14 traits of people who didn’t receive enough love as a child, according to psychology

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Research shows that a steady stream of love is one of the most important things a child needs.

Sadly, for all sorts of reasons, it’s not always what happens. Not getting the right care, attention, and encouragement can have a damaging knock-on effect in adulthood.

Let’s take a look at how a lack of love in childhood can manifest when you grow up.

1) Your emotions may be all over the place

Feelings are complicated to navigate for adults, let alone kids.

We look to our parents to teach us how it’s done. But if you didn’t get the love and emotional support you needed, you may struggle.

At the end of the day, emotional intelligence is a skill set that we learn through guidance.

When we haven’t been taught how to understand, express, and cope with the way we feel, that can lead to greater emotional instability in later life.

So someone who hasn’t felt loved may find themselves getting overwhelmed by the strength of their emotions. They may have frequent mood swings or periods of anger and sadness.

They have lots of feelings bottled up inside and can struggle to regulate and share them.

2) Suffering from low self-esteem

Validation is important.

That’s a reality that can get lost in all the talk of self-love that we hear these days.

That’s not to say that learning to care for and appreciate yourself isn’t important. It clearly is.

But as human beings, it’s also perfectly natural to need the encouragement, love, and validation of others.

So when you didn’t feel like you got that nod of recognition growing up, it understandably affects your self-image.

Sometimes, a lack of love in childhood can lead to feelings of worthlessness in adulthood.

Someone may struggle with self-acceptance because they feel like they never had enough external acceptance.

3) Having trust Issues

When relationships as a child don’t give you what you need, you can grow up believing that they are something that brings pain and difficulty.

Rather than being taught that you can get your needs met by trusting in others, your experiences have been quite the opposite.

That’s why people who didn’t receive enough love may have trust issues. They are afraid to give their heart away for fear of being abandoned or rejected.

So rather than reach out to others, they learn to rely on themselves, as we’ll see next.

4) An over-reliance on yourself

What can seem like independence at first glance is actually hyper-independence.

As outlined by Manhattan Mental Health Counseling:

“Hyper-independence is an extreme form of self-reliance where an individual compulsively avoids relying on others for support or assistance. This mindset can lead to challenges in maintaining healthy relationships and hinder emotional connections, teamwork, and seeking help when needed.”

Believing you can do it all and don’t need anyone else is often a response to trauma.

5) Finding it hard to connect

When our early relationships are unstable, we can develop insecure attachment styles.

As therapist, Nancy Paloma Collins explains:

“When a person’s first attachment experience is being unloved, this can create difficulty in closeness and intimacy, creating continuous feelings of anxiety and avoidance of creating deep meaningful relationships as an adult,”

Emotional detachment often sets in as a defense mechanism.

When we’re not getting our needs met, rather than expose ourselves to the pain, it’s a strategy to withdraw.

6) Being drawn to perfectionism

Perfectionism is yet another destructive trait that can stem from a lack of love in childhood.

When you aren’t getting love, you may wonder why. The answer you come up with could be “I am not good enough”.

Especially if your parents were quite critical and stern, you might believe you had to earn that love first.

Unaware that we are deserving of unconditional love, perfectionism develops. The thinking behind it is that in order to be deserving of good things, I must be flawless.

It comes along with a real fear of failure or criticism, which may lead to further rejection.

It’s just one of the ways those who lacked love may strive to feel worthy, along with the next trait on our list.

7) Always trying to prove yourself

So as we’ve just seen, a common thought process of a child who is missing love can go like this:

If I do better, if I make more of an effort, if I stand out and shine — I will finally get the love I’m desperate for.

This is why overachievers who can seem so confident from the outside are often plagued by insecurity.

As Laura Empson points out to the BBC:

“Some children grow up believing that they are noticed and valued by their parents only when they are excelling. This attitude may persist long after they have left home because they have internalised that insecurity as part of their identity.”

8) People-pleasing behavior

This is another tactic adults who are terrified of rejection turn to.

They hope that if they never rock the boat, then they will get the love they are looking for.

Being on your very best behavior as a child can be a strategy you develop to seek some approval.

But this fear of being burdensome and an inconvenience to others may lead to a problem with setting boundaries later.

You fear that any push back whatsoever will leave you on your own.

Keeping everyone happy by prioritizing their needs over your own seems like a good plan to get the approval you’re craving.

9) Finding it difficult to open up

We’re talking about the ability to be vulnerable, and vulnerability can only occur when we feel safe.

That’s why struggling to open up is another consequence of being starved of love, as Darius Cikanavicius explains in Psych Central.

“Openness and vulnerability, the prerequisites to forming healthy relationships with yourself and others, are compromised. You, however, were not allowed to be open or vulnerable. Instead of love, the experience of pain has now become the precondition for your interpersonal relations. Unfortunately, those relationships in which we feel the most vulnerable are the ones that become the most painful.”

10) Craving affection to the point of desperation

The less exposure we have to love, the more we end up craving it.

That’s why neediness and clinginess can be a consequence of a lack of love.

Think of it this way:

If you’ve been roaming the desert without any water you will become so unbelievably thirsty.

So at the first opportunity you get, it’s understandable that all you want to do is drink.

11) Taking any criticism to heart

To a child, not getting enough love feels like flat-out rejection.

As an adult, it may be easier to apply logic and understand that certain people don’t have the tools or emotional capability to offer love.

But kids often internalize it and make it their own fault.

This heightened sensitivity to rejection can start to read even the slightest feedback or constructive criticism as a knock-back.

12) Feeling alone

The truth is that many of us feel alone from time to time, or like no one understands us.

It’s almost part of the human condition.

But these emotions can be more compelling and consistent for a child deprived of love.

This sensation of being cast out can pervade into adulthood and leave you feeling lonely.

13) Being crippled by self-doubt

Love doesn’t just offer us support, it gives us reassurance.

It’s the crutch we fall back on when we feel threatened.

So when you don’t have that soft cushion to land on, the world seems a scarier place.

The love of our caregivers is what builds our confidence growing up.

When you didn’t have someone cheering you on, through the good times and bad, you may be more prone to questioning yourself in adulthood.

That can lead to greater self-doubt or imposter syndrome.

14) Finding it harder to have close relationships

When you take a look at this long list, it’s no wonder that relationships can feel like trickier things to navigate.

Feeling loved is how we learn to love.

No matter how much you crave it, love can feel like scary uncharted territory.

That means maintaining healthy relationships may be something those who didn’t receive enough love as a child struggle with.

A path to healing

Missing out on the love you deserve can create all sorts of issues in later life, both big and small. 

But it is essential to recognize these traits in yourself and seek the help you need to heal them.

It’s never too late to learn new ways of relating to others, commit to self-care, and discover practical ways to heal the wounds of the past.

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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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