The Mighty Logo

22 Things You Do as an Adult When You Experienced Emotional Abuse as a Teenager

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

The teenage years are often characterized by peer pressure, styles you never thought would come back in fashion and of course — angst. But what we may fail to recognize is that many teens are really hurting. For some, the teenage years are a time marked by emotional abuse.

The adults who experienced emotional abuse as teenagers may have been the teens who were struggling academically, the ones with the tough exteriors or the ones who seemed to have it all “figured out.” The effects of emotional abuse present differently in every individual. It’s important to remember we never know what may be going on in the life of a young person, so we should strive to treat them with compassion and respect.

We wanted to know what kinds of effects emotional abuse in the teenage years can have on adulthood, so we asked our mental health community to share one thing they do now that stemmed from the emotional abuse they experienced as a teenager.

No matter what your experience of emotional abuse was, it is important to remember hope is never lost and there is help out there.


Here’s what they had to say:

1. If anything goes wrong, I immediately determine how it was my fault, and rehearse my explanation/apology. I then commence calling myself names and criticizing myself for allowing it to happen.”

2. “[I] constantly apologize for everything to the point who people get tired of me. [I] overthink, worry and second-guess myself in nearly every situation. [I] push people away who are genuinely trying to care [for] and look after me.”

3. “I get scared when people raise their voices. I get scared when people go silent and don’t express their emotions. I overanalyze everything I do, worrying it’s not good enough or that I’ll be in trouble.”

4. “I do a lot of things. I have trouble trusting people, and when I do trust you, I cling really bad to you. My therapist said thats part of the reason why I have borderline personality disorder and why I have abandonment issues.”

5. “I overreact to criticism. I take things super personally, even when someone probably didn’t mean [what they said] to come off as overly critical. Especially at work because we are all online, and tone or gestures are absent when communicating through emails.”

6. “I’m always taken aback when someone says something or tells me something and it isn’t the abusive and manipulative response I expected… Sometimes I don’t know how to handle it because it’s just so unexpected!”

7. “I’m always hyperaware, and it causes severe anxiety. I always know who is where, and constantly plan out the conversation in my mind, and become even more anxious when the conversation [doesn’t go] as planned. After any social interaction, I constantly review what was said, no matter how innocent, looking for the mistakes I made and berate myself for anything that goes wrong. If nothing went wrong, my mind makes me believe something did.”

8. “I feel the need to control everything. So I second-guess everything, analyze everything, overthink everything. I feel like a burden on others because I was treated as one for so long. It’s hard to undo the damage done.”

9. “[I find myself] projecting overconfidence to protect my fragile cracked sense of self-worth.”

10. “[I] jump to conclusions [and] predict the worse, almost to the extent that it feels so real I may even experience symptoms of a negative outcome that isn’t even going to happen.”

11. “[I] continue the cycle and destroy myself mentally every single day. I’m never good enough, I overreact to criticism, I’m terrified of being picked on, can’t look people in the eyes, overanalyze, have to control everything. Essentially I’m terrified of life.”


12. “I shut people out the minute I feel like there is even an inch of suspicion they’ll abandon me or hurt me… I hurt others before they can hurt me and walk away from them before they can walk away from me.”

13. “[My] startle reflex is off the charts. If you touch me without telling me you’re going to touch me, I jump out of my skin.”

14. “I have trouble with trust. Trusting others and trusting the world itself. My experiences from childhood, including my teenager years, mean that for me, some people really couldn’t be trusted and some situations did not get better. When faced with difficulties now, both in relationships and out in the world, my child brain can often get triggered and that makes it hard to look upon any difficulties with a positive light.”

15. “[I] keep my opinions to myself and only speak when I’m joking around or agreeing.”

16. “After experiencing intense bullying in my first year of college, I find myself being quick to blame myself if someone is awful to me (at work, on the street — whatever) since I was often blamed for the bullying I received then. I’m starting to challenge that sort of thinking by recognizing I don’t deserve to be treated like that, but it is still definitely an issue.”

17. “It’s impossible for me to see myself as a good person, and accepting positive feedback can be as painful as a blow to the gut, whereas if it’s negative feedback, I accept it without question. So, if I do or say or think something that I somehow deem as ‘bad,’ I continue the abuse towards myself. I repeat all of things ever said to me, over and over, until I have convinced myself I’m worthless.”

18. “[I] break down and self-harm because that was the only coping mechanism I knew at the time. Through therapy, I learned other ways to control my emotions that were overwhelming me.”

19. “I mistrust and kick out against authority. Also, [I] think everyone’s out to get me, to reveal what I’m ‘really’ like.”

20. “When someone is asking me to do something and I’ve tried and can’t get it right, I’m completely terrified to tell them. It’s like I’m a kid again, scared out of my mind.”

21. “I doubt myself — all the time — for any achievement. A whirlwind of 100 reasons to not be proud of myself beats around my brain. [I’m] working on finding the inner voice that’s my advocate at the moment!”

22. “I give teenagers and young adults the time of day. [I] talk to them with respect and take time with them [so I don’t] treat them like I was treated.”

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 chronicler101.

22 Things You Do as an Adult When You Experienced Emotional Abuse as a Teenager
Originally published: June 23, 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