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Are My Parents Reserved or Emotionally Abusive?

Are My Parents Reserved or Emotionally Abusive?

Dear Morgan,

This may sound a little weird but, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt loved.  Not by my parents or family, not by friends, and definitely not by men.  [And] what I want to know is, did a lack of love during childhood cause me to be like this, and, how can you tell if you were emotionally abused by your parents?

Here’s some background. I was raised in a very reserved and conservative household.  My sister and I had all the material things we needed, food, clothes, braces, and sports gear.  What we didn’t get however, is love and affection.  No one in our family ever said, “I love you.” or “You’re doing a good job.” No one ever hugged or high-fived us. And no one really seemed to check-in on how we were doing, except when it came to report cards and doctor visits.  It was almost as if we were living dolls, just meant to perform a certain way. And, when we didn’t, well, let’s just say silent treatments were popular in my house.

Is this kind of treatment emotional abuse, or do my parents just have reserved personalities?

Brooke, D.C. Maryland


Hi Brooke ~

I want to start by saying, I’m sorry.  I understand where you’re coming from, and hope that I can share some insights that will bring you relief, and peace-of-mind.

So, let’s start with whether or not receiving enough love and attention growing up can have a negative impact on your self-love, and ability to receive love from others.  The short answer to this is, absolutely.  Not receiving adequate love, attention, affection, and guidance definitely has a negative impact on your ability to love and value yourself.

From the moment we’re born, our caregivers are constantly giving us feedback on our value in the world.  If we receive regular attention, love, positive affirmations, and physical touch, we thrive, understanding innately that these investments in us mean we hold value. Conversely, if we are not touched, spoken kindly to, or given proper attention and guidance, we learn that we are unimportant, or hold little to no value.

When we pick up programming early on that says we aren’t valuable or worthy of love, rather than refuting it, because we haven’t developed the psyche to do so, we take it in like gospel, and it becomes part of our belief-system.  Once this idea about being “unworthy”  becomes a part of our belief-system, we develop personality traits or behaviors based on this false premise, which often look like low self-esteem or codependency, or sometimes, even apathy towards others.  And any one of these issues could make it difficult to feel like you are genuinely loved by other people.

Identifying emotional abuse isn’t always easy, especially when it comes from people who we’ve been taught to believe love and value us.  But, doing so can be extremely empowering, and the very thing that frees us from the prison our mind has been held captive in.

So, while we can’t rule out the fact that your parents may very well be reserved, and that perhaps they were just doing with you, what was demonstrated to them in their own childhood.  Given the information you’ve provided, especially the lack of love and affection, not to mention being on the receiving end of manipulation tactics like the silent treatment, I would say it is a fair assessment to define your parents as somewhere on the emotionally abusive scale with you and your sister.

I hope this helps.
Remember, you are loved.



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