If you are asking, "Are my parents emotionally abusive?" then chances are you are noticing things in your own relationships with your parents that go beyond the usual parent child disagreements.
Below is a series of questions to ask yourself to determine if there is actually emotional abuse going on. Obviously, it's not necessary to answer yes to every single question. Every case is different. And besides, if everyone of these things were true, you would probably have gone stark raving mad years ago!
Likewise, if you answer yes to only three or four of these things, then it's unlikely that you are in an emotionally abusive situation.
A common problem is that the victims of psychological abuse often don't recognise some behaviors as abusive, especially children who have been brought up in an abusive household where all they have ever known are such behaviors. A trick for you here is to read the question carefully and answer that question. Victims have often been trained to accept abusive behaviour because they believe there's an acceptable justification for it.
For example, an abusive parent may tell the child that they have to shout at them to get dressed quickly for school because the child is actually very slow at getting dressed. When asked if the parents shouted at them, the child may respond in the negative, thinking that it was their own fault that the parents actually shouted at all. They believe that in some way they provoked the parents to shout. This is obviously a distortion in the victim's mind. The child may not have been any slower than any other six or seven year old but it was the abusive parents impatience that led to the shouting. In other words, such a situation is the responsibility of the parents and not of the child and part of the emotional abuse is to lead the child to believe that they are somehow responsible.
Therefore, the trick is to pay attention to the actual behaviours of your parents and not to the justification of their behavior as you go through the list.
Did they call you demeaning names? Do they still call you demeaning names? (If they abused you as a child, chances are it's still ongoing!)
Do they make comments about you being less than others? Why can't you be more like your cousin? Look at your friend, she behaves well but you're always causing problems...
Do your parents lie to you? Do they change their story often? Do they deny saying some things when you know they actually did say them? Or do they claim they have done certain things when you believe they have not? (This is called gas lighting.)
Do they often say one thing but do another? Do they change their decisions often but always in their own favor?
Do you often feel that their punishments were much more severe than you deserved?
Are you made to feel stupid for having your own opinions and ideas?
Do they use money to keep you financially dependent on them? For example, they offer you loans, or buy you things, but they let you know in various ways that you owe them for it.
Are there lots of arguments over the same issues? You sometimes feel that they don't get what you want or that you are unable to communicate well to them? Do you ever feel that they don't actually care, that they are just going to do what they want to do anyway?
Were you told as a child that there was no money for the things you want but you realize that your parents always had what they wanted? And now, of course, you realize they were lying about it all the time?
Of course, children are dependent on their parents but at some stage they learn to make their own decisions. When you tried to make your own decisions were you ridiculed or shut down? Were you afraid to make your own decisions without running it by your parents? As an adult, do you still discuss things with them before deciding on big issues?
Were you sometimes given a choice of what food to eat or did your abusive parent insist on always telling you what you had to take?
Did your abusive parent frequently tell you what you liked, what you thought and what you believed?
Where there lots and lots of rules in relation to your parents? Some of these may have been verbalized but others were implicit. In other words, they never actually told you what the rules were but you knew what you could and couldn't do based on how they treated you. For example, if you try and bring up a certain subject you know they're going to attack you and make you feel bad. So you learn it's better not to mention this topic and all, and then you believe it's your choice not to bring it up.
Do they, or did they, control what you read, what you watched on TV, what you listen to on the radio and so on?
Did they invade your privacy? Read your diary, burst into your bedroom without knocking, insist on having the password to your mobile phone all the time? Do they still invade your privacy even though you live in your own house?
Do they vet all your friends? Do they make snarky comments or even overtly hostile remarks about your friends? Have they ever done this to the point that it becomes easier for you to just avoid this person and you lose the relationship?
Were you expected to tell them everything? Your thoughts, feelings, actions, where you were, who you spoke to, what was said?
Or was it the opposite where they didn't care about you at all and you spent a lot of time alone as a child?
Do they often define innocuous things that you say or do as bad or wrong?
Do they keep bringing up things from your past that make you feel bad or guilty? Do they use these events over and over again to make you give into their demands? In other words, there is no forgiveness on their part.
However, do they expect you to forgive them every little thing?
When they do horrible things, do they minimize them, claim they had to do it because of something you had done or tell you that you're overly sensitive? Is it fair to say that you're never allowed to use the same excuses?
Have you ever considered that this parent is cold and heartless? Do you ever wonder how they can be so cruel when they are supposed to love and care for you?
Do they reveal private information about you to outsiders?
Are you expected to accept everything they say as true?
Are you afraid of them?
Do they make you feel guilty a lot? Do they criticize you about not being as good as you could be? Do they make you feel guilty about the things that you're interested in, your friends, your thoughts, feelings, actions, your schoolwork, about not doing certain things or not being a certain way?
Do they make you feel afraid of life outside the family?
Are you afraid that they will disapprove or be disappointed in you? Do you do things to try and get their approval?
Do you feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster around them?
Have you noticed that there are lots of double binds? Situations where you are damned if you do and damned if you don't?
Do they blame you for everything that goes wrong?
Do you sometimes think it's not actually you, it's them, but you can't quite put your finger on what exactly is wrong?
Do you have difficulty making sense of what's going on sometimes?
Do you ever think that you're going crazy?
Have you ever considered suicide as a way out of the bad situation?
Do you sometimes hate your parent? Do you then feel conflicted because you've been taught you shouldn't feel this way?
Do you sometimes think that you don't actually know who you are?
As a child, did you often wish you were older so that you could run away?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, then you have a major problem. Whatever you do, don't just carry on and hope that at some point in the future they will change and begin to appreciate you for who you are. Hope in situations like this is definitely not a good strategy.
If your abusive parent has a personality disorder, it will do you well to learn about who you are dealing with because with these people the rules are different. Who are they? What are their motivations? Why are their relationships built on coercion and exploitation?
What manipulation tactics have they been using against you? Why did they choose these tactics at that particular time? What effects have these tactics had on your perceptions, beliefs and ideas, your emotions, behaviors and your relationships with others? What effects have these things had on your personality?
Only by understanding these things can you begin to undo the damage they have done, begin to take control of your own thinking and decisions with a view to managing your own life.
You can read more here about the beliefs installed by abusive mothers, toxic parents, toxic families, what is coercive control, dealing with a toxic family, setting boundaries with controlling parents and healing from narcissistic abuse.
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If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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