There is wisdom in the old saying that “no one escapes from childhood unscathed,” and this saying can have a deep meaning for a person who has experienced emotional abuse as a child.
Childhood is the time when we are the most open, sensitive, and vulnerable, and emotional abuse can leave debilitating and long lasting effects that persist through our entire adult lives.
Experiencing emotional abuse when we are young can affect self-worth, stress levels, relationships and can lead to future struggles with mental illness caused by repetitive painful memories and negative information from the past.
To better understand the kinds of effects childhood emotional abuse can have on adulthood, the wonderful group at themighty.com asked their mental health community to share one thing they do now that stemmed from the motional abuse they experienced in their upbringing.
Whether you had a relatively painless or a difficult childhood growing up, it’s important to remember that hope always exists, that you are loved, and that you are not alone.
Here are 25 Things We Do As Adults When We’ve Experienced Childhood Emotional Abuse
Here’s what our community had to say:
1. “[I] can’t stand conflict, loud sudden noises, shouting and screaming or aggression in any form. [It] triggers my fight or flight, instantly.”
2. “I can’t accept compliments. When someone [compliments] me, my response would just just be ‘umm yeah’ or I’ll just smile awkwardly. I just figured out why… During my childhood, people just [noticed] my mistakes and not my achievements. So now it is hard for me to accept compliments.”
3. “I’m an overachiever. At everything and anything. I still feel the need to prove I’m good enough. I obsess about doing a job/task to perfection. And then I obsess about how I could do it better. [I worry] about others’ opinions way too much.”
4. “I always feel like I am doing everything wrong… It’s very hard to convince me I am good at something.”
5. “I become apologetic over everything. If someone doesn’t text back, I’ll believe they’re upset with me, and I’ll apologize. If I ask for something and annoy them, I’ll apologize. Everything becomes a situation where I feel like I’m to blame.”
6. “I’m basically a hermit. My home is my fortress. I have BPD, PTSD and anxiety. It’s so hard to work or apply myself in school or just life when every time I want to apply myself, I can’t help but run to the nearest exit to catch my breath. I constantly fear everyone around me.”
7. “I have problems trusting people. I keep people at [an] arm’s length. I never really let them into my life. I don’t allow them to know of my health problems and my mental illnesses. If I do let them in, it is rare and they [will] have known me for years. It takes a long time [for me] to build trust.”
8. “Indecisiveness. [It feels like] every choice I make is wrong even if I choose the option I’m told to take…I’m afraid to [be a] parent because I don’t want to ‘mess up’ my kid.”
9. “I avoid saying anything that others might not agree with, which means I’m never being myself. I wear a mask of complete neutrality in any situation, because I’m so scared of anyone feeling negative towards me.”
10. “I’m very defensive which can come across cold or nasty. I also portray quite a lot of negativity which seems to be my barrier so I don’t get hurt.”
11. “I have trouble accepting any kind of love because growing up, it was always given with strings attached or used a tool for manipulation. I don’t trust that others have the capacity to love me unconditionally, so I hide away parts of myself, never allowing myself to experience the vulnerability that comes with being loved, chosen and accepted by others.”
12. “I feel the need to please everybody I deem ‘of authority’ and thus have a hard time getting my needs met. I strive too hard for [a] perfection that doesn’t exist, and then eventually, melt down when too many things are not up to the standards held in my past.”
13. “I find myself always explaining my every move. I explain why I bought something, why I did what I did, etc. I feel like people think I’m lying to them, so I owe them a detailed explanation. Also feeling as though if I say ‘no’ to someone, they’ll hate me. So even if I’m inconveniencing myself, I’ll say ‘yes.’”
14. “I avoid asking help from anyone because I don’t trust anyone. I believe if someone offers me a hand, there will always be something they [want to] ask in return. I have friends but I don’t have a best friend. I keep my distance from people. Automatically, my wall blocks anyone.”
15. “[I have] attachment issues, trust issues [and am] paranoid that everyone will leave me. A lot of this is part of my BPD. My sudden divorce also contributed to these behaviors.”
16. “I’m overly shy around people and struggle [with] having a voice. [I believe] no one wants to hear anything I have to say.”
17. “[I] won’t let anyone see the ‘bad’ side of myself.”
18. “I constantly think I’m not good enough and I’m not smart enough. [I] was told [this] all my childhood… I’ve gone back to university to prove to myself that I am smart enough, but it’s always there in the back of my mind, like a poison, reminding me I’m not good enough, not smart enough.”
19. “My whole childhood was emotional abuse. It is extremely hard for me to accept I have people in my life who actually care about me. That’s the worst one. I am nothing to myself so why would I matter to others?”
20. “I have a hard time making eye contact with people. I look away a lot when I’m speaking. I get startled very easily and it takes me awhile to get my heart rate back to normal.”
21. “I have major issues with anxiety and depression because of my childhood. The biggest factor is I cannot communicate well and I don’t know how to express my feelings with others because I am so used to just holding them inside because I wasn’t allowed to share how I felt. When tense situations arise, I get nauseous and uncomfortable, [and] my anxiety levels sky rocket. Definitely have a lot of emotional scars from my past, it’s been the hardest thing to conquer.”
22. “I never, ever fight back. I may cut toxic people out of my life with the help of amazing friends and professionals, but whenever a conflict is actively going on that involves someone attacking my character… I completely shut down. I let whatever they want to say wash over me until they tire themselves out. That’s what I had to do when I was younger. It was so much worse to fight back. I learned to let them yell themselves out.”
23. “Several things, but the main one was lashing out on social media for years. Controversial and angry statuses, just due to the anger inside of me. I have texts I sent my friend where I described just how much I felt this unsettling anger in my chest. Emotional abuse from peers at school to family [can] really [mess] you up. I then finally found a therapist who could help me and I’ve come a long way.”
24. “I don’t really know who I am or what I truly think. Virtually everything I say seems to me to be a lie I’ve just fabricated for that particular situation. I have real problems trying to identify what I’m feeling.”
25. “Blaming myself for everything. I have to fight the urge to beat myself up constantly. I’ve also struggled with feeling like I’m not good enough, which makes things like school, dating and applying to jobs really hard.”
While it can be difficult to overwrite the negative messages and information we received during childhood, hope does still exist, and many people find relief and happiness through the self-worth and self-esteem building practices of speaking with a psychologist, and also through the practice of self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the practice of giving ourselves positive information, positive feelings and creating a healthy self-image. Practicing affirmations that represent the love of unconditional self-acceptance can be extremely beneficial; such as, “I am lovable, I am good enough, I love myself.”
Beginning with positive self-affirmations, we can then move on to the love component of self-compassion; sitting in a quiet and peaceful place, and focusing on the feeling of love in the heart. Slowly continue focusing on the feeling of love, and then begin feeling love for each part of your body. After this, begin to feel love for the child of you inside of your memory, that experienced various difficult circumstances. “I love the part of me that is hurting. I love you, myself within my sadness.” Once you begin to feel the love entering the painful parts of yourself, immediate openness, softness, relief, and healing take place, and the more you practice, the longer these positive feelings will last.
Always remember; you are worthy, you are good enough, and you are loved.