Being Made To Constantly Listen To Your Parents' Sad Stories Is Emotional Abuse

It's a burden no child should carry.

Son listening to mothers sad stories, being emotionally abused Kindel Media | Canva

Many of the clients I work with are people-pleasers, nearly phobic about upsetting other people, especially within intimate relationships. Often, these people experienced childhoods in which one or both parents overwhelmed them with their sadness. The parents recounted stories in which they figure prominently as an undeserving victim, and expect the child to be sad and angry on their behalf. Examples of these stories include:

  • Ways in which one parent hurt the other (whether or not the parents are still together; this can lead to parental alienation)
  • Ways in which the parent was abused by their own parents (sexually, physically, emotionally)
  • The great disappointment litany of the parent’s life (never getting an education, being overweight, being poor)



RELATED: 15 Signs You're A People-Pleaser (And It's Sucking The Life Out Of You)


When a child, particularly a Highly Sensitive Child, is exposed over and over to the same stories, told in the same heartbroken, martyred tone, they become hyperfocused on sadness and start to see the world as a sad, dangerous, unjust place. If these stories, as they so often are, are layered over a baseline level of negativity and depression in the home, as discussed here, this further increases the child’s chances of becoming depressed and/or anxious both as a child and later as an adult.

I am a firm believer that kids should be exposed to all sorts of topics of conversation. Sex, politics, and a parent’s life history — nothing, or very little, should be entirely off the table. However, the tone of conversations with kids needs to be objective, calm, and involve some sort of learning or positive takeaway.

The sad stories that narcissistic, depressed, and BPD parents tell their kids involve no positive points and are told with the subconscious purpose of getting the child to feel bad for them and therefore be loyal to them to compensate for their difficult life. This is a terrible burden for a child.

RELATED: 8 Things You May Struggle With If You Grew Up With Emotionally Immature Parents


Many people in the caretaking professions, and I speak from personal experience, were exposed to extreme and constant marital dysfunction, parental depression, and lack of boundaries between parent and child. These kids learn that the world is a terrible place where people are constantly victimized. As kids, they often try to cheer up their parents, but the parents remain stuck in the past, recounting the same tragedies in the same hopeless tones. Later in life, these children choose careers where they can accomplish what they could never do with their parents: actually make people feel happier.



RELATED: Parents: Your Kids Don't Owe You Anything

If you were forced to listen to your parents’ victim narratives as a child, think deeply about what this did to you and whether you are unintentionally replicating this tendency with your own children. You may also do the inverse: obsessively hiding any negative thoughts or feelings from your kids and over-sheltering them so they do not feel as stressed as you did. Either path is extreme, and neither is healthy. If either one describes you, I encourage you to work with a kind and competent therapist to explore the residual effects of your upbringing on your worldview, depressive/anxious tendencies, and your parenting style.


RELATED: 5 Ways To Deal With Parents Or In-Laws Who Always Play "Victim"

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.