People who lack self-confidence often had these 9 childhood experiences (according to psychology)

Self-confidence is something that some people seem to be born with, while others struggle to find it throughout their lives.

Often, the roots of this struggle can be traced back to an individual’s childhood experiences.

According to psychology, there’s a clear link between certain childhood experiences and a lack of self-confidence in adulthood.

In this article, we’re going to dive into these 9 specific experiences that often contribute to lower self-esteem later in life.

If you’ve ever wondered why self-confidence doesn’t come naturally to you, read on. You might just find your answer in your past.

1) Growing up in a highly critical environment

Every child longs for validation and acceptance from their caregivers. When these needs aren’t met, it can have a lasting impact on their self-confidence.

Psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”

But what happens when a child’s environment stifles this learning and change?

In a highly critical environment, children often learn that they are never quite good enough. Every mistake is magnified, and every success is minimized.

The result? They grow into adults who second-guess every decision, every action, because they’ve been conditioned to believe that they will never measure up.

If you find yourself lacking in self-confidence, reflect on the type of environment you grew up in. Were you encouraged to learn and change? Or were you constantly criticized? Understanding this can be a crucial step in claiming your self-confidence back.

2) Constantly compared to others

I remember a vivid moment in my own childhood. I was about seven, and I had just come home with a B+ on my math test. Instead of celebrating my success, my father turned to me and said, “Why couldn’t you get an A like your cousin?”

Comparisons to others, especially siblings or peers, can have a profound impact on a child’s developing self-confidence.

The renowned psychologist Albert Bandura once said, “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.”

But when you’re constantly compared to others as a child, it’s hard to develop that sense of self-efficacy. Instead, you learn that no matter what you achieve, there’s always someone better.

Looking back now, I realize that this constant comparison didn’t push me to be better. Instead, it eroded my self-confidence because I was made to feel like I was never quite good enough.

When you find yourself lacking confidence, take a moment and think: Were you constantly compared to others as a child? Understanding this might help you reclaim your confidence and realize that your worth is not predicated on being ‘better’ than someone else.

3) Neglected emotional needs

One of the hardest things to admit is that your emotional needs may have been neglected during your childhood.

It’s painful to acknowledge the lack of emotional support, especially when it comes from those who were supposed to care for you the most.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”

When you’re deprived of emotional support as a child, you grow up with this skewed awareness of yourself. You start to believe that your feelings and thoughts aren’t valid or important.

It took me years to understand that my feelings matter and that it’s okay to express them. The neglect I experienced as a child led me to suppress my emotions and in turn, caused me to struggle with self-confidence as an adult.

If you’re struggling with self-confidence, consider whether your emotional needs were neglected during your childhood.

4) Lack of autonomy

Growing up, I was always told what to do, and my opinion was rarely considered. Whether it was about choosing my clothes, my hobbies, or even my friends – every decision was made for me.

This lack of autonomy in making choices can really impact a child’s self-confidence.

Renowned psychologist Erik Erikson once stated, “Children cannot be fooled by empty praise and condescending encouragement. They may have to accept artificial bolstering of their self-esteem in lieu of something better, but what I call their accruing ego identity gains real strength only from wholehearted and consistent recognition of real accomplishment.”

When children are not given the chance to make decisions for themselves or their accomplishments aren’t recognized because they didn’t have a say in them, they start doubting their abilities. They grow into adults who struggle to make decisions without seeking validation from others.

If you find yourself always seeking others’ approval, it might be worth reflecting on whether you were given the autonomy to make decisions as a child. 

5) Overprotection

It might sound counterintuitive, but being overly protected during childhood can often lead to a lack of self-confidence in adulthood.

I remember my mother being extremely protective of me. While her intentions were good, this overprotection led me to believe the world was a dangerous place and that I couldn’t handle it on my own.

When children are overprotected, they are often deprived of these opportunities to experiment with autonomy.

As a result, they grow into adults who feel incapable and doubtful about their own abilities to navigate life’s challenges.

If you’re wrestling with self-confidence issues, consider whether you were overly protected as a child. Recognizing this could be an important step to realizing that you are more than capable of handling life’s challenges on your own.

6) Absence of affection

The absence of affection in childhood can be a silent and invisible wound.

Children crave love and affection from their caregivers. When this affection is absent, it can lead to a deep-seated feeling of unworthiness that extends into adulthood.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, once said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

This quote underlines the importance of affection and emotional security in a child’s life.

If you weren’t shown consistent affection as a child, you might have grown into an adult who constantly seeks validation from others because you don’t believe you’re worthy of love and acceptance.

If you’re struggling with self-confidence now, consider whether you received consistent affection during your childhood. Understanding this could be a significant step toward healing and building your confidence.

7) Unpredictable caregivers

As a child, I never knew what mood I would find my father in when he came home from work. His unpredictable behavior kept me on edge, always adapting and trying to prevent conflict.

Psychologist John Bowlby, known for his work on attachment theory, once said, “What cannot be communicated to the [mother] cannot be communicated to the self.”

When you grow up with unpredictable caregivers, it’s hard to communicate your needs and feelings. It’s even harder to understand and accept them yourself. This lack of understanding can lead to self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence.

8) Experiencing trauma

Let’s be honest, trauma changes you. It can shake your very foundations and leave you questioning your self-worth and abilities.

I experienced a traumatic event early in life that left me with a deep sense of shame and a belief that I was fundamentally flawed.

Psychologist Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on trauma, once said, “Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body.”

Experiencing trauma as a child can leave lasting imprints on your self-confidence. If left unaddressed, this can continue to impact your sense of self-worth well into adulthood.

If you’re struggling with self-confidence, it’s worth considering whether this struggle could be linked to a traumatic experience from your past. Acknowledging this may be painful, but it is also an important step toward healing and rebuilding your self-confidence.

9) Praise for intelligence, not effort

This might seem counterintuitive, but being consistently praised for intelligence rather than effort can lead to a lack of self-confidence.

As a child, I was often lauded for being “smart,” but little attention was paid to the effort I put into my work. This led me to believe that my value was tied to my intelligence and not my work ethic.

Psychologist Carol Dweck, known for her work on mindset, said, “Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance.”

When children are praised only for their intelligence, they can develop a fixed mindset and become fearful of making mistakes. This fear can stifle their self-confidence.

If you struggle with self-confidence and fear of failure, it might be worth reflecting on the type of praise you received as a child. 

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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