8 signs you didn’t receive enough emotional support growing up, according to psychology

Growing up, we all needed emotional support from those around us – it’s a crucial part of our development.

But not everyone was lucky enough to receive it.

Psychologists have studied patterns in adults who didn’t get adequate emotional backing as children, and they’ve identified some common signs.

In this article, I’ll be sharing 9 signs that you might not have received enough emotional support growing up.

Whether you’re trying to understand your upbringing or simply want to be more aware of the experiences of others, these signs can provide valuable insight.

Let’s dive in.

1) Difficulty expressing emotions

One of the hallmarks of growing up without sufficient emotional support is a struggle to express feelings.

This could mean having trouble identifying your own emotions, or it could mean feeling uncomfortable expressing them to others.

This is something that psychologists have been studying for some time.

According to famous psychologist John Bowlby, who pioneered attachment theory, “What cannot be communicated to the [mother] cannot be communicated to the self.”

In other words, if you didn’t get the emotional support you needed as a child, it can be hard to understand and express your own feelings as an adult.

This difficulty often shows up in relationships, where you might find it hard to communicate your needs or understand the emotions of your partner.

So if you’ve always struggled with expressing or even understanding your emotions, it could be a sign that you didn’t get enough emotional support growing up.

2) Fear of intimacy

For those of us who didn’t receive adequate emotional support during our formative years, developing close relationships can be a challenge.

I remember my first serious relationship.

I was constantly anxious about letting my guard down, and about sharing my deepest thoughts and fears.

This fear of intimacy, I later realized, stemmed from my childhood experiences.

After all, growing up without enough emotional support can make it hard to form these kinds of healthy, intimate relationships.

It’s not that we don’t want to get close to others – it’s that we’re afraid of being vulnerable because we didn’t have the emotional safety net we needed as kids.

Do you find yourself struggling with intimacy and vulnerability in your relationships?

Watch out, this could be a sign that you didn’t receive enough emotional support growing up.

3) An overwhelming need for validation

There’s a gnawing feeling that many of us who didn’t receive enough emotional support as children know all too well – the constant need for validation.

For me, this has often manifested as an intense desire for approval in my work and personal relationships.

It’s like I’m constantly seeking a green light from others to confirm that I’m on the right track, that I’m good enough.

As renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”

This quote resonates with me because it emphasizes the importance of self-awareness in breaking free from this cycle of constantly seeking validation.

Ultimately, acknowledging this can be the first step towards building self-awareness and moving beyond the need for external validation.

4) Difficulty in setting boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is a struggle for many of us who lacked emotional support in our childhood.

I’ve noticed this in my own life where I’ve often found it difficult to say ‘no’, or express when something makes me uncomfortable.

It’s like there’s a part of me that’s afraid of disappointing others, so I keep pushing my own needs aside.

This is something psychologist Sigmund Freud touched on when he said, “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”

When we don’t set boundaries, we bury our own needs and emotions and these unexpressed emotions don’t just disappear, they find other ways to surface.

5) Overcompensating by being overly independent

Here’s something that might seem a bit counterintuitive.

Often, those of us who didn’t get enough emotional support growing up end up becoming fiercely independent.

You would think it’d be the opposite, right?

But it’s almost as though in the absence of support, we learn to rely only on ourselves.

I’ve noticed this in my own life. I’ve always prided myself on my independence, but I’ve come to realize that it was borne out of necessity, not choice.

Famous psychologist Erik Erikson once said, “Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”

It’s true.

And you know what?

While independence is important, so is knowing when to lean on others and ask for help.

6) Struggling with self-esteem

Low self-esteem is another common sign among those of us who didn’t receive enough emotional support growing up.

We might struggle to see our own worth and constantly battle feelings of inadequacy.

It can feel like we’re stuck in a cycle of self-doubt, never quite believing in our own capabilities.

In other words, those feelings of low self-esteem rooted in childhood can lead to a lifelong struggle with self-worth.

7) Tendency to overthink

Have you ever found yourself trapped in a cycle of overthinking?

For those of us who didn’t get enough emotional support as kids, overthinking can become second nature.

I’ve spent countless nights tossing and turning, unable to switch off my brain. It’s like every decision, every interaction, needs to be analyzed and dissected.

You see, letting go of overthinking and fear is a continual process – one that requires perseverance and self-love.

In essence, overthinking and second-guessing could be signs that you didn’t receive enough emotional support growing up. 

8) Sensitive to criticism

This one can be tough to admit.

Many of us who lacked emotional support growing up can become highly sensitive to criticism.

It’s as though every critique, no matter how small, feels like a personal attack.

I’ve often found myself reacting defensively to any form of criticism, even when it’s meant to be constructive.

Legendary psychologist Carl Jung once said, “Criticism has the power to do good when there is something that must be destroyed, dissolved or reduced.”

But for those of us who are hypersensitive to criticism, this process can feel deeply personal and destructive.

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