9 Ways to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Leave Home

When you’re a child or underage teenager, you can’t just leave home if your mom or dad is abusing you. These tips on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out of your family home are inspired by a reader who said…

“You gave words of wisdom for adults whose parents try to control them,” says Ruben on 7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents. “What about a 10 year old child with abusive parents? How can a child put into practice all your nice tips and tricks if their parents use physical and mental abuse? Sorry but the Internet is full of tips and tricks on how to do this and that but this is not gonna work with abused children. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this an article about the ‘light version’ of controlling parents? Thanks anyway.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Ruben’s comment because it sounds like he’s in a lot of pain. He’s coping with parents who are abusing him, he feels trapped and hopeless, and he thinks he can’t find help or support on the internet. He can’t just leave home. Ruben didn’t ask for tips on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out of your family home, but I’m writing this article anyway.

Can you relate to Ruben? Are you trying to survive abusive parents – and are you stuck because you’re too young to move out? I’ve been there. My mom is mentally ill; she struggled with schizophrenia my whole life. I was in and out of foster homes throughout my childhood, and I never went to the same school or lived in the same home for more than six months.

Here’s how I survived.

9 Ways to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Leave Home

When I was a kid, I didn’t think of calling a helpline – but I did call Social Services and talk to a social worker about leaving home. If you can’t take your parents’ abuse anymore, visit the National Child Abuse Hotline or call them 1-800-442-4453.

1. Learn what it means to have “abusive parents”

Would you believe that I completely forgot how my mom abused me and how bad the abuse was? It wasn’t until recently, when I read my diary from when I was 13 and in grade 8 that I realized that she was incredibly verbally and physically abusive. I always knew my mother was mentally ill and had paranoid schizophrenia, but it wasn’t until recently that I remembered that she was actually a very abusive parent. I guess part of how I learned to survive my mom’s abuse was to forget about how bad it was. I also didn’t know what it meant to have an abusive mother.

I won’t answer the “what is child abuse?” question here; you can click the National Child Abuse Hotline link above or search the internet for the textbook definition of abusive parents (look for tips on how to leave home while you’re at it!). Here, I just want to tell you how important it is to remember that sometimes we call something “abusive” when it’s just rules or boundaries.

My mom was not abusive when she:

  • Gave me a curfew of 10 pm
  • Grounded me when I was late coming home
  • Refused to let me stay up until 2 am
  • Made me go to school and do my homework
  • Told me to exercise
  • Made me to go church
  • Made me to go Girl Guides
  • Wouldn’t let me stay at the roller skating rink as late as I wanted
  • Wouldn’t let me hang out with certain friends
  • Got so mentally ill that she had to go to the hospital for shock treatments, and I had to live in foster homes

It’s important to recognize the difference between parents setting rules because it’s their job to protect and raise you, versus parents abusing you physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually.

My mom was abusing me when she:

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  • Hit me with “the stick” (a heavy piece of wood, much heavier than a wooden spoon. It really hurt)
  • Called me evil, bad, stupid, fat, and lazy
  • Refused to let me see our other family members
  • Hit my sister in front of me
  • Neglected me
  • Harmed our pets

That’s all I care to remember right now! I know I’d remember a lot more examples of how my mom abused me if I read my diaries from when I was a child and teenager, but I don’t want to. Why? Because it hurts. And because one of my most important tips for how to survive abusive parents is to grieve the pain and loss, but don’t let it consume or overwhelm you.

You are welcome to share your experience and story in the comments section below. Writing about what your abusive parents do and how it makes you feel will help you start healing and dealing with it.

Are you an adult who grew up with abusive parents? Read 3 Ways to Cope With Difficult Parents – for Adult Children. But if you’re a kid who can’t leave home and need to survive abuse, keep reading…

2. Talk about how your parents are abusing you

I didn’t tell anyone how abusive my mother was. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like everyone had a “normal” mom and dad, and I was stuck with this crazy sick schizophrenic mother who called me names and hit me. Who could I tell? Nobody. I thought. Until I DID tell somebody. And then my life changed. I got to leave home!

