People who were raised by emotionally unavailable parents usually develop these 8 traits as adults

Growing up with emotionally unavailable parents can leave a lasting impact and shape us in ways we may not even realize. It’s a unique experience that molds our adulthood, influencing our behaviors, habits, and even our relationships.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about placing blame or dwelling in the past. It’s more about understanding the traits we’ve developed because of our upbringing—recognizing them can actually be empowering.

Those of us who’ve been there know it’s not all black and white. But there are certain traits that tend to surface in adults who were raised by emotionally unavailable parents. Identifying these traits can help us gain insights into navigating our lives more effectively.

In the spirit of self-discovery, let’s dive into the 8 common traits that many of us who’ve been raised by emotionally unavailable parents share. Hopefully, understanding these aspects of ourselves can be the first step toward healing and growth.

1) Heightened independence

Growing up, many of us who had emotionally unavailable parents learned early on that relying on others for emotional support was often a no-go. It’s like we were unintentionally enrolled in a crash course on self-reliance before we even knew what that word meant.

This isn’t to say that independence is a bad trait. Far from it. In fact, being able to stand on your own two feet is a strength that not everyone possesses.

But here’s the kicker – when this independence stems from the absence of emotional support during our formative years, it can also mean we struggle to reach out and connect when we truly need to.

This heightened independence can manifest in various aspects of adult life, from how we manage stress to how we navigate relationships. We seem to have an autopilot “I’ve got this” mode, even when having a helping hand could make things easier.

2) Difficulty in expressing emotions

Another trait I noticed in myself is that I was a pro at keeping my feelings under lock and key.

It’s not that I didn’t feel deeply—on the contrary, I felt everything intensely. The issue was that expressing those feelings seemed pointless when it felt like no one was tuned into the same frequency.

I remember a specific instance in high school when I landed the lead role in the school play. Inside, I was bursting with excitement and nerves. But when I shared the news at home, the response was muted, almost indifferent.

That moment taught me that expressing joy, just like sadness or fear, wouldn’t elicit the supportive response I craved.

Fast forward to adulthood, and this trait has been a tough one to overcome, especially in relationships.

I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions downplaying my excitement or glossing over my worries because that old habit tells me it’s easier to keep things to myself than to face potential indifference or misunderstanding.

You may have seen this trait in yourself, too, as it’s quite common in people who were raised by emotionally unavailable parents

It’s taken a lot of self-reflection and effort to start breaking down these walls I’ve built around my emotions. Learning to express what I feel has been  a slow process filled with awkward pauses and missteps.

But every time I successfully communicate my emotions, it feels like a small victory against those old patterns.

3) Overachieving tendencies

For many who grew up with emotionally unavailable parents, the quest for achievement can become a defining pursuit. I suppose it’s due to an ingrained belief that excelling is the key to gaining the elusive approval and attention they craved as children.

The psychological underpinnings of this trait are rooted in the concept of conditional love – the idea that affection and attention from parents or caregivers are earned through accomplishments rather than given unconditionally.

This dynamic sets up a scenario where self-worth becomes intertwined with success, however one defines it.

In adulthood, this can translate into an unrelenting drive for perfection and achievement in professional and personal arenas. While this can lead to impressive accomplishments, it also comes with its own set of challenges.

The relentless pressure to perform and exceed expectations can lead to burnout, anxiety, and never feeling quite satisfied with one’s achievements. It’s a cycle that feeds into itself; each success only momentarily fills the void before the quest for the next achievement begins.

4) Strong empathy for others

Interestingly, growing up with emotionally unavailable parents can often lead to the development of a deeply empathetic nature in adulthood.

This might seem counterintuitive at first glance, but when you delve deeper, it makes a lot of sense. Those of us who have navigated the complexities of emotional distance from caregivers learn early on to read the subtle cues and unspoken emotions of those around us.

This heightened sense of awareness doesn’t just disappear as we grow older; it evolves into a keen empathy for others. We find ourselves able to sense the emotions and unspoken feelings of those around us with an almost uncanny accuracy.

It’s a beautiful trait, really, as it allows us to connect with people on a deep level. 

However, embracing this empathy while learning to protect and care for oneself is a delicate balance. It involves recognizing when to step back and recharge, how to set healthy boundaries, and understanding that it’s okay to prioritize one’s emotional well-being. 

5) Fear of vulnerability

If someone uses these phrases they have more empathy than they realize People who were raised by emotionally unavailable parents usually develop these 8 traits as adults

Unsurprisingly, people who grew up with emotionally unavailable parents may have a profound fear of vulnerability. This fear stems from early experiences where showing one’s true feelings or expressing needs was met with dismissal, indifference, or even criticism.

Over time, this teaches a child that vulnerability is unsafe and that emotional self-preservation means keeping guards up at all times.

Thus, in adulthood, they may be reluctant to open up and show their true selves, even to those they’re close to. The thought of being vulnerable and potentially facing rejection or misunderstanding can feel overwhelmingly risky. 

However, this fear of vulnerability can hinder the development of deep, meaningful relationships. Vulnerability is at the heart of genuine connection; it’s what allows us to truly see and be seen by others. Without it, our relationships might remain on a surface level, lacking the depth and emotional intimacy we crave.

6) Intense need for control

Similarly, the lack of emotional support and understanding can lead to a deep-seated desire for control.

Why? Because it’s an attempt to create the sense of stability and safety that was missing in our formative years. It’s as if by managing our surroundings, we can prevent the feelings of helplessness and uncertainty that colored much of our childhoods.

There’s a certain comfort found in predictability, in knowing exactly what to expect because the unknown feels too much like the emotional unpredictability we once faced.

Unfortunately, this intense need for control can also become a source of stress.

Life is inherently unpredictable, and clinging too tightly to the reins can lead to anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed when things inevitably don’t go as planned. It can also strain relationships, as friends and loved ones may feel pushed away by our need to manage everything around us.

Knowing where this need for control comes from can be helpful in letting go of it. It certainly wasn’t easy for me, but eventually, it felt incredibly freeing. 

7) Difficulty in maintaining relationships

Given all these issues I mentioned above, especially that of being afraid to be vulnerable, it can be hard for people who grew up with emotionally unavailable parents to maintain relationships.

Not only that, but since the skills and understanding needed to maintain close, healthy relationships weren’t modeled for them, their relationships tend to have a trial-and-error nature.

They either hold people at arm’s length, afraid to get too close and risk the potential heartache, or they swing to the opposite extreme, pouring too much into relationships in an attempt to secure the emotional connection they so deeply crave.

Both approaches stem from the same root—fear of abandonment and rejection.

8) Resilience

Despite (or maybe because of) the challenges and traits that stem from growing up with emotionally unavailable parents, there is a silver lining — resilience. 

Somehow, they’ve managed to endure, adapt and grow in the face of emotional neglect. And that says a lot about them, don’t you think?

It speaks to the strength within them — a strength they developed in the absence of emotional support. It’s a quality that empowers them to face challenges with courage and determination, knowing that they have already overcome so much. 

Reflecting on the journey

While our early environments have undoubtedly shaped us, they do not have the final say in who we become. The process of introspection, recognizing these traits within ourselves, and taking steps toward healing is a testament to the human capacity for change and adaptation.

It’s important to approach this journey with compassion for oneself and an understanding that healing is not linear. There may be days filled with breakthroughs and moments where old patterns seem to resurface.

That’s okay; each step is part of the larger path toward self-discovery and building a life that feels authentic, vulnerable, and fulfilling.

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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