9 traits of people who didn’t receive positive reinforcement as a child, according to psychology

There’s a profound difference between growing up with regular positive reinforcement and growing up without it.

This difference is often seen in the character traits of individuals. Those who didn’t receive enough positive reinforcement as children may develop certain characteristics.

As per psychology, these traits may not be inherently negative, but they do tell a story about a person’s upbringing.

In this article, we’re going to delve into the 9 distinctive traits of individuals who lacked positive reinforcement during their formative years. Using insights from psychology, I’ll share these traits in an easy-to-understand way.

So stick around if you’re curious about how childhood experiences shape us into the adults we become.

1) Difficulty in accepting positive feedback

There’s something fundamentally challenging about receiving praise for those who didn’t get much of it growing up.

Psychology tells us that children who don’t receive enough positive reinforcement often struggle to accept it in their adult life. This can manifest in different ways.

For some, it might lead to an insatiable appetite for approval. For others, it may result in a tendency to dismiss or downplay compliments they receive.

The heart of the issue is the same: a deeply ingrained belief that they aren’t deserving of praise. This belief stems from their childhood experiences where positive reinforcement was lacking.

It’s important to understand this trait not as a flaw, but as a reaction to early life experiences. Understanding this can help us respond better to such individuals and provide the support they might need. But remember, it’s not about changing them – it’s about understanding them.

2) Overcompensating with perfectionism

I remember growing up, I had this constant need to be perfect in everything I did. Whether it was academics, sports or even simple household chores, anything less than perfect was unacceptable to me.

Over time, I realized this was more than just being ambitious or striving for success. It was a form of overcompensation. Because I didn’t receive much positive reinforcement as a child, I developed a belief that only by being perfect could I earn appreciation or validation.

According to psychology, this is a common trait among those who lacked positive reinforcement in their formative years. They may develop an obsession with perfectionism, driven by a fear of criticism or rejection.

This constant striving for perfection can be exhausting and often leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety. It’s important to acknowledge that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them rather than aiming for unattainable perfection.

3) Struggle with self-confidence

When children consistently receive positive reinforcement, it helps build their self-esteem and confidence. But for those who didn’t experience this, the story can be different.

Many individuals who lacked positive reinforcement in their childhood often struggle with self-confidence as adults. They may have a hard time believing in their abilities or tend to underestimate their worth.

Here’s something you might not know – according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who didn’t receive much positive reinforcement as children are more likely to have lower self-esteem and higher levels of self-doubt.

Understanding this can help us empathize with the challenges they face and perhaps support them in building their self-confidence.

4) Tendency to be overly critical

Growing up without much positive reinforcement can often lead individuals to be overly critical – both towards themselves and others.

They might have high expectations and harshly judge any shortcomings. This could be a result of internalizing the lack of positive reinforcement they experienced as children and projecting it onto their adult life.

This trait can also impact their relationships, as they may inadvertently set unrealistic standards for others or struggle to accept people as they are.

Understanding this tendency helps us comprehend why such individuals might come off as ‘tough to please’ or ‘hard to impress’. It’s not about being difficult, but rather a reflection of their early life experiences.

5) Fear of failure

A common trait among those who didn’t receive positive reinforcement in their formative years is an intense fear of failure.

They might avoid taking risks or stepping out of their comfort zone due to a deep-rooted fear of making mistakes or not meeting expectations. This fear can be paralyzing, often preventing them from pursuing new opportunities or experiences.

This fear of failure often stems from their childhood where mistakes might have been met with criticism rather than understanding and encouragement.

Recognizing this fear can help us empathize with these individuals and provide support in overcoming this fear, encouraging them to embrace failure as a part of growth and learning.

6) Difficulty expressing emotions

Emotions are complex, and learning to express them in a healthy, constructive way is a skill we develop over time. For many of us who didn’t receive much positive reinforcement as a child, this skill can be particularly challenging.

We may struggle to share our feelings or vulnerabilities with others, out of fear that they won’t be understood or validated. We might also find it difficult to identify and understand our own emotions.

This isn’t because we are cold or detached. It’s often because, in our formative years, we didn’t always receive the emotional support that could have taught us how to navigate our feelings.

Understanding this can help us approach such individuals with patience and empathy, offering them the emotional space they might need to express themselves.

7) Constant self-doubt

Back in my college days, I remember always second-guessing my decisions, whether it was choosing a major or deciding which club to join. Every choice seemed like a test I was bound to fail.

This constant self-doubt is a common trait among those who didn’t receive much positive reinforcement in their childhood. They may question their abilities and decisions, often worrying about not being good enough or making the wrong choices.

This lack of self-assurance can be linked back to not having received the necessary encouragement and validation during their formative years. Recognizing this can help us understand their need for reassurance and validation in their adult lives.

8) Sensitivity to criticism

Individuals who didn’t receive much positive reinforcement growing up often develop a heightened sensitivity to criticism.

They may perceive feedback, even if it’s constructive, as a personal attack or affirmation of their inadequacies. This is often because, in their early years, they didn’t receive enough affirmation of their positive attributes to balance out the negative feedback.

This sensitivity can affect various aspects of their lives, from personal relationships to professional interactions.

Understanding this trait can help us approach such individuals with more tact and empathy, ensuring our feedback is delivered in a considerate and constructive manner.

9) Need for control

The most significant trait often found in individuals who didn’t receive positive reinforcement as children is a strong need for control.

They might feel a compulsion to control situations, events, and even people around them. This need for control often stems from a desire to prevent negative outcomes or criticism, something they might have frequently encountered in their childhood.

Remember, this trait isn’t about dominance but about fear and insecurity. It’s a coping mechanism that helped them navigate their formative years and has carried over into their adult life. This understanding can help us approach such individuals with patience, empathy, and kindness.

Reflection: It’s about understanding, not blaming

The complexities of human behavior and personality often have deep-rooted connections with our early life experiences.

One such connection is the influence of positive reinforcement, or the lack thereof, during our childhood. It shapes us in ways more profound than we often realize.

Each trait discussed here, from difficulty in accepting positive feedback to the need for control, is not a flaw or a failing. Rather, it’s a reflection of the individual’s journey, their struggles and triumphs over their unique circumstances.

Psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Understanding these traits is not about blaming our past but about accepting ourselves as we are.

It’s about acknowledging these traits and using this understanding to foster empathy, patience, and kindness towards ourselves and others who share similar experiences.

So as we close this discussion, let’s carry this understanding forward. Let’s use it to deepen our connections, enrich our relationships, and ultimately, to create a more empathetic world around us.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

If you want to feel more appreciated as you get older, say goodbye to these 9 habits

If you recognize these 7 signs, you probably had an unhappy childhood