20 signs you didn’t get the emotional support you deserved in childhood

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Many people didn’t get enough emotional support when they were children, and that experience can manifest in a number of ways. Here are 20 clear signs that you didn’t get enough support during your formative years.

1. You have trust issues.

When the people who are supposed to nurture you and protect you end up hurting you instead, trust ends up being lost forever. If you experienced this type of thing in childhood, you’re likely hesitant to trust other people again in case they end up betraying you as well.

2. You struggle to form and maintain relationships.

If your family dynamics revolved around being hypervigilant and adaptive to your family’s moods so you didn’t get hurt, you may not know how to cultivate (or maintain) normal, healthy relationships. After all, you have no frame of reference since all your formative conditioning about close relationships was so toxic.

3. You’re emotionally distant and fear intimacy.

Many people who didn’t get proper emotional support in childhood learned that showing emotion made them vulnerable targets. As a result, many are emotionally distant or unavailable when they reach adulthood, and they don’t allow friends or romantic partners to get too close to them as a means of self-preservation.

4. You have difficulty with emotional regulation.

Do you find that your emotions automatically shut down when you start to feel anything too deeply? Or are you constantly battling an emotional rollercoaster that overwhelms you on a regular basis? Emotional dysregulation is a common trait in those whose needs were neglected and unsupported in childhood and adolescence.

5. You have low self-esteem and lack self-compassion.

People who were raised with constant criticism tend to have lower self-esteem than those whose parents encouraged and reassured them.  As such, you’re probably far harder on yourself than you should be, and often feel that you don’t deserve acknowledgment or compassion for your perceived (likely imaginary) flaws or shortcomings.

6. You fear abandonment.

People who didn’t get emotional support as children often have an intense fear of abandonment and loss, especially if they were left alone in the dark instead of being held and comforted. You may still feel that those closest to you will abandon you when you need them the most.

7. You struggle to identify and express your feelings.

It’s difficult to identify feelings when you haven’t had much experience with them, and harder to express them when you haven’t been taught to do so. If your parents or caregivers just told you to be quiet instead of offering emotional instruction, you may not know how to process them.

8. You invalidate your own emotions when they arise.

If you had parents who dismissed your emotions when you were a child, you likely do the same thing to yourself now. When and if you feel upset or sad about something, your inner critic will step up and tell you that you’re being ridiculous, oversensitive, or simply overreacting.

9. You’re a perfectionist.

People who were emotionally supported as kids know that mistakes are inevitable and can be valuable learning experiences. In contrast, people who were punished for errors and missteps learned that the only way they could avoid humiliation or harm was to be perfect at everything, leading to perfectionism in adulthood.

10. You’re a people pleaser.

You may have learned that the only way you would get positive attention (including simple kindness or affection) was to make those around you happy by any means necessary. You may still be a people-pleaser and set your own needs aside to win others’ approval.

11. You’re fiercely independent.

Those who grew up without emotional support learned early that they were the only people who would get their needs met. As such, you probably learned how to take care of yourself at a very early age and don’t allow yourself to rely on anyone else unless absolutely necessary.

12. You have trouble setting (and enforcing) boundaries.

If you tried to set boundaries in your youth only to have them ignored and overstepped, you may have learned that there’s no point in trying to set any at all. As such, you may not even try to stop others from mistreating you, because you figure they’ll do it anyway.

13. You’re over-sensitive to rejection.

Your formative years taught you that every time you tried to reach out for reassurance or approval, you’d simply get rejected. This made you hypersensitive to rejection in adulthood, so you try to avoid it at all costs. When it does happen, it hurts you far more than it should.

14. You over-apologize.

If you were raised by people who overreacted and mistreated you every time you made an innocent mistake, you may have gotten used to over-apologizing. Fawning, taking responsibility for wrongdoings that weren’t your fault, and saying “sorry” constantly are classic signs of self-preservation inspired by past abuse and neglect.

15. You don’t ask for (or accept) help when you need it.

Your lack of emotional support in your youth taught you that you were the only person you could ever count on. As a result, you learned to do everything yourself, and now you refuse to feel vulnerable or incompetent by asking for or accepting help—even when you really need it.

16. You’re always seeking approval.

If you were constantly criticized and condemned as a child, rather than emotionally supported, you probably keep seeking the approval you were never given in your youth. You second-guess yourself constantly and need other people’s validation to make you feel like you have real worth as a human being.

17. You trash-talk yourself.

You likely have a very critical inner voice that sounds an awful lot like the parent who insulted you the most as you were growing up. This negative narrator encourages you to put yourself down and criticize yourself whenever you make a mistake or fail to attain complete perfection.

18. You engage in self-destructive behaviors and self-sabotage.

If you were raised without sufficient emotional support, you likely never learned proper coping mechanisms for difficult emotions or challenging circumstances. As such, you may indulge in harmful behaviors like substance abuse, or self-sabotage your own endeavors so you won’t ever run the risk of failure after successful achievement.

19. You feel like something is missing in your life.

People raised without emotional support often end up lacking fundamental building blocks in their personal development. As such, you may feel like something’s “missing” because your emotional “home” was built on shifting sands, rather than stability or reassurance. This internal chasm can be difficult to fill in without professional help.

20. You prefer to be alone.

People who were let down or neglected by their caregivers as children often feel more comfortable in solitude as adults. You can’t be disappointed by the people around you if there’s nobody else around. Ultimately, you feel safest and most comfortable when you’re by yourself, or with your animal companions.

About The Author

Catherine Winter is an herbalist, INTJ empath, narcissistic abuse survivor, and PTSD warrior currently based in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. In an informal role as confidant and guide, Catherine has helped countless people work through difficult times in their lives and relationships, including divorce, ageing and death journeys, grief, abuse, and trauma recovery, as they navigate their individual paths towards healing and personal peace.