21 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because You Had an Emotionally Abusive Mother
Editor’s note: If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
For many people, the word “mom” can conjure up a host of glowing adjectives — “nurturing,” “loving,” “selfless.” At least, those are the kinds of things we are taught to believe all mothers should be.
But what if growing up, your mom was anything but?
What if instead of loving and protecting you, your mother was emotionally abusive?
It’s no secret that growing up in an emotionally abusive environment can leave psychological scars that often endure long into adulthood. When your abuser was your mother — someone who in many households is the primary caregiver — the impact can be devastating.
We wanted to know what kinds of effects growing up with an emotionally abusive mother can have on adulthood, so we asked our mental health community to share one thing they do now that stemmed from their experience with their own mothers.
No matter what kind of abuse someone experienced in childhood, it can be hard to navigate life in adulthood when your worldview and personhood were informed by an abusive upbringing. And while it doesn’t ever excuse abusive behavior, it’s important to note that parents who abuse their children don’t usually set out to become abusers — and were sometimes abused themselves in childhood.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. Constantly Apologizing
“I constantly apologize to try to keep an argument from happening.”
“Constantly apologizing. I have very few good relationships with women. I don’t know how to stand up for myself because I was never allowed to. “
2. Avoiding Confrontation
“Crying when someone raises their voice at me. Also, avoiding to say to my closest people what bothers me, in fear that this will lead to an argument.”
“I avoid confrontation like the plague.”
3. Difficulty Accepting Gifts or Compliments
“Hesitating to take honest gifts because I’m so used to there being strings attached or having it used against me later on.”
“I grew up feeling like I didn’t belong to my family and that I was strange — feeling I wasn’t good enough, and having a hard time accepting compliments without turning inward and turning it into something negative.”
“Feeling like a failure or that whatever you do is nothing. No matter how hard you try to do good and even when you do and are complimented. You don’t know how to accept the compliment. You think so little of your value and the value of what you do because you were constantly put down no matter what you did.”
4. Blaming Yourself for Everything
“Obsessing over the fact that everyone is always upset with me. If someone is in a bad mood, it must be my fault.”
“Taking it all out on myself. My mother used to blame me for everything.”
5. Worrying Constantly What Other People Think of You
“I always worry about what other people think of me. A simple mistake I’ve made, a wrong word I’ve said, a slightly wrong decision I’ve chosen may forever haunt me.”
6. Comparing Yourself to Others
“Constantly doubting myself and comparing myself to my sister because in my mother’s eyes, she’s the better, smarter daughter.”
“I keep on comparing myself to other people.”
7. Fearing Abandonment
“I constantly fear abandonment from loved ones. I tend to love too easily, but then push them away when I feel like I’m getting too close to them. I pick fights without realizing it, just to see if they love me enough to stay. I don’t ever feel good enough to be loved. I use unhealthy coping skills that can be too much for my loved ones to handle or deal with at times. I feel like everyone is just going to give up on me.”
8. Shutting Down During “Mom” Related Conversations
“Whether I’m chatting with a single person or am in a group of people, anytime anyone mentions the word ‘mom,’ I instantly shut down and become uncomfortable. I fidget a lot and will likely turn to my phone as a distraction.”
“I often joke around and try to change the topic when someone starts to talk about their mom.”
9. Putting Everyone Else’s Needs Above Your Own
“Being extremely adaptable and putting other people’s wants before my needs. Appeasement was my primary MO growing up and it never went away.”
“I’m a pusher. I push myself to extreme extent. I over-exhaust myself just to please others.”
10. Striving for Perfection
“I am overly perfectionistic, I say sorry all the time, I hate making mistakes and berate myself for them for days after. I have a difficult time asking to get my needs met because I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.”
“Say sorry too much, don’t ask for help, become the black sheep of life. Become a perfectionist. I think my borderline personality disorder came from it all. You also have to learn everything the very hard way… It’s very lonely.”
