3 signs your partner had an unhappy childhood, according to psychology

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In your many wanderings in this world, there’s a good chance that you’ve come across the “father of psychology”.

Yes, we’re talking about the man known as Sigmund Freud.

Now, the Austrian psychoanalyst was absolutely brimming with ideas about our minds, but what’s important on this occasion is that he managed to hold a mirror up to childhoods.

According to Freud, our early years serve as the foundation upon which our adult selves are built. 

Freud once said: “The child is brought up to know its social duties by means of a system of love-rewards and punishments, and in this way it is taught that its security in life depends on its parents (and, subsequently, other people) loving it and being able to believe in its love for them.”

So, what he is saying here is that childhood is the building blocks or Lego—it forms our character, our responses, and our relationships as adults.

Freud was predominantly interested in how our childhood experiences influence our adult lives, especially in our closest relationships.

He believed that the dynamics with our caregivers, our play habits, and our sense of self all stem from those years.

Have you ever looked at your partner and wondered if they struggled in their childhood?

If the answer is yes, you might like to take a closer, kinder look at them through Freud’s lens.

Here are three psychology-backed signs your partner had an unhappy childhood, beginning with a major one: their hunger for validation.

1) They always want people to notice and like them

Think of a small child at a family gathering. They are alone and overlooked.

They are a child who desperately, desperately is in need of time and attention—just like any child is—only, the sad thing is that all they receive is crumbs.

This dynamic is more common than you think.

In fact, Freud had plenty to say about the care we did not receive as kids. He said: “It is not attention that the child is seeking, but love.”

It turns out that many people carry these childhood struggles into their relationships without even clocking onto it.

In turn, this can manifest in a constant need for validation and approval.

So, this might look like your partner often seeking to be noticed and liked by others—sometimes outside of the relationship.

Your partner might even ruthlessly seek validation from everyone around them, fearing rejection if they do not get it.

As Freud alludes to, this kind of behavior can stem from a childhood where love and emotional support were in critically short supply.

Underneath it all lies a deep longing for love and acceptance.

Understanding this can help us show empathy and support to our partners who might be carrying around a whole tonne of unseen childhood wounds.

2) They are heavily driven by their ego and pride

Ever noticed how your SO always seems to be putting themselves first?

Even, quite hurtfully, at your expense?

It’s almost as if they are obsessed with their own needs and desires, almost to the point where you wonder whether they care about anyone else—-including you.

Looking at Freud’s ideas about how we are brought up can help understand why our partners might come across as a little selfish or focused on themselves.

“Children are completely egoistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them,” said Freud.

What Freud is basically saying here is that all kids can be pretty selfish.

And it just comes naturally.

Think about it: when is a child not always wanting things—like a new Barbie or a creamy Cornetto—and trying their best to get these things? It’s basically all part of the deal.

Except, often, they don’t just want these things, they appear to need it. So, they beg, cry, or even throw a mega tantrum until they get precisely what it is that they need.

That’s what Freud calls the ego at work. And it can stick with children as they grow into adults.

Yep, that’s absolutely right: some people tend not to grow out of that “me, me, me” attitude and leave that selfish belief system behind.

I like to remind myself that spotting and potentially understanding this behavior isn’t about playing the blame game.

Because for real, that does not help any of us in this situation!

As Freud also said, “The ego is not master in its own house.”

And this means that we cannot always control our actions because our underlying feelings and desires affect us without us even realizing it.

So, sometimes your partner might do things without even knowing why.

It’s about realizing where it all comes from and how it affects our relationships. 

3) They often feel very anxious or stressed out

Does your SO frequently appear on edge, worried, or overly anxious? 

Do they panic in situations others find doable? Are they overly sensitive to criticism or rejection? 

These could all serve as clues that point to their childhood.

Freud had an interesting idea about anxiety and where it stems from in childhood. He said: “Anxiety in children is originally nothing other than an expression of the fact they are feeling the loss of the person they love.”

According to Freud, when adults feel anxious, it’s often because of problems from when they were kids—problems that were never resolved.

Freud believed that the reasons for anxiety were tied to the feelings a person had when they were little and how they felt around the people who took care of them.

It might indicate that they are lugging around baggage from their past. 

Perhaps they had a tumultuous childhood, marked by major instability, neglect, or even abuse. 

Whatever they encountered in their early years, there’s a high chance they did not receive the love and care needed to feel secure.

If those fundamental needs weren’t met, and if they felt abandoned or misunderstood, it’s understandable that anxiety might seep into their adult years and become a constant companion.

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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