Family Emotional Abuse
Your family is supposed to be the safest and most supportive group of people in your life, teaching you how to navigate the world in a healthy, confident way. Sadly, for many of us that’s not true. Many of us have family members who don’t treat us with love and respect, and that can wreak havoc on your mental health, starting in childhood and throughout your adult years. If you’re noticing signs of emotional abuse at home, you’re probably desperate to figure out how to cope, how to make it stop, or how to get away from it.
First, make sure you can identify what type of abuse is going on in your family. If you’re experiencing emotional abuse, this article is for you! If, however, there’s extreme verbal abuse, sexual abuse or physical abuse in your home, this article can offer some coping advice, but we have other resources that can help you figure out what to do. Check these out:
- 3 Steps to Escape an Abusive Relationship
- Coping with Sexual Abuse
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline (24/7)
- A Prayer When Struggling with Fear
In the process of figuring out how to deal with emotionally abusive family members, it’s possible that you may determine that you need to leave the home. Consider your safety when you’re making a plan to leave an abusive relationship. You simply never know whether an emotionally or verbally abusive person may resort to physical abuse when challenged. If you’re afraid for your safety, need help figuring out an escape plan or reporting what you’ve experienced, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
8 Ways to Cope with and Heal from Emotional Abuse in the Family
Growing up with emotionally abusive parents (or other family members) takes a huge toll on everything from normal child development to PTSD or C-PTSD later in life. If you’re in an emotionally abusive family now, it’s possible to start learning how to cope and heal! While nobody can deny that you’ve experienced painful trauma, there IS hope for your future. Check out these steps forward to begin a journey toward a healthier life.
1. Therapy or counseling. Research qualified trauma therapists in your area or talk to a counselor at your church or school. Working with a professional is a great way to address the problem of abuse in your family. With them you can start identifying the specific patterns of your abusive family members, how that trauma is showing up in your own mental health problems, and specific actions you can take to make your life better.
2. Learn the lingo. Emotional abuse is a well-researched topic. Check out our site for more on the topic or look for medically reviewed articles on sites like VeryWellFamily and Psychology today, and get familiar with concepts like “gaslighting,” “witholding,” and “love bombing.” If you can identify their tactics, you’ll be equipped to respond to your abuser at the moment and even begin to call them out.
3. Know your truth and defend it. Through therapy, research, and practice, you can start to re-learn who you are, what you want, and how you want to be treated. Stand confidently in that truth and defend yourself using techniques such as boundary setting and “gray rocking.”
4. Set strict boundaries. If you’re staying in a relationship with your abusers, which is often the case when you still live with or depend on them financially, it’s important to start communicating how you expect to be treated and the consequences if those expectations aren’t met. For instance, you say to your parent, “I’d love to eat dinner with the family, but if you start to make unkind remarks about me, I’ll have to take my plate to my room.” You can also develop boundaries surrounding the abusers that you don’t communicate to them. For example, you may decide to stop sharing stories from work or school with your parent, or you might decide to ride the bus to school instead of getting a ride from them. Remember that abusive people rarely respond graciously when you try to set boundaries, so be prepared to carry your plate to your room. Stand your ground, and do what makes you feel safe.
5. Don’t isolate. Isolation is one of the more cunning tactics of an abusive family. By creating a “closed system” in which outsiders are unwelcome, or where you’re judged or punished for seeking relationships outside the family, abusers make sure that they maintain control over you and continue the abuse. Don’t self-perpetuate that isolation. Reach out to trusted friends and family. Share what you’re going through with them so that you’re not alone in acknowledging the abuser’s actions. Ask for support–you’ll likely get it!
6. Reconstruct your sense of self. One of the impacts of emotional abuse is that you’ve spent so much of your life worrying about how to keep your abuser appeased that you have very little concept of your identity apart from that or the lies they fed you about who you are. It can be extremely healing to discover that you are your own, free to think, feel, and do what makes you feel happy and healthy. This is the time to try new things, meet new people, read, explore, and nurture interests both old and new. You may discover things about yourself you never would’ve known if you’d stayed hidden under your abuser’s wing.
7. Build a lifestyle you love. Healing is a process. There isn’t one isolated thing you can do to flip the ON/OFF switch of trauma. You have to commit to making room in your life for little healing moments to happen every day. Over the long term, that looks like building a healthy lifestyle that supports your mental and emotional health. Choosing foods that are delicious and nutritious, moving your body, going to counseling or therapy, pursuing your interests and passions, and engaging with your community organizations can all be a part of the full life you make for yourself.
8. Commit to ending the cycle. Another common impact of emotionally abusive relationships is that they’re often part of a pattern. The emotional trauma it leaves with its victims can lead them to be blind to potential abuse in future relationships or to repeat their abusers' tactics on others. Don’t let that be you. Learn everything you can about emotional abuse and make sure your family’s cycle of abuse ends with you. Your future children or partners don’t have to endure what you have, and you don’t have to put up with abuse from anyone else. You have the power to be the last in your family’s legacy of emotional abuse.
Nobody Deserves to Be Abused
If you’ve looked over all this and still don’t know where to start or who to reach out to, get help from a Hope Coach today. You don’t deserve to be stuck in an abusive situation, and we will do whatever we can to help you determine the next steps in your journey toward freedom because you are worthy of great love.
For more on how to recognize the types of abuse and what to do read Parent Relationships: Am I Being Abused?