Skip to Content

7 Types Of Emotionally Abusive Parents and Their Effects On Children

| Types of Emotionally Abusive Parents | Causes | Effects | How To Deal With Emotionally Abusive Parents As A Child | How to Deal with Emotionally Abusive Parents As An Adult |

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Parental emotional abuse can take many forms, including verbally abusing, terrorizing, exploiting, isolating, rejecting, neglecting, and parentifying​1​.

It occurs when parents repeatedly interact with their children in a harmful way. 

The parent’s abusive behavior can be chronic or only when triggered by alcohol or other potentiating factors.

emotionally abusive dad yells at daughter

Types of Emotional Abuse By Parents

Emotional abuse is hard to identify because, in most cases, it occurs behind closed doors and does not have obvious physical signs, as opposed to physical abuse or sexual abuse. 

It is not always clear to what extent abusive behaviors are considered emotional abuse, as they are sometimes seen as bad parenting skills.

Here are some types of abuse from childhood that can leave emotional scars​2​.

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse includes belittling, name-calling, degrading, shaming, ridiculing, singling out a child to criticize or punish, and humiliating a child in public. It includes openly telling children they are worthless or calling them derogatory names.

Terrorizing

Terrorizing is life-threatening, making a child feel unsafe, setting unrealistic expectations with the threat of harm if they are not met, and threatening or inflicting violence on the child or their loved ones.

Exploiting

Exploiting or mis-socializing a child is encouraging them to develop inappropriate behavior that interferes with their development. For example, the parent may instruct their child to commit crimes or other antisocial activities.

Rejecting

The parent refuses to acknowledge the child’s worth and the legitimacy of their physical and emotional needs. A child is also rejected when their parent defines them as failures, refuses to acknowledge their accomplishments, refuses to show affection to them, and pushes them away.

Isolating

The parent cuts off the child from normal social interactions. They may confine the child, preventing them from participating in social activities such as family gatherings and school functions.

Child Neglect

The parent fails to provide basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. They may leave a child mentally, physically, or emotionally ill or prevent them from receiving treatment.

Parentification

The parent forces their child to grow up and take on responsibilities they are not ready for. The child is criticized and punished for their age-appropriate behavior if they do not meet these expectations.

Domestic violence

The mental well-being of children who witness domestic violence is undeniably compromised, regardless of whether they are physically harmed.

Causes of Emotional Abuse

Some common risk factors of emotional mistreatment are:

  • Abusive parents suffered from parental abuse in their own childhood
  • Affective disorders, depression, etc.
  • Substance abuse such as alcohol and drug use
  • Contentious divorce
  • Poor or lack of parenting skills
  • Children who are unwanted or unplanned
  • Children who are socially isolated
  • Children who are intellectually or emotionally handicapped

Effects of Having Emotionally Abusive Parents

Maltreatment of any kind creates emotional harm. However, research has indicated that emotional maltreatment is particularly harmful, possibly the most damaging form of abuse​3​.

Psychological abuse may have many long-term consequences for the child victim, such as the following.

Low Self-esteem

Emotional maltreatment is particularly detrimental to a child’s self-esteem

The demeaning nature of abuse toward children directly targets their self-worth. Low self-esteem results from constant criticism internalized by them.

Low self-esteem, in turn, causes a strong sense of shame, feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, self-dissatisfaction, and disempowerment​4​.

Emotional Development

Emotional maltreatment impacts emotional health and development in children. Abused children may develop emotional instability, borderline personality disorder, or emotional unresponsiveness as a result.

They are also more prone to withdrawal​5​, self-directed anger, and pessimism about the future.

Social Skills

Emotional maltreatment is particularly destructive for a child’s competence in verbal and non-verbal communication skills, social skills, empathy and negotiation​6​

As a result of childhood abuse, children have a distorted sense of relationships, making it difficult for them to form friendships or develop close relationships.

Externalizing Behaviors

Other effects include externalizing behavior such as physical aggression, relational aggression, and impulsivity​7​.

Relationship Aggression

Children are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of abuse in adulthood​8​.

Mental Health Issues

Emotionally abused individuals are at a three-fold higher risk of developing mental health conditions such as depressive disorder or eating disorders than non-abused individuals​9​.

In addition, emotional abuse from parents can lead to obsessive-compulsive symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)​10​.

They are also three times more likely to show suicidal behavior and suicidal ideation.

Academic Performance

Abused children are more likely to show lower academic achievement.

Sexually Transmitted Infections and Risky Sexual Behavior

Emotionally abused have a significantly higher risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually risky behavior​11​.

HIV infection is twice as likely found in those who have been emotionally abused as kids.

Physical Health and Life Style

Child emotional abuse has adverse effects on health and lifestyle.

