Those of us brought up in households in which our emotional needs weren’t met emerge into adulthood with significant deficits, although we may not recognize them. Even though we might have been marginalized or ignored, taught to deny our feelings, scapegoated or picked on, told we were worthless or unimportant, or seen only as an extension of our mother or father, we may think that’s all in the past and no longer relevant.
Indeed, the culture as a whole encourages us to “move on” and “get over it” and most of us will heed that advice. Upon reaching majority or leaving home, we think we’re finally free to live the way we want, to be our true selves, only to discover that, somehow, we can’t. What we usually don’t see is that we’re carrying the emotional baggage of the past into the present and beyond. We may be deeply unhappy, moving through the paces of life, but still not understanding why it is that we feel so burdened.
While the events in an unloved daughter’s adult life might not seem to be connected or part of a pattern, they actually are. Among the patterns that are typical are these four:
- You have difficulties with intimate relationships
It’s true enough that everyone has relationship problems—even those who had loving mothers—but the unloved daughter is both likely to find herself with someone who can’t or won’t fulfill her emotional needs and have trouble leaving the relationship.
That’s the double whammy, and it’s likely to be a repetitive pattern: choosing someone who doesn’t really want intimacy and being too afraid and insecure about your own judgment to actually leave him or her. The daughter who is fearful and avoidant will withdraw for a spell, going on hiatus, but then re-emerges on the dating scene, only to come up with the same result. Those with an anxious style of attachment—preoccupied with being left—will often find themselves abandoned because they’re unable to stop being frantic and angry, on the one hand, and unable to extricate themselves from the relationship, on the other.
This pattern applies to friendship as well, so the inner loneliness of the unloved daughter is magnified by her inability to forge adult connections which might assuage it.
- You lack resilience when there’s a setback
Many unloved daughters armor themselves in childhood by being avoidant; they may dodge confrontations, sidestep speaking their minds, and especially stay away from situations where they might fail and thus incur more criticism or derision.
In psychological terms, they are motivated by avoidance goals, in contrast to the approach-oriented individuals who seek out goals that will make them feel good about themselves, challenge them, and move them forward in life. Not every unloved daughter will become a chronic under-achiever; some become high achievers, both in childhood and adulthood, largely as a way of creating an identity that’s separate from the one she has in the home.
This daughter may also be highly motivated to try to please her mother, hoping to win her love and support. Alas, these achievements usually coexist with low self-esteem and deeply-felt insecurity which are largely hidden from the world. So, while on the surface, she may look like a securely attached and approach-oriented woman, there remains a vital difference: The securely attached daughter has solid self-esteem to begin with and her successes solidify her sense of herself; which isn’t true of the high-achieving but insecurely attached daughter.
Then there are those who are are avoidant and afraid of failing; they go into adult endeavors with the same mindset, willing to do anything to avoid looking like a flop or a loser.
Let’s use an analogy in which a challenge in life or a goal set becomes a mountain. The securely attached daughter who’s motivated by approach goals that will fulfill her sense of self and make her feel accomplished sees the mountain and decides to climb it. She recognizes that the climb will be difficult and she anticipates that there may be setbacks and she prepares for them. Should they happen, she will switch from Plan A to Plan B and continue on.
The daughter motivated by avoidance sees the mountain as nothing but an opportunity to fail; she’d prefer not to rise to the challenge of climbing it even though she’s unhappy where she is. She’ll invest her energy figuring out a safe route, a way around the mountain. If she has to climb the mountain, and she encounters a glitch, she’ll go down for the count. Rather than see rebounding as a challenge, she’ll accept it as proof positive that she’s deficient or worthless.
- You’re plagued by continuous self-doubt
Two of the most significant effects of being unloved and unsupported in childhood are diminished emotional intelligence—being able to identify and name your feelings as well as using your emotions to inform your thoughts—and not trusting your own perceptions.
Daughters who are taught to hide their feelings, told that they are too sensitive, or that their emotions are inappropriate may not be able to distinguish what they’re feeling as adults; they may second-guess, ruminate over, and display heightened anxiety when they have to make a choice or decision. Much of the time, this ingrained habit of mind keeps them stuck wherever they find themselves, whether that’s in an unsatisfying job, a stressful situation, or a bad relationship. Combined with the tendency to avoid, this can be a toxic cocktail.
- You still feel lost somehow
One of the extraordinary things reported by daughters who do find loving spouses and have real and connected relationships with their children is that they often still feel the wounds of childhood keenly. The problem is that while we think of loss being “balanced” out by other gains—the image that comes up is that of the scales—the loss actually needs to be dealt with separately because humans process negative and positive events through two different systems. Tackling that primary loss and making it conscious allows us to heal from it, and bask in the sunshine of the present while releasing us from the shadows of the past.
Many of our adult struggles are reflections of childhood experiences. By understanding those experiences more fully, through therapy and self-help, we free ourselves to live the adult lives we want.
Photograph by Jiri Wagner. Copyright free. Unsplash.com