How to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Move Out

How to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Move Out

Who can you talk to about your abusive parents? That is how you will survive. That is the ONLY WAY you will survive the abuse. You have to speak up for yourself! If you don’t make an effort to learn how to save yourself, you can’t expect someone to just rescue you. If you talk about how you are being abused by your mom or dad, then you might find out something really important: you might discover that you CAN move out of your family home after all.

If you talk about it, you might go beyond learning how to survive abusive parents. You might find a way to move away from the abuse at home. Wouldn’t that be something?

3. Don’t poke the bear

I usually knew exactly what made my mom mad…but not always. One of the worst parts of living with a mentally ill parent is the unpredictability. Sometimes I would get “the stick” for something little or stupid; other times I would do something really bad (eg, I got drunk and threw up all over the front hallway) and I didn’t get any punishment at all. I never knew what to expect, and I hated that. It was confusing, and it made me insecure and uncertain.

If you can’t move away from your abusive parents, then don’t provoke them. Don’t set yourself up for abuse by doing whatever it is that makes them abuse you. This is not to say the abuse is your fault! It is NOT your fault your parents are abusive. You are not causing them to abuse you or the other kids or pets in your family.

Be smart. Don’t do things you know will trigger your mom or dad. Stay away from dangerous situations. Protect yourself – and use the brains in your head for good, not for evil.

4. Write down everything that happens to you

In 5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship, I encourage women to document everything they experience. Write down the dates, times, activities, and places the abuse occurs. Write down who was involved, what happened, and how long it lasted. And hide your writing somewhere private. Ask your best friend, a relative, teacher, coach, youth leader or guidance counselor to keep it safe for you.

And, write down how you feel about what’s happening to you. This is how you will survive your abusive parents when you can’t move out of your family’s home. You need to stay strong and healthy; one of the best ways to do that is to express yourself. You should see what I wrote about my mom when I was 13 years old in grade 8! I wrote the ugliest, meanest, most honest things. I puked up my guts into those journals.

5. Learn your “Superpower Survival Powers”

Writing saved me. That, and God. Neither writing nor God took me OUT of my abusive home immediately (probably because if I was rescued right away I wouldn’t have anything to say to you right now). I learned how to survive abusive parents when I couldn’t leave home by writing about everything that happened to me, and by trusting God. As Joyce Meyer says, “God didn’t bring me out of it, but He did bring me through it.”

What are your Superpower Survival Powers? You may have 100 more than you realize! I want to know what your survival skills are. Here are some possibilities….

Examples of “Superpower Survival Powers”

  • The ability to speak up and talk about your abusive parents. A voice! You know how to talk, and that is pretty amazing
  • An internet connection that you know how to use
  • Your brain that figured out the first step for surviving abusive parents when you can’t move out (searching for help on the internet! Good job, brain)
  • A phone to call for help
  • Friends and family who care about you
  • The ability to write down how your parents are abusing you, and how it makes you feel
  • Your personality, your unique combination of talents and gifts that nobody else has

Here’s the Superpower Survival Power that saved me: I swallowed my pride, and called Social Services for help. I talked to a social worker and said that my mom is abusive and I can’t live with her anymore. I asked if I could go live in a foster home because my home environment wasn’t conducive to a healthy upbringing for a young girl (actually what I really said was “I hate my crazy mom. Can you get me the frig out of here?”).

6. Hold on to the fact that you are not alone

surviving parent abuse can't move outIn Spilled Milk, KL Randis tells the story of Brooke Nolan. She is a battered child who makes an anonymous phone call about the escalating child abuse in her home.

When Social Services jeopardize her safety and condemns her to keep her father’s secret, it’s a glass of spilled milk at the dinner table that forces her to talk about the parental abuse she was hiding. In her pursuit for safety and justice, Brooke battles a broken system that pushes to keep her father in the home.

