If you recognize these 7 signs, you probably grew up feeling unloved

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Feeling unloved in childhood can cast a long shadow. But with self-compassion, you can rewrite your story. Read this to find out more.

1) You get clingy and fearful – especially when there’s conflict

If you grew up with parents or caregivers who were unreliable in their affection with you, the chances are you may have developed an anxious attachment style. And this may have caused abandonment issues.

When you see what you perceive as a partner pulling away, this triggers a deep-seated fear within you, which then often pushes the other partner away. This is known as an anxious attachment style. 

People with an anxious attachment style are often drawn to people with an avoidant attachment style – that is, those people who tend to pull away when they feel in any way under pressure. The reason for this is usually that the anxious person is trying to unconsciously mimic their childhood patterns of relationships.

The anxious attached person often subconsciously feels that they are not good enough for someone else and so they are drawn to the avoidant person because it makes them feel as though they have to work for attention. 

And although this isn’t what they were overly want, it feels comforting because it’s familiar. Know you are worthy of care without struggle.

To learn more about attachment styles, and what you can do read this excellent book.

2) You see yourself in the avoidant pattern

One of the caring parents’ jobs is to teach us how to interact with others and how to set boundaries correctly

The avoidant person gets scared when somebody gets too close because they don’t have an instinctive way to know how to respond. They fear that the other person is going to hurt them and so they pull away before they can get hurt.

Again this is another pattern that tends to be subconscious and avoidant people often attract anxiously attached persons because they each reinforce the other’s unhealthy attachment patterns

But with practice, patience and compassion you can learn to bond safely and relate comfortably. Intimacy need not feel engulfing.

3) You’re a rebel without a cause

Many people who are freethinkers see themselves as rebels and that’s because there are lots of arbitrary rules in society that just don’t make a lot of sense. 

For instance, I know that when I was at school I found it very difficult to obey rules that didn’t have a logical justification. I felt these rules existed merely for the sake of having rules rather than that they made the school a better place or the students better people.

And that’s an example of a rebel with a cause. (Kind of anyway. Sorry, not sorry to my teachers!)

But a rebel without a cause always seems to want to do things their own way no matter what. They always want to control a situation or do something a little bit different even when it’s unkind or inconsiderate of other people.

To give you an example, I once dated a guy, we’ll call him Oliver. He would always maneuver things in his own way. He once borrowed his ex-wife’s car to take their daughter to an important exam. On the way, he realized that he had been caught by a speeding camera.

But instead of owning up to the mistake, he waited until the letter came to the ex-wife. I wondered why he did this when it would have spared him conflict if he had just come clean on the day.

But when I looked at his life in the larger context, it all made sense. 

I realized that his parents never really loved him as a child. And so at school, he used to make noises or do stupid things to get attention because he wasn’t getting attention at home. 

Unfortunately for him this led to him being sent to a kind of prison school that was out in the German countryside.

Later on in life as he grew up in (the former) East Germany. He decided to escape over the wall (ok he had a genuine cause here, the regime was a horrible one) and unfortunately, he was caught imprisoned, and treated as a spy.

The reason I include this bit of the story is that the mixture of lack of love and then a whole lot of unkindness and pain is what made him so controlling and rebellious. If he had started his life with different parents I doubt that he would have lived the same life.

4) You hear about other people with demanding parents and feel envious

I’ve been very lucky to grow up with kind and loving parents. They aren’t demanding, they just want a bit of my time, which is understandable. But some parents take it a step further and really want to be involved in every aspect of the child’s life, even when that child is an adult.

That can be exhausting, as you can imagine.

But my heart always goes out to certain friends of mine who, when they hear stories of these kinds of parents, they feel envious and say, “Wow, I wish my mom cared a little bit more” or “Oh I wish my dad rang me every week for an update on my life.”

There’s definitely such a thing as overbearing parents or parents who are too much. But if you hear stories of parents checking in with their children and it strikes a chord in your heart, (because you never had that parental care and concern), then the chances are that you grew up feeling unloved or perhaps a bit neglected. 

And it may point to yearnings for affection that were absent for you. Just remember that even though you didn’t receive that attention, it doesn’t mean you were undeserving.

5) You always feel you have to prove something

Remember Oliver, my German rebel without a cause? He seemed to always feel that he needed to prove something.

Most of the time this would show up by his total insistence on being right. Not only that, but if you challenged him in any way, he would become furiously angry. Even when I knew he was in the wrong, it was much easier to just sit back and let him discover it for himself.

Other people may not suffer from anger issues like Oliver. 

But instead, they seek approval in other ways. This approval-seeking can be through being extremely beautiful and perfectly dressed or handsome or having a ripped body. And it can also be through displaying talent or overachieving. 

Many of the world’s most successful people had a difficult childhood with parents who were unloving or neglectful, or worse, very critical.

In Elon Musk’s biography, the author describes Musk’s difficult childhood and how that seems to be one of the main factors that has made Musk such a successful and visionary innovator, albeit a demanding one.

6) You have trust issues

Trust is one of those things where you give what you get. In a healthy dynamic, this reciprocity helps relationships thrive. But for those who grew up with reasonably stable and responsive parenting, they usually offer trust freely at first. Then withdraw it only if that openness is exploited.

Some neurodivergent people choose a more guarded approach to trust because it protects them.

But for others, natural distrust is present because they didn’t receive good treatment as a child. Therefore, there is an unconscious sense that the world is unsafe and out to get them. Past betrayals breed distrust. 

If that sounds like you then know that with time, patience, and healthy relationships, those once-protective walls may lower on their own.

7) Boundaries are tough for you

A loving parent or caregiver shows a child where appropriate boundaries lie. From observing this modeling, children gradually learn to set healthy boundaries for themselves. That said, even adults who enjoyed secure childhood attachments often still need to work on developing and maintaining boundaries.

But for the person who feels they were unloved growing up, setting boundaries can be an even more difficult skill to develop.

They might find themselves wanting to people-please because they internalized a sense that they were never “enough” to please their parents. Psychologist Dr. Gabor Mate talks about how unhealthy this pattern is.

Later in life, he explains, adults with insufficient boundary skills often end up struggling with illnesses like depression, addiction, and autoimmune disorders.

Fortunately, boundaries can be learned at any age. Make space for your needs through proactive self-care. You are worth it.

Final thoughts

Remember that like everything in this article, you are not set by the experience that you had as a child. Although it may have influenced you until now and continue to influence you once you realize these things – the good news is this: 

You do have the power and agency to change yourself and your future. With self-compassion, love, and care, you can be the parent you never had. You can offer yourself the safety you never got, and you can demonstrate to yourself how you want to show up in the world.

There are many great videos and self-help books out there to help. Dr Mate’s work is a great place to start. And for those who need a little more, you might consider counseling, therapy or other well-being practices that help you to focus on self-love and let go of self-criticism.

You’ve got this. As someone who has helped others who felt unloved as a child, I know you can heal. I believe in you!

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

Louisa Lopez

Louisa is writer, wellbeing coach, and world traveler, with a Masters in Social Anthropology. She is fascinated by people, psychology, spirituality and exploring psychedelics for personal growth and healing. She’s passionate about helping people and has been giving empowering advice professionally for over 10 years using the tarot. Louisa loves magical adventures and can often be found on a remote jungle island with her dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter: @StormJewel

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