Verbal abuse is often overlooked, but it is often just as damaging as other forms of abuse. This is especially true for children who receive this toxic, harmful behavior from their family members – especially their parents.

Unfortunately, this abuse doesn’t begin and end with the kids involved. It becomes a part of those children. Often ingrained in their minds as they grow, it eventually manifests through worrying symptoms in adulthood.

Here Are 5 Adult Behaviors Of Someone Who Suffered From Verbal Abuse As A Child

verbal abuse

1.    Low Self-Esteem

When you hear a lot of verbal abuse as a child, you begin to internalize it. Being repeatedly insulted, called names, and told that you aren’t good enough takes a toll on you. As a child, you slowly begin to believe that you are all those things.

This is especially true if you were always told to lighten up or have more positive thinking whenever a cruel comment upset you. As a child, you lacked the necessary reasoning ability to understand that your family members were in the wrong, not you. So, instead, you believed them, and along the way, your confidence was lost and you began to doubt and dislike yourself. (1)

Here are some ways that low self-esteem due to childhood verbal abuse may be affecting you to this day:

·         You Blame Yourself A Lot

Verbal abusers often like to point fingers. They’ll put the blame on anyone and everyone except themselves. Your family members likely never took responsibility for their wrongdoings; instead, they guilted you, causing you to always feel at fault.

Today, this may cause you to always blame yourself about everything – even things that don’t have much to do with you. If anything goes wrong, you automatically feel guilty and think you could have done something to stop it.

·         You Have Trouble Standing By Decisions

When you were growing up, there’s a good chance that your family members would always insist that they knew best. Every time you had a good idea or wanted to make your own choices, they would manipulate you. They would make you believe that you were young and ignorant, and they weren’t controlling you; they just “care.”

Of course, they didn’t care, and it was all an act to put you in your so-called place. As a grown-up, this may cause you to lack conviction in your ability to make decisions. You may second guess your choices or become extremely anxious about making them. And if they happen to be the wrong choices, you’ll berate yourself for days – if not longer.

·         You Do A Lot Of Negative Self-Talk

Verbal abuse conditions children to think negatively about themselves. This is why your inner voice may mirror your abuser’s. You may have a constant barrage of negative thoughts and criticize yourself over every small issue. You may even insult yourself.

·         You Feel Like You’re Never Good Enough

Verbally abusive families often expect unreasonable things out of their children. Even if those kids manage to achieve those unrealistic expectations, there is never any reward or any kindness waiting.

As an adult, this may cause you to always feel like you could have done more. You may overwork yourself, obsess over failure unhealthily, and consider any achievement less than the very best to be not nearly good enough.

·         You Don’t Consider Your Needs Important

Verbally abusive homes are often also neglectful. When you expressed your needs as a child, you were likely ignored or told to suck it up. Today, this may manifest in a lack of care for your wellbeing. You may underestimate your needs, or you may feel like they aren’t worthy of your attention and care.

2.    Verbal Abuse Victims Often Have Poor Emotional Processing

Emotional regulation is crucial to healthy development. But in a verbally abusive environment, you were robbed of learning this important lesson. You lost your sense of pride and hope, and you were in a constant state of fear or sadness. This can cause emotional dysregulation and poor emotional processing today. Here are some signs you may notice.

·         Repression

Emotional repression happens when a child is forced to deal with a lot of pain and abuse. The pain from their emotions becomes too much to handle, and therefore those emotions are repressed as a result. This is a defense mechanism.

Today, you may notice that this causes you to have difficulty identifying your feelings. You may be unable to comprehend your emotions or have trouble noticing warning signs of a downward spiral. You may have trouble expressing emotions, since you don’t feel them, and it can affect a large portion of your life.

·         Excessive or Regressive Sympathy

You don’t experience a lot of empathetic responses from verbally abusive family members. This is why you may overcompensate emotionally by giving away compassion to an extreme extent. Sure, kindness is a good thing, but too much of it paints a target on your head for manipulators.

On the flip side, you may also have developed in the opposite way – by being unable to feel sympathy for others. You may not be able to relate to the problems that others face, or you may come across as rude or uncaring.

