how to heal from emotional abuse from parents

how to heal from emotional abuse from parents

The piercing words cut deep into my heart as a child. “You’re worthless!” my father would yell during his fits of rage. His constant criticism and cruel insults left scars that haunted me well into adulthood. I know I’m not alone – many suffer emotional abuse from parents while growing up. The good news is healing is possible with courage, resilience and self-compassion.

As a life coach who helps abuse survivors, I’ve walked this painful path to recovery. With patience and determination, you too can break free from the past and build a brighter future. This comprehensive guide shares my best advice on how to heal from emotional abuse from parents.

Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse

Before diving into healing, it’s important to identify emotional abuse, which may have become normalized. Unlike physical abuse with visible scars, emotional abuse leaves hidden wounds on one’s psyche and self-worth. Watch for these common warning signs:

Degrading Language

Abusive parents attack a child’s core identity using cruel insults, name-calling, humiliation and curses. Phrases like “I wish you were never born” convey the message that the child is fundamentally flawed.


Abusers aggressively yell, threaten violence and physically tower over a child to provoke overwhelming fear. This establishes dominance and control through emotional manipulation.


Parents may completely ignore a child’s needs and feelings through emotional neglect. A lack of physical affection, quality time and emotional support leaves children feeling deeply unloved.


Abusers intentionally cut off sources of support and affection for the child outside the home. This isolation worsens damage from abuse without external validation.

Unrealistic Expectations

Impossible standards are set for a child’s behavior and achievements leading to a permanent sense of failure. Criticism and punishment result regardless of the child’s best efforts.


The child becomes the black sheep and is unfairly blamed for everything wrong in the family. Siblings may join in scapegoating due to the parent’s conditioning.

If these resonate, know you aren’t “too sensitive” and the abuse wasn’t your fault. Your feelings of pain are valid. Help awaits to overcome the past and reclaim your self-worth.

Effects of Emotional Abuse From Parents

To fully grasp the recovery process, it’s important to understand common impacts of this traumatic experience:

Low Self-Esteem

Children internalize the hurtful words and treatment from their primary caregivers at a vulnerable developmental stage, creating a damaged self-image that persists into adulthood if not addressed through healing.

Difficulty Trusting Others

Abusive relationships with parents rupture a child’s ability to trust other people, believing the world is unsafe and relationships are sources of more pain. This leads to difficulty with intimacy, vulnerability and self-advocacy.

Depression and Anxiety

Childhood abuse is strongly linked to higher risks for mental health issues like clinical depression and anxiety disorders lasting through adulthood. Emotional flashbacks can trigger these conditions.

Anger Issues

Carrying undeserved shame and pain often leads to misdirected anger and a short temper. Some survivors turn anger inward through self-harm while others direct it outward.

Relationship Problems

Without learning healthy relationship dynamics, abuse survivors often repeat painful patterns like staying in abusive romantic relationships or being unable to set boundaries.

Substance Abuse

Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs provides temporary escape from emotional agony but prevents true healing. Addiction risk increases with unresolved trauma.

Low Motivation

The constant message that you are worthless, stupid or incompetent destroys initiative to pursue goals or care for yourself, since your needs were neglected.

The good news is steps can be taken using professional help, self-care and determination to overcome these effects by rebuilding your self-worth and joy.

The Path to Emotional Healing

The process of healing can feel long and daunting, so be patient and kind to yourself along the journey. Stay hope-filled knowing life gets better through restoring your sense of safety, value and empowerment. Here is an overview of key stages on the road to recovery:

Acknowledge the Abuse

The first step is honestly facing what happened to validate your inner child’s pain. Journaling, therapy and support groups help overcome denial and self-blame to gain clarity and compassion.

Work Through Anger

Feelings of rage towards your abusers are normal and need a healthy outlet through trauma counseling, creative expression, physical exercise and forgiveness practices over time.

Establish Boundaries

Protect your peace by setting firm boundaries with abusive parents through limited contact, speaking up confidently or going no-contact if needed. Your wellbeing comes first.

Release Shame

Let go of false yet embedded ideas like being defective, unlovable or deserving of abuse through cognitive behavioral therapy and self-love exercises.

Find Community

Don’t walk alone. Share your story and listen to other survivors in support groups. Bond over shared empathy, not isolation.

Practice Self-Care

Treat yourself kindly with enough rest, healthy food, physical activity and soothing practices like yoga, nature walks and bubble baths. Protect your energy.

Increase Emotional Awareness

Notice negative self-talk and distorted thinking so you can counter lies from the past with empowering truths about your worth. Therapy helps.

Do Inner Child Work

Write letters to your wounded inner child, visualize hugging them, have imagined dialogues and re-parent their unmet needs with the love they deserve.

Develop New Coping Skills

Instead of lashing out or shutting down when triggered, learn tools like deep breathing, grounding techniques, mindfulness and opposite action.

Cultivate Self-Love

Daily affirmations, keeping a gratitude journal, pursuing passions and surrounding yourself with support builds healthy self-esteem. You are enough.

