10 signs you grew up with an emotionally absent parent

When we are kids, our parents play a big role in our lives. They teach us, they play with us, and sometimes, they tell us off too.

But what if one or both of your parents weren’t really “there” for you emotionally?

This doesn’t mean they weren’t around. They might have been there physically, but not emotionally.

What does that mean? Well, some parents might find it hard to connect with their kids on an emotional level. They might not show much love or affection. And this can affect the child in ways that aren’t always easy to spot.

In this article, I’ll talk about 12 signs that you might have had an emotionally absent parent growing up. This might help you understand a bit more about yourself.

Let’s get started.

1. Difficulty expressing emotions

One of the first signs you might have grown up with an emotionally absent parent is if you find it hard to express your feelings.

You see, when a parent is emotionally present, they help their kids understand and deal with their emotions. They comfort them when they’re sad or scared, and they share in their joy when they’re happy. This is how we learn to express our feelings.

But if a parent isn’t emotionally there for their child, the child might grow up not knowing how to handle their emotions. They might keep their feelings to themselves because they’re not sure what to do with them.

So, if you often find it hard to tell people how you feel, this could be a sign that you had an emotionally absent parent when you were a kid.

2. Struggles with intimacy

If you find forming close, intimate relationships challenging, it might be another sign that you grew up with an emotionally absent parent.

In an emotionally healthy household, parents demonstrate affection and love openly. This creates a sense of security and teaches children how to form and maintain close relationships.

However, if a parent was emotionally detached, they may not have displayed affection or even acknowledged your emotional needs.

This can lead to an uncertainty about intimacy and closeness in your adult relationships.

If you often push people away when they get too close or find it hard to trust others, it could be because you didn’t have that early model of a healthy, intimate relationship.

3. Constant need for validation

Growing up with an emotionally absent parent can also lead to a constant need for validation.

Let me share a bit of my own story to illustrate this.

As a kid, I always did my best to impress my dad. I’d bring home good grades, I’d win at sports, I’d do extra chores around the house – all in the hope of getting a pat on the back or a “well done”.

But no matter what I did, it never seemed enough to get his approval. He was always there physically, but emotionally? Not so much.

This led to me constantly seeking validation from others as an adult.

I’d find myself going out of my way to please people, hoping they would give me the recognition I craved.

It took me a while to realize that this was a result of not getting that emotional validation from my dad when I was growing up. 

4. Fear of abandonment

An interesting fact is that children who grow up with emotionally absent parents often develop a deep-seated fear of abandonment.

This fear doesn’t just stem from the idea of being physically left alone, but also from the emotional loneliness they’ve experienced.

A study found a significant association between emotional neglect in childhood and fear of abandonment in adulthood.

It suggests that when children don’t receive adequate emotional support and connection from their parents, they may carry this fear into their adult relationships. They may constantly worry that people they care about will leave them or not be there for them emotionally, just like their parent wasn’t.

If you often find yourself fearing that your loved ones will leave you, it might be a sign of an emotionally absent parent during your growing years.

5. Craving physical affection

If you notice a strong yearning for physical affection, it might be a sign that you grew up with an emotionally absent parent.

Physical affection like hugs, kisses, or a simple pat on the back can be a powerful expression of love and care. It can make a child feel safe, loved, and connected.

But if your parent was emotionally distant, they might not have been very affectionate with you.

That lack of physical connection can leave a lasting impact. As an adult, you might find yourself craving touches and hugs more than others. It’s not just about the physical contact; it’s about what it represents – the love and emotional connection you may have missed out on as a child.

This isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It’s a natural response to missing out on that physical expression of love during your formative years.

6. Oversensitivity to criticism

Growing up with an emotionally absent parent, I’ve found that I can be overly sensitive to criticism.

When you don’t have that emotional support at home, any form of criticism can feel like a personal attack rather than constructive feedback.

I remember when I was young, my mother never really engaged with me emotionally. She was always distant, preoccupied with her own world. But when it came to my mistakes or failures, she was quick to point them out. And it hurt. Badly. There was no cushioning of emotional support, no reassurances that it’s okay to make mistakes.

As an adult, I found myself reacting strongly to even the smallest criticism at work or in my personal relationships.

It took me some time to realize that this hypersensitivity was rooted in my childhood experiences.

If you also find yourself reacting defensively or feeling overly hurt by criticism, it might be because you had an emotionally absent parent growing up.

7. Never feeling ‘good enough’

This one’s a tough one to admit, but here goes.

If you constantly feel like you’re just not ‘good enough’, it might be a sign of having an emotionally absent parent.

This feeling can be like a heavy backpack that you carry around all the time, weighing you down.

When we’re kids, we look to our parents for validation. Their praise makes us feel proud, their smiles make us feel loved, their approval makes us feel good about ourselves. But when a parent is emotionally absent, those smiles, that praise, that approval – they’re often missing.

So you try harder. You become the best student, the best athlete, the best at your job – but it never feels like it’s enough. T

hat feeling of not being ‘good enough’ can stick around even when you become an adult. 

8. Difficulty trusting others

Speaking from personal experience, growing up with an emotionally absent parent can make it hard for you to trust others.

As I mentioned above, my dad was always quite distant. He never really showed any interest in my life or my feelings. Because of this, I found it hard to believe that anyone else would genuinely care about me or my feelings either.

As a result, I’ve always been cautious about letting people in. I’ve built walls around myself to avoid getting hurt.

It’s a struggle to trust that someone won’t disappoint me or let me down just like my dad did.

9. Constant self-doubt

If you’re constantly doubting yourself, it could be an echo from your childhood experiences with an emotionally absent parent.

You might have been a confident kid, but without emotional support and encouragement from your parent, that confidence can quickly turn into self-doubt.

You might question your decisions, your abilities, even your worth. You may feel like an imposter, waiting to be found out.

This constant self-doubt isn’t just about being humble; it’s a sign of deeper insecurities stemming from not having the emotional affirmations we all need while growing up.

10. Seeking perfection

Lastly, if you’re always striving for perfection, it could be a sign of an emotionally absent parent.

Perfectionism isn’t just about wanting to do well; it’s about the fear of not being good enough.

You might push yourself relentlessly, trying to prove your worth through flawless performance. But no matter how much you achieve, it never seems enough.

This drive for perfection can stem from the lack of emotional support and validation in your childhood, leading you to seek approval through being ‘perfect’.

Wrapping up

Remember, these signs are not meant to blame or criticize anyone, but rather to help you gain insight into some of the challenges you may face as an adult due to having an emotionally absent parent.

Recognizing these signs is the first step towards building healthier emotional habits.

Picture of Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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