11 traits of people who didn’t receive much emotional support as a child

One of the most subtle yet damaging things that can happen to a child is to be deprived of emotional support.

I say it’s subtle because it doesn’t leave physical scars. But all the same, it’s a form of neglect. And it does leave scars – emotional and psychological ones that can last a lifetime.

These scars don’t stay invisible forever. They actually show up in one’s personality later in life, proof that how we are nurtured (or in this case, not nurtured) shapes how we interact with the world, how we see ourselves, and how we form relationships.

That’s exactly what we’ll be tackling today. Here are 11 traits of people who didn’t receive much emotional support as a child.

If you recognize them in someone you know, or maybe even in yourself, it’s a good idea to dish out some TLC and understanding.

1) Difficulty trusting others

Childhood is the time when we develop a bond with our primary caregivers, usually our parents. Ideally, all of the parents in the world should be a strong source of support so that kids learn about the concept of trust and reliability.

But that’s just wishful thinking. Sadly, many parents aren’t able to be that kind of resource – whether it’s due to absence, detachment, disinterest, and many other reasons.

Whether it’s intentional or not, when kids don’t receive the emotional support they need, they don’t develop a secure attachment. Which means, they don’t learn how to trust people.

And that’s a trait they carry all the way to adulthood. It’s hard to trust people when the ones who were supposed to care for you when you were just a helpless child did not do so.

2) Low self-worth and self-esteem

Studies also show that people who grew up without much emotional support also tend to have low self-esteem.

It’s easy to see why. When they don’t receive much attention and affection, or maybe all they hear is constant criticism, eventually what sinks in is this – they are not important.

Essentially, they feel unloved and unwanted. It’s a horrible feeling that no child should ever have to feel, but that’s how it is.

This internalized belief can shadow them into adulthood and colors their view of themselves and their place in the world.

They might question their worth and struggle to find their value, because those formative years lacked the affirmation that they mattered.

With that also often comes an…

3) Overwhelming fear of rejection

Growing up without enough emotional support, I’ve felt this fear more times than I’d like to admit.

As a result, I engaged in unhealthy behaviors like people-pleasing and not expressing my opinions.

In relationships, I rarely showed my true self because in the back of my mind, I was always thinking, “What if they don’t like me?” I would keep people at arm’s length lest they find out just how flawed I am.

It took me many years to realize that this worldview was due to the fact that I didn’t receive the emotional support I needed to be confident in who I was.

This brings me to my next point…

4) An avoidance of vulnerability

Because of that fear of rejection, I rarely gave people a chance to see my weaknesses. People who didn’t receive much emotional support as a child tend to do that. 

But the downside of that was, my relationships felt hollow.

I was showing people only the side of me that was “good enough for public consumption.” Not the side of me who was deeply longing for genuine connection.

Eventually, I came to see vulnerability as a strength, especially when it comes to relationships. Without it, I’d be doomed to superficial ones and I’d feel even more unseen and unsupported.

5) Extreme self-reliance

What do you do when there’s no one around to support you? You DIY it.

People who lacked emotional support as a child learn early on that if they need something done, the safest bet is to rely on themselves.

This mindset can evolve into a form of extreme self-reliance when they grow up. On the surface, that’s a great trait – after all, it’s good to be independent and capable.

Yet, beneath the surface, it stems from a deep-seated belief that they can’t depend on others for support, love, or validation.

And what’s more, it can become a barrier to forming intimate relationships because there’s no room for trust and interdependence.

6) Difficulty maintaining close relationships

Consider all the effects I’ve tackled above: lack of trust, lack of vulnerability, fear of rejection, extreme independence…

These are all factors that can stop us from genuinely connecting with people, aren’t they?

When we’re accustomed to fending for ourselves emotionally, the idea of letting someone else in, of relying on them for support and understanding, can feel foreign. Maybe even scary.

Sure, we feel armored against potential hurt, but at the same time, we also block out the possibility of deep, meaningful connections.

Self-preservation might seem like the safe choice, but in the long run, it leaves us feeling isolated and disconnected.

7) Feelings of emptiness and loneliness

feeling of emptiness 11 traits of people who didn’t receive much emotional support as a child

Imagine not knowing what it’s like to have someone in your corner. Or imagine having to put on your game face all the time because you don’t want to show the world your moments of doubt and fear.

I bet it would feel lonely, wouldn’t it? That’s how people who lacked emotional support growing up feel a lot of times.

It’s a peculiar kind of loneliness that comes from feeling fundamentally misunderstood and unseen.

It’s about yearning for someone to just ‘get’ you without having to explain why you’re built the way you are – a yearning you’ve always carried with you from childhood.

8.   Perfectionist tendencies

Another trait of people who didn’t receive much emotional support as a child is the tendency to want everything done to perfection.

This is particularly common in those who grew up with highly critical and judgmental parents.

They come to see love as conditional – i.e., you do well, and you get praise or support.

The sad part of this is that it messes with their sense of self-worth. The message it sends is that unless they’re achieving and doing things perfectly, they aren’t worth much.

That’s also why they tend to be…

9) Overly critical of themselves and others

As kids, we mirror what our parents say, right?

So of course, if our parents are critical, then that’s the kind of talk we come to internalize. It becomes the lens through which we view ourselves.

People who grew up in such a situation might find themselves quick to spot their own flaws and slow to recognize their strengths. Not only that, their critical and negative attitude extends to others, too.

A friend of mine is the perfect example of this. She was a heavyset child, so her mom was always critical of her body and would constantly compare her to other girls her age.

True enough, even now that she’s all grown up, she has never seen herself as beautiful. And what’s more, she’s kind of quick to label people as “dumb, ugly, fat, corny, etc.”

How to break free from this pattern? Well, start with understanding that the harsh voice that lives in our head is simply the consequence of emotional neglect, a kind of conditioning.

And then, make a conscious effort to practice kindness and compassion, starting with how we talk to ourselves. 

10) Difficulty identifying and expressing emotions

Emotional intelligence doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a product of receiving the right kind of emotional guidance.

When that guidance is absent, emotions feel like foreign territory.

As clinical social worker and therapist Dr. Rachel Kaplan explains it, “A lack of exposure to emotions as a child can mean you never learned how to mimic these emotions.”

Think about it – if you’ve never been taught how to express how you feel in a healthy way, how would you do it?

Without those early lessons in naming, understanding, and managing emotions, they can become overwhelming or confusing.

And chances are, your default response would be any of the following:

  • Lashing out or aggression
  • Bottling up your feelings
  • Withdrawal
  • Indifference
  • Turning to substances for escape

11) Aimlessness or disorganization

Lastly, in contrast to the extremely self-reliant, there are also cases when lack of emotional support leads to aimlessness.

For instance, those who grew up being overly controlled don’t learn the skills to function in a setting that’s not controlled.

What does that look like?

It looks like this:

Poor decision-making skills. Disorganization. A lack of initiative or self-motivation. A lack of purpose.

So you see, emotional neglect doesn’t just mean inattentiveness or indifference.

It could also come in the form of overcontrolling, which involves minimizing and repressing the child’s feelings – and that’s just as damaging.  

How to heal

Healing from a lack of emotional support in childhood starts with recognizing the impact it’s had on us.

The first step is to learn how to be kind to yourself. The inner critic you’ve been hearing all your life isn’t telling the truth, so it’s time to say no to it and start speaking to yourself with compassion. 

Ask for help if you need it. Seek out therapy or support groups where you can talk openly and start to work through your feelings.

Finding out what makes us feel heard and understood is a process of trial and error, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But with each small step, you can feel a little lighter and freer from the baggage of the past.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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