9 signs you were raised by emotionally unavailable parents

Growing up, we all had different experiences with our parents. Some of us were fortunate to have emotionally present parents, while others…not so much.

Being raised by emotionally unavailable parents can leave lasting impacts on us. It can be tough to spot the signs, especially when it’s all you’ve known.

Yet, recognizing these signs is the first step in understanding our emotional baggage and healing from it. In this piece, I’m going to share 9 signs that could indicate you were raised by emotionally unavailable parents.

Here’s a heads-up though. The signs might not be what you’d expect, but that’s the thing about emotional unavailability – it can be subtle, yet profound.

1) Difficulty expressing emotions

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, or so they say.

Being raised by emotionally unavailable parents can leave a mark on our own emotional landscape. It’s not uncommon for children of such parents to find it challenging to express their feelings.

Why? Because emotions weren’t openly discussed or acknowledged in their upbringing. This might lead us to suppress our feelings, or worse, feel guilty about having them.

So, if you often find yourself struggling to express or manage your feelings, this could be a sign of being raised by emotionally unavailable parents.

But remember, acknowledging this is a step forward. It’s the first stride towards understanding and healing.

2) Craving validation

In retrospect, I can see how my own craving for validation was a sign.

Growing up, my parents were always busy. They were physically there, but emotionally distant. It was like living with strangers who happened to share the same living space.

I remember, as a kid, I’d do anything to get a nod of approval or a simple “well done”. I was starved for that kind of emotional engagement and validation from my parents.

And this carried into adulthood. Whether at work or in personal relationships, I found myself constantly seeking validation. It took me some time to realize that this was a hangover from my childhood — a classic sign of being raised by emotionally unavailable parents.

3) Struggling with intimacy

Children of emotionally unavailable parents often find it challenging to form deep, intimate relationships in their adult life. This doesn’t only apply to romantic relationships, but also friendships and even professional relationships.

The reason behind this is quite straightforward. As kids, we learn about emotional intimacy from our parents. If they were emotionally distant, we might not have learned how to open up and trust others with our feelings.

Children who grow up with emotionally distant parents are more likely to have relationship issues in adulthood. So, if you find it hard to form and maintain close relationships, this could be a sign of your past.

4) Overly independent

Independence is usually a celebrated trait, but there’s a fine line between being self-reliant and overly independent.

Children raised by emotionally unavailable parents often grow up to be fiercely independent adults. This is because they’ve had to fend for themselves emotionally from a young age.

The constant need to rely solely on oneself, refusing help from others even when it’s needed, or always preferring to work alone are all signs of being overly independent.

It’s a defense mechanism, a way of protecting oneself from the emotional disappointment experienced in childhood. 

5) Fear of rejection

Another sign that you might have been raised by emotionally unavailable parents is a persistent fear of rejection.

Such fears often stem from early experiences of feeling dismissed or ignored by our parents.

If our emotional needs were consistently unmet during our formative years, we might develop a deep-seated fear of being rejected or abandoned.

This can manifest in various ways in our adult lives. You might find yourself avoiding relationships or backing out of commitments for fear of being let down.

6) Hungry for love

Everyone craves love and affection, but those of us raised by emotionally unavailable parents might feel an insatiable hunger for it.

We spent our childhoods yearning for a warmth that was constantly denied, a connection that was always just out of reach.

This can leave us with a deep-rooted emptiness, a void that we keep trying to fill with love and affection from others.

You might find yourself giving too much in relationships, or falling in love too quickly, all in an attempt to find the emotional connection you missed as a child.

7) Difficulty trusting others

I’ve always had a hard time letting people in, trusting them with my feelings. I would build walls around myself, not out of choice, but because it felt safe.

This reluctance didn’t spring out of nowhere. It was a learned behavior, a survival strategy ingrained in me because of my emotionally unavailable parents.

As a child, the people I was supposed to trust the most were the ones who let me down repeatedly. It became easier to keep everyone at arm’s length rather than risk being emotionally hurt.

So if you find it difficult to trust others, or if you’re always expecting the worst from people, this might be a sign of having grown up with emotionally unavailable parents.

It’s not your fault, and it’s something that can be worked through with time and understanding.

8) Oversensitivity to criticism

If you find yourself overly sensitive to criticism, whether it’s constructive or not, it could be a sign of having been raised by emotionally unavailable parents.

This sensitivity often stems from the feeling of not being good enough as a child. If your emotional needs were neglected, you might have felt that you were somehow to blame, leading to self-criticism.

As an adult, this can manifest as an exaggerated response to criticisms. You might interpret them as personal attacks, reinforcing the belief that you’re not good enough.

9) You are not alone

Perhaps the most important sign, and something you should always remember, is that you are not alone in this.

There are millions of people around the world who have been raised by emotionally unavailable parents. Each of them, like you, is trying to navigate their emotional world and heal from past experiences.

It’s okay to talk about it, to reach out to others, to seek therapy if you feel it’s necessary.

You are not alone, and it’s never too late to start healing.

The journey of self-discovery

Pondering upon the signs that you were raised by emotionally unavailable parents can be a hard pill to swallow. It’s like opening up old wounds and revisiting memories that we might prefer to keep buried.

But remember, this isn’t about placing blame or dwelling in the past. It’s about understanding, about self-discovery. It’s about recognizing the patterns that have shaped your emotional world so that you can start to reshape them.

Renowned psychotherapist John Bowlby once said, “The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals is a basic component of human nature”. These bonds, or the lack thereof, shape us in profound ways.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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