11. Experiencing Chronic Insecurity or Low Self-Esteem
“I’m very insecure about everything I do and hate everything about me because my mom made me believe I’m nothing and that I’m worthless for so many years.”
“I feel like a dog with its tail between its legs when I get yelled at if that makes sense. When people criticize me even in the smallest way, I question my own ability to do anything. I have zero self-esteem, zero self-confidence. Every day is tough.”
12. Feeling Unable to Trust Others
“I constantly question everything and everyone. If you can’t trust your mother who can you trust in this world?”
“I have major trust issues and issues with abandonment. I am paranoid about everyone, always thinking they have ulterior motives. I have low self-esteem and constantly wonder if I am ‘good enough.’ I have difficulty regulating my emotions and struggle with anxiety/depression. Instead of looking up to my parents, I see them as an example of what I do not want to be.”
“Question everything people say. I rarely believe sincerity. I feel like I’m being lured into a trap. Trust is rare for me.”
13. Avoiding Physical Affection or Intimacy
“I cannot stand to be hugged, or my face touched — I hate it actually. I have to force myself to hug people back to get over the fear.”
14. Craving Physical Intimacy
“I hold my son every chance I get. I give him hugs every single time he asks for one. As a child and all the way into adulthood, I would ask for hugs from my mom or try to cuddle (as a kid) and she’d tell me to get off her or that the way I hugged was creepy. I will never let my son feel the way she made me feel.”
15. Constantly Overthinking
“Spending endless hours and days rethinking every interaction and possible ways I could have handled myself.”
“I always overthink every situation. I try to think of every possible outcome so I can plan how to react. I think I mostly prepare myself to be told that I could have done a better job, done more or what I did was wrong.”
16. Hearing Her Voice Even as an Adult
“I constantly hear her voice in my head telling me all my imperfections. Telling me how useless I am. Telling me how no one will love me like she does. Especially if I get in a fight with my significant other. I shut down completely and assume it is all my fault. That is when her voice is the loudest. I also flinch a lot. Especially if a hand gets close to my face.”
“I don’t live with her anymore, but I still hear her voice, telling me how worthless I am.”
17. Questioning If You’re a Good Parent
“I constantly question if I’m a good mother. I also have trust issues and I hate seeing other girls/women with their mothers because I always wanted that.”
18. Needing Constant Validation
“Constantly needing validation that I’m doing things right, even to the point of perfection. I know it annoys people, but my mom used to nitpick over the smallest flaws which has left me with some major self-esteem and self-worth issues.”
19. Having Trouble Making Decisions
“Being indecisive. Growing up, every time I made a decision, she was never happy, or it wasn’t enough. There was always something wrong. So now I always double triple think and have a hard time deciding the simplest things.”
20. Having Trouble Expressing Emotions
“Unable to process anger because I was never allowed to be angry growing up. Instantly getting defensive when someone else is upset.”
“Not being able to properly process emotions because I was never allowed to have a bad day or too good of a day. I haven’t lived with her in almost 10 years and I still feel like I need to walk on eggshells most of the time. I’m constantly nervous that I’m being too loud, talking too much, taking up too much space, being too present.”
21. Wishing for the Mother You Never Had Growing Up
“The biggest thing I do is crave the mother I want and not the mother I have. She is mentally ill herself and I always thought my love could fix that… I have this desire to fix people because I could never fix her. Because of my mother, I want to be a superhero and fix everyone and let myself fade away.”
“I develop attachments to mother figures. I have since I was little. It wasn’t as difficult 20 years ago, but now that I’m an adult, I obviously will never have the childhood that I want/crave/need. That in itself depresses me seriously, because I so want to be that child, and I know it will never happen… I feel guilty too though, because I know my mother lives with mental illness as well, so our relationship, or lack thereof for most of my life, wasn’t necessarily a choice for her.”
If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
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.
Getty Images photo via Golden_Brown