·         Inability To Accept Kindness

This ties into our previous point. If you didn’t grow up experiencing kindness, then you likely don’t know how to accept it. You may be shocked when someone is nice to you, you may reject it, or you may cling to it to an unhealthy degree.

·         Mood Disorders

Do you have mood disorders such as major depressive disorder? Your inability to process emotions can cause them to become overwhelming, leading to extreme dips and jumps in your feelings and state of mind.

In addition, being away from your toxic and verbally abusive family can sometimes cause old emotions to come back to haunt you. Things you thought didn’t bother you will suddenly hurt a lot. This can lead to periods of depression or severely decreased positive thinking. (2)

3.    Attention Seeking

As we mentioned, verbal abuse often means neglect. This means that you may have been starved of attention growing up. You may have performed ridiculous behaviors in order to receive validation or even any form of attention at all, even if it was bad, because all you wanted was for your own family to notice you.

This validation-seeking behavior can follow you well into adulthood. You may do anything to receive praise from others, and you may feel crushed and horrified when you don’t get the approval you crave.

If you grew up only receiving less than positive types of attention, you may even act out in order to get that bad attention because it’s the only kind of “affection” you know. This can cause you to seek out abusive relationships that are oddly comforting to you, as this is the only dynamic you know.

4.    Victims of Verbal Abuse Have Heightened Anxiety and Fear of Being Wrong

Anxiety is very common in adults who were verbally abused as children. This is because you were constantly walking on eggshells around your family. One wrong move, or the slightest hint of a wrong word, would get you insulted, berated, or punished.

You also learned to be extra careful because abusers are often very unpredictable. They could seem very happy one second and do a complete 180-degree switch the next. As a kid, this was understandably very perplexing, and you had no idea how to navigate your home safely (and there was, in fact, no way to do so).

This might also mean you have trouble accepting or listening to constructive criticism. You are terrified that someone else’s criticisms mean you are a bad person or are going to get in trouble. You may:

  • Become overly defensive
  • Redirect blame
  • Be unable to take responsibility
  • Become quickly hurt or upset
  • Practice self-harm

5.    Building Unhealthy Relationships

unhealthy relationship

Many people who grew up in an abusive household of any kind wind up having difficulty forming positive relationships. This is because this unhealthy dynamic is all you know, and therefore, it becomes what you crave. In addition, you learned from your family how to interact in a relationship, and this often means picking up toxic behaviors. (3)

Here are some ways you may build unhealthy relationships:

·         You Have Trust Issues

Your parents were supposed to care for you and love you, but they didn’t. They also probably broke promises, regularly lulled you into a false sense of security, and acted unpredictably. This inability to trust your family can manifest in trust issues that continue to plague you to this day.

·         You Give Too Much

When you were a confused kid, longing for love but receiving verbal abuse in return, you believed you were being punished for being bad. As such, you went above and beyond to do anything and everything to make your family happy – even if it never worked.

Now, as an adult, there’s a good chance you have become a people pleaser. You may be a “yes man” who can’t ever set boundaries. Or you may do too much to convince others to like you, opening yourself up to those who want to take advantage of you. You likely care a little too much about what others think.

·         You Enter Codependent Relationships

Codependent relationships involve a lot of enabling behavior. As a child, you likely would do anything to keep your family members happy, including bending over backward to support their toxicity just to avoid punishment.

Today, you may continue to do this. You may fear punishment and consequences, and therefore be too nervous to stand up for yourself or tell your partner when they are being unhealthy. This causes you to wind up a prime target for these types of codependent relationships.

verbal abuse

Final Thoughts On Some Behaviors Of Someone Who Suffered From Verbal Abuse As A Child

Verbal abuse is a serious issue and it can cause a lot of damage to a child. Most of that damage sticks around well into adulthood, causing you to face a lot of emotional and mental problems that you may not be prepared to deal with.

If you find yourself struggling with these five adult behaviors of someone who suffered verbal abuse as a child, speak to a counselor or therapist. There is no shame in needing help, and you deserve all the assistance necessary to overcome this trauma of your past.