Helping Emotionally Abused Adult Children

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

Helping Emotionally Abused Adult Children

Episode 017 · Duration: 00:10:31

Helping Emotionally Abused Adult Children

Are you concerned about your adult child’s relationship? In this episode of Healthy Family Connections we’re talking today with a father who is concerned about his adult daughter. It’s a question that comes from Mike, of Salinas, California. Mike writes:

I have a 39 year old daughter who may be experiencing emotional abuse from her 55 year old boyfriend. They are parents of 2 daughters, a five-year-old and one month old. How do I intervene without causing harm?

Mike’s question reminds us that our children are our children for life. Even though his daughter is 39-years-old, he is worried and looking after her. Let’s first take a look at what emotional abuse is and then let’s look at Mike’s daughter’s situation.

Emotional abuse can take many forms, but it’s a pattern of behavior, when someone uses words and behaviors repeatedly in ways that are specifically hurtful to their partner. It can include a loud or violent tone of voice, name-calling, harsh criticism, often it can be blaming them for things that aren’t perfect in the relationship, discounting their feelings and their emotional needs. Often the emotionally abusive person will blame their spouse for their feelings. “It’s your behavior that makes me mad. If you’d do a better job with the house and kids, I wouldn’t be so mad.” Rather than joining in and helping out, they get mad and criticize.

Emotional abuse can take many forms, but it’s a pattern of behavior. Click To Tweet

Behaviors can include limiting a partner’s access to finances, not helping in situations where they need help, isolating by being jealous and objecting to them spending time with friends or family.

Often the abusive individual considers themselves a “nice guy.” And I say guy even though I’ve worked with many cases where a woman is abusive towards her partner. Often, but not necessarily, substance abuse can be an element that is part of the pattern of abuse.

Victims of emotional abuse suffer enormously. In order for any of us to achieve happiness and psychological health, we need to get our emotional needs met. We need support and to know that we’re loved and cared about, understood, approved of and emotionally and physically safe. If someone is in an emotionally abusive relationship, they’re getting the opposite of that. Depression and injured self-esteem are likely results. Depression, loss of self esteem and self-confidence tend to leave a person feeling dis-empowered, unable to think clearly, and it will tend to leave them feeling stuck and often tolerating the status quo. They are often slow to leave a relationship and often return a number of times before leaving permanently. What they need to do and can do might be obvious to us, but they can’t see it. AND, If we try to make their decision for them, even though we’re doing it with their best interests in mind, we become part of the pattern of taking away their power.

Patricia Evans wrote a book titled The Verbally Abusive Relationship that can be extremely helpful to anyone experiencing verbal or emotional abuse. I’ve also used this book to help with abusive individuals who are trying to understand and change their behavior and improve their relationship. Often abusive individuals don’t know or understand their behavior and do want to learn and grow.

The Verbally Abusive Relationship by @PatriciaEvans1 helps anyone experiencing emotional abuse.Click To Tweet

Now let’s look at Mike’s situation. Mike asked, “What can I do that won’t make things worse?” Mike is asking the right question, because the first rule is: don’t make things worse. Going in and making pronouncements about what his daughter or her partner needs to do will most likely backfire.

Here’s what we do know; she has a five-year-old and an infant, so she’s pretty darn tired. She needs help and support. If she isn’t getting support and possibly the opposite from her partner, well that’s one place where Mike could definitely help. Possibly helping with her five-year-old if they go to kindergarten or preschool. Help with shopping and food preparation, laundry, cleaning, all those things. If Mike has the time and ability to provide functional support like that, it accomplishes several things:

It is immediately helpful
Mike can build a connection
Mike can see more of what’s going on and be someone his daughter can talk to

Mike can make concerned observations and ask concerned questions like:
I sense I lot of tension between you and Geoff. How are you feeling about the relationship right now?

Or: I see Geoff saying some hurtful things, how are you doing in the relationship?

His daughter might defend his behavior and casually say that he’s just stressed. Once again, Mike should not make pronouncements such as: he has no right to talk to you that way. Mike might simply validate her observation.

Yes, this is a very stressful time for couples, so it’s really important that they support each other. Mike might say, it seems like there isn’t as much support from Geoff as you could use. It will be important to give it time. Mike should keep showing up with functional and emotional support. If it seems like his daughter is open to the idea of emotional or verbal abuse, Mike could get her a copy of the Verbally Abusive Relationship, letting her know that anytime she wants to talk, that he’ll be there for her.

Also, a good idea is to encourage self-care on her part. To spend time with friends, get fresh air, to stay connected to the things and people that are important to her. Having given birth only a month ago puts her in a pretty fragile state, so she’s not going to get back to yoga class or the gym just yet. Easy walks and lots of rest are important. If she’s nursing, that uses 500 calories a day so eating well is important too.

I’m glad Mike’s daughter has a caring dad. That might very well make a huge difference while she goes through this challenging time. My other thought about her situation is about the kids, the five-year-old is no doubt seeing everything going on and could be worried and anxious about the obvious stress in the family. If Mom’s depressed or the energy in the home is negative, I’m sure that even a one-month-old will absorb that.

If Mom’s depressed or the energy in the home is negative, even a one-month-old will absorb that.Click To Tweet

If someone you love is in an emotionally abusive relationship, don’t allow your frustration that they don’t do something about it push you away. Stay close and let them know you care, and that you’ll support them regardless of how and when they choose to deal with it.

This subject of emotional abuse makes me want to think about the opposite, or emotional support. It makes me want to ask the question, am I being as supportive, as validating, and positive towards my partner as I can be? Could I be more thoughtful and aware of their emotional needs? A small step in that direction might make a big difference to your partner in your own relationship.

Please remember, take care of yourself, you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.

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Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.