People who grew up feeling unwanted often display these 7 behaviors without realizing it

Do you sometimes find yourself behaving in ways that puzzle you?

Do you feel like there’s an invisible thread pulling you toward certain patterns of behavior, but you can’t quite figure out why?

If so, your past might hold some answers.

For those of us who grew up feeling unwanted, these feelings can manifest in our adult lives in surprising and often unrecognizable ways.

After extensive research and personal reflection, I’ve identified 7 common behaviors that are frequently exhibited by individuals who felt unwanted during their formative years.

If these behaviors resonate with you, it may be time to unravel the threads of your past and confront the feelings that have long been lurking in the shadows.

1) Feeling perpetually out of place

Perhaps one of the most common manifestations of feeling unwanted in childhood is a persistent sense of not belonging, of being a square peg in a round hole.

It’s like there’s this nagging feeling that you’re an outsider looking in, no matter the setting or company.

You might find yourself at a family gathering, surrounded by loved ones, but still feeling like an alien amongst your own kin.

Or perhaps you’re at work, partaking in team meetings and corporate events, yet constantly feeling like you’re on the edge of the circle.

This sense of alienation is not about physical location or proximity; it’s an emotional state that stems from deep within.

It’s a residual effect of growing up feeling unwanted, and it can color your interactions and relationships in adulthood. And quite often, this feeling can lead to:

2) Excessive people-pleasing

On the surface, being a people-pleaser may seem like a positive attribute.

You’re always willing to lend a hand, make sacrifices, and keep the peace.

But dig a little deeper and you might find that this behavior is not as altruistic as it appears.

You see, people who grew up feeling unwanted often develop an excessive need to please others.

This is because, in their formative years, their worth was tied to their ability to meet others’ needs and expectations.

In other words, they learned to equate love and acceptance with being useful or agreeable.

As adults, this translates into a compulsive need to say ‘yes’ to others, even at the cost of their own needs and well-being.

They constantly put others before themselves, not out of genuine generosity but out of fear of rejection or abandonment.

While it may seem counterintuitive, this extreme people-pleasing behavior is not a sign of selflessness but rather an echo of past feelings of unworthiness. And if left undressed, can lead to burnout, resentment, and much more. 

3) Struggling with intimacy

In any relationship, intimacy is a crucial element that fosters a deep sense of connection and mutual understanding.

However, for those who grew up feeling unwanted, this aspect of relationships can prove to be a daunting challenge.

If this is the case, you may end up keeping people at arm’s length, afraid to let them get too close.

Or perhaps you dive into relationships headfirst, only to sabotage them when they start to become serious.

You might also grapple with vulnerability or find it difficult to trust despite the best intentions of those around you.

The truth is, this struggle with intimacy often stems from a fear of rejection deeply rooted in the past.

If you felt unwanted as a child, you might unconsciously believe that anyone who gets close will eventually leave or reject you.

It’s important to understand that these fears are not a reflection of your worth, but rather a response to past experiences. 

4) Displaying a heightened sensitivity to criticism

Imagine the brain as an intricate filing system, storing away both momentous events and everyday occurrences.

Often, the most profound and lasting impressions are those formed during our early years.

This is why individuals who felt unwanted as children may exhibit an increased sensitivity to criticism in adulthood.

A seemingly harmless comment or a casual piece of advice can trigger a disproportionate reaction.

Even constructive criticism can be perceived as a personal attack, leading to feelings of inadequacy, rejection, or failure.

This heightened sensitivity is not a sign of weakness or fragility.

Rather, it is a subconscious defense mechanism, a protective layer formed in response to the feelings of rejection experienced during childhood. 

This is where speaking to a therapist can help – by digging into the past, you may uncover where the root of these feelings come from, and importantly, how to overcome them.

5) Carrying a pervasive sense of guilt

make ex guilty People who grew up feeling unwanted often display these 7 behaviors without realizing it

For those who grew up feeling unwanted, guilt can become an unwelcome companion that lingers long into adulthood.

Guilt is a complex emotion, often tied to feelings of regret and responsibility.

You might find yourself constantly shouldering blame for things beyond your control, carrying an inexplicable sense of responsibility for others’ happiness or well-being.

Even when logic tells you otherwise, you can’t shake off the feeling that you are somehow at fault.

This pervasive sense of guilt doesn’t stem from actual wrongdoings or failures.

Instead, it’s a lingering echo of past experiences, a subconscious belief that being unwanted was somehow your fault. And that’s not an easy burden to carry around with you. 

6) Exhibiting an overactive sense of independence

Independence is often celebrated as a sign of strength and self-reliance.

It suggests resilience, a capacity to stand on one’s own feet, right?

However, for those who grew up feeling unwanted, an overactive sense of independence can be a mask for underlying feelings of rejection and fear.

On a day-to-day basis, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid asking for help, even when it’s needed.

You might pride yourself on your ability to handle everything alone, viewing dependency as a sign of weakness.

While this fierce independence may seem like strength on the surface, it often conceals an underlying fear of relying on others.

This stems from a deeply ingrained belief that others cannot be trusted to meet your needs or that asking for help will lead to further rejection.

And when taken to the extreme, it can lead to:

7) Finding comfort in isolation

In a world that is increasingly connected, choosing to be alone can seem like an anomaly.

But for those who grew up feeling unwanted, solitude can often serve as a safe haven, a place where the fear of rejection is momentarily at bay.

One core sign of this is if you prefer your own company to that of others, finding solace in the silence and space that being alone provides.

Social events might feel draining, and you often find reasons to avoid them.

While spending time alone is healthy and necessary for personal growth, it’s important to differentiate between solitude and isolation.

The former is a choice that brings peace and tranquility; the latter can be a subconscious attempt to protect oneself from perceived threats of rejection or abandonment.

Understanding the impact of an unwanted childhood

The experiences we undergo in our formative years don’t just shape our memories; they mold our personalities, guide our behaviors, and influence how we navigate the world as adults.

For those who spent their childhood feeling unwanted, these experiences can leave a lasting imprint that continues to affect them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

It’s essential to remember that these behaviors aren’t flaws or failures, but rather coping strategies developed in response to a challenging past.

They are layers of protection, built up over years of trying to navigate feelings of rejection and abandonment.

Healing from an unwanted childhood is not a quick or easy journey.

It requires patience, kindness toward oneself, and often professional help.

But it’s a journey worth undertaking because it leads to a place of self-acceptance, peace, and genuine happiness.

Remember that it’s never too late to address your past and its impact on your life.

It’s never too late to start rewriting your story, to turn the page to a chapter where you recognize and celebrate your worth, where you form healthy relationships based on mutual respect and love, and where you allow yourself to be vulnerable, knowing that it doesn’t make you weak but rather, beautifully human.

Picture of Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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