Embrace Imperfect Progress

Highs and lows are normal during recovery. Track small wins while giving yourself grace on the difficult days. Every step counts.

With consistent effort using these healing steps, hope grows and the pain gradually fades. That wounded child inside starts feeling worthy, safe and free.

Finding the Right Therapist

A skilled trauma-informed therapist familiar with emotional abuse recovery provides vital personalized guidance and accountability through the healing process. Here’s how to find the best fit:

  • Look for a licensed mental health professional like a psychologist, LMFT or LCSW. Avoid untrained “life coaches”.
  • Search profiles for therapists experienced in childhood trauma, domestic abuse and family estrangement.
  • Schedule introductory phone calls and ask about their counseling approach and abuse recovery success stories. Trust your gut.
  • Opt for therapists practicing cognitive behavioral therapy, inner child work, EMDR and mindfulness.
  • Seek referrals from abuse survivor support groups on Facebook.
  • Don’t settle – it’s okay to “interview” multiple therapists to get the right match. You want someone empathetic who makes you feel safe, understood and hopeful.
  • Check if your health insurance covers mental health benefits to offset the cost. If uninsured, look for sliding-scale therapists.

Helpful Books on Recovering from Emotional Child Abuse

Reading stories of others who overcame similar pain provides comfort, advice and inspiration needed at various milestones of the healing journey:

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson – How to recognize unhealthy behaviors, set boundaries and stop internalizing blame.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Dr. Karyl McBride – Strategies for overcoming maternal narcissism and neglect.

Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect by Jonice Webb – Ways to process unmet childhood needs and self-validate.

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving​ by Pete Walker – Reclaiming life after trauma using practical coping tools.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk – Understanding trauma’s effect on the brain and innovative treatments.

Adult Survivors of Toxic Family Members: Tools to Maintain Boundaries, Deal with Criticism, and Heal from Shame After Ties Are Cut by Sherrie Campbell – How to detox from dysfunction while becoming authentic.

Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson – Realizing it’s impossible to have normal relationships with immature parents.

Children of the Self-Absorbed by Nina W. Brown – Breaking free from narcissistic parental damage.

Healing Your Emotional Self by Beverly Engel – Rebuilding self-esteem and letting go of anger through self-love practices.

With compassionate insight from the shared journey of others, you’ll feel empowered knowing you aren’t alone in needing healing from emotional abuse – hope abounds.

Overcoming Triggers and Painful Flashbacks

On the path to recovery, you’ll inevitably face times when upsetting memories of past abuse flooding back cause intense emotional distress. Use the following healthy coping strategies to ground yourself when painful flashbacks get triggered:

  • Name it to tame it – Identify you are being triggered and the associated emotions. Simply acknowledging your experience helps diffuse it.
  • Deep breathing – Inhale slowly, hold for a few seconds, and exhale fully to activate the calming parasympathetic nervous system.
  • ** sensory grounding** – Notice your feet on the floor, the breeze on your skin, your clothing textures. Engage the senses to stay present, not stuck in the past.
  • Positive self-talk – Replace messages like “I’m worthless” with empowering truths about your strength and worth. Carry a list of written affirmations.
  • Distraction – Do an activity requiring focus and concentration like baking, coloring mandalas, playing Tetris or completing word puzzles to redirect your mind.
  • Exercise – Go for a brisk walk, do yoga stretches, lift weights or follow a home cardio workout video to release endorphins and tension.
  • Call a support person – Share what you’re feeling with a trusted friend or therapist to get compassion rather than carry the burden alone.
  • Journal – Writing down swirling thoughts and emotions can help process them. Then list things you’re grateful for as a reset.
  • Comforting relaxation – Soak in an Epsom salt bath, sip herbal tea, diffuse calming essential oils and hug a weighted blanket or stuffed animal.

Stay patient with yourself through the ups and downs. Over time, using these techniques each time a painful emotional flashback is triggered will greatly reduce their intensity, duration and frequency on your journey to heal.

Letting Go of Toxic Shame

“You’re worthless.” “You’ll never amount to anything.” The echo of these cruel words from my past kept me small and ashamed, afraid to share my gifts with the world. A vital milestone in healing is breaking free from false yet embedded beliefs about being bad, inadequate or unworthy of love due to the abuse. Here are powerful ways to release the toxic shame:

Uncover roots – When did you start feeling unlovable, stupid, ugly or defective? Pinpoint where those core wounds originated, likely in childhood emotional abuse.

Get vulnerable – Open up to a counselor or support group to release bottled up shame. Speaking your truth disempowers it. You are worthy of love.

Reframe your story – Instead of broken and damaged, see yourself as a sensitive, resilient survivor using creative strength to rebuild yourself now.

Rewrite negative scripts – Challenge detrimental self-talk by arguing against it with counter truths about your value, not weakness.

Set boundaries – Cut off contact with abusive people reactivating your shame. Limit time with toxic friends/family spreading negativity.

