7 Signs of Adults Emotionally Abused by Parents

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Your parents can often use different tactics to control and manipulate you by criticising, embarrassing, blaming or shaming you.

This is difficult as their behaviour towards you is consistent and for many, but as adults emotionally abused by parents you may have experienced this starting in childhood but unfortunately it didn’t stop as you got older.

The problem is that how parents emotionally abuse their adult children can be difficult to recognise. It is very subtle but just chips away at you. You then begin to second guess yourself and doubt your own reality of what is going on.

It is harder still because you can’t show the bruises. It can be difficult to also explain to others what is happening as most people don’t understand the intensity and the emotions involved you as an adult.

How Do You know you were an adult emotionally abused by parents?

When looking at your relationship with your parents, remember that emotional abuse is often subtle and hard to detect. If you have trouble wondering if your parents are emotionally abusive, reflect on how you feel and how what happens affects you.

Hopefully, these 12 signs, plus a life-like example of how parents emotionally abuse their adult children will help to clarify some of the patterns of emotional abuse.


1. Coping with Parents’ Addiction

Grown-up children can be significantly affected by their parent’s drug or alcohol use. This could include worry, stress, and feelings of guilt and shame.

An adult child can be emotionally and psychological abuse by having to take on more responsibilities regarding the family home, even if they live at home or not; the parent(s) could often be manipulative to try and get their addictive needs met; as a result of either craving to use or coming down from using, this change their mood.

Example: Josie’s mother has had problems with alcohol for most of her life. She really struggles with her mother’s addiction even though she has now left home. Her mother will telephone her while she is intoxicated and verbally abuse her. If she doesn’t answer her phone, her mother will contact her friends and even her neighbour until she calls her back.

2. Child becomes the parent

This is difficult for many reasons for a child and adult-child in a family dynamic.

If there is a situation that warrants the adult-child to become the parent i.e. if there is a substance misuse issue or the parent has a long and enduring illness etc. This can be made especially difficult if you as a child feels stuck in the role of a caretaker especially if you feel that your parents are entirely dependent on you.

This situation becomes emotionally abusive where manipulation is used to “force” or guilt trip a child to continue to support them, and the parents are verbally abusive.

You as the adult child could end up feeling trapped in the role of the parent and uninvited expectations placed on you.

Example: From a young age, Jackie, who is now in her 50s took care of her dad who has some physical health problems. The problem is that he doesn’t do much to help himself. He refuses to eat unless she cooks for him. He doesn’t go out unless she takes her out.

He uses her to take care of his every need.

3. Order and law with little love

There is nothing wrong with a parent setting boundaries, being disciplined and structured, etc. In fact, in many ways, it is essential for you, as their adult child, to know what they stand for and what’s acceptable. However, this can become difficult if the love and care are not there.

You could end up feeling that your parents are more like an army Sargent.

Example: Martin’s dad has always been strict and a disciplinarian and applies this to every area of his life. Martin needed his dad when his relationship with his long-term girlfriend ended abruptly. Martin fell to pieces and for a while sunk into depression.

His dad’s answer to what he is experiencing is to double down and get on with it. He had no empathy and understanding for the struggle Martin was facing and ignored his pain.

4. Rigid family roles

You may have been assigned one of those roles as the Caretaker, Mascot, Hero, Lost Child and Scapegoat but struggle to shake it off as an adult even if you have made such a courageous attempt to move away from those assigned roles.

Example: David is what you call the family scapegoat and had this rigid role from a young child. He did, however, go off the rail when he was a teenager but his family had low expectations of him anyway. He is now 30 years old and has totally changed his life. He worked hard, bought his new home and has a job he loves.

The problem is that his family still looks down on him and has low expectations. They expect him to mess things up and often tell him that he would.


5. Not being allowed to be an Adult

As you get older, you naturally would crave more freedom. Your parents may be discouraging this stage of your life and keep you attached to them.

Instead of celebrating your achievements, they could see this as a threat. They would then feel abandoned and betrayed by you and start to criticize, shame, or guilt you.

Example: Edward is now at the ripe young age of 40 but still living at home. He lives with his elderly mum who does everything for him including washing his clothes and preparing all his meals. Even buying some of his clothes. No matter what Edward says and argues with her that he doesn’t want her to do it for him. She ignores his wishes.

6. Leaving you to grow up too quickly

The opposite of the previous one. This could include exposing you to adult themes before you are emotionally ready. Or could involve leaving you, or leaving you to make difficult life-altering decisions, almost completely, on your own at a young age to make your own way in life with very little support and encouragement.

Example: Georgina is 18 years old and preparing for university. Her parents are unfortunately wanting her to leave home completely. They have told her that they won’t support her while she is at university and that she is an adult now and needs to do things independently.

Georgina feels really anxious and alone having to make big decisions by herself without the guidance of her parents.

7. Lack of Boundaries

You may find that there are no holds barred when it comes to your relationship with your parents and they ignore all the boundaries you try to set with them. They involve you and inform you about things that are happening in their life that should be left to their friends.

It could also be the other way round as well where they could be very intrusive in your life.

Judith’s mum is the total opposite of Georgina. Judith, who is also at university, can’t get away from her mum even though she went to university 100 miles away. Her mum would almost force her to phone her every day and tell her everything that has happened.

She would even turn out at her student lodgings unannounced and stay a few days.



Long story short, it is not about having perfect parents as none of us are perfect. It is about the relentless of these behaviours towards you. Many, in my experience, don’t realise this is happening as no one really talks about this plus on the surface your parents could seem like great people. 

However, understanding what is happening to you would be the first step to helping you on your healing journey. When you become more aware of what is happening, you could then learn how to respond and what to do.

If you need support in this process of self-awareness and more support to learn how to respond, this is something I specialise in as a Therapist. Give me a call then we could talk through your needs and how I will help

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Do you have a Toxic, Emotionally Immature, Narcissist, Co-dependent, or Parent with an Addiction? Have you struggled with their behavior for most of your life? Maybe your Childhood wasn’t the best but you want to make sense of why it still affects you now.

You may find yourself struggling in so many ways.

I am an experienced and qualified Online-Therapist based in the United Kingdom helping you on your road to healing from your Toxic Parents. 

Healing is Possible! I’m here to walk with you on your Journey

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