Growing up with an absent parent can mess you up. It’s unfair, and I wish more people thought about the consequences of being one.
There are two different types of absent parents, and if you’ve been dealt a bad hand, yours were both.
The first is a physically absent parent. These are the ones who spend more time at work than home – or disappear from the picture entirely.
Emotionally absent parents are those who are physically around but never connect with you.
Growing up with either alters your brain.
Let me explain how:
If you grew up with a physically absent parent,…
1) You fear intimacy
Growing up with physically absent parents can make it hard for you to form and sustain healthy, intimate relationships as you grow up.
You might have struggled to make friends as a teen or convinced yourself that casual dating is your thing.
And it’s not that you don’t want to get close to people or have meaningful relationships – you just fear abandonment.
Opening up, being vulnerable, and letting someone see the real you can be overwhelming. Committing your emotions, body, and time to someone as well.
If your parents were absent, it can leave you feeling a bit uneasy about doing any of this. You might be scared that the moment you do – people will leave. Just like they did.
But you need to recognize this fear for what it is: a projection of your childhood.
There’s no reason why your adult relationships have to be this way too. You can form deep connections with people who will love you exactly as you are and stay.
2) You constantly seek validation
When you don’t receive parental validation as a child, you’ll look for it as an adult. Whether that’s from your parents or anyone else in your life.
You might always want to hear how great you’re doing – at work, in your relationship, or just in life in general.
You thrive on likes, comments, and shares on social media.
It boils down to your self-esteem.
Parental validation can make you feel secure. Think about it:
If the people who created you recognize and accept you and your achievements, you’ll grow up feeling great about yourself and secure in who you are.
If they don’t, you might end up craving love and acceptance.
It’s not that you’re an approval addict – you just don’t know that you’re good enough. The people who were supposed to show you that you are didn’t.
3) You’re self-reliant
Being able to take care of yourself isn’t a bad thing. But when you’re self-reliant to an excessive degree, it can be a sign that you grew up with physically absent parents.
You learned to rely on yourself because, well, you didn’t have a choice.
Take my partner, for example. His mom got really sick when he was a kid. He often had to stay behind to care for their farm while his dad took her to get medical help.
He had no one to help him solve problems or offer guidance. He had to figure it out on his own.
(Yes, this was way back when cellphones weren’t as common and the internet barely existed.)
Independence stuck with him.
And while it isn’t a bad thing in general, when it comes to relationships, it can cause issues.
Self-reliance can make it hard to ask for help or share vulnerabilities.
So, if it’s difficult for you to open up to others and you always think, “I can handle this on my own,” then your parents weren’t as much around as they probably had to be.
Similarly, if you grew up with an emotionally absent parent…
4) You have a hard time expressing your emotions
Growing up with an emotionally absent parent can really mess with your ability to express emotions.
It’s not that you’re heartless – far from it!
But when you don’t have those emotional connections and conversations with your parents, knowing how to open up to others or yourself can be tricky.
You might have a thousand feelings inside but no idea how to word them.
Maybe you only find it hard to express certain ones…
If your parents never praised your achievements, you might not know how to be happy when you slash goals – constantly criticizing or downplaying them.
Whatever the case, remember that growing up with emotionally absent parents doesn’t mean you’re doomed for life. You can catch up and learn to connect with your emotions!
It’ll be a journey, but one that’s worth taking.
Here are some tips:
- Start journaling – write about everything you did, felt, and experienced in your day.
- Practice using “I feel…” sentences.
- Surround yourself with people who are open about their feelings.
Talking to a therapist is also an option. They can help you form a deeper understanding of yourself and your emotions.
5) You have a ton of insecurities and low self-esteem
Children need emotional support and validation to develop a healthy self-image.
If your parents didn’t give you this, you might constantly second-guess yourself, wonder if you’re good enough, or feel like you’re just not measuring up to others.
You know, those little voices in your head that love to play the comparison game…
“You’re not as smart.”
“You could never rock that outfit.”
“She’s just prettier.”
“There’s no way she’ll choose you over him.”
Insecurities and low self-esteem can be a really tough nut to crack.
It affects your relationships, career, and your general happiness.
So, if you genuinely struggle to see your worth, your parents are to blame.
But here’s the deal: recognizing these insecurities and the reason for your low self-esteem as a reflection of your childhood can be a turning point.
You can start working on how you see yourself by addressing them one at a time.
6) You have a hard time trusting people
Trust issues… we’ve all been there, right?
But when you grow up with emotionally absent parents, trusting people can be harder than it’s supposed to be.
Parents should provide a sense of safety and trust during childhood. They should be available when you’re having a hard time or going through those difficult teenage emotions.
If you’ve been left to be self-reliant and self-protective when growing up, it can be hard to lean on others emotionally.
Do you find yourself constantly analyzing intentions?
Double-checking for any signs of deception?
If you answered yes, you were likely deprived of emotional safety as a child.
Through therapy, I learned that I was too.
And it honestly sucks knowing that I pushed so many people away in the past because I thought they had bad intentions.
Learning to trust people can be hard. And there’ll be a lot who disappoint you and make you believe that you truly shouldn’t.
But living a life of skepticism isn’t healthy. You need to find balance and let people in.
I know that having an emotionally or physically absent parent puts you at a disadvantage, but you can catch up.
The first step is recognizing the issues their absence caused. Once you know why you’re struggling in these areas, you can create a plan to help you move forward and improve.