8 traits of adults who didn’t receive much positive reinforcement as a child

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Ah, childhood–perhaps the most defining period of our lives. 

It’s when we develop our core traits, effectively building the foundation of the person we will become.

If more parents were attuned to the latter, I do not doubt that the world would be a far more harmonious place. 

However, the reality is that many struggle through life simply because they weren’t provided with adequate emotional guidance during childhood. 

Sound familiar? 

In this article, I’ll take you through some of the common traits of adults who didn’t receive much positive reinforcement as children. 

Once you know the signs, you can begin making the appropriate changes. 

Let’s get to it!

1) Low self-esteem 

When you’re regularly encouraged by parents or role models growing up, you’ll likely end up a confident and well-rounded adult. 

And unfortunately, the opposite is also true. 

If you weren’t often praised as a kid, or worse, frequently put down, chances are, you’ll develop a powerful lack of self-worth.

This feeling can manifest in different ways, depending on the person. 

Maybe you’ll be great at your career but feel persistently inadequate socially, or emotionally, or when it comes to your relationships. 

And vice versa. 

Perhaps you’ll be the life of the party, but lack the self-belief and assuredness to thrive in other ways. 

Everyone is different, with unique ways of processing childhood neglect. 

2) Difficulty accepting praise 

Speaking of which, I’ll be honest, I grew up with pretty neglectful parents.

They had me when they were very young; and for much of my childhood, it felt like they prioritized themselves and their social lives over me. 

I’ve since come to terms with the fact that I didn’t receive much positive reinforcement as a child–and for the most part, I’ve gotten over it. 

Still, some bad behaviors linger. 

For instance, when someone compliments me, I find myself acting dismissive and uncomfortable, occasionally thinking that they are being sarcastic or mean-spirited. 

I wasn’t programmed to accept positive feedback graciously, so when I encounter it, I sometimes don’t exactly know how to react. 

3) Perfectionism

For many of us, to cope with a less-than-ideal childhood, we tend to overcompensate. 

Many of the people in life I’d deem “perfectionists” often have a chip on their shoulders. 

Unconsciously, they want to gain the approval that they were deprived of in their childhood, hence they strive to be the best in everything they do. 

They are motivated by angst, constantly feeling the need to prove themselves worthy. 

Sure, being a perfectionist sounds great on paper, but it can also create unrealistically high standards at times–and can lead to disappointment. 

4) Fear of failure 

If you didn’t receive adequate praise as a kid, this often means that as an adult, you’ll have a built-in fear of failure. 

Far more so than the average person. 

This will invariably affect your risk appetite, which means you’ll cling to your comfort zone, sometimes to an excess degree. 

The thing is, achieving anything of value in life will always involve some element of risk. 

So the perpetually fearful person will not get the most out of life, opting to stick to established ways, and mindsets–namely equating mistakes with a lack of value or love from others. 

Not good. 

5) Difficulty handling relationships

When you aren’t emotionally secure as a child, this can affect your approach towards relationships significantly–if you don’t actively make changes. 

Your foundation as a person is shaky, sometimes even bordering on collapse. 

Thus, rather than enjoy healthy relationships like “normal” people, you might have difficulty forming and maintaining close relationships. 

Maybe you’ll struggle with communication and expressing yourself, co-dependency, or partaking in intimacy; or maybe you’ll easily get insecure and jealous, behaviors that can put the other person off when left unchecked. 

Ultimately, a strong fear of vulnerability or rejection will rule over you, and your interactions in life will suffer as a result. 

6) Anxiety and depression

As you have probably gathered by now, having ingrained negative traits can be debilitating, affecting our day-to-day lives considerably. 

Once we fully come to terms with this; once we realize that we’re not “like everyone else,” the prospect can affect our mental health, contributing to feelings of anxiety and depression. 

I’ve been there. 

I’ve always had the desire to be “healthy” like all my peers, but just couldn’t get over the hump; I couldn’t get over my deep-rooted tendencies and personality flaws. 

I was aware (even highly aware) of the behaviors and traits that held me back; but because I couldn’t overcome them, it made me feel unhappy.  

7) Problems with authority

In certain cases, we can develop a complicated relationship with authority. 

Like I said earlier, everyone’s different, even when we share similar experiences. 

Hence, how we deal with authority as adults can also be on opposing ends of the spectrum. 

Perhaps, we’ll feel an excessive need to please authority figures, wanting to gain the validation we lacked as children

On the other side of the fence, we can also become rebellious towards authority, rejecting it altogether, as we unknowingly still harbor resentment toward any semblance of the people who brought us up. 

8) Self-sabotaging behavior

I have a friend who was so deeply insecure that he “pre-emptively” broke up with a woman he deemed to be out of his league. 

He felt that heartbreak from her was inevitable; that sooner or later, she would dump him.

So he took matters into his own hands and ended things, blindsiding and devastating his loving beau in the process. 

My friend grew up with absent parents. No surprise there. 

A common tendency among neglected kids is to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors as adults.

Subconsciously, they don’t believe they are truly deserving of success or happiness. 

They might even develop impostor syndrome (even when it’s not warranted) and act accordingly. 

In a way, they’re their own worst enemies, holding themselves back from genuine happiness, progress, and contentment in life. 

Final thoughts 

Look, I know it’s the easy option to maintain the status quo and perpetuate negative, deep-seated behaviors. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Your childhood may have been a crucial time in your life, but it doesn’t need to define you permanently

Sure, you didn’t grow up in the greatest of circumstances, and you may find yourself behind others in life at times, but don’t let that deter you from progress. 

Change is always within your grasp if you want it to be. 

With a bit of will and dedication, you can fundamentally alter who you are, gradually replacing your negative tendencies and behaviors with positive ones.

There’s no shame in seeking professional help if you feel it’s necessary. 

Eventually, you’ll get to where you want to be. You just need to stay consistent. 

9 habits to start doing now to get ahead of everyone else in 5 years (a toolkit for change)

The art of not overthinking: 8 simple ways to stay present