Being humiliated or shamed by others may make you feel small, like a kid again even, but this kind of verbal abuse is in no way confined to childhood.
Verbally abusive mothers, like all other verbally abusive people, don't stop at a certain age. And knowing the signs of this kind of abuse is important even after you've left your parents' house.
There are a lot of misconceptions about verbal abuse. First of all, this kind of abuse doesn't have to mean one person screaming at the other. Second, verbal abuse between a mother and child isn't confined to childhood. "
Verbal abuse is an engagement style designed to punish, harm, or hurt another individual," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "[...] Verbal abuse does not have to involve yelling, or obscenities, but rather can be subtle in tone yet powerful in impact. Verbal abuse from a parent to a child can occur from as early as a child can recognize speech through adulthood." Because of the complexities of this kind of interpersonal abuse, it can be difficult to identify.
Verbal abuse is also just one part of the larger spectrum of
types of emotional abuse. "Through the use of words, the victim of verbal abuse is made to feel shamed, less than, and humiliated," Stephanie Camins, MA, LPC, licensed professional counselor and clinic director at Road to Growth Counseling, tells Bustle. "The goal of the abuser is to create severe self-doubt, insecurity and dependence." Even an adult mom can make their child feel this way.
Here are seven things that, if your mom says, may be verbal abuse, according to experts.
"You've Never Amounted To Anything"
If your mother has a habit of insulting you, criticizing your life choices, or disparaging your success, then it's likely verbal abuse. The key to this behavior, Dr. Klapow says, is repetition.
"The repeated criticism of their judgment and practice as an adult is no longer a 'teachable moment' or just parenting; it is a form of disrespect — and if repeated frequently enough —abuse," Dr. Klapow says. So if you're all-too-familiar with your mother finding ways to demean you, then you may be
experiencing verbal abuse.
"You're Remembering Things Wrong"
Gaslighting is a form of abuse where information is twisted or spun to make the victim question their own sanity. If your mom says something that feels completely contrary to the truth, then this may be what's at play.
"Gaslighting is used to make you question your perception," Camins says. "Gaslighting is a purposeful re-writing of history aimed at making you question your perceptions and reality. It is a way of diverting the conversation and attention to you rather than the issue you brought up to discuss." If you find that your mother often shifts blame this way, then you may need to begin
setting boundaries to keep this behavior from becoming too harmful.
"If You Loved Me, You Would See Me More Often"
Sometimes moms guilt their children. But if your mother has repeatedly called your loyalty to her into question, even into your adulthood, it may be verging on verbal abuse.
"As an adult, the separation between parent and child must occur," Dr. Klapow says. "The mother is taking advantage of the bond to make the child essentially choose between their adult life and their loyalty to their parent." While adult bonds between mothers and their children vary greatly between cultures and individual situations, it may be worth flagging these kinds of statements if they start becoming a pattern.
"Why Are You Making Such A Big Deal Of This?"
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Just as minimizing the situation is a form of
negative self-talk, it is also harmful and hurtful when someone else speaks this way too you. It can be especially hurtful when your mother declares that you're overreacting, especially when you know you aren't.
"Minimization invalidates your experience and feelings about a situation," Camins says. "[This tactic of verbal abuse shows that] your feelings are not important is the message being delivered." Finding
new communication styles to see if you can get your mom to listen to you more actively may keep her from minimizing your feelings too much in the future.
"Your Father Really Isn't A Good Parent"
Growing up with a toxic parent is tough. Being an adult and having parents accusing each other of being toxic can be incredibly distressing as well.
"Another very subtle form of abuse is the calculated interference with the adult child’s life," Dr. Klapow says. "[...] The mom is essentially diminishing the adult child’s reputation by infiltrating the adult’s family and friend circles." If your mother feels threatened by your relationship with your other parent, then she may lash out this way. You and your mother will need to find ways to
re-establish a healthy relationship if this has become a problem.
"You're Just Like Everyone Else"
Sometimes, the person who is being verbally abusive has been hurt by others in the past. If your mother lashes out at you by saying "you're just like your father," or "just like your sister," and blaming you and the world around her for her pain, then this may be a red flag.
"This example uses two tactics, shifting the blame and playing the victim," Camins says. "Shifting the blame to you distracts from the issue you are trying to address. This is then reinforced with playing the victim aimed at pulling your heart strings so that you will want to help them feel better." Enforcing strict boundaries with your mother can help this from becoming a more serious issue.
"I Talked To Your Friend About This"
As a child and teenager, having your mother cross your boundaries and talk to teachers and friends without your permission definitely hurt. As an adult, you may find that your mother is being verbally abusive when she pulls these tactics to try to manipulate you.
"Another very subtle form of abuse is the calculated interference with the adult child’s life," Dr. Klapow says. "This may mean reaching out to friends of the child to ask questions, obtain information about what the adult child is doing or criticizing the child to the friend group." If your mom uses these types of threats against you, it may be best to have some space away from her for a while.
Handling a toxic mom can be difficult. All of these difficulties are multiplied when the toxicity turns into verbal abuse. Finding the support of other loved ones, and the help of a professional, may be what you need to set boundaries and find a solution for the next step navigating life with an emotionally abusive parent.