Psychological violence by parents on adult children

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Psychological violence by parents on adult children

Being devalued, manipulated, criticized, compared ... There are many cases of psychological abuse of adult children. Some silent dynamics can completely undermine the life of those who remain subordinate to their parents. 

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2022

The psychological violence of parents on adult children is a reality. Manipulation, blackmail, words that hurt, comments that feed the same insecurity of childhood. Sometimes, with maturity, the ties that hurt are not cut or healed. Then these dynamics continue to destroy self-esteem and even the quality of life.



There are conditions that are invisible to society. Psychological abuse has many forms and different types of victims. They can be the elderly who are abused by their children, children who suffer the effects of a harmful upbringing and then men and women who, despite having reached maturity and independence, continue to suffer the violence of the father, the mother or both.

What can we do in these cases? Talking to the social worker or going to a listening desk might seem ridiculous. What is the point of putting the same papers, views and magazines on the table since you have the use of reason? There are those who do not tolerate it and those who agree to maintain daily contact with the violent family member.

One aspect is evident: abuser and victim always have a bond, a snare that feeds addiction, fear and, why not, affection. A toxic affection, it is true; a poisoned love between parent and child is a fairly common situation and the effects of this bond are intense. Let's see why.

What does the psychological violence of parents on adult children consist of?

Violence or psychological abuse is defined as any behavior aimed at controlling or subduing another human being by resorting to fear, manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, guilt, coercion and even ongoing disapproval.

These forms of aggression do not leave bruises on the skin, but injure the integrity of the psyche. The effect on the child's mind, for example, can be devastating. If maintained for decades, one can imagine the immense dimensions of the wound, the consequences on essential aspects such as self-esteem, identity, confidence in one's abilities.

The psychological violence of a parent towards an adult child does not appear overnight. It corresponds to a dynamic that originated in childhood. This explains why many people reach adulthood with a difficult emotional "baggage"; with a history of psychological abuse that leaves, in many cases, the shadow of a post-traumatic stress disorder.

The victim usually makes great efforts to appear normal. Very few people from his social background are aware of the situation. Sometimes not even the closest friends are aware of these mistreatments, of these silent dynamics that remain in the home.

When the monsters are the parents and we consider psychological violence normal

When we say that cases of psychological abuse of a parent against an adult child are common, the first question that comes to mind is: why? How can you cope with such a situation? Isn't it better to distance yourself and break the bond with the abuser forever?

The answer is not simple: the link between the victim and the perpetrator is tremendously complicated. Sometimes, despite experiencing a painful situation, despite sadness, fear, humiliation or contempt, we continue to love those who hurt us. Ultimately, they are our parents, and when they represent the only known role model, many of their behaviors are considered normal.

Thus, while the adult child resists and fights an ambivalent relationship made up of affection and fear, love and hate, the abusive parents do not change. It is not enough that the child is now an adult. Contempt, criticism, humiliation and emotional manipulation are perennial weapons of control and power.

The tiger does not turn into a kitten over the years. Generally he needs to stay in charge, because it is part of his personality, of his deep way of being.

What are the effects of psychological violence on adult children?

One consequence of emotional abuse from childhood is that development of post-traumatic stress disorder in adulthood. Community studies, such as the one conducted at the University of Ultrecht and Coimbra, show the importance of this relationship. Psychological violence that continues into adulthood can cause:

  • Problematic and frustrating love relationships.
  • Low self-esteem, sense of uselessness, destruction of pride, self-confidence, motivation.
  • Repression of emotions, tendency to hide them.
  • Episodes of anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, etc.

Cosa possiamo fare?

First of all, it is important to be fully aware of the violence suffered and the need to address the situation. Often behind these realities there is an emotional and financial dependence (there are many children who are unable to have a home of their own for economic reasons).

Other times, despite being independent from a financial point of view, the violent bond remains standing, but in a hidden way through manipulation, criticism of every decision made or of the partner one has chosen, etc. It is necessary to decide that this situation cannot and must not go on.

In these cases, you have only two alternatives: putting the violent parent in front of reality and definitively cutting the bond or reducing visits and reducing contacts to the essential.

Last but not least, those who have suffered psychological violence by their parents need psychological help. Decades of suffering and humiliation leave a deep wound that needs to be healed. The goal is to regain self-esteem and self-confidence in order to build a life of their own, independent, mature and happy.

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