Understand the causes and effects of emotionally abusive relationships. Parents may be emotionally abusive because they were abused or neglected at some point in their lives (usually childhood, as this has the largest impact on people’s ideas of bringing up their own children), or because they are bitter, angry or resentful, and as a result, take their feelings out on their children. Parents may also be unaware of the fact that they are being abusive; either because they were brought up in the same way or because they simply refuse to consider the fact that they might be an abusive parent. However, whatever the cause of emotional abuse, nobody has the right to hurt you, physically or emotionally. Emotional abuse is as damaging as all other types of abuse, and you deserve to find and receive help. Remember that you are not in any way responsible for the abuse; in the end, it is the abuser’s choice to abuse you.
Identify the ways you are being abused. This will help you explain it to someone else or just yourself, and give you a clearer idea of the situation. Emotional abuse is not just one thing; there are many different types of emotional abuse, varying on the abuser and the situation. The main types of emotional abuse include:
Verbal assault. Your parent/s verbally assault you in every way possible. They may blow your flaws out of proportion, make fun of you, call you names, berate you, scream at you, threaten you or criticize you. They may blame you for everything or humiliate you with sarcasm and endless insults. Over time, this type of abuse can completely destroy a person’s feelings of self worth and self esteem.
Emtional neglect. Your parent may supply you with all of your physical and material needs, but completely neglect your emotional ones. They may show no love or affection, continually ignore you, or refuse to support you during times of emotional need.
Invalidation. Closely linked and overlapped with emotional neglect, invalidation occurs when the victim’s feelings and needs are completely invalidated, usually with harmful intent. A good example is when the victim tries to confront the parent/s about the abuse; the child may be told “I never do that”, “You think too much”, “You shouldn’t be upset about that”, or “You are exaggerating.” The abuser usually controls the victim’s emotions by telling the victim that those feelings and opinions are wrong, by continually ignoring and rejecting emotional needs, and influencing the victim feel as though there is something wrong with him/her. Invalidation can also be done passively, for example, when a victim tries to confide in a parent about a problem and is told that the problem is not really an issue, or that the child should simply get over it. Invalidation is particularly damaging, as it leads the victim to think that s/he is wrong, stupid to feel this way, undeserving of any feelings at all.
Unrealistic expectations; unrealistic or impossible expectations such as perfection or forcing the child to be someone s/he simply isn’t, are placed on the victim, and if these expectations are not met, the victim is criticised or even punished.
Identify the main abuser. Is it just one parent who abuses you? If your parents are divorced, one parent may be unaware of the other’s abuse of you. Sometimes one parent may be emotionally abusive while the other is physically abusive. Or, alternatively, both parents may be emotionally abusive, but one more so than the other. One parent’s behaviour may be heavily influenced by the other’s; a parent may be abusive because that is the way the other parent behaves. Identify who your main abuser is, and the main ways you are abused. This will help you when telling somebody else, or when you try to improve the situation.
Know that the abuse may happen selectively - parent/s may treat one of their children worse than another, fostering bitterness, competition, and envy between siblings. It’s a power play intended to control both - the “approved” child is constantly struggling to maintain his approval rating with parents while feeling guilt over the neglect or mistreatment of his sibling, and the “victim” is constantly struggling to achieve any approval at all, failing every time, yet glad for the sibling who does receive the parent’s good opinion. Both harbor secrets: The “approved child” is secretly grateful not to be the “victim” and glad for the praise, while the “victim” is bitter and envious - they love and depend on one another, but are tormented by negative feelings about one another and the parents. It sets up incredibly complex dynamics in the family which are very difficult to resolve.
5. Understand that it’s not your fault. Although your abuser may influence you to feel personally responsible for his/her emotions (“You cause me so much grief!”) and the way they treat you (“If you would be a better kid, I wouldn’t have to punish you so often”), ultimately, it is the choice of the parent to be abusive. If your parent/s have other mental health issues or emotional conditions, such as a disorder or many negative feelings about the past, remember that this still doesn’t make it your fault, and that it is still not acceptable.
