3 Signs You're Being Emotionally Abused By Your Adult Child

Knowing when enough is enough.

Posted Oct 28, 2018

Are you exasperated by how negatively your adult child treats you? Do you find yourself consumed with conflicting thoughts and feelings about him or her? Do you feel alone as it seems that so many other adult children are more respectful and appreciative of what their parents do for them?

Before I go further, let's make a few things clear: I am not writing that all adult children treat their parents poorly. And, for any adult children who may read this, I am also not saying that your parents are exempt from responsibility for the quality of your relationship with them.

That said, in my over 30 years of coaching parents of adult children to help restore boundaries, improve communication, and gain a much-desired sense of emotional balance, I have seen too many parents of adult children metaphorically wear "Kick Me" signs. What I mean by this is that your adult child's frustration and shame over the failure to launch comes out sideways, directed at you as emotional abuse. Are you unwittingly, or even wittingly (because you just feel so worn down) wearing a "Kick Me" sign, thereby enabling mistreatment? 

Following are three signs of emotional abuse experienced by parents of adult children that I often encounter about when I coach them to set better boundaries:  

  1. Unjustified Blame. Somehow, your adult child persistently blames you for his or her problems and refuses to accept responsibility for their struggles and issues. Adult children who think this way are leaden with distortions and use their parents as an outlet to vent their anger. Sadly, many of my parent clients actually believe they are solely at fault for an adult child's lack of success in being able to sustain their independence. They distortedly think, "Maybe if I just tried harder or did this instead of that, things would be different." 

  2. Manipulation. In many cases, I hear about struggling adult children who unfairly sling guilt at parents or even make threats of self-harm or suicide. Struggling adult children with distorted views who live at home may use whatever manipulation tactics they can muster to make parents feel they "owe" them and so must indefinitely support them. You remember the better days of their youth and how things were better years ago, so you look past the manipulation and cling to the idea that things will turn around.

  3. Put-downs. Criticism is common from an adult child. She or he brings up how you seemingly treat their siblings better, rips on your spending habits, or criticizes your past choices. When you try to confront your adult child about it, you are met with gaslighting—questioning your memory of the incident or the past in general, trying to make you second-guess yourself, or telling you that you’re "always overreacting" or are just “crazy.”

If you recognize some or any of these behaviors in your relationship with an adult child, don't accept them as "normal." These behaviors are common in emotionally abusive relationships. Just because you are not being physically harmed doesn’t mean that the abuse isn’t taking its toll.

Setting boundaries with your adult child may seem impossible at this point because you hopelessly feel that the ship set sail way too long ago. Please don't feel that way. There is no such thing as false hope when it comes to managing how an adult child treats you. There is only true hope, if you can recognize what is going on, take off your "Kick Me" sign, and do things differently going forward.

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