It's so hard to feel okay when the people who are supposed to protect you break you.
You were supposed to be able to trust your dad to be there for you when you fell down, when you lost faith in yourself, and when you were navigating through the tricky ways of the world. He was meant to protect you and nudge you to be your best. He was the one you should have looked up to—to be your rock. But he wasn't. Instead, he found ways to break your spirit, by projecting his insecurities onto you and tearing you down with mean words and actions. And because of his emotional abuse, you were scarred for life. According to Psychology Today, "Emotional abuse seems more personal than physical abuse, more about you as a person, more about your spirit. It makes love hurt."
As a kid, you may have spent a lot of time trying to please him; anything to make him love you. But after a while, you realized that it wasn't going to change. And the wounds he inflicted didn't end with your childhood. If anything, it continued into adulthood and manifested in ways that others, who didn't have to survive what you did, could never understand.
You may be more than familiar with a few of all of these traits.
"I am constantly saying sorry for everything even if I don't need to. If I have to choose between saying what I really feel vs. what will please the other person, I end up saying what others want to hear. "
If you grew up with a male figure who constantly made you feel guilty for just being yourself, you are likely to be apologetic to others even when you don't need to. You are afraid to rock the bottom because you were that kid who ended up feeling hurt for no reason."
"I disregard my own emotions because I'm used to being told that they were 'wrong’ and I had ‘no right to be upset.’ There's so much anger, sadness, anxiety, and frustration that's pent up inside. Sometimes I worry that it will all explode one day and I could end up hurting my kids."
As a survivor of emotional abuse (or abuse of any form), we are likely to believe something is wrong with us. This is especially true if we have been gaslit to believe we are not okay for feeling what we feel. These could be common phrases you heard:
"Don't be oversensitive."
"Don't be a sissy. Grow up."
"Are you crazy? I never said/did that."
"I just can't connect with men because I fear I will end up feeling the exact same way I felt with my dad—abandoned, uncared for, unworthy of love. Trust is just not easy when your trust has been broken at a very early age."
Our early experiences form the foundation for all our beliefs—including those about people, relationships, how safe it is to trust others, and some of our core self-beliefs. An emotionally abusive parent is likely to have projected all their own insecurities onto you, making you doubt yourself and others.
“I find that I constantly push people away to see if they’ll stick around. Then, if they do, I become far too needy. I'm terrified to lose them because I can’t be alone. It is a constant struggle between trying to be independent vs feeling like I belong with someone."
A toxic parent's biggest damage is making a young child believe it is their fault for being unlovable. Nothing could be farther from the truth as a child deserves to be loved unconditionally. Disciplining is healthy only if it is meant to help the child become more confident and independent, not if it tears down their confidence.
"I'm so used to being put down that I can't believe when someone appreciates my work. I end up overanalyzing everything and distrust those who have nice things to say about me."
This is another classic sign of those who were made to doubt themselves. Even if it is hard, learn to accept compliments with a "thank you." Just because a parent made you believe you were not good enough, it doesn't mean you have to dismiss everyone else in this world who sees your potential.
If you identify with any of these, then chances are you might still be carrying the wounds of toxic or abusive parenting. But you're not alone in your pain. There are many others who carry the secret scars that come with an unhappy childhood. You never had a choice then, but you do have a choice not to heal those wounds and live a full life. Once you release the things that hold you down, your relationships will flourish and, more importantly, you will like your true self again. The one that would have blossomed naturally if not for the mishappenings in your early years.
Disclaimer: This article is based on insights from different sources. The views expressed here are those of the writer.
Cover image source: Getty Images