18 'Red Flags' That Might Mean It's Time to Talk About Your Childhood Emotional Abuse


Editor’s note: If you have experienced emotional or physical abuse or struggle with suicidal ideation, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

It’s no secret that our experiences in childhood and adolescence often play a role in who we end up becoming as adults. This can be especially true for people who experienced emotional abuse growing up. Sometimes, when a parental figure or loved one in your life didn’t act the way you needed them to in the formative years of childhood, it can significantly impact the way you relate to the world as an adult.

Maybe you had a parent who made you feel unworthy of love growing up. Maybe you were bullied by your peers and it affects your ability to form and maintain relationships now. Maybe you’ve never even associated your upbringing with the word “abuse” and are wondering if you might have experienced childhood emotional abuse.

If you live with the effects of childhood emotional abuse, we hope this post can help you on your path to recovery.

Although everyone’s personal “red flags” are different, we wanted to know how people realized their experience of childhood emotional abuse was affecting their adult lives. To start this discussion, we asked members of our mental health community to share the “red flag” that let them know they needed to open up about their childhood emotional abuse.

Whatever your individual experience of childhood emotional abuse was, we want you to know your story matters. Your feelings are valid and you deserve to be heard. Though past childhood emotional abuse can play a part in your life as an adult, it by no means has to define it. Whether it be to a therapist, friend or loved one, if you are struggling with the effects of childhood trauma or emotional abuse, please reach out and know you are never alone.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “A red flag for me was my defensiveness whenever confronted with a criticism. I always thought people were attacking me because of my childhood trauma.”

2. “A journal entry of mine that stated, ‘I honestly believe I’m impossible to love.’ Reading that in a moment of clarity helped bring to light to the fact the emotional abuse from my past was haunting my future and needed to be resolved.”

3. “For me it’s that love always came with a price. So now I find it incredibly difficult to accept kindness, love, gifts and compliments. I’m always wondering what the ulterior motive is.”

4.“I realized I was avoiding all conflict like a disease, and that I felt guilty over anything that went wrong. I’d spent so long being told everything was my fault that, even when it wasn’t, my brain automatically searched for reasons why I must’ve been to blame.”

5. “[I experienced] racing thoughts and uncontrollable emotions involving the statements made by the individual. Flashbacks.”

6. “A red flag for me is my trust for males was nonexistent. By middle school I couldn’t have male teachers or be in the same room as male family members. I was emotionally abused by my father. I was so scared of males I had panic attacks nonstop.”

7. “I was both physically and emotionally abused. I realized in my teen years how angry I was. I would do and say the things done/said to me to others around me — especially to those who wouldn’t fight back (boyfriend). I hated my behavior but didn’t know how to stop. I [felt like] a monster. A negative, raging monster. Finally, after my first husband and I split (mostly because of my behavior) I got the help I needed. Therapist, self-help reading, different circle of friends and a lot of self reflection. I still live with the other baggage that goes with my childhood (and other trauma things) but I’m not a hateful person any more. I seek and offer love and compassion.”

8. “When wanting so badly to just be loved and safe meant a simple hug could bring me to tears, and make me never want to let go.”

9. “Being in so much emotional pain I wanted to die. I fought every day not to die — I was not living, I was barely even surviving.”

10. “I noticed I was very codependent. I apologized way too often and always felt guilty about everything I said or did. I needed validation and approval. I was living in constant fear that I would upset someone for doing something they didn’t like because my self-esteem was so low.”

11. “When I realized I couldn’t handle rejection or even constructive criticism. Everything felt personal and aimed at me, like I couldn’t ever do anything right. Any sort of rejection was something my brain used to reassure me that I had no worth, and even the smallest criticism seemed huge and felt like a personal attack. It ruined relationships and friendships. I knew I needed to start dealing with it.”

12. “I had reoccurring nightmares that I was killing my abuser multiple times over and over. That was the one huge sign that convinced me I needed to seek therapy.”

13. “After I got my first kiss and was then told it wouldn’t work out, I felt used and abandoned and reacted to that as if I’d been traumatized. After a couple of days, repressed memories from my childhood started flooding back. I remembered abuse. I knew then I needed to find a therapist who specialized in trauma.”

14. “I started hearing my father in myself when talking to my children.”

15. “[I knew I needed help] when I was no longer able to hide the fact I was self-harming and had been since I was 18… It wasn’t just emotional abuse I was being put through as child, it was mental, physical and social, too.”

16. “[I experienced] suicidal thoughts as an adult when I never got the attention or love I craved, especially after giving someone my everything in a desperate attempt to get them to love me, even though they were abusive.”

17. “My red flag was when I started acting out in school and people noticed I wasn’t acting like myself.”

18. “When it stopped me from feeling worthy of accepting love.”

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 JZhuk.

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