When we talk about emotional abuse, we tend to keep the topic in the realm of romantic relationships while neglecting familial systems. But emotional abuse is a tool often wielded in families too.
Think about it. Guilt trips, emotional threats, and even withdrawal of love are all tactics used in toxic families. These tactics are also damaging and emotionally abusive to family members.
Seeing this reality enables us to rewire our ties and imagine alternative places for ourselves within (and away from) these manipulative and hurtful family systems.
Emotionally abusive tactics to look out for in your family.
Emotional abuse in a family can look a lot different from emotional abuse in a relationship. Here, it’s not always about reaffirming an insecure attachment. Toxic families create those attachments, and they create a break in our perception of self, too. Is your family emotionally abusive? Look for negative behavior, guilt trips, manipulation, estranged anger, and more.
Is there someone in your family who is overwhelmingly negative? Maybe there is more than one person who fits the bill. Naturally negative people can be toxic, and they can drag down our hearts and our spirit. Worse than that, they can border on emotionally abusive when they use their negativity to shoot us down or create doubt and insecurities about things that we love.
Endless guilt trips
Do your parents or loved ones beat you down on endless guilt trips? This is an emotionally abusive and manipulative tactic that devalues you and keeps you small. Once in that place of small-minded insecurity, you are easy to push around and easier to control. A favorite of the covert narcissist, it’s important not to downplay the damage of guilt trips on our psyche.
Total fear of rejection
What keeps you tied to your family? Do you toe the line because you fear being totally rejected by them? Believe it or not, it’s not natural to feel like the love of your family is on the line. You shouldn’t have the sense that your membership in that family is ever at risk. Families that cultivate this fear of constantly being excommunicated use it to control and coerce their members into behaving counter to their desires or needs.
We’ve allowed this idea that the overly involved family is healthy, but it’s not. When your family is constantly in the middle of your life and your relationships, there’s no space for you to figure out life for yourself. The more judgmental and critical the family is, the harder this relationship becomes — as they meddle and interject in places that create more drama for you in your life (and partnerships, too).
Family, essentially, should be the village that fosters us and raises us up. They are the foundation that should be there to provide support no matter what. Unfortunately, that’s not the family that many people get to experience. Instead, they are handed parents and siblings who invalidate their dreams and what they want to do with their lives. In the end, this results in emotionally abusive tactics that create insecurity and resentment.
Passive-aggressive passes in family
Although a lot of families try to use passive-aggressive criticism as a form of communication — it’s not. It ends up being emotionally abusive and toxic every single time. Families thrive on honest and forward communication. When a parent takes passive aggressive swipes at their children, they simply teach them it’s not safe to be themselves and it’s not safe to trust their parents for emotional safety.
In healthy families, there’s no actual need to worry about navigating or managing the moods of the parents or anyone else. But that’s not the case in the emotionally abusive family. Here, there is someone who is moody all the time. In turn, this makes other members feel responsible for keeping their mood up so they’re not made uncomfortable or punished indirectly.
Putting it all together…
Emotional abuse isn’t limited to our romantic relationships. Families too can inflict heinous emotional damage, and they do it using the same tactics that toxic partners use.
The family that demeans your emotions, ambitions, and needs is not a family who is looking out for your best interests. Far from it. All that estranged anger, stonewalling, and passive-aggressive passes serve a purpose. To make you feel small and powerless.
Don’t settle for second-class love — even in your family. Stand up for yourself, know your worth, and make sure your boundaries are clear. No one has a right to talk down to you, no one has a right to make your life harder. Love yourself enough to know when your family is being emotionally abusive. Then, take steps to free yourself and live a life of joy.