I am untrusting of others, even at 46. I know that I have great friends and family that love me but I expect that any day they could change their minds and leave me. My husband said in frustration the other day that he feels that he has to ‘prove his love to me’ and why don’t I realize that he loves me? I know he does but I think that when you don’t get those messages that you are loved for who you are when you are born, it’s really hard to let love in. I am constantly ‘scanning’ to look for evidence that things really aren’t ok or good like I think they are.
By and large, unloved daughters emerge into adulthood lacking true and reliable self-knowledge; it takes the validation, support, and attunement of an emotionally reliable attachment figure for a human being to see herself with clarity and self-acceptance. Many of these daughters know that they’ve been wounded by their childhood experiences but don’t know how they’ve been wounded and how their behaviors are affected. A surprising number of women don’t even recognize that they’ve been damaged; still in need of their mothers’ love, which remains ever elusive, they continue to “normalize” or rationalize their experiences, unwittingly denying themselves and their feelings in the process. Even those who are outwardly successful and high-achieving—and some are—continue to be dogged by lack of trust in themselves and others.
Varieties of self-sabotage
Many daughters end up acting out their feelings in ways that are overtly self-destructive, such as an unhealthy relationship to food, addictions to alcohol or other substances which are efforts to self-soothe and calm, various kinds of compulsive behaviors and, for some, self-harming. All of these are failed coping mechanisms which don’t address either the effects on the self bequeathed by childhood or the real problems the unloved daughter struggles with.
Other self-defeating behaviors are more subtle and because they are so common, worth singling out.
Almost all unloved daughters are the victims of either outright verbal abuse and aggression (“You’re dumb, fat, no good”) or consistently withheld praise or acknowledgment (“If you did well, the test couldn’t have been very hard” or “Being smart in school doesn’t matter in life”). Each is abusive in its own way, and undermines the self. The messages communicated—about the daughter’s character, looks, lovability, abilities, prospects, worth—become internalized as what psychologists call self-criticism. The term makes it sound much more benign than it actually is, and many older adult daughters report that this habit of mind is still one that requires their watchfulness on the daily. It can take decades to still the voice.
The problem is that when there’s a setback or glitch of any kind—and everyone’s life is full of them—the unloved daughter’s automatic and unconscious response is to blame it on her worthlessness and weaknesses. Self-criticism is the habit of mind that attributes any failure, no matter how small or large, to fixed aspects of character and personality. It’s the voice that echoes her mother’s, an endless tape of criticism and disparagement. It says things like “Of course, he left you. Who would want you enough to stay?” When you’re lonely or feeling isolated, it whispers, “Is it any wonder you don’t have good friends? You’re a bad person.” Or when success in a venture eludes you, it can become a bullying shout: “Whatever made you think you could do this? You’re just not good enough.”
This habit can be conquered with therapy and sometimes self-help but it takes time to conquer. As one woman who did behavioral therapy for several years remarked: “Recovery is a process. I would say I have mostly good days now when I realize that it is my Mom’s voice giving me negative voices in my head and not the reality of the situation.”
2.Displaying rejection sensitivity
All humans are sensitive to rejection, of course—it hurts when someone doesn’t want you—but for the insecurely attached, especially those who display an anxious/preoccupied style of attachment, rejection sensitivity can easily become a self-fulfilling prophesy. That’s precisely what studies show—that constantly needing reassurance that you are loved or always being on the lookout for signs of imminent betrayal causes terrific tension in a relationship and can actually drive a partner or a friend to head for the door. The tendency to read in and interpret any ambiguous gesture or words as negative fuels conflict in relationship and, alas, it’s often fueled more by childhood memories than the reality of the present. It can be a toxic cocktail because anger and hostility in the insecure partner—at the perceived rejection—can easily turn into real rejection and abandonment.
Recognizing your sensitivity and your tendency to worry every aspect of your relationship constantly is the first step in a new direction. And, of course, so is recognizing what really fuels your reactivity—your childhood experiences.
3. Being drawn to the familiar
While on a conscious level, many daughters long for sustaining and supportive relationships, they are often drawn to partners and friends who treat them as their mothers did. We are all drawn to the familiar, alas—see the shared root with the word “family?”—and in the case of the insecurely attached daughter, this can be a recipe for disaster. All of the habits she developed in childhood to cope with her situation—blaming herself for missteps, being inured to verbal aggression, feeling “less than” or unworthy—collude unless she brings sufficient self-awareness and consciousness to understanding what she’s attracted to in a person.
My mother was marginalized me, on the one hand, and controlled me, on the other,and even in adulthood, I didn’t trust myself to make good choices so I always looked tother people to make them for me. I would go out with men who really wanted a partner and I would inevitably leave because I didn’t want to have to commit to a patH and find out it was the wrong one. I married someone who controlled me as my mother did, and put me down too and then, at 35, I suddenly realized I just couldn’t keep livingmy life being afraid. My counselor saved me.
4. Getting stuck
Trust in herself is often elusive for the unloved daughter, especially if she’s been marginalized, mocked, or gaslighted in childhood; prone to second-guessing her thoughts and feelings, she often self-sabotages by staying in relationships that she knows are unhealthy for her, long past their expiration date. Additionally, because she has trouble managing her emotions—either flooding with feeling or armoring herself sufficiently that she’s cut off from herself—she may not know in the moment what she wants or feels. It’s a lonely and unhappy place to be.
Getting unstuck—learning to trust your feelings, getting more adept at knowing what you feeling and why—is a process of unlearning what you learned in childhood and learning new lessons about yourself. The good news? It can be done.
Self-sabotaging behaviors need not stay on the agenda forever. Once you see them for what they are and become consciously aware, you’ve taken the first step out.
Photograph by Eddy Lackmann. Copyright free. Unsplash.com