Recognizing the signs of a true lack of emotional support during childhood can be a tricky task.
For these signs are often subtle, and show up in ways that we gloss over or dismiss.
Plus, nobody wants to point fingers at a parent and tell them they did a bad job now, do they?
However, acknowledging when emotional support has been lacking during adolescent years is an essential step towards healing and personal development.
As a child, you might not have been aware of what emotional support should look like. Absent parents or conflict issues may have seemed like the norm…
Because that is all you ever knew of. Thus, it makes identifying a lack of emotional support even more difficult. (If it ain’t broke, why fix it?)
So without further ado, this article will cover 9 signs that might hint towards an emotionally unsupported childhood.
And know now, this is not about blaming anyone or pointing fingers in later life – it’s about helping you to better understand your past, to improve your future.
1) Difficulty expressing emotions
One of the signs of a lack of emotional support during childhood is a struggle with expressing emotions.
As a child, you learned how to put your best foot forward, and in your situation, this meant wrapping up your emotions in a tight bundle and hiding them away.
You learned to handle emotions by observing and interacting with your caregivers.
So if emotional support was absent during these crucial years, it might have left you unsure about how to express your own feelings.
This difficulty in expressing emotions yourself could manifest in different ways – from avoiding emotional situations and shutting down, to becoming overly reactive and having a short temper, or being fairly sensitive.
If you recognize these signs within yourself, remind yourself that it’s not about blaming your caregivers or yourself.
Instead, it’s about gaining insights into why you might react the way you do and learning how to express emotions in a healthy way.
2) Feeling lonely
Despite being surrounded by people, some just cannot shake a persistent feeling of loneliness that trails behind them like a stray dog.
They feel as if they’re on the outside looking in, even when they’re actively participating socially and are in the middle of Christmas. Thanksgiving. A houseparty.
This loneliness tends to suggest a childhood where emotional needs were often overlooked. This is often not intentional; parents have lives of their own, and can find themselves caught up in their own troubles to best think of and support a dependent.
However, this lack of emotional connection during a person’s formative years can lead to these feelings of isolation.
Breaking through this loneliness is also challenging, but as ever, acknowledgement is a big and brave first step towards building more fulfilling relationships.
3) Overly self-critical
If you don’t have parents pandering to you, telling you you’ll do so well in life and that you’re pretty and brave and clever, it can lead to a nasty internalized voice.
This negative self-critic can constantly belittle you, yapping away at how you’re not good enough yet need always to strive for perfection.
Research suggests that children who lack emotional support from their parents often grow up to be adults who set unattainably high standards for themselves. They’re more likely to suffer from perfectionism, anxiety, and even depression.
Hence why acknowledging this pattern is the first step towards reducing self-criticism, even in adults, and creating a more compassionate relationship with oneself.
4) Trust issues
Trust is a crucial aspect of any relationship. It’s learned and built from consistent emotional support and understanding as a child.
However, if you lack this emotional support, you might find it challenging to trust others.
Having to rely on yourself as a child to do tasks and care for yourself as a parent really ought to mean that you grow less trusting of the world around you.
Because you’ve seen it burn, and only you were left standing…
Cue a constant fear of being let down or abandoned, making it hard to form secure and lasting relationships as you stay a little bit skeptical, no matter how hard they try to prove their trustworthiness.
And although it’s not easy, this lack of trust can be abetted through letting down your guard and believing that others can have your back.
As slow a process as this might be, it’s worth it as you’ll learn to love and trust and sustain more fulfilling relationships.
5) Difficulty accepting love & thinking yourself unworthy
Love and affection are basic human needs. However, a lack of these as a child can lead to an adult who thinks themselves undeserving of love.
Maybe they had to create a great fuss to attract their parent’s attention, so they grow to equate being loved with attention seeking behavior.
Or they remain suspicious of people showing affection no matter what, or even uncomfortable with being told “I love you”.
This can stem from a fear of vulnerability or an ingrained belief that you’re not at all worthy of love.
And even if “I love you” sends a shiver down your spine, it’s good to turn towards that which you face and learn to know that you are worthy of such support.
6) Constantly seeking validation
As mentioned above, a lack of love can mean you turn your nose to the ground and try to sniff it out.
We seek that which we lack, thus children who grew up in an absence of love can grow to become reliant on emotional reassurance and validation.
This can mean constantly seeking approval from others, or having a strong need for others to feel seen and valued – maybe even through social media.
Yet no matter how much your partner tells you that they love you, or how many likes you get, you never quite feel like it fills you up.
And though this is applicable to many, the quest for validation can become toxic and detrimental, and is best abetted by learning to love yourself.
7) A fear of abandonment
Finding it difficult to express your love and tell those that you do love how much you appreciate them often comes hand in hand with a crippling fear that they’ll leave at any moment.
You’ve done it on your own before, in the shadows of caregivers.
What’s not to say that the family you made as an adult might not up and leave all of a sudden?
This sometimes even creates a toxic bond whereby the person with an abandonment fear will push them away, in a bid to subconsciously create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They push and push until the relationship becomes too difficult and the loved one leaves, and then sit back with an almost smug face.
I knew they’d end up leaving me anyway.
8) Difficulty forming close relationships
Alongside the struggles with trusting and with opening up, comes the difficulty in getting vulnerable at all.
You might find it hard to open up to others, not quite sure how to form deeper connections or have more meaningful connections.
Or, you might find yourself constantly in short-term relationships that burn bright but burn out quickly – unable to maintain a long-lasting bond.
9) Isolation (despite the loneliness)
One of the most significant signs of an emotionally unsupported childhood is the tendency to self-isolate, even in the midst of the loneliness that then follows you around.
You might be invited out, or be surrounded by people, yet you’ll abscond this for your own company; avoiding social situations or intimate relationships.
Childhood taught you that you had yourself to rely on, and you best solved problems or licked your wounds by yourself – so this has also become your status quo in adulthood.
The tendency to point fingers at parents and call them absent or even narcissist is more topical in today’s world, although this is not exactly a healthy approach.
No family is completely, unwaveringly happy. The nuclear family you see in textbooks rarely exists behind closed doors.
However, growing up with absent and emotionally supportive parents is more common than you might think, and leaves wounds that stay with us until adulthood if not acknowledged and worked through.
Recognizing the signs of absent parents is not about pointing fingers or dwelling in the past. Neither of these will help you as an adult.
Rather, it’s about understanding the impacts it may have had on your present self and being willing to get your elbows dirty in learning to trust and to love.
It’s by acknowledging these signs and accepting your past that you pave the way for personal growth and emotional healing.
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