I'm Not Sure if My Stepdad is Verbally or Emotionally Abusive

Published: May 23, 2017
Dear TeenHealthFX,
Hi, so i'm not quite sure if my stepdad is verbally abusive/emotionally abusive or not. i've lived with him for almost 10 years and i'm so tired of it. my mom recently went back to school to be a nurse. she now has clinicals, and she works 5 days a week on top of school work. it's my finals week, and last night she stayed up until 11 doing laundry and studying. as soon as i got picked up from school today, my stepdad started yelling at me and cussing at me and telling me to do my laundry as soon as i get home. i told him i have 3 finals tomorrow and am not doing as well as i'd hoped, and need to study and that i'll do it after vball(3 hour practice). i'm very dedicated to vball btw. he cussed me out some more and started yelling and blaming me on pretty much everything wrong with my family. he said my mom stays up late cleaning the kitchen and doing my laundry when realistically she's studying. he says she's stressed and working all because of me and that i need to "pick up my own weight" in the house. he says my stepbrothers do more than me and that i should be more like them. i started crying and explaining that i can't do all of my laundry w/o failing my finals or skipping practice. he then proceeded to tell me that vball is a waste of my time and i might as well quit, even though my whole family know fully well that it's my dream to play in college. he's called me a bit** before, and this kind of stuff happens weekly. i'm not sure if this is verbal/emotional abuse, and if it is, can law enforcements get involved?
Signed: I'm Not Sure if My Stepdad is Verbally or Emotionally Abusive

Dear I'm Not Sure if My Stepdad is Verbally or Emotionally Abusive,

It sounds like your mother and stepdad are both under a lot of stress right now, especially with all of your mother’s current work and school commitments. TeenHealthFX cannot know to what extent this is affecting each of them personally, or in their relationship with one another, however, it does sounds like your stepdad has been very stressed, angry and agitated lately and is definitely not handling it well.

It is absolutely not okay for you to be cursed at, yelled at and called a “bitch.” And if this continues with your stepdad without any kind of resolution, there will be negative effects on you, as well as on your relationships with him and with your mother. That said, FX thinks that it is really important for you to involve a trusted adult in this situation. FX suggests that you start by talking to your mother about what is going on. Give her examples of how your stepdad talks to you in terms of any inappropriate words he uses and the tone in which he speaks to you. Explain to her how this is affecting you and your relationships with them. Let your mom know that you can understand if the two of them are under some stress right now with her current workload, but also make it clear to her that it doesn’t justify how he has been relating to you. Tell your mother that you need her help in finding a way to diffuse and resolve this situation.

If your mother already knows and has not wanted to do anything to address it, or does not provide you with the help and support you need after telling her, then it is important that you find another trusted adult to talk to. You could talk to a school counselor, school nurse, teacher, your principal, your family doctor or anyone else who would be able to intervene on your behalf.

Whether by talking to your mother, or by involving a trusted adult outside of the family, the end goal should be getting the family involved in therapy with a reputable clinical social worker or clinical psychologist. It would be beneficial to everyone in the house for a therapist to address whatever stressors are impacting your mother and stepfather, to work with them on how to better handle those stressors, and to facilitate better communication between family members. This might involve your stepdad going alone sometimes, your mom and stepdad being seen as a couple, all three of you meeting together, and/or sometimes you going on your own. A therapist can work with your family on the best way to structure the therapy so that it is effective.

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.

What is emotional abuse?

As for your question about emotional abuse, examples of emotional abuse can include:

  • Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child
  • Calling names and making negative comparisons to others
  • Telling a child he or she is “no good," "worthless," "bad," or "a mistake"
  • Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying
  • Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment
  • Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection
  • Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet


What you have described in terms of your stepdad’s behavior towards you is certainly not okay and is definitely impacting you and your relationship with him in a negative way. However, TeenHealthFX cannot make a final determination on whether child protective services would definitely get involved or not. Your family doctor or a staff member at school would be better able to talk to you about that because they could get more detailed information about the situation and a full history of what has gone on over the past 10 years that you have been living with him. You could also check in with a child abuse hotline, such as the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) for information and help with this.

Signed: TeenHealthFX