People who were never made to feel special as children often develop these 10 traits as adults

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You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that our childhood shapes the person we become.

If one crucial aspect of childhood development is lacking, we can develop negative traits, behaviors, and beliefs. 

Every child needs to feel loved and valued. 

If you didn’t receive the emotional nourishment you needed from your parents, this experience has likely left lasting effects on your psyche.

In this article, I share ten common traits that adults who were never made to feel special as children often develop.

Let’s dive straight in!

1) An insecure attachment style

One common similarity among people who experienced childhood neglect is difficulty forming stable relationships.

Nancy Paloma Collins, an LMFT based in California, explains that when a person’s first attachment experience is negative, this can create problems with closeness, trust, and intimacy. 

They may have continuous feelings of anxiety around this, leading them to avoid creating meaningful relationships.

In psychology, this is ‘avoidant attachment,’ one of the four attachment styles from the Attachment theory.

Psychologists have found that people with an avoidant attachment style typically experience a lack of emotional support or connection when growing up.

This leads them to avoid getting to know people intimately and deeply. It also causes various other traits, such as social isolation, which we’ll discuss next…

2) Poor communication skills

According to Marriage & Family Therapist Aurisha Smolarski, many people who experience childhood neglect go on to isolate themselves from social situations in adulthood.

This is due to several things, including:

  • Inability to trust others enough to open up to them
  • Struggling to express their thoughts and feelings in the right way
  • Lack of confidence to express themselves openly and honestly

People who didn’t feel loved or special as children typically find it difficult to navigate conversations because of these things.

In particular, struggling to articulate their thoughts and emotions can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.

They feel like they always “say the wrong thing” or upset others, even though they don’t mean to.

This is due to undeveloped emotional intelligence and low self-awareness….

3) Low self-awareness

As Nancy Paloma Collins explains, a child’s emotional intelligence develops based on their parents’ behaviors, attitudes, and energy. 

So, if someone’s parents did not model healthy emotional intelligence, such as empathy and emotional regulation, they would not develop strong emotional intelligence.

As a result, they struggle to identify and express their emotions and those of others.

This can also have a detrimental effect on their mental health, causing:

  • Excessive anger
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harm

People who cannot regulate their emotions do not have a healthy avenue for dealing with their feelings. So they will do one of the following things instead:

  • Turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol
  • Resort to self-harm or other self-damaging behaviors

They also feel they cannot talk about their feelings due to their struggles with trusting others…

4) Trust issues

Trust is the foundation of any relationship. However, for adults who experienced emotional neglect in childhood, trust can be difficult to establish. 

If someone never felt loved by their parents, they will have learned not to rely on others for support and love. 

Instead, they will appear standoffish and cold as they approach relationships with skepticism and guardedness.

This lack of trust can sabotage your relationships, as you might become paranoid and accuse your partner of doing things they didn’t do.

Alternatively, you might keep your heart closed and avoid relationships altogether, fearing betrayal, rejection, or abandonment. 

5) Fear of rejection

As children, we constantly seek validation and approval from our parents.

For example, if we do well in a school exam, we come home and proudly show our parents.

Of course, we expect our parents to congratulate us, tell us how smart we are, and generally make us feel special.

If, instead, they tell us to go away because they are too busy, we feel rejected.

After this happens many times, we stop trying to seek approval from our parents, as the rejection we get is so painful.

But the problem is, when we grow up, this fear of rejection comes with us, as we fear being ignored, refused, or ridiculed by everyone.

As a result, we play small.

We avoid any situation where rejection might be a possibility.

For example, we don’t go for the promotion at work or approach the cute girl we see in the cafe because we’re terrified of being turned down.

Of course, everyone fears rejection to some degree. But for most people, this fear does not paralyze them and prevent them from ever taking risks.

However, if someone never received validation from their parents, the pain of rejection is engraved deep into their psyche, leading them to avoid it at all costs.

6) Hyper-independence

When your childhood emotional needs are unmet, you eventually learn not to go to your parents for validation.

