Childhood Emotional Abuse: An Extended List of Adult Problems that May Result


We have already seen that, if we were emotionally abused as children, we may be harmed just as seriously as if we had suffered any other type of abuse – this is clearly backed up by solid, well controlled, research evidence.

In this article, I will collect together, in the form of a list, the types of problems we may encounter in our adult life as a result of the emotional damage that was inflicted upon us. This will serve the purpose of providing an easy point of  reference.

So here goes…


– intense anger reactions following even minor provocations / outbursts of extreme rage easily triggered

– recurring feelings that life is not worth living given the intense emotional pain it entails

– feelings of being incapable of dealing with life’s relentless demands

– frequent and intense feelings of wanting to escape responsibilities

– regard other people’s opinions us far more important than our own (although may not show this on the surface; indeed, outward behaviour may suggest to others that the opposite view is held))

– an intense desire to win the approval and admiration of others

– automatically self-blame when things go wrong

– inability to control own emotions

– highly sensitive to others’ emotions

– fear of never being capable of living up to others’ expectations

– highly indecisive

– deep fear regarding what the future may hold / a constant sense of imminent doom / always expecting the worst possible outcome

– an inability to tolerate own failings and weaknesses

– deep fear of taking risks that most people would regard as worth taking, resulting in not progressing at work, not daring to even attempt to form relationships etc.

– feel undeserving if good things happen  /feel guilty about indulging in pleasurable activities as believe we ‘don’t deserve them’

– when good things do happen, a feeling of suspicion emerges (eg. ‘this is surely too good to be true  /too good to last). For example, I used to think that if I won the lottery, it was overwhelmingly probable that I’d drop dead of a heart attack within a month (maximum!) of receiving my financial windfall.

– difficulty keeping as job (often, this may be due to problems interacting with authority figures / extreme difficulty accepting criticism)

– fear of taking a challenging job due to intense concerns about failing at it, thus not fulfilling vocational potential (linked to fear of risk taking, see above)

– derive comfort / ameliorate emotional pain from such things as cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, frequent casual sex etc. (in its intense form, such behaviour is referred to by psychologists as ‘dissociating’click here to read my article about this). Also, a belief that it would be impossible to give up such activities as this would render life utterly intolerable

– indulgence in hedonistic behaviour as a way of compensating self for childhood suffering

– fear that, in a relationship, will be taken advantage of and exploited

– incomprehension regarding what others could possibly see in us , and, therefore, holding a kind of, ‘I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member’ (Groucho Marx) attitude – only applied to relationships (as expressed by Woody Allen in the opening sequence of his film  Annie Hall).

– prepared to tolerate being abused in a relationship due to a feeling of ‘deserving no better’

– feel a desperate need to be in a relationship with another person in order to feel ‘validated’ as an individual ; this is linked to a poor sense of identity which may also result from having suffered childhood emotional abuse – click here to read my article on identity problems relating to a problematic childhood

– a feeling of having to hide ‘true self’ from others, as this ‘true self’ is ‘utterly unlovable.’

– a feeling of constant physical malaise, but, also, a lack of motivation to do anything about it (eg. taking more exercise, stopping smoking, eating more healthily etc.)

– constant feelings of anxiety and/or frequent feelings of intense panic, perhaps including hyperchondria

– deep sense that there must be something profoundly and irredeemably wrong with us


The worse one’s experience of childhood emotional abuse was, the more of the above symptoms one is likely to have, and the more intense such symptoms are likely to be (all else being equal).

Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) can significantly ameliorate such problems.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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