Spilled Milk is based on a true story, but it is fiction. It is a novel of shocking narrative, triumph and resiliency – and it will help you see how courageous and strong you can be! Find other survivors of abusive parents. Gain strength from connecting with people like Brooke, and KL, and me. I survived childhood abuse to become a happy, strong, successful, married woman of faith who loves writing for a living.

7. Call for help – even if you don’t want to leave home

Asking for help is hard. But I did it, and I am SO glad I found the courage I needed to call Social Services! And I’m super proud of myself now. I was only 13 years old, and I knew that the only way I could survive my abusive mentally ill mother was to get the hell out of Dodge. So I called for help.

What about you? You may say “I have nobody to help me” but I don’t believe it. If you have an internet connection – which you do or how else would you be reading my tips on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out? More likely, it’s your fear and pride that is holding you back from calling a kids’ helpline or child abuse hotline.

And that’s cool. When you’re ready, you will reach out for help. You’ll take a deep breath and you’ll speak up. You’ll speak your truth, even if your voice shakes. You’ll save yourself. You don’t necessarily need to ask for help moving out of your family home – you might just ask for tips and ways to survive the abuse without letting it destroy your life.

8. Learn how to survive wherever you are

9 Ways to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can't Leave Home

9 Ways to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Leave Home

Even if you call Social Services or a child abuse hotline – or you talk to a teacher or your guidance counselor at school – you may not be allowed to move out of your family home.

You may have to keep learning survival skills because the grownups may not be able to magically whip you a new place to live. When I called Social Services, the social worker asked me who in my family I could go live with. I suggested my grandma. My sister went to live with her dad. It was painful and said – I hated that I couldn’t live with my sister anymore…but we didn’t have to live with our mother, so there was that.

If you’re calling for help, read What You Need to Know When You Call a Shelter or Safe House.

9. Don’t self-destruct or implode

No matter where you end up, you will need to learn how to survive. That’s what life is: a series of things to survive and mountains to conquer. Don’t get me wrong – lots and lots of great, wonderful, miraculous, amazing and beautiful things will happen to you!! But bad things happen too.

I did some really stupid things when I finally was old enough to get my own apartment. I could’ve easily gotten pregnant as a teenager, or overdosed on drugs, or got killed drunk driving. So stupid! I didn’t think think of it as “self-destruction”, but that’s what I was doing. I didn’t cut myself or attempt suicide, but I could easily have ruined my life.

How are you self-destructing? It’s a natural way to deal with the pain you feel. You’re grieving what you should have had (i.e., a life that doesn’t involve searching for tips on “how to survive abusive parents”). To deal with the pain, you may be doing drugs, having lots of unhappy sex, eating too much crap, starving yourself, cutting yourself – there are 1,000 ways to self-destruct.

Do you need encouragement and inspiration? Click here for my free Blossom Tips newsletter! One email a week, short and sweet.

What do you think of these tips and resources on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out? While I can’t offer advice on your specific situation, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.


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20 thoughts on “9 Ways to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Leave Home

  • Afaf

    I’m 19 still in 10th grade because of the financial issues that my family had and going physical and verbal abuse from my mother and verbal abuse from my dad and now from my older brother .. My mom have been physically hurting me since I was a teenager told to myself that I would get out of here when I will get older but now I’m 19 haven’t completed my high school won’t get a job and I feel so helpless now I don’t even talk about it to anyone even if would my mom would torture me after that I don’t know for how long I have to go through this . So yeah that’s my story and I don’t see anything getting better

