When you’ve experienced childhood emotional abuse, relating to your peers can often feel difficult. Whether you experienced it in childhood or adolescence, oftentimes finding friends who understand can be really challenging.
Sometimes, you find a kindred spirit who just “gets it.” Other times, it can be easy to feel isolated in the struggles you experience now as a result of emotional abuse in your past — especially if your friends have never experienced it themselves. And when you are struggling, it can be more than exhausting to teach people how to care for you.
We wanted to know how to support a friend who’s experienced emotional abuse in their past, so we asked our mental health community to share one thing they wish their friends knew about their experience with emotional abuse.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “If I don’t hear from [my friends] for even a day, I start to spiral. I perceive it as the beginning of abandonment. I truly believe if I’m not on their mind, I don’t exist to them. My constant texting is my way of making sure they’re still a part of my life.”
2. “It affects me even still today at almost 30. My reaction when someone raises their voice has nothing to do with the person raising their voice, but just the fact that the voice was raised. It immediately makes me feel like a child again. I will apologize until I’m blue in the face, even when I’ve done nothing wrong, because I can’t stand feeling like someone is upset with me. I got the ‘silent treatment’ constantly when I did something ‘wrong’ so when someone goes quiet, I automatically feel like I’ve done something wrong and the person is mad at me.”
3. “Everyone I knew thought my mother was really lovely. I was called a liar many times when I tried to tell people what she was like and what she did to me — emotionally and physically… She was perfectly nice to everybody and played a vulnerable woman well… but with me, she was completely different and nobody believed me. It has left me [feeling like] even counselors don’t believe me when I’m talking to them. I always feel that people think I make stuff up all the time and disbelieve me.”
4. “I wish one thing people understood was how harmful family can be. I got abuse from all members of my family and because of that, I’ve kicked them out of my life. Most my friends don’t understand how I can do that to my immediate family. But it’s my only chance at happiness.”
5. “I might get clingy. I’ve been hurt by many people close to me and not so close, so when you treat me like a human being, I’m going to get attached… I don’t mean to get all obsessive and clingy, but you made me feel special for once.”
6. “Cutting family out of your life is OK and you shouldn’t be shamed for it. You need to do what is best for your health and happiness and if that means removing toxic people, then that is OK.”
7. “I’m not healed and probably never will be. I’m mourning a childhood I never got. And will probably be for the rest of my life. People like [me may be] a bit broken. We need a little extra care and understanding when it comes to friendships and relationships. We’ll have bad days that are filled with flashbacks or just bad memories. A lot of us have triggers that might not make sense. We just need compassion. Empathy. [Please] don’t try to ‘fix’ us because for the most part, we can’t. We can heal, we can get past it, come to terms with it. But we wont ever get back a childhood. We won’t ever not have those memories. We wont ever forget.”
8. “I am hypervigilant. When I ask five times, “Are you OK?” it’s because I’ve been trained to assess the situation over and over again to make sure myself and those around me are safe and happy. I was required to fix all of the problems, so I will constantly try to fix yours and will get scared when I can’t.”
9. “You never really ‘get over it.’ Any small comment or action (like forgetting to respond to a text) can trigger my core beliefs that I am a burden, unlovable and that they are better off without me in their life.”
10. “The scars never go away. The pain is as real today as it was when it happened. I don’t always stay focused during conversations because my mind has learned to dissociate to survive.”
11. “If you try to gently correct [or] critique me and I get defensive, it’s not because I can’t take constructive criticism. It’s because I had to grow up constantly prepared to defend myself against emotional blows.”
12. “I cannot accept compliments and will forever question your motives. I will always be worried and insecure and it is so deeply ingrained in me that it takes a long time to trust. Sometimes, I will also tell you a little bit too much to try and scare you away.”
13. “Being able to identify why I act or don’t act the way I do does not change the situation or my ability to trust and behave like ‘normal’ people, it just allows me to let you know what’s going on.”
14. “I never think I’m good enough. People can be talking about something or someone completely unrelated, but I always think they’re whispering about me. I constantly berate myself for being ‘stupid’ after saying something. I always anticipate the worst and expect friends to drop out of my life forever. Fights are even worse. I don’t know how to have an argument without thinking that friendship or relationship is over, no matter how small it is.”
15. “Raised voices immediately make me panic. Even if it’s raised voices for good things, it still gives me flashbacks.”
16. “If you make me feel guilty — intentionally or not — I’m likely to just do whatever it is you’re asking, but feel somewhat betrayed and possibly avoid you. Guilt trips will always work on me. Yes, I know I can say ‘no’ to people, but you wouldn’t believe how awful it makes me feel.”
17. “Please stop telling me other people have it ‘worse,’ or that I ‘should be grateful.’ If things are bad for me, they’re bad for me, period.”
18. “[For me,] it’s never over. It’s not the physical aspects. It’s not a bruise that goes away or a fracture that heals. Memories never leave [me] and they can strike in a unexpected flashback, bringing back sensations, fear, pain, smells and sounds. The emotional response that helped [me] get through it also lingers, it’s [my] defense mechanism.
19. “I was a complete loner because I couldn’t talk about what was going on at home… I desperately needed someone I could trust, someone who truly cared about me with real compassion, to talk to.”
20. “I wish my friends understood that my past doesn’t define me, but it does affect me. I wish they would treat me according to this, rather than labeling me as ‘clingy,’ ‘needy’ and having ’emotional hangups.’ I’m a work in progress.”
21. “Emotional abuse is still considered abuse.”
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
Thinkstock photo via Purestock.