So, instead, you start relying on the only person you can trust – yourself.

That’s why people who experience childhood neglect are highly self-reliant. 

They learn how to figure things out on their own and soothe themselves. 

While this is a valuable trait, unfortunately for many people, it turns into an excessive need for self-reliance.

They develop a hyper-independent demeanor, relying solely on themselves and avoiding vulnerability at all costs. 

They never seek support or help, even when they need it. Instead, they choose to suffer in silence.

This is because the emotional neglect they experienced as children led them to develop the belief that no one cares enough about them to listen to them, let alone help them.

7) Difficulty setting boundaries

While people who have experienced childhood neglect have trouble asking for and accepting help, this doesn’t mean they are self-focused.

Commonly, the opposite is true.

If you never received the support and validation you needed as a child, you might feel more compelled to be there for others.

Not only are you self-reliant, but you might also become ‘the responsible one’ who is known for caring for everyone else.

This is often the case among those with younger siblings. Not only did they have to learn to rely on themselves, but they also had to help their siblings.

If this was the case for you, now, as an adult, you might be a compulsive caretaker.

This is when you overcompensate for the care and attention you lacked by being excessively attentive to others.

While being caring is a beautiful trait, feeling a strong desire to please others is not.

Feeling that it’s your job to solve everyone else’s problems puts a huge amount of pressure on yourself.

Not only that, but you neglect your own needs.

This leads to difficulty in establishing and enforcing personal boundaries. 

You never say no to a request for help, even if it means putting aside your own needs, which can lead to:

  • Burnout
  • Stress
  • Passive aggression or resentment
  • Loss of self-identity
  • Physical health issues
  • Risk of being exploited

According to James Madison University, one of the driving forces behind people-pleasing is this…

8) Low self-esteem

A lack of validation and encouragement during childhood can profoundly impact your self-esteem. 

Here’s why…

Children’s brains are like sponges that soak up their parents’ words, behaviors, and energy.

If a parent is constantly encouraging their child, they grow up to feel confident. 

However, if the parent neglects or ridicules their child, they may grow up feeling unworthy.

Hence why, adults who didn’t feel special as kids often harbor feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.

They struggle with comparison, constantly comparing themselves to others and feeling like they are not enough.

They also seek external validation from social media or material possessions, desperately trying to fill the void left by their childhood experiences.

Here’s another trait that stems from an insecure self-image

9) Perfectionism 

Research shows that people who experience childhood neglect are prone to perfectionism.

Because they never felt special, they became driven by failure and constantly strived for external validation. 

Perfectionism is not about having good attention to detail. 

When you’re a perfectionist, you’re never happy with your results.

Even if everyone else thinks you’ve done well, you’ll find something you could have done better. 

This need to achieve perfection can be debilitating, causing severe anxiety, stress, and burnout.

10) Fear of failure

People who suffered emotional neglect as children are on a deep, unconscious level, still seeking to be made to feel special. So, as adults, they may become overachievers.

They feel like the more successful they become, the more special they will feel.

To others, they appear to be highly ambitious, but underneath, a fear of failure drives them. 

As University of Rochester psychologist Andrew Elliot explains, “Rather than setting and striving for goals based on a desire to achieve, overachievers are motivated by an unhealthy compulsion to show they are worthy.”

This links back to their low self-esteem.

Final thoughts

As you can see, the effects of not feeling special in childhood can have far-reaching consequences.

From trust issues to fear of rejection, the traits that develop from childhood neglect can significantly affect us as adults.

But the good news is, it’s never too late to rewrite your narrative.

Recognizing these patterns and seeking support through therapy and self-reflection are the first steps toward healing and reclaiming a sense of self-worth and belonging. 

Gemma Clarke

I am a certified yoga and mindfulness teacher and an experienced content writer in the spirituality and personal growth space.
I’m passionate about sharing my expertise through the power of
words to inspire and guide others along the path of personal and spiritual development.

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