  • Z

    My dad has been both physically and mentally abusive in the past and for a very long time I blamed myself for him hitting me or constantly insulting me, I thought it was just part of our culture. I thought it was always something I did and I just had to be better. He completely shit on my self-esteem and it’s only been a year since I recognized his behaviour as abuse. Since then I’ve called a few hotlines but there really is no great solution to this other than just living out my sentence for two more years. Most of the thing’s he’s done to me and my siblings I have wiped completely from my memory but I remember new things everyday like how he used to beat us with a curtain rod or how he punched two of my teeth out for no apparent reason. He was the reason for my first attempt at suicide and my self-harm starting at the age of 11. The worst part of all this is he’s so extremely indifferent and unaware of his behaviour. He still continues to believe there is something wrong with us. He’s gradually getting better with medication but the slightest thing he does triggers me and I have to relive a thousand memories that just sends me spiralling into panic attacks. I really thought he could change with medication but just a few days ago he threw plates at my mom and her feet were bloody for weeks. After I leave college I’m never coming back. It helps to know there so many other people that are going through what I’m going through but it also breaks my heart. You guys are so strong and I wish you all the best.

  • Laurie Post author

    One of the best tips on surviving abusive parents when you can’t leave home is a comment from a reader, below:

    “I can’t wait to leave either. We need to hold on to that leaving date and remember that we’re responsible for our own happiness.”

    You may be young, you may feel helpless and hopeless, and you may be right about both! Maybe you are helpless and hopeless right now. But this is a season in your life that will pass so fast. I couldn’t WAIT to be out on my own, to leave my abusive mother. In fact, I called Social Services and asked to be put in a foster home – that’s how bad it was. My mom suffers from schizophrenia, and it was really bad to live with her.

    Take stock of your situation. Can you survive the next X number of years with your abusive parents? If not, talk to a guidance counselor, social worker, or even the police. It sucks, but if your parents can’t take care of you….somebody has to! And if nobody is volunteering, then you need to find a safe place for yourself.

    I know it’s not fair, and it hurts. You deserve good, healthy, supportive parents. You didn’t do anything to deserve abusive parents, and you don’t deserve to be stuck trying to survive and not being able to leave home.

    How can you ease the pain of the next few months or years, living with your parents? What can you do to make life easier, better, healthier…and even happier?

  • :)))

    My mom is abusive aswell both mentally and physically although she hasn’t hit me since I was younger. To get away from it I applied for a university overseas in England. Although she found out and won’t let me accept my offer. I’m not financially independent and honestly will not be able to afford it without help from my parents. My dad is fine but pretends he doesn’t see when she does stuff. I used to go hang with friends in town to escape from it but I think she’s copped onto it and won’t let me go out anymore, she’s been doing this for the last few times I want to leave she’ll be sweet to me the whole day let me get all dressed up and ready then won’t let me leave like it’s some form of entertainment for her, and if I don’t react in a way she can see I’m physically upset or cry she’ll do even worse stuff. It’s like I’m living a Cinderella story i have three other siblings but I’m the only one who does chores even tho I’m the one with exams coming up. I’m just so frustrated and there’s so much more I can’t even type. I applied for a job and did an interview that seemed to go well and everything has gotten so much worse the idea of me having financial independence seems to irk her and now going away for college seems impossible. She brings it up all the time saying menacing things like if I don’t go to college in Ireland i should forget going at all or that’s she’ll make this summer horrible before i go and it’ll just be me and her in this house and she’ll deal with me. Just so many things I’m hoping If i work full time I’ll have a little escape but I honestly considered killing myself today

