The Mighty Logo

21 Things People Do as Adults Because They Grew Up With an Abusive Parent

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 741741.

The pain of childhood trauma is a complicated thing, and unfortunately, the effects usually don’t stay confined to the period of time when the trauma occurred. This can be especially true for children who grew up with abusive parents. Because when the person given the duty to love and protect you, well, doesn’t, the impact can be devastating.

Some may have experienced physical abuse — the type of abuse we often think of because it’s easily “seen.” Others may have grown up experiencing emotional abuse — the type that often flies under the radar, but can be just as debilitating.

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.

We wanted to know what kinds of effects growing up with an abusive parent can have on adulthood, so we asked our mental health community to share one thing they do now that stemmed from their experience with an abusive parent.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1.I don’t value myself or hold myself to the same respect I offer others. I constantly put myself down and have no belief in myself.”

2. “Honestly, it’s severely affected my overall self-esteem. I have trouble in the workplace too because I’m afraid of authority — rather, the backlash from authority. I’m afraid of making mistakes. When I do make mistakes, I’m very hard on myself. Also, I think some issues are my fault even though they are not. I doubt and second-guess the things I do well, too.”

3. “I’m scared to ask for things from others. I’m scared to put myself first because in my family, I was almost invisible unless someone was mad.”

4. “I have extreme reactions to being yelled at/sworn at. I’m very sensitive to people’s tones of voice and facial expressions. I’ve learned to control the reactions, but they still manifest in the form of frustrated crying when I get angry enough.”

5. “[I] apologize for everything all the time. It’s like I constantly feel like everything is my fault even when it isn’t.”

6. “I tolerate far more disrespect and/or abuse than I should. I’m trying (hard) to learn what healthy boundaries are and to know when to walk away from a bad situation — and that doing so is healthy for me. I’ve always been the ‘go to’ person and the fixer of/for others — usually to my own detriment. Saying ‘no’ is becoming a little bit easier to do, but is difficult.”

7. I didn’t have kids. Probably the number one reason I didn’t have kids. Huge fear I’d do to them what was done to me. I marvel at how much my friends actually like and even love their kids — and it shows. I never had that connection to my parents or parental figures.”

8. “I get startled easily around anyone and overthink a lot because of my anxiety. I also shut most people out of my life and never feel comfortable leaving my house. I find myself depressed throughout some days as well and I question everything.”

9. “I’m hyper-vigilant about time. I panic if people don’t arrive exactly when the say they will and immediately feel they’ve abandoned me. I worry constantly that the people I love will leave, not say where they’re going, and never come back. I experienced several instances of my parent leaving in a rage and being gone for hours at a time with no contact or promise of return.”

10. “[I] panic every time I hear footsteps coming toward my room, when I hear doors being slammed [and] when someone gets slightly angry. [I] immediately feeling guilty every time someone raises their voice.”

11. “I need constant reassurance in most things! Like that I’m approved of, liked, doing things correctly or reassurances if people are angry, annoyed or displeased with me. Living on eggshells and emotional abuse means I don’t know if a situation will go suddenly bad for unknown reasons and leaves me living in a constant state of social fear.” — Kirsty D.

12. I shut down. From people who want to be close with me. Growing up, my mom would be super close to me but when she was stressed she took it out on me and then would apologize and buy my love to be close with me again. This was and still is a cycle. So now when people want to be close with me, I shut down because I don’t want to experience what I went through with my mom again with my friends.”

13. “I was deprived of food and used to hide food under my bed growing up. I don’t do that anymore, but I am very food possessive. [I] don’t share food, and will eat every morsel, even if it’s someone’s left overs. I also find myself sneaking food if I’m at someone else’s house.” — Cassandra K.

14. “I’ve always felt less-than, that whatever I do is not good enough and maybe never will be. I apologize for everything and find it hard to truly open up to people. Despite everything, I have gotten better and gained some confidence. However, I will never forgive him for the invisible scars he’s left on me, my sister and mother.”

15. “[I experience] fear of my anger and [am] very protective any woman I know because I spent my teenager years protecting my mum and sister from my dad.”

16. “I’m mentally abusive to myself. I constantly degrade myself because I hate myself.”

17.I apologize for everything and dissociate in stress. This causes me to not trust my own memory about a situation and I struggle to stand up for myself when it comes to something I’m sure I didn’t do. I also cannot get into an argument without crying my damn eyes out.”

18. “I really struggle with relationships, both romantic and friends. I don’t trust anyone, and I constantly worry about being betrayed, abandoned, rejected or cheated on.”

19. “When someone texts or calls, I have to answer immediately because back then if I didn’t, I’d be in huge trouble. Sometimes I have to let it go to voicemail to remind myself that the world won’t end if I don’t answer a call.”

20. “I spend time with my kids. I take them to the doctor whenever they’re sick. I help with homework. I take them on family vacations. I make them good food. I tell them I love them often and give lots of hugs. I admit when I’m wrong and apologize and make a serious effort not to do the same mistake again. I listen to them and their silly stories genuinely. I protect them fiercely against any kind of abuse. All of that I do because I never got it.”

21. “I don’t mourn for what they were and what they did. I mourn for what they could have been and what we could have had. I mourn for what I never got to experience. I found I love seeing other people who have beautiful relationships with theirs. And it makes me strive to be an even more amazing parent to mine. I let it turn me into a more beautiful person instead of a bitter person.”

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.

Getty Images photo via sSplajn

Originally published: January 5, 2018
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