The Mighty Logo

22 Things I Do Now Because I Experienced Emotional Abuse as a Child

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

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 741-741.

For the longest time, I wasn’t sure why I did certain things. Even while writing this, I came to huge realizations about how much my feelings, beliefs and actions are tied to my past.

Here are the things I do because I experienced emotional abuse as a child:

1. I don’t guess.
If someone asks me a question and I am not 99 to 100 percent sure I know the answer, I won’t guess the answer. I will freeze and panic.

2. I am terrified of being wrong.

Being wrong feels like a character flaw, like something is seriously wrong with me. I feel humiliated, embarrassed and mortified even if it was just something minor. This makes participating in classes nearly impossible and laces so many of my conversations with anxiety and panic.

3. I feel toxic.
I constantly worry I am hurting people. I push people away just to protect them from my toxicity.

4. I am afraid to share my feelings.

This is for so many reasons… I’m scared I shouldn’t feel a certain way. I’m scared I will be ridiculed or criticized for feeling that way. I’m afraid of being told to “Just get over it” or “Grow up and move on.” I’m afraid of being vulnerable. I’m afraid of being shot down and rejected.

5. I am constantly aware of all of my feelings and reactions.

Part of this is a way I cope with my borderline personality disorder (BPD). But another part of it is that I worry my feelings are overreactions or not justified or are just not OK to have. My family often told me I was overreacting or that I couldn’t take a joke. So I began to worry and apply this to all relationships in my life. As a child, my feelings were neglected and shoved aside. They were made to feel “less than” and unimportant. They were made to seem like burdens. If I felt something different from what the rest of my family was feeling, I would be told I was wrong or needed to just move on and forgive like everybody else had.

6. I feel people out on certain subjects before straight away saying things.

If I am going to be vulnerable and tell someone something personal, I will sort of “test the waters,” if you will. I will try my best to make sure they won’t freak out at me. This also applies to if I’m going to ask someone to hang out. I try to get a sense of if they’re going to be free or say, “yes” before I ask because it is a sort of buffer on what would feel like rejection if they said no.

7. I’m terrified of abandonment, and I think everyone will abandon me.

This stems from the abandonment that actually did happen when I was a child, as well as all the threats of abandonment from my father. I still remember the time when he threatened to take the house away when he was drunk and the time he said he’d leave us because we were better off without him. There were so many more instances, but those two have really stuck with me.

8. I feel unworthy.

My parents never told me they were proud of me when I was younger. It felt like all my friends’ parents told them how proud they were for their good grades and whatnot… but my parents never did. It was merely expected of me. I was never as good as my brother. I never felt worthy of their love or praise, and I never really got their love or praise.

9. I’m afraid of calling it abuse.

All of my feelings were minimized. Even when my father was verbally abusing me, my mother told me I needed to just forgive him because she did and my brother did. They had moved on. I always felt like I was overreacting because I was always told to just calm down, to breathe, to “take a chill pill” — basically, anything to just shove my feelings and reactions away like they wanted me to.

So, for me to call it abuse was a huge step for me because I felt so minimized and was so scared someone would think I was just making a bigger deal out of what happened. Also, I had only heard of physical or sexual abuse being called abuse at that point. I hadn’t heard anybody speak about emotional abuse or verbal abuse or psychological abuse — all of which, once I learned of them, fit my childhood perfectly.

10. I perceive rejection even when I am being validated and accepted.

I am more open to being criticized and rejected because I was criticized and rejected for most of my childhood. I was never validated or accepted growing up, so to receive that now is both wonderful and entirely foreign to me. I also am very sensitive to everything a person says or does — so if they are validating me, but use a specific word or their tone changes even slightly or they glance to the left, I will feel like they are rejecting me or something of the like.

11. I’m sensitive to change.

I hate change. Even small things like someone I see often wearing a short sleeved shirt now that spring is here instead of the long-sleeved shirts they were wearing before. That triggers me to feel unsafe.

12. I feel emotionally unsafe a lot.

I am constantly terrified of being hurt. I always try to prepare myself for the worst… for everybody leaving me or hating me or needing space. I am hyper-aware of all of these things. I don’t feel safe emotionally with people or with myself.

13. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.

I spent so many years at home and during family vacations thinking to myself, I just don’t belong. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong with my family. I don’t belong anywhere. I just don’t belong.

It’s hard to feel like I belong when I always felt like the outcast in my family. I was different. I was more emotionally sensitive. I felt things to an even higher intensity. I was more attuned to emotions (both my own and the emotions of others). I didn’t like the same things. I didn’t make the same crude jokes. I was always made to feel like the odd person out. Like the reject. The “screw up.” And being verbally abused made me feel like I didn’t belong as well.

