I hear it all the time in my office.

“But I wasn’t beaten to death as a child…it wasn’t THAT bad…how could my childhood have any impact on why I am struggling as an adult right now?”

Each time I take a deep breath and do my best to provide the actual scientific data out there indicating the effects of a disruptive, invalidating, neglectful childhood environment and how this can impact us as adults.

Most of the time it takes months before clients actually believe me, if they ever do.

The Journal of Traumatic Stress Studies in a recent article states

“Although all three types of child abuse were significantly associated with alcohol and substance abuse, our results showed that emotional abuse was significantly related to substance use above and beyond the effects of physical and sexual abuse…”

Don’t miss it. Words hurt. Your environment as a child mattered (matters).

The article goes on to further state

“Invalidating environments where emotional expression is often shut down or ignored can lead to significant difficulty in regulating emotions and consequently lead to various psychological difficulties including substance use.”

Now I am not saying that physical and sexual abuse is not incredibly destructive in and of itself. Absolutely not.

What I am hoping for is that as more and more information continues to surface highlighting the crucial impact of the environment you grow up in as a child individuals who have been struggling, sometimes for decades, might have a different inroad to understand and unlock their healing.

Words Matter. If you are a parent here are 3 ways to change the way you interact with your teen today:

  1. DO NOT use shame and guilt to motivate behavior. This does not work with dogs, cats, gerbils, children or adults. DO set clearly identifiable, predictable boundaries inside your home and stick to them. Predictable structure creates safety for kiddos.
  2. DO NOT assume that your child has the same love language as you. If you don’t know what I am talking about check out the 5 Love Languages here. Each of us have a different love language and while you may prefer to tell your teen that they are doing well in school and use words of affirmation, they may prefer to have quality time or physical affection. DO figure out what their love language is and learn to speak it, even if it is different from your own. Check out 5 Love Languages of Teenagers if you would like to learn more about how to assess your teens love language.
  3. DO NOT assume that your child is not picking up on your stress or the way you treat yourself. It’s a cliché for a reason. Children and teens are like sponges. DO make time to be kind to yourself with the things you say and do.  I know this is a bit counterintuitive. I always say that parenting is more caught than taught. Being kind and compassionate to yourself will translate to your children.

If you are an individual who grew up in an emotionally invalidating, neglectful, abusive or destructive environment in any way stay tuned for the next post about 3 Ways to Work with Internalized Family Systems in your own adult life.

Bottom line: Words hurt. They leave a lasting imprint. However, there are ABSOLUTLEY ways to heal from emotional abuse and neglect and prevent it from happening in your home. Be proactive for yourself, your family and get the help you need and deserve.

Grace and Peace,

Sarah Houy MA, LPC, RYT





Mandavia, A., Robinson, G., Bradley, B., Ressler, K., Powers, A. (2016).  Exposure to childhood abuse and later substance use: indirect effects of emotional dysregulation and exposure to trauma.  Journal of Traumatic Stress, 29, 422-429.

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