  • C

    I’m 19 years old. I will be finally moving out in August so I will be able to escape my abusive household but it feels like because I’m leaving things have gotten worse. My mom was raised in a physically abusive household and married my emotionally abusive father to escape from it. So I suppose she has always been emotionally abusive because it’s what she has been around her whole life. But it got alot more noticable after she married my stepfather 6 years ago. My stepfather is another piece of work, but I don’t care about him. I only care about my mom. Whatever he says, she listens to . When they first started dating, he told my mom that she coddles me too much, so she stopped showing me affection and comforting me when I cry. Then she gets upset when I refuse to show her affection. If she has a bad day, she will take it out on me; she will yell at me for anything I do, and say I don’t care about her because I always make her angry. That’s what I hear all the time. My stepdad is pretty abusive to both my mom and I, and for that reason I don’t like him. I’ve tried expressing that to my mom, but she gets very angry and says things to hurt me because I “hurt her”. If she is hurt, she needs to hurt me too. I really am so tired of it, and so I applied and got accepted to a university a year earlier than I was supposed to, because I reached a point where I can’t handle living here much longer. If i didn’t get into my university, then I probably would have taken a break from school and worked full time in order to move out. Now that I am about to move out, all i hear is “why does it matter, you’re leaving me anyway” or “I left my house because of my parents too. I know what you’re doing” or “you’re leaving and you never ever spend time with me. I don’t know why you are like that with me.” It’s as if she is making me guilty because I am leaving. I really just need to find out how to cope with being here my last 4 months..but it’s so hard. The finish line feels so close but so far away.

    • P

      I’m leaving in September too. I managed to escape to my boyfriend’s during some of high school but he broke up with me and i was forced to move back here. Not more than a week has gone by and she’s yelling and screaming the house down, accusing me of conspiring with her friends against her, slamming doors so loud i think they’ll break, and being so horrendous that my dog is shaking under the table.
      I can’t wait to leave either. We need to hold on to that leaving date and remember that we’re responsible for our own happiness.

  • Buinny

    I am in a situation where my father is verbally and mentally abusive to myself (15) my younger brother (13) and my mother. I am the only one in the family who feels it something to call out, my mother has admitted to his abusive tendencies and has been fluctuating in her decision of wether or not she is going to leave him. However she does nothing and enables his treatment of the entire family. We take care not to set him off but similar to your article the smallest thing can escalate. Once my brother left his video game chord out and it frustrated my dad so he screamed and yelled for three hours (something that happens approximately every other day) calling him and me names. My mother was not home and he grabbed a belt and threatened to belt him until he bled. Thankfully he waited until my mother came home because she stopped him from doing that, but just the fact that in my brain I was seeing who we could go to(we have no other family in this state), how I could keep my brother from him, and how I could convince my mother to leave him… that weighed heavy on me months after it happened. A week after that event however my mum had to leave for a business trip in New York, she was scared to leave my brother and I so she called my grandfather (who lives out of state) to come and watch us. My dad threatened to have him arrested for trespassing if he set foot into our house, my grandpa didn’t come and I havnt seen him since. There are many other similar events that happened involving my dad sleeping with another women after he got very very drunk, him insulting me daily about my quietness and my facial Condition (he forcefully grabs my face and pushes up my bangs accusing me of messing with it but I haven’t and he just wants to be mean) and him being cruel and short tempered. It wasn’t always this way, I wasn’t always scared of my dad and I didn’t always recognize my home life as abusive. Sometimes in my mind I still doubt if it really is since he doesn’t abuse us physically. My mom recently was going to leave him, she called a lawyer and everything but he spontaneously took her on a trip and now she won’t and she kissed him. She kissed the man who has made me cry so much the night before a school day that I ditch because my eyes are too red and swollen from the night before, the man who told me to kill myself when i was struggling with depression and blamed it on me and my actions instead of maybe helping me to get help, the man who yells at my brother who’s on the spectrum for his tweakiness and how he can’t sit still and convinces him that he’s utterly stupid. I wanted them to separate, which seems weird, but I wanted my mum to have custody and to be away from my father. And that’s not going to happen and they will continue to take away everything, my art, my music, my friends until they have left me so empty I can’t fught the abuse anymore and I give in to sugaring the situation and idolizing my father like my brother does. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to react. I’m alienated because what he says hurts me so badly and apparently I’m the only one still held up on it daily. My brother tells me that it’s better to kiss his ass than to fight it, and my mum tells me that men will be men. I’m so sick and tired and just done of it.

