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Characteristics of Emotionally Abused People
Also Known as Signs Of Emotional Abuse

On this page you will find several detailed and quite extensive lists compiled in different ways and by different people.

From our own work and from summaring the lists we can say that, in general, people who are being, or have repeatedly been, emotionally abused feel:

  • blamed

  • afraid

  • anxious

  • guilty

  • disapproved of

  • unworthy

  • undeserving

  • inadequate

  • incompetent

  • self-conscious

  • insecure

  • and responsible for the abusor's feelings

Here are the the more detailed lists

List 1- Based on studies of Adult Children of Alcoholics

List 2

List 3 Based on Research on Narcisisstic Peronality Disorder

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List 1 - Based on studies of Adult Children of Alcoholics

This list is from the work of Janet Geringer Woititz. She did her original work on adult children of alcoholics, but I believe her findings can be generalized to people who were emotionally abused in general. Certainly all children of alcoholics were emotionally abused.

  • Can only guess at what healthy behavior is.
  • Have trouble completing things
  • Lie when they don't need to. Lying might have been a survival tactic in the home. (She explains that perhaps the child learned from parents who lied to cover up problems or avoid conflict. Or simply to avoid harsh punishment, or to get needed attention. But as an adult, that tactic is no longer helpful.)
  • Judge themselves without mercy.
  • Have trouble accepting compliments.
  • Often take responsibility for problems, but not successes.
  • Or they go to the other extreme and refuse to take any responsibility for mistakes while trying to take credit for the work of others.
  • Have trouble having fun since their childhoods were lost, stolen, repressed.
  • Take themselves very seriously or not seriously at all.
  • Have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  • Expect others to just "know what they want." (They can't express it because they were so often disappointed as children that they learned to stop asking for things.)
  • Over-react to things beyond their control.
  • Constantly seek approval & affirmation.
  • Feel different from others.
  • Are extremely loyal, even when facing overwhelming evidence that their loyalty is undeserved.
  • Are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
  • Tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. (This impulsiveness leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. The result is they spend much energy blaming others, feeling victimized and cleaning up messes.)

She also makes this observation:

Intelligent people, through their ability to analyze, often realize things which are disconcerting, which others would not see. They also are often capable of feeling more deeply, both pain and joy.

Adapted from Struggle for Intimacy, by Janet Gerringer Woititz

 
List 2 Based on Recovery and Support Groups

 

  • We have feelings of low self- esteem (This is a result of being criticized too often as children and teenagers.)
  • We perpetuate these parental messages by judging ourselves and others harshly. We try to cover up our poor opinions of ourselves by being perfectionistic, controlling, contemptuous and gossipy.
  • We tend to isolate ourselves out of fear and we feel often uneasy around other people, especially authority figures.
  • We are desperate for love and approval and will do anything to make people like us. Not wanting to hurt others, we remain "loyal" in situations and relationships even when evidence indicates our loyalty is undeserved.
  • We are afraid of losing others.
  • We are afraid of being abandoned.
  • It is difficult for us to "let go."
  • We are intimidated by angry people and personal criticism. This adds to our feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.
  • We continue to attract emotionally unavailable people with addictive personalities.
  • We live life as victims, blaming others for our circumstances, and are attracted to other victims (and people with power) as friends and lovers. We confuse love with pity and tend to "love" people we can pity and rescue. And we confuse love with need.
  • We are either super-responsible or super-irresponsible. We take responsibility for solving others' problems or expect others to be responsible for solving ours. This enables us to avoid being responsible for our own lives and choices.
  • We feel guilty when we stand up for ourselves or act in our own best interests. We give in to others' needs and opinions instead of taking care of ourselves.
  • We deny, minimize or repress our feelings as a result of our traumatic childhoods. We are unaware of the impact that our inability to identify and express our feelings has had on our adult lives.
  • We are dependent personalities who are so terrified of rejection or abandonment that we tend to stay in situations or relationships that are harmful to us. Our fears and dependency stop us form ending unfulfilling relationships and prevent us from entering into fulfilling ones. Because we feel so unlovable it is difficult or impossible to believe anyone can really love us, and won't eventually leave us once they see how "bad" we are.
  • Denial, isolation, control, shame, and undeserved guilt are legacies from our family. As a result of these symptoms, we feel hopeless and helpless.
  • We have difficulty with intimacy, security, trust, and commitment in our relationships. Lacking clearly defined personal limits and boundaries, we become enmeshed in our partner's needs and emotions. We often become codependent.
  • We tend to procrastinate and have difficulty following project through from beginning to end.
  • We have a strong need to be in control. We overreact to change things over which we have no control.
 

List 3 Based on Research on Narcisisstic Peronality Disorder

Always apologizing for “never doing things right”

Trying to keep a low profile to avoid being noticed

Making up stories to others about the quality of your relationship with _____

Blaming yourself for never doing things well enough

Always feeling anxious when ____ is around, or even when thinking of them returning or showing up
Feeling guilty for “making” _____ feel the way they do

Always confused about _______'s sudden changes in behavior

Frequently exhausted from never knowing what might happen next

Feeling like you have to “walk on eggshells” to avoid causing disapproval, judgment, anger.

Coming home to find Dr. Jekyll and suddenly discovering Mr. Hyde, and never knowing what caused the change

Never completely trusting ______

Never feeling respected or equal in the relationship

Always worrying about their performance and behavior

Often wondering if it’s OK if they phone or meet with friends or family


Having to ask permission to do anything / IE being afraid to do things without permission

Not being allowed to get a job or to start to become financially indepedent


Being afraid to give your opinion

Never or almost never being able to win any argument

Often wondering what you did “wrong”

Often wondering whether you deserved to be punished or treated the way ____ treated you for something you did or didn't do

--

xx not finished editing

Avoiding arguments at all costs

Always attempting to “try harder” to make things better

Chronically feeling empty

May periodically have suicidal thoughts

Wishing for “someday” when things will change, but someday never comes

After breaking up with their narcissistic partner, all they want to do is run back to them

Repeatedly making excuses for and forgiving their partner’s unacceptable behaviors, which continue to happen

Often wondering how they got into this situation to begin with

Always being told everything is their fault

Oftentimes feel humiliated by their partner

Constantly fearing abandonment by the partner, so “doing whatever it takes” to keep him

Doing things they are uncomfortable with because they feel pressured to do so

Compromising their values, needs, and beliefs because their partner wants them to

Discovering that the narcissist has frequently lied or misled them

Feeling like no one else could possibly love them

Believing they are not as important as their partner

Taking their partner’s advice, although their gut tells them not to

Feeling like they’re living a lie – that the outside world sees them one way, while the inner reality is definitely something entirely different

Feeling subservient or less-than their partner

Rarely feeling like their needs are being met or even acknowledged

Never doing anything unless their partner says it’s OK

Their friends tell them they are being abused, but they just can’t see it

Feeling like they are being parented – that they’re too immature or childish to be able to think on their own

Often wishing they would have never gotten into this mess to begin with and now don’t know how to get out

Frequently feeling numb or depressed

They no longer know who they really are

May end up looking like the “crazy one” in xx? the end xx check orig