25 things you do as an adult when you've experienced childhood emotional abuse.
Thinkstock photo via openeyed11.

It has been said that “no one escapes childhood unscathed.” But sayings like these can have an especially significant meaning for a person who has experienced emotional abuse as a child.

The effects of emotional abuse can be both debilitating and far-reaching, often extending out of childhood and into adolescence and adulthood. For many, experiencing emotional abuse at a young age can affect their self-worth and relationships. For some, emotional abuse may even have contributed to a current struggle with mental illness.

Our partners at The Mighty wanted to know what kinds of effects childhood emotional abuse can have on adulthood, so they asked their mental health community to share one thing they do now that stemmed from the emotional abuse they experienced in their upbringing.


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

Here’s what The Mighty community had to say:

1. “[I] can’t stand conflict, loud sudden noises, shouting and screaming or aggression in any form. [It] triggers my fight or flight, instantly.”

2. “I can’t accept compliments. When someone [compliments] me, my response would just just be ‘umm yeah’ or I’ll just smile awkwardly. I just figured out why… During my childhood, people just [noticed] my mistakes and not my achievements. So now it is hard for me to accept compliments.”

3. “I’m an overachiever. At everything and anything. I still feel the need to prove I’m good enough. I obsess about doing a job/task to perfection. And then I obsess about how I could do it better. [I worry] about others’ opinions way too much.”

4. “I always feel like I am doing everything wrong… It’s very hard to convince me I am good at something.”

5. “I become apologetic over everything. If someone doesn’t text back, I’ll believe they’re upset with me, and I’ll apologize. If I ask for something and annoy them, I’ll apologize. Everything becomes a situation where I feel like I’m to blame.”

6. “I’m basically a hermit. My home is my fortress. I have BPD, PTSD and anxiety. It’s so hard to work or apply myself in school or just life when every time I want to apply myself, I can’t help but run to the nearest exit to catch my breath. I constantly fear everyone around me.”

7. “I have problems trusting people. I keep people at [an] arm’s length. I never really let them into my life. I don’t allow them to know of my health problems and my mental illnesses. If I do let them in, it is rare and they [will] have known me for years. It takes a long time [for me] to build trust.”

8. “Indecisiveness. [It feels like] every choice I make is wrong even if I choose the option I’m told to take…I’m afraid to [be a] parent because I don’t want to ‘mess up’ my kid.”

9. “I avoid saying anything that others might not agree with, which means I’m never being myself. I wear a mask of complete neutrality in any situation, because I’m so scared of anyone feeling negative towards me.”

10. “I’m very defensive which can come across cold or nasty. I also portray quite a lot of negativity which seems to be my barrier so I don’t get hurt.”

11. “I have trouble accepting any kind of love because growing up, it was always given with strings attached or used a tool for manipulation. I don’t trust that others have the capacity to love me unconditionally, so I hide away parts of myself, never allowing myself to experience the vulnerability that comes with being loved, chosen and accepted by others.”

12. “I feel the need to please everybody I deem ‘of authority’ and thus have a hard time getting my needs met. I strive too hard for [a] perfection that doesn’t exist, and then eventually, melt down when too many things are not up to the standards held in my past.”

13. “I find myself always explaining my every move. I explain why I bought something, why I did what I did, etc. I feel like people think I’m lying to them, so I owe them a detailed explanation. Also feeling as though if I say ‘no’ to someone, they’ll hate me. So even if I’m inconveniencing myself, I’ll say ‘yes.’”

14. “I avoid asking help from anyone because I don’t trust anyone. I believe if someone offers me a hand, there will always be something they [want to] ask in return. I have friends but I don’t have a best friend. I keep my distance from people. Automatically, my wall blocks anyone.”

15. “[I have] attachment issues, trust issues [and am] paranoid that everyone will leave me. A lot of this is part of my BPD. My sudden divorce also contributed to these behaviors.”

16. “I’m overly shy around people and struggle [with] having a voice. [I believe] no one wants to hear anything I have to say.”

17. “[I] won’t let anyone see the ‘bad’ side of myself.”

18. “I constantly think I’m not good enough and I’m not smart enough. [I] was told [this] all my childhood… I’ve gone back to university to prove to myself that I am smart enough, but it’s always there in the back of my mind, like a poison, reminding me I’m not good enough, not smart enough.”

19. “My whole childhood was emotional abuse. It is extremely hard for me to accept I have people in my life who actually care about me. That’s the worst one. I am nothing to myself so why would I matter to others?”

20. “I have a hard time making eye contact with people. I look away a lot when I’m speaking. I get startled very easily and it takes me awhile to get my heart rate back to normal.”

21. “I have major issues with anxiety and depression because of my childhood. The biggest factor is I cannot communicate well and I don’t know how to express my feelings with others because I am so used to just holding them inside because I wasn’t allowed to share how I felt. When tense situations arise, I get nauseous and uncomfortable, [and] my anxiety levels sky rocket. Definitely have a lot of emotional scars from my past, it’s been the hardest thing to conquer.”

22. “I never, ever fight back. I may cut toxic people out of my life with the help of amazing friends and professionals, but whenever a conflict is actively going on that involves someone attacking my character… I completely shut down. I let whatever they want to say wash over me until they tire themselves out. That’s what I had to do when I was younger. It was so much worse to fight back. I learned to let them yell themselves out.”

23. “Blaming myself for everything. I have to fight the urge to beat myself up constantly. I’ve also struggled with feeling like I’m not good enough, which makes things like school, dating and applying to jobs really hard.”

24. “I don’t really know who I am or what I truly think. Virtually everything I say seems to me to be a lie I’ve just fabricated for that particular situation. I have real problems trying to identify what I’m feeling.”

25. “Several things, but the main one was lashing out on social media for years. Controversial and angry statuses, just due to the anger inside of me. I have texts I sent my friend where I described just how much I felt this unsettling anger in my chest. Emotional abuse from peers at school to family [can] really [mess] you up. I then finally found a therapist who could help me and I’ve come a long way.”

This article was originally published by our partners at The Mighty and written by Juliette Virzi.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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