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

Are you feeling exasperated by how negatively your adult child treats you?

Do you find yourself consumed with conflicting thoughts and feelings (empathy vs. anxiety/frustration/anger) about him or her?

Do you feel alone as it seems that so many other adult child are more respectful and appreciative of what THEIR parents do for them compared to your situation?

Before I go further, let's keep 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 all said, in my over thirty 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 way too many parents of adult children metaphorically wear "kick me" signs. What I mean by this is that your adult child's frustrations and shame over the failure to launch comes out sideways at you as emotional abuse. Are you unwittingly, or even wittingly (maybe you just feel so worn down?), wearing a "kick me" sign as parent of an adult child to enable this kind of mistreatment?

Plan not-so-random acts of kindness. Kids need to know that helping others is an everyday practice, not a visit-a-soup-kitchen-at-the-holidays grand gesture. Challenge yours to complete small tasks every week, like throwing away another kid's trash at lunch or raking a neighbor's lawn. Training your children to focus on others helps curb entitlement. "Gratitude becomes woven into who they are," says Jeffrey J. Froh, a coauthor of Making Grateful Kids.

Check out below three signs of emotional abuse experienced by parents of adult children that I often hear about when I coach them to set better boundaries:

Unjustified Blame

Somehow, your adult child persistently blames you for his or her problems and refuses to truly 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 adult child's lack of success in being able to sustain their independence as an adult. You distortedly may think, "Maybe if I just tried harder or did this instead of that, things would be different."


In many cases, I hear about struggling adult children who unfairly sling guilt at their 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 to have you feel you owe them and 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.

Repeat: I am not a short-order cook. "It's a child's job to learn to eat what the parents eat," says Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and the author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Instead of the all-or-nothing scenario, offer a variety of foods at mealtime: the main course, plus rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable, and milk. This way, your child can eat just the pasta and the peas and get protein from the milk. "What a child eats over the course of a day or a week is more important than a balanced meal at one sitting," says Stephen Daniels, the chairman of the department of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Aurora.


Criticism is common from your adult child. She or he brings up your how you seemingly treat his or her siblings better, rips on your spending habits, and puts your past choices, When you try to confront your adult child about it, you are met with gas-lighting---questioning your memory of the incident or past in general, trying to make you second-guess yourself, or telling you that you’re "always overreacting" or that you are “crazy.”


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

Setting boundaries with your adult child may seem impossible at this point because you hopelessly feel that this 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 your adult child treats you. There is only true hope, especially if you recognize what is going on, take off your "kick me" sign, and do things differently going forward.

For more about Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, please click here drjeffonline.com