It is associated with smoking, alcohol problems drinking, obesity, and health-related problems such as failure to thrive, somatic complaints, poor adult health, and high mortality​12​.

How To Deal With Emotionally Abusive Parents As A Child

If you are a child facing an emotionally abusive adult, ask for help from a school counselor or trusted adult. If they don’t believe you or listen to you, try another one. 

Keep telling someone until you find someone who can help or support you emotionally. 

Most likely, they won’t be able to do anything about it, but they may help you connect with mental health professionals, convince your parents to seek help, or be a caring adult who listens to you to help lessen your pain.

Also, check out this article on how to deal with strict parents as a child.

How to Deal with Emotionally Abusive Parents As An Adult

Distancing

The best way to prevent abuse in adulthood is to keep a physical and emotional distance from the abusers.

The decision to cut off contact with one’s parents is not an easy one. You must weigh what you can gain from staying in an abusive relationship against the risks to your health.

Professional Help

It is best to seek professional help whether you want to stay away or be in touch with your abusive parents.

To remain in contact with your parent, you will need the help of a family therapist. When they are repeated frequently, parents’ abusive behaviors and your responses may have become normalized over time. They are difficult to change without outside help.

If you decide to cut ties, a therapist or clinical psychologist can help you regain your sense of self-worth and address the negative impacts of your past.

Healthy relationships can also be formed and maintained with the help of mental health professionals.

Social Support

Build a network of supportive friends and families. Support yourself emotionally by surrounding yourself with people who understand you.

Emotional abuse during childhood is highly predictive of adult depression. Research has found that social support is protective against depression for abused females​13​.

References

  1. 1.
    Baker AJL. Adult recall of childhood psychological maltreatment: Definitional strategies and challenges. Children and Youth Services Review. Published online July 2009:703-714. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.03.001
  2. 2.
    Kairys SW, Johnson CF. The Psychological Maltreatment of Children—Technical Report. Pediatrics. Published online April 1, 2002:e68-e68. doi:10.1542/peds.109.4.e68
  3. 3.
    Hart SN, Binggeli NJ, Brassard MR. Evidence for the Effects of Psychological Maltreatment. Journal of Emotional Abuse. Published online July 7, 1997:27-58. doi:10.1300/j135v01n01_03
  4. 4.
    Maguire SA, Williams B, Naughton AM, et al. A systematic review of the emotional, behavioural and cognitive features exhibited by school-aged children experiencing neglect or emotional abuse. Child Care Health Dev. Published online March 3, 2015:641-653. doi:10.1111/cch.12227
  5. 5.
    Al O, Watson W, Watson L. Behavioural consequences of child abuse. Can Fam Physician. 2013;59(8):831-836. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23946022
  6. 6.
    Rees CA. Understanding emotional abuse. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Published online December 29, 2009:59-67. doi:10.1136/adc.2008.143156
  7. 7.
    Naughton AM, Maguire SA, Mann MK, et al. Emotional, Behavioral, and Developmental Features Indicative of Neglect or Emotional Abuse in Preschool Children. JAMA Pediatr. Published online August 1, 2013:769. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.192
  8. 8.
    Zurbriggen EL, Gobin RL, Freyd JJ. Childhood Emotional Abuse Predicts Late Adolescent Sexual Aggression Perpetration and Victimization. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. Published online February 25, 2010:204-223. doi:10.1080/10926770903539631
  9. 9.
    Allison KC, Grilo CM, Masheb RM, Stunkard AJ. High self-reported rates of neglect and emotional abuse, by persons with binge eating disorder and night eating syndrome. Behaviour Research and Therapy. Published online December 2007:2874-2883. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2007.05.007
  10. 10.
    Mathews CA, Kaur N, Stein MB. Childhood trauma and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Depress Anxiety. Published online September 2008:742-751. doi:10.1002/da.20316
  11. 11.
    Hillis SD, Anda RF, Felitti VJ, Nordenberg D, Marchbanks PA. Adverse Childhood Experiences and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Men and Women: A Retrospective Study. Pediatrics. Published online July 1, 2000:e11-e11. doi:10.1542/peds.106.1.e11
  12. 12.
    Norman RE, Byambaa M, De R, Butchart A, Scott J, Vos T. The Long-Term Health Consequences of Child Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, and Neglect: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Tomlinson M, ed. PLoS Med. Published online November 27, 2012:e1001349. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001349
  13. 13.
    Powers A, Ressler KJ, Bradley RG. The protective role of friendship on the effects of childhood abuse and depression. Depress Anxiety. Published online January 2009:46-53. doi:10.1002/da.20534

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is a bestselling author. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more

    Disclaimer

    * All information on parentingforbrain.com is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *