How to Deal with Verbally Abusive Parents

Published on: 03 Oct 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC
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Abuse can take many forms — this includes (the often-ignored) verbal abuse. Although you may not get physical scars from verbal abuse like you would physical abuse or sexual abuse, the emotional scars are just as traumatizing. Parents (or any other family member) who are verbally abusive use words to demean, control, ridicule, or manipulate their children. Aside from verbal abuse, some emotionally abusive parents also use neglect, emotional manipulation, and other abusive behavior toward their children. Dealing with verbal abuse from parents can diminish your self-worth and make it incredibly difficult for you to build long-lasting, rewarding, healthy relationships.

It can be hard to recognize verbal abuse, especially when it’s something that you’ve grown up with. It’s common for people with verbally abusive parents to dismiss or make excuses for their parent’s behavior. When you learn to identify verbal abuse, though, you can develop coping strategies and start the healing process. 

Read on to learn more about the signs of verbal abuse and how you can overcome the effects it can have on you. 

Signs of Verbally Abusive Parents 

Parenting is challenging, and every parent can sometimes become frustrated with their children. However, verbally abusive parents disregard their children’s feelings and use words to hurt and control them. 

Signs of verbal abuse include:

  • Excessive criticism 
  • Invalidating emotions
  • Name-calling 
  • Making jokes at your expense
  • Yelling, screaming, and swearing
  • Constant comparisons to others
  • Threatening to hurt you 
  • Blaming you for things that are out of your control
  • Shaming or humiliating you in front of others
  • Verbal aggression

Verbal abuse can take many forms. A verbally abusive parent might call you names when you show emotion, calling you “crybaby” or “wimp.” Even when parents aren’t physically abusive, they may make threats of harm. Some parents will compare you to others, leaving you to internalize the destructive thought patterns that you aren’t good enough. 

In many cases, both parents engage in abusive behavior, but it’s also possible to have one verbally abusive parent. For example, in households with a verbally abusive father, it’s common for the father to use verbal abuse to control the children after separation. Growing up around any form of verbal abuse can have a lasting negative impact on your well-being.

Effects of Parental Verbal Abuse

When your formative years include verbal abuse from parents, it can impact every aspect of your life. As with all forms of abuse, verbal abuse has significant, long-lasting consequences. Verbal abuse from parents can continue into adulthood, so it’s important to recognize abusive behaviors and set healthy boundaries now. 

“The impact of parental verbal abuse can be long-lasting. Often it leads to issues in adulthood such as low self-esteem, lack of trust, and interpersonal issues in relationships. Therapy can be a safe space to discuss these issues and learn tools to help process through the abuse from childhood.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

Cognitive effects

The brain grows at a rapid rate during a child’s early years. Brain development is directly influenced by the environment a child lives in. While the brain of a child who grows up in a safe and nurturing environment can develop normally, growing up in an abusive environment can impact brain development and change the way the brain functions. 

Studies show that children who experience parental verbal abuse have significant differences in the structure of their brains. These differences can change how the brain functions. Research tells us that environmental exposure can create imbalances in the brain, putting children at increased risk for developing mental health conditions in adolescence or adulthood.

Psychological effects

While the effects of harmful words are often downplayed, research also shows that verbal abuse actually can impact children in similar ways that physical abuse might. Growing up with a verbally abusive father or abusive mother can have a life-long effect on a person’s mental health, leading to issues such as:

  • Codependency: Children who are verbally abused often believe they’re worthless or incapable of basic tasks. In adulthood, this can make you feel like you need to rely on others for basic needs. Codependent tendencies can lead to issues in relationships and an inability to set boundaries or take care of yourself and your own needs. 
  • Low self-esteem: Being subjected to verbal abuse from parents can leave you with a diminished sense of self-worth. People with low self-esteem often struggle with motivation and are at increased risk for alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Social withdrawal: Living with verbal abuse can make you fearful of all social interactions, causing you to withdraw from others. Many people who were verbally abused believe that they don’t deserve love or support from others.
  • Anxiety: Verbally abusive parents often lash out without a clear cause. This can leave children and adults with a constant sense of fear or anxiety.
  • Depression: Verbal abuse can reduce self-esteem and create an environment of stress and confusion, increasing the risk of depression. Victims of verbal abuse often feel helpless or hopeless.

Effects on future relationships

The relationships that you have with caregivers during childhood significantly influence the way you build relationships later in life. People who grew up with verbal abuse often have a distorted sense of what a relationship should look like. When abusive behaviors are normalized during childhood, it puts victims at increased risk for domestic abuse in adulthood.

Experiencing verbal abuse can also cause someone to form an insecure attachment style. People with insecure attachment patterns don’t feel safe in relationships and may struggle to form emotional connections with others. It can cause you to cling to partners, shun intimacy, or ask for constant reassurance from others in your life. 

How to Deal & Heal from Parental Verbal Abuse 

Ideally, a parent should provide warmth, comfort, and support. When parents are verbally abusive, it can leave you feeling as though you don’t deserve love. You may fear future treatment or believe that you’re alone in your feelings. 

“Healing from parental abuse can be hard, as the effects of it can be seen in adulthood as well. By engaging in therapy, one can process through negative thoughts and feelings from that time and learn strategies to deal with it.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

If your parents have verbally abused you (or if you’ve also experienced emotional abuse), it’s important to recognize that you’re not alone. While verbal abuse can be extremely harmful, you can learn to cope with and heal from the abuse you’ve experienced. Dealing with your abuse will allow you to build healthy relationships and have a more enriching, full life.

Understand that it’s not your fault

Many victims of parental abuse blame themselves. Even if your parents had good intentions, they’re still responsible for their own behavior. Remind yourself that you didn’t do anything to cause the abuse. Your parents are the ones at fault, not you.

Set boundaries

If you choose to have a relationship with your parents, setting clear and firm family boundaries is important. Sit down and talk with them about their behavior. Let them know that you won’t tolerate verbal abuse. If those boundaries are crossed, remove yourself from the situation and remind your parents that you won’t allow this behavior any longer.

Be compassionate

Many parents who verbally abuse their children also experienced childhood emotional abuse themselves. Try to empathize with your parents and forgive them for how they treated you. Even if you don’t want to have a relationship with them, forgiving your parents for past behavior can help you let go and heal.

Focus on personal growth

Instead of ruminating on what happened in the past, work to build a better future for yourself. Think about your personal goals and what you want to achieve. Setting aside time for personal development can help you rebuild your self-confidence and improve your life.

Ask for help

Healing after emotional abuse or verbal abuse can be a long and challenging process. Therapy can help you process your abuse and recognize how it’s impacted your life. With the help of a mental health professional, you can also learn to set boundaries with your verbally abusive parents and protect yourself from their toxic behavior and future harm. 

Talkspace can be your first step toward healing from a verbally abusive environment and abusive parenting. Our online therapy platform makes it easy for you to get the help you need.


1. Zeoli A, Rivera E, Sullivan C, Kubiak S. Post-Separation Abuse of Women and their Children: Boundary-Setting and Family Court Utilization among Victimized Mothers. J Fam Violence. 2013;28(6):547-560. doi:10.1007/s10896-013-9528-7. Accessed July 16, 2022. 

2. Tomoda A, Sheu Y, Rabi K et al. Exposure to parental verbal abuse is associated with increased gray matter volume in superior temporal gyrus. Neuroimage. 2011;54:S280-S286. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.05.027. Accessed July 16, 2022. 

3. Tost H, Champagne F, Meyer-Lindenberg A. Environmental influence in the brain, human welfare and mental health. Nat Neurosci. 2015;18(10):1421-1431. doi:10.1038/nn.4108. Accessed July 16, 2022. 

4. Wang M, Kenny S. Longitudinal Links Between Fathers’ and Mothers’ Harsh Verbal Discipline and Adolescents’ Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptoms. Child Dev. 2013;85(3):908-923. doi:10.1111/cdev.12143. Accessed July 16, 2022. 

5. Cannon E, Bonomi A, Anderson M, Rivara F, Thompson R. Adult Health and Relationship Outcomes Among Women With Abuse Experiences During Childhood. Violence Vict. 2010;25(3):291-305. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.25.3.291. Accessed July 16, 2022. 

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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