What Verbal Abuse by Parents Teaches Children About Love
One of the worst things about being verbally abused by parents is that the damage can be lifelong, yet it can take a lifetime for someone to recognize the pattern of abuse they experienced.
When children from verbally abusive homes grow up, however, even if they don't understand what they went through, they still carry with them the lessons they learned. These lessons are the distorted beliefs about themselves and the world that follow them like shadows as they forge new adult relationships.
Parental Verbal Abuse Teaches 11 Distorted Views to Children
The lessons verbally abused children learn can carry over into any new relationship, but these beliefs may primarily affect romantic relationships. Below are 11 distortions that verbal abuse by parents can cause children to grow up believing.
- Love is conditional. Verbally abusive parents send a message to their children that they do not deserve love and acceptance just for being alive, that the love can be withdrawn at any moment for a perceived infraction—or just because the parent feels like it.
- If I'm perfect, I can stop the abuse. Children begin to believe that if they can change something about themselves, they can control the outcome and their parents will stop verbally abusing them.
- Standing up for myself is bad. Verbally abusive parents often don’t respect the opinions or beliefs of their children, then use guilt or shame to make the children feel as if they are the ones being disrespectful if they express anger or even just try to set boundaries.
- Nothing is off-limits as long as the person loves me. Children who experience verbal abuse learn that pain and love are intertwined and if they experienced a relationship that wasn’t painful in adulthood, they may not think they’re actually in love.
- What she or he did to me isn’t really a big deal. Children who have been verbally abused have been taught that verbal abuse isn’t a big deal. It’s minimized, ignored, or swept under the rug. They may be called too sensitive if they don’t just “get over it”--“I’ll give you something to cry about.”
- Every family (or couple) has problems. Verbally abusive parents may say this to minimize what’s happening at home. As adults, the child may grow up thinking that an abusive relationship is as good as it gets.
- My feelings aren’t important. Verbally abused children learn to minimize and suppress their own feelings because they often aren’t taken seriously by the parents.
- I want too much. I'm too needy. Children who grow up verbally or emotionally abused don’t have bruises or scars, but they often feel as if something is horribly wrong and don’t know why. Their parents may treat them as if they’re acting “spoiled” for expecting to be treated with dignity and respect, and point out that they have a roof over their heads and food in the refrigerator and all their physical needs are taken care of so what are they complaining about?
- I shouldn't expect people to be nice to me. As adults, children who have been verbally abused may react in many different ways to people who are nice to them. They may treat it with suspicion or even boredom. It can even result in further victimization if they feel so starved for affection that they fall for someone predatory who gives them what they never had but turns out to be a covert abuser.
- No one is genuinely interested in what I have to say. Children who have been verbally abused expect to be criticized or dominated in conversation, so they may feel reluctant to talk about themselves. They may also instead go overboard and say too much if they haven’t gotten much attention at all because they aren’t sure of how to interact in a conversation and they’re afraid they’re about to be interrupted.
- I'm defective. The most damaging lesson learned of all by a verbally abused child is that he or she is flawed. This internalized belief forms unconsciously because it’s less painful for children to accept that their parents don’t love them unconditionally than to think that there is something wrong with them. It's easier emotionally to believe, "My parent is doing this because I'm the problem." In other words, children psychologically choose the parent over themselves--after all, the parent must know better, right?
Verbal Abuse by Parents Leads to Abusive Relationships
Growing up with verbally abusive parents normalizes situations for children where they feel unloveable, have their inner lives minimized and ignored, and are told either implicitly or explicitly that they are bad or flawed.
The result can lead them to enter into a romantic relationship in which they re-enact these painful experiences until they are able to wake up and recognize the pattern for what it is--if they ever do.
Sometimes re-victimization can occur in which adults who were verbally abused by parents as children find themselves in many abusive relationships as adults.
Watch the video below, as there’s a surprising and important reason why and I think it's an important perspective to hear.
Milstead, K. (2019, July 14). What Verbal Abuse by Parents Teaches Children About Love, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, November 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2019/7/what-verbal-abuse-by-parents-teaches-children-about-love
Author: Kristen Milstead
My dad emotionally and physically abuses me and I’m 24 years old he is very controlling
Megan, I am so saddened to hear this and send you loving energy. I've had a rough go of it with my dad navigating boundaries and his own trauma. I encourage you to reach out to a licensed therapist in your area and or connect with one of these resources to stay safe: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…
Just remember this: it's not your fault.
Light and love--Jenn
My this brings back the memories. I’m in therapy because of this. I’m also bipolar and have dyslexia.
Therefore I’m a complete failure.
Even if I was successful in something I would
Sabotage it. Why? Read above. Thanks!
Hi Peggy: I'm so sorry that you've experienced this. You're definitely not a failure because of the things that have happened to you that aren't your fault and you had no control over. I do understand what you're saying about feeling as if you have failed or having sabotaged many things in your life. I still find myself doing this at times. I think awareness of why is the first step and you're already there. Kindness for ourselves unconditionally (which we never had) is a big part of helping to get rid of the messages we received--but it takes a long time to relearn it, as you know. It sounds as if you are working through this and are on a path toward getting somewhere but I agree, it is a struggle! You're definitely not alone. Thank you for taking the time to leave a message. Stay strong! Kristen
These are powerful messages and reminders. It's so important for us to realize the impact that childhood messages have on our adult lives. The interactions we have as children create a foundation that we build on as adults, whether we realize it or not. Wonderful read. Thank you for sharing.
Hi Lizanne: Yes, I agree with you. Thank you and I'm so glad you enjoyed the article. Take care, Kristen