Work out the best reaction(s) to the abuse. Fighting back isn’t always the smartest option; if a parent wants to control, dominate and hurt a child, having the victim screaming back at them will often only make the parent angrier. However, if the parent seems somewhat aware, or guilty about the abuse, then talking with him or her about how this is damaging and hurting you will force the parent into facing reality. More aggressive and controlling parents should probably not be confronted; instead, try not to react at all, and wait until the main abuse has passed before doing anything. Once you find the best way to react to the direct abuse (ex.: endure it without complaint, apologize, accept responsibility and ask how you may correct the problem), the situation will be just a little bit more in your control and may give you the time to work out a plan.
Determine whether or not you can tell one parent. If one parent is more abusive than the other, or if you are only being abused by one parent, consider telling your other parent. If one parent is unaware of the abuse, enlisting his or her aid by telling him or her about it may make it stop. If one parent is less abusive than the other or seems to be pressured into it, or seems to feel guilty afterwards, talking to this parent may put him or her into a wider focus of the situation, and be better for the both of you. However, if you are being heavily abused by both parents or strongly feel that talking to them may not be safe or helpful, then you don’t have to talk to your parents about it; find someone else - a trusted school counsellor, the parent of a friend, an aunt or uncle.
Find someone to talk to. All around you, there are people who can help. Although your friends may not be able to change your situation, they will at least be by your side or give you coping resources. Talk to a close, trusted friend. Or, tell another family member, as one of them may be able to change the situation, or at least help you cope. If you can’t, try talking to an approachable teacher, a school counsellor or a pastor/spiritual leader. If you don’t feel like you can manage talking to someone face to face, there many anonymous helplines that are listed on the Internet and your phonebook, or at school. Don’t let yourself believe that nobody cares, because it isn’t true; people study and train to help people in your situation; teachers and counselors. Friends are there for you, other family members may have even been the victims of abuse, and will understand.
Find coping resources. It is important to identify the things that help you express your emotions, release anger, bitterness and grief, or take your mind off your pain. Letting things fester will only make it worse. There may be something that particularly soothes you, or helps you take out all of your negative feelings: writing in a diary, or writing stories, poems and songs. Drawing to create a visual interpretation of your situation, or playing a musical instrument, or even singing. Listening to music or talking to someone you trust is also a good way to help yourself cope.
Work out a plan. You don’t deserve to be abused, under any circumstances. Emotional abuse is just as damaging as any other form of abuse, which is why it should be at least reduced, helped and well known, if not possible to be stopped completely. It may be hard, embarrassing or scary to finally break your silence and talk to somebody who will change the situation, but simply finding coping resources and getting things off your chest with a friend isn’t going to help you change your situation. Talk to a school counsellor about things you can do to change your situation, reduce the abuse or let someone like another family member know, so that they can help.
If necessary, find a way remove yourself from the situation immediately. This step can be the scariest of all, because it means breaking out of your usual routine for coping with pain, and it will mean letting people know. But it’s important. Your counsellor or the person you’ve told may want to call an agency or alert the authorities if the abuse is severe. This can be extremely scary and changes a lot of things, but remember that it will help you stop or get away from the abuse.
Once you are out of the situation, seek therapy. Abuse leaves lifelong scars that may never heal unless you ask for help. If you can’t afford this, there are volunteer organizations that will help you for free.
Work on accepting, loving and caring for yourself. The thing that breaks victims down and ultimately worsens the abuse is when they believe they deserve it. They end up hurting themselves as much as the abuser. Learn to remember that none of this is your fault, and that you alone are your most valuable asset. You are worthy of love, care, respect and acceptance. Learn to love yourself. Think about it. You are completely unique. Nobody else is exactly like you. You have your own qualities and quirks, flaws and assets. Everyone is beautiful. Nobody else has your exact features, even an identical twin! Your personality is completely you and no one else. Always remember that it’s not your fault, no matter what your parent says or does.