9 signs you were the “invisible child” of the family, according to psychology

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There’s very little doubt that the type of family dynamic we grow up in can have a lasting impact on our development.

So what if you feel like you were overlooked?

Perhaps you didn’t get the attention or practical and emotional support you needed.

Being the ignored child in a family can lead to all sorts of hidden emotional pain in later life.

It may leave you with feelings of neglect and low self-esteem as an adult, that show up in your day-to-day life.

Here are 9 signs that you were the “invisible child” of the family, according to psychology.

1) You were an easy child

Invisible children are often very easy kids.

They didn’t necessarily feel like there was room within their family to behave any differently.

Perhaps you had a family member in the group who stole the limelight. They had a big personality that commanded all of the attention. 

You may have felt the pressure to behave well and take on responsibility from a young age. For example, because you had to look after a sibling or even a parent.

Someone in the family could have a disability, illness, or emotional needs that took up all the space.

Others may have told you that you were mature beyond your years.

According to holistic psychologist Dr. Nicole LePera:

“Often the invisible child is seen as being “mature for their age”. They usually sense that their parents are stressed or that their hands are full with another sibling and adapt by being problem-free or perfect.”

2) Difficulty expressing emotions

When you feel like you have to stay small to win acceptance, it’s common to have trouble communicating emotions.

You might worry that it’s a burden or inconvenience to others if you to express how you are feeling. You may keep quiet out of fear of judgment or rejection from others.

But you may also have learned that what you have to say or what you feel doesn’t matter as much.

According to Psych Central:

“If you grew up in a family where your needs, wants, and voice were discounted, then you most likely questioned your right to exist. Your identity is not fully developed when you have been raised in such a neglectful manner. With no one mirroring your value and specialness, you have a sense of void where your identity belongs. This is akin to a hole in your heart, yet more.”

The support of our family helps us discover and express ourselves.

If you were an invisible child that can be something you struggle with.

This habit of suppressing your emotions may make you feel numb, empty, and quite lonely at times.

3) Feeling like a loner or outsider

Loners can be created from a healthy sense of emotional and practical independence. But they can also be an unwanted prison of isolation.

Rather than be a conscious choice, you may withdraw because you feel like a bit of an outsider who isn’t fully accepted. 

This is a pattern that starts in childhood within the family unit.

With attention constantly elsewhere you didn’t feel like you were part of a team, you felt like you had to constantly fly solo and look after yourself.

Hyperindependence is often a stress response to trauma. You avoid going to others for help and support if you’ve learned that it isn’t possible or safe to do so.

This can impact the way you form relationships in later life.

It may feel more challenging to create meaningful connections because letting your guard down is scary. You struggle to trust or open up.

4) Being a middle child

There are some overlaps between being the invisible child and the so-called middle child syndrome.

The idea is that as a child born in the middle or part of a big family, you miss out on attention and focus that your siblings enjoy.

As pointed out by Psych Central:

“The stereotype is that parents will overlook the middle child because the oldest has the most responsibility or is the trailblazer while the youngest gets all the attention as the baby of the family.”

Whilst the jury is still out when it comes to hard psychological evidence, there are studies that suggest middle kids not only feel more neglected but also:

  • are more likely to develop maladaptive perfectionism
  • are less family-oriented than their elder siblings
  • have distant relationships with their parents
  • are less close to their mothers
  • are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior

5) Always trying to prove yourself

If attention was never given freely, you may feel like it’s something you have to work at to get.

That can lead to a hustle mentality in adulthood. You may feel like you’re always striving.

It could show up through competitive behavior and a strong desire to always win. You may feel the need to dominate or assert yourself so that you’re not overlooked again.

Deep inside what you’re doing is jumping through hoops in the hopes of trying to prove your worth.

Clinical psychologist Jennifer Kromberg calls this sort of competitive attention-seeking the attention trap.

“That’s because this competition comes from a place of emotional deprivation – the person who fights for attention isn’t trying to get more of a good thing, but trying desperately to get enough attention to fill a missing part of him or herself.”

From the outside people can see you as determined, driven, or even pushy. But it is often triggered by the next sign on our list.

6) Low self-esteem

People talk a lot about the importance of self-love.

We’re reminded how we need to care for ourselves and cultivate a deep sense of self-worth that comes from within. This is indeed a healthy part of our growth and development.

Yet the reality is that we do get a lot of our sense of self from others. Not only is there nothing wrong with this, it’s perfectly natural.

When you feel like you were overlooked, you can question your own abilities. So you struggle with self-confidence and self-worth.

You may neglect your self-care and instead prioritize others as a consequence (more on this later).

You might find it hard to take compliments because you don’t see in yourself what others do.

When faced with kindness you may feel undeserving or even indebted.

When self-love is missing, is it any wonder then that you go looking for it from elsewhere to try to feel valued?

7) Looking for validation (sometimes in the wrong places)

As we’ve just said, it’s normal to crave a certain amount acceptance and acknowledgement from those around us.

But invisible children may go looking for this more than others.

It’s as though they are constantly searching for the lack of validation they felt growing up. Often this is a subconscious habit.

Growing up you may have felt like:

  • Your feelings and opinions were dismissed or ignored by family members
  • You were rarely praised or acknowledged for achievements
  • You didn’t feel loved or supported

So as an adult, you really seek out this validation elsewhere. That may be through the acceptance from friends or romantic partners.

Sometimes you may even engage in risky behaviors to gain attention. It can also come across as a bit needy or clingy at times becasue of an anxious attachment style.

As explained by psychologist Nicole Lippman-Barile these unhealthy attachment styles are formed in childhood:

“It’s essentially how we were emotionally cared for—or not cared for—as children growing up…Being insecure as a child looks similar to being insecure as an adult in the sense that the anxiety and fear of being abandoned is still present.”

When you lack reliability, support, and a sense of safety as a child, it can continue to shape how you form relationships as an adult.

8) Taking too much responsibility

We’ve already seen that a lot of invisible kids end up taking on the burden of responsibility in childhood. But many adopt this approach later in adulthood too.

They often take up the responsibility of making others happy or feeling safe.

They effortlessly slip into this selfless caregiving role but at the expense of their own needs.

They may become selfless to the point of totally neglecting any self-care.

The biggest problem is that we cannot make ourselves responsible for others, only ourselves.

Whenever we try, we can easily fall foul of the next thing on our list.

9) People-pleasing behavior

People pleasing often grows out of feeling unsafe. We can think that we need to always keep others happy in order to be accepted by them.

It’s also a pattern that can become a habit if you grow up feeling like you can’t do anything to rock the boat.

Remember, many invisible kids prioritorize being on their best behavior at all times. That involves putting others’ needs above their own.

It’s also another form of seeking validation and can show up in several ways:

  • Over apologizing
  • Struggling with setting and upholding boundaries
  • Taking the blame when somethings not your fault
  • Being overly agreeable
  • Struggling to say no
  • Always putting yourself out for others
  • Feeling like people take advantage of you

As highlighted in Pyschology Today, this is, yet again, down to unmet childhood needs:

“Perhaps, a people-pleaser had a parent whose love was conditional. This child may have had to earn her parent’s love and affection, or her parent was unavailable emotionally, or the parent’s availability was inconsistent.”

Awareness is the first step to healing

It’s never easy to to move on from past wounds.

We can feel like a victim to the past with no way of going back to change what has happened.

But we can still find acceptance in the present and it starts with acknowledging our pain.

As we bring awareness to the ways our childhood shapes us, we can find ways to heal our inner child to find a new found peace in the present.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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