you haven’t found that yet it’s time to get started.
The greatest thing about happiness is that it is not a luxury commodity — it’s a state of being that exists, naturally, within each and every one of us.
You don’t need your parents or your siblings or anyone else to be happy. That’s something that can only be generated from within and shared without.
7. Re-Parent yourself the right way
When we are hurt by our parents, we often go out looking for healing in all the wrong places. We turn to other people, to drugs, to alcohol — all in the search of the love we were denied when we needed it most.
Not being taught how to properly manage our emotions (the good and the bad) can result in associating happiness with the feeling of pleasure, when that’s not necessarily true.
There is no salvation in pleasure alone. The problem with that is that no one else can save us. Only we can save ourselves.
You have to step up and be the parent you always deserved for yourself. This means treating yourself well, checking in how you’re feeling and how you’re doing.
Be a mentor for yourself ; an advocate for yourself. Do all the things a caring mother or father would do and do it with complete radical abandon.
Find activities that bring you peace and joy and be kind and gentle with yourself and the way you see the world.
Work hard to build up that confidence that was wrecked by a dismissive or emotionally distant parent and celebrate your strengths and victories every single day.
Write notes to yourself and start a mindful journaling practice that lets you get back in touch with that scared, broken little child that’s hiding deep inside.
Learn how to love yourself and the rest of the world will follow. Give yourself a gift that never quits giving and be the parent you always needed.
8. Connect with your support networks
Substituting our unhealthy family relationships for the ones that better suit our lifestyles and emotional needs is a good way to cut ties and find your way back to healing.
It can be helpful to allow your attention to center on the healthy relationships that bring joy into your life, rather than the ones that attract nothing but negativity.
There is no law that says family is blood and blood alone. You can choose your family, and you can choose people who provide emotional fulfillment.
Get comfortable talking about how you feel, and find a friend you can trust that is willing to listen to you vent. Let them know exactly how your childhood or upbringing is still causing you to struggle and let them know you need a willing shoulder (and a willing ear) to listen to you work things out on a regular basis.
Always make sure, however, that you have their consent before unloading. Not everyone has the ability to process our emotions and experiences in the same way. Even if we can trust them not to spread our business.
The family and chosen family we surround ourselves is important, and can be especially important when it comes to creating the lives we want.
If you’re struggling to let go of a toxic or emotionally damaging family member, re-establishing abandoned ties with your own outside support networks can be a great way to get back in contact with who you are.
This is because our relationships allow us to get a better grip in our perspective. And that makes all the difference when it comes to fulfillment and joy.
Putting it all together…
There are a number of ways in which our parents can emotionally wound or scar us, all of them resulting in deep-seated pain that can cause serious problems in our adolescent and adult lives. When we fail to recognize and deal with this pain, it follows us, and can lead to a lot of negative side effects and coping mechanisms that eat way at who we are and the future we’re trying to build for ourselves. If we want to heal, we have to dig deep. And get focused on our needs and fulfilling them with honesty and compassion.
Get in touch with your past and start embracing those experiences for what they are — the good and the bad.
Dig deep and realize that you have every right to feel how you feel. Our emotions don’t come from nowhere. They are a reaction to the stimuli in our environment.
Be honest about your needs and reach out to a professional for further resolution if needed. Gratitude and compassion are two of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves when we’re trying to recover from a childhood that was lacking in affection and emotional connection.
Give yourself a second childhood and become the parent you never had. Fall in love with your strengths and recognize that you empower yourself through your weaknesses.
Find people you trust and gather them closely. When we open up to our support networks, we can unlock powerful healing we didn’t even know was possible.
Sort out your boundaries and use them to boost yourself into an emotionally empowered future.
The shackles of your childhood don’t have to be the prison of your future.
Let go and find the healing you’re seeking yourself. “