14. I feel like something is seriously wrong with me.

Whenever I expressed a feeling or a thought that was different from the rest of my family’s, I was berated. I was called out on that. I was cursed at or laughed at or humiliated. I was told to change to be like the rest of them because they were the “normal” ones. And for me to feel and think all that I did and do seemed to make me defective, was really hard on me.

15. I have flashbacks.

When a situation in the present too closely resembles something that happened in my past, I will have flashbacks. When I smell something that reminds me of a place or a person, I’ll be transported back to that place. When an abandonment happens in the present that resembles the abandonments in my past, I’ll start spiraling backward. When someone is mean or yelling or cursing or too loud, I will flash back to instances when this happened. When I smell alcohol, I will flash back to instances when my father was drunk and verbally abusive. Sometimes, I won’t even know what triggered a flashback. And other times, I won’t know what memory I am flashing back to — sometimes, I flash back to feelings I know are associated with memories and places, but I can’t quite place the memory.

I am hypersensitive to triggers when I am going through intense emotional stress in my present. So, I will often have flashback after flashback and just get lost in memories of abuse.

16. I “buffer” things I say.

For instance, I may ask someone something, but then make sure to say, “But it’s totally OK if you don’t want to or you can’t or anything like that! No worries at all!” Even if it doesn’t feel OK and it does matter, I’ll still say that to protect myself.

17. I worry I’m being manipulative.

My mother, father and brother took it upon themselves to talk about how manipulative I am… how everything I did was merely my antics. My family basically told me I am a manipulative person who will do anything to get what she wants. So now, I am hyper-aware and think about everything I feel, think and do to make sure it isn’t me manipulating. And when I don’t trust myself, I’ll check in with a couple of people to see if they believe a certain action or thought is manipulative.
There are days when I fear everything I’m doing is manipulative. And, if I end up “getting what I want,” I will worry that it was only because I manipulated the other person into giving it to me — even if that isn’t the case. It’s exhausting, but I’m finally realizing why I worry about this so much.

18. I worry people actually hate me, even if they say they don’t.

My family had these “secret” email chats behind my back… they’d email all about the problems of Tori. The frustrations Tori caused. The issues Tori caused. Their reactions to me. Their judgments. Their criticisms.

Being a curious kid, I managed to stumble across some of those emails, and in them, I was called a “monster,” “manipulative,” “fat,” “self-centered” and “only thinking about herself.” They warned each other to not give in to or fall for my antics. Basically, nothing I was feeling or doing or saying was real or valid to them. I was only seeking attention in their eyes. This made me want to hide even more to avoid their family email conversations about me. They warned each other to not become like me. So, I worry people will talk about me behind my back, that they secretively hate me or are secretively judging me… and I am so insecure.

19. I don’t trust myself, my thoughts, my feelings or my memories.

My family often had different interpretations of events. They also perceived things differently than me. I was in my prime developmental age when my world fell apart. So I reacted very differently than the rest of my family. The verbal, emotional and psychological abuse were interwoven into my brain as I was developing. My family invalidated my feelings, my thoughts, my beliefs.

20. I need constant validation.

But I worry asking for this validation will push people away, so I only ask for it if I’ve gotten to know someone for many many years and even then, I am cautious.

21. I feel the need to justify my feelings with an explanation.

This probably comes from needing to defend myself against the onslaught of hurt that would come when I voiced a feeling that differed from the majority consensus of my family.

22. I apologize and feel guilty a lot.

I apologize even when I’ve done nothing wrong. I apologize for the actions of other people. I apologize when I feel like I’ve done something to hurt somebody else. I apologize, and I don’t always know why I am apologizing, but I know I truly do mean my apology. I actually feel incredibly sorry and remorseful and guilty.

I feel guilty even if I haven’t done anything. I even feel guilty if someone else I’ve never met hurt this other person I’ve never met — I still feel guilty. I was always blamed as a child. Things were always my fault. But I am also extremely empathetic and feel other people’s pain as though it is my own.

These are just some of the things I’ve realized I do because of my childhood emotional abuse. I find I blame myself less for doing these things because I now know they aren’t my fault — and they aren’t flaws. They are there for a reason, and if I am aware of that reason, then I can work on them. I am learning to be more aware of them and to have more control over them, but they will always be part of me and affect me because of the emotional abuse I experienced as a child.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via sSplajn.

Originally published: July 20, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home