  • A

    I never said anything abt my parents bcz I thot may be something is wrong with me but I read the signs of mental abuse n realised they were abusive especially my mom. And in my country parents r respected so much that u dare not say a word against them otherwise u r considered an ill mannered child.
    Since childhood they hv been belittling me in front of relatives friends teachers ..everyone. My mom calls me mad calls me ugly n says no guy will marry u.U r worthless.I am looking for job I was good at studies n I cud hv cracked some big exam but she starts shouting n taunting when she sees me with a book n doesnt let me study.

    I get very ill confined to bed for days or monthz bcz of their taunts.

    N there is no law or rule in my country to protect against such abuse as in our country ppl find it hard to believe that parents can be bad.

    I just hate everything no matter how much I try I dont think Ill ever get out of this hell.

    I love my parents but they just mock at me they r heartless n I hate to say this.

  • Ash

    Having an abusive family n not being able to leave it bcz u have no where to go n getting mentally abused in home is better than getting abused outiside. Which makes people stay where they r n face abuse.
    We can only pray until God saves us from such sick environment.

    There is no future n no hope when both of your parents are mentally ill.They dont let u study so that u get a job n come out of that hell.
    They take away every support system n behave as if innocent.

    I dont know how to survive.

  • Alexis

    I’m 18 and just graduated. I’m saving up to move out of my mom’s house, but won’t have enough money or a roommate until 6 months from now. I don’t know how I’m going to survive in this time. My mom had post partum depression for the first 14 years of my life (btw I was unplanned), never hugged me when I cried, tried to diagnose me with personality disorders, told me when I was 10 that she couldn’t wait until I was 18 and could move out. There was a time I had a knife to my wrist in the kitchen and she looked at me and said “do it”. She has told me recently “I never want people like you in my life”. Her new husband likes siding with her too. I have to find a way to figure this out because if I’m not here, I’ll be homeless. I have to be here for 6 more months and I don’t know what to do

  • Rose

    I’m a 12 year old-I turned 12 in August-and I have been emotionally abused since my mom lost her baby when I was 5. I was blamed for the loss of her baby. When I turned 9 or 10, my mom began to physically abuse me. When I made a mistake, I was abused. If I say the wrong thing, she yells and tells me how much she hates me and says that she wishes she had had my sister first and then stopped having babies. When I get in a fight with my sister, I am told how much she hates me, and depending on what happened, the abuse sometimes turns physical. About a month ago, the abuse got so bad I threatened to call the cops. She had been hitting me with a flyswatter and a big, thick, cylindrical stick (which my dad normally used to check how much air was in his tires). Once I had made the threat, she stopped. Other times, when it was emotional abuse, I have actually considered running away to my friend’s house(she doesn’t know about the abuse). I am really depressed and have had suicidal thoughts (including an actual suicide attempt, which included me taping a thick pillow to my face to try to suffocate myself). My (other) friend does know, but she doesn’t know how to help me. She wants me to be happy, but she says she doesn’t know how.

  • Anna

    I’m 17 and I’ll be 18 and 9 months. My dad has always been emotionally abusing me but I didn’t realize that it was a form of abuse till recently. He has also abused me physically yesterday for the first time. I can’t go anywhere, my mom doesn’t want to leave him and we moved to a different country last year so my family is very far as well as my friends and I’m alone at home with my parents. I graduated already but I don’t have a job and can’t work because of my foreign status. My dad said he’d stop if I was nice but I still have so much hate in me from yesterday.. I wanted to tell our pastor but he threatened me if I told anyone. I also keep everything in writing just in case and I managed to record him insulting me. I just needed to to tell someone. Thanks for reading.

      • S

        I know what that is like, and I know that most of this won’t help… but you have to keep talking to a close friend. Just stay strong and talk to ANYONE you can trust till you are older. Then you’ll be able to live without depending on your parents. It’s very hard to stay strong, but just remember that you have a whole life ahead of you… don’t let your parents take that away from you. Focus on something you love to do, and maybe in the future you might decide to help other people in similar situations.