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20 Secrets of Adults Who Experienced Emotional Abuse as Children

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Our childhoods have an important impact on who we are as adults. It’s when we learn the “rules of the world,” discover cultural norms and start to figure out who we are as people. So when your childhood was characterized by emotional abuse — it can often make learning these rules and developing a sense of self more complicated. Oftentimes the adults in your life, who are supposed to protect you, are instead putting you down. Self-esteem, as it’s still developing, may be tested. In adulthood, these effects still linger — often turning into learned behavior or negative thought patterns that can be hard to escape.

But when you’re an adult, it can be hard for people to understand why something that happened in your childhood still affects you now. That’s why we asked people in our mental health community who’ve experienced childhood emotional abuse to tell us one thing they wish others understood about how that abuse still affects them.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “Even as an adult, I struggle to find my voice. It’s very hard to stand up for myself because I fear conflicts. Ultimately, I still feel like a scared child in challenging situations.”

2. “I wish people would understand that a person can’t just ‘get over’ childhood emotional abuse. Issues often carry over into adulthood. Just because it happened long ago, doesn’t make it any less important. We deserve to be heard and for our feelings to be validated. We are not ‘stuck in the past.’”

3. “Loving yourself becomes, what feels like, an impossible task. You find yourself seeking validation and we know it can be annoying. But it’s hard to stop.”

4. “I didn’t realize it was happening as a child. I thought that’s how all families acted. And now I’ll live with the effects of it for the rest of my life.”

5. “I apologize a lot. I do not intend to annoy people, but I cannot control my apologies. I have been working really hard in counseling and when I do anything I feel like I need to apologize. I’m working on it. When I text a lot it’s because I feel like I’m going to lose you.”

6. “I constantly feel like I am in the way. Like my friends and family would be so happy if only I would leave, but are too kind to say anything. When something happens I am sure it is my fault even though I may not have had anything to do with the situation.”

7. “I unintentionally push people away out of fear of becoming too close/attached to someone. I hope they understand, stick with me and love me anyway.”

8. “What looks to others as never trying to achieve anything is a side effect of constantly fighting an exhausting internal battle of trying to remind yourself you matter, because no one ever showed you you were worth caring about.”

9. “I fear any and all conflict and I’m extremely sensitive, both of which I cannot help even if I tried. I find it challenging to stand up for myself and speak up when necessary, often staying silent out of embarrassment. Also, emotional abuse has the potential to last well into adulthood. I’m getting better at controlling it, but there are times I profusely apologize — even when I didn’t do anything wrong. All I ask is for you to be patient with me and understand I’m trying my best to function despite this.”

10. “I wish people realized I can’t always help how information hits me. Yes, sometimes I’m clingy, but for a reason. And other times it completely freaks me out when people (especially men 40 and up ) touch me. Even if it’s family. It’s nothing personal. It’s just my mind and body responding to previous abuse.”

11. “My self-worth is very fragile. At work, I analyze every person in the room to determine if I am doing a good job. Anything that is performance-related can be a huge trigger for my anxiety.”

12. “The effects of childhood abuse last long into adulthood. Adult survivors of childhood abuse [struggle], just in different ways than when they were children.”

13. “No matter what anyone says, nothing I do will ever feel like enough. Encouragement is extremely important coming from those closest to me. Even the smallest mistakes I make can sometimes feel like the weight of the world. It may seem like no big deal to you, but to me, I’ve failed on an epic level.”

14. “No matter how many great things I accomplish, I will not believe I deserve them. I cannot feel proud of those things. Compliments make me uncomfortable. I am always waiting for anything good to be taken away.”

15. “Seeing happy families simultaneously makes me happy/hopeful and jealous. Also, every milestone in my life is bittersweet because they typically involve telling family good news, but I have to have no contact with my parents for my sanity.”

16. “Even as an adult my past childhood trauma will always play a significant role in my life. Sometimes it’s hard for me to even notice I am like this, do this or behave a certain way because of my early childhood experiences! As much as I become a better person, a healed person and have a positive attitude towards life and my future, my nature or instincts will always come from those early childhood programming and it always bring me shame!”

17. “I hate myself. It just upsets me more when you try to convince me that I’m pretty, nice, perfect, good etc. I just don’t see it. It makes me uncomfortable.”

18. “Just because I didn’t realize it was abuse [until] I was an adult doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse, because it will hurt just as much as being hit.”

19. “Remembering what happened (or talking about it) doesn’t mean we’re ‘holding onto it’ or ‘living in the past’ and that we are not obligated to forgive (it’s entirely optional and pressure should never be placed on the one affected).”

20. “It it wasn’t my fault. I really wasn’t a bad child. Every time someone wants to know my childhood, I will shut down and cry. I’m always on edge and act out because of it. I don’t want to relive it and for a long time I had to come to realize it wasn’t my fault.”

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.

20 Secrets of Adults Who Experienced Emotional Abuse as Children
Originally published: June 29, 2017
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