Practice self-care – Do activities that make you feel happy, capable and proud like learning new skills, helping others and exploring nature.

Forgive yourself – Being abused wasn’t your fault. Let go of guilt holding you back through self-compassion, not judgment.

Do esteemable acts – Volunteer, achieve goals and pursue hobbies that give you an earned sense of confidence and contribution.

Own your worth – Look in the mirror and declare, “I am enough. I deserve love.” Let the truth sink in. Embrace your beautiful heart.

Though the process takes time, gradually shame loses its grip, freeing you to boldly pursue your dreams. You are enough. Hold your head high.

Tips for Setting Boundaries with Abusive Parents

Perhaps one of the most challenging yet vital steps towards reclaiming your freedom and power after childhood emotional abuse is to establish strong boundaries with abusive parents. Here is my best advice:

Get clear on your limits – What specific behaviors from them are unacceptable to you? Demeaning sarcasm? Guilt trips? Living through your sibling? Make a list.

Communicate boundaries calmly- At a neutral time, use “I feel____when you___” statements to convey how their actions impact you and what must change. Send a letter if needed.

Don’t justify or defend – Your boundaries are valid as is, period. Don’t rationalize why you deserve basic respect. Stay confident.

Expect resistance – Abusers hate losing control. Stay firm if they protest, criticize, call you selfish or try to debate. Stand your ground.

Implement consequences – If they cross stated boundaries, impose penalties like ending the call, leaving the room or going low contact for a period to reinforce you are serious.

Get support – Turn to a counselor, friends and abuse recovery groups for encouragement when feeling guilty for speaking up. This is brave, not mean.

Create emotional distance – Limit oversharing details about your life and avoid getting drawn into drama or unhealthy family dynamics. Keep it superficial.

Practice self-care – Nurture yourself after tense interactions with nice meals, bubble baths, nature walks, massage and quality time with positive people.

Consider going no contact if needed – Cutting ties with unrepentant, abusive parents altogether to protect your mental health may be healthiest choice despite being difficult.

You have every right to demand respect. When boundaries are repeatedly violated by unaccountable parents, letting go permanently may be the best act of self-love. You deserve peace.

Finding Empowerment Through Forgiveness

As an abuse survivor carrying anger towards my cruel, neglectful father for decades, the idea of forgiveness seemed outrageous. Didn’t excusing his behavior mean denying my own pain? I’ve since learned true forgiveness is about empowering myself, not anyone else. Here’s how it helped me:

I released the illusion of control – I can’t force abusive parents to change or make amends. All I control is how I process the past to heal. Forgiveness surrendered the futile battle.

I stopped expecting justice – Abusers may never own up to the hurt they’ve caused or be held accountable. I found freedom by placing justice in God’s hands, not seeking it myself.

I embraced grief – I cried for the loving, protected childhood I deserved but never had. Forgiveness meant fully facing that loss to process the righteous anger and profound sadness underneath.

I gained understanding – Seeing my parents as fallible human beings with their own unhealed wounds enabled me to let go of resentment without excusing their behavior.

I practiced compassion – While firmly condemning the abuse, I could feel compassion that my parents didn’t value themselves enough not to pass down their own pain. Their loss.

I gave myself closure – Forgiveness allowed me to move forward unfettered instead of remaining trapped in the bitter prison of unforgiveness, even if my abusers stayed the same.

I regained personal power – Choosing to free myself from the hooks of anger and hate was the ultimate act of independence from my abusers’ control over me. I took back my life.

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, on your terms, when you’re ready. Don’t let others rush or dissuade you from this cathartic release in your journey towards inner peace.

Developing Healthy Self-Esteem After Abuse

My parents’ constant criticism growing up left me with crushing low self-esteem that plagued every area of my life. Their words convinced me I was stupid, inadequate and unlovable. In healing, I’ve learned core self-worth must come from within, not outside validation. Here are effective ways I built up my self-esteem:

I stopped comparing myself – I may not be as thin, accomplished or popular as others, but we each have unique strengths and inherent value apart from achievements.

I focused on self-care – Getting enough sleep, nutritious foods, physical activity and down time proved I deserved to be cared for, unlike in childhood.

I pursued my passions – Singing, painting, gardening and volunteering brought purpose and joy in place of emptiness. I rediscovered my interests.

I improved my inner dialogue – I caught negative self-talk and intentionally replaced it with realistic affirmations of my qualities and abilities.

I set boundaries – I limited time with critical, toxic people dragging down my self-image and gravitated towards positive, supportive friends.

I celebrated small victories – Every goal met, from doing my taxes to taking a needed rest, I cheered as proof of my competence and determination.

I embraced imperfection – I accepted my quirks, flaws and failures as part of the shared human experience, no longer a verdict on my worth.

I forgave myself – For perceived weaknesses or mistakes, I chose self-compassion, not self-blame. My inner critic lost power over me.

Healing your self-esteem requires reprogramming your beliefs about your value and capabilities. Be patient, celebrate progress, and don’t give up. You are so worth it.

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