Growing up, you were completely at the will of your parents.
Depending on how much love, time, and attention your parents gave you, their involvement in your life undoubtedly affected how you show up in your romantic relationships.
If they were there for you, never there for you, or too there for you, you will be drawn to different kinds of partners for your romantic relationships.
We are at our most vulnerable within the context of our familial and our intimate relationships. So naturally, our unresolved emotional issues from one (familial) bleeds in to the other (intimacy).
From an early age, you learned to be a counterbalance to the other people in your immediate family. Whatever the family unit needed you to be, you became.
If your parent/s neglected you, you may be prone to attracting similarly distant partners in your relationships.
If a parent was quick to anger, you learned to walk lightly and be so self-sufficient that you didn’t need any parenting.
If one of your parents periodically abandoned you, you may be attracted to partners in the future whose love you have to “earn”, as opposed to being attracted to people that already love you.
Since you are so used to being in a certain role within your family, you find partners that keep you stuck in that role (without a lot of self-awareness/self-development or talk-based therapy to intervene in your unconscious patterns). So unless you become aware of, and shift your patterns, you will continue to live out the same emotional trauma that you experienced as a young child.
So how do you become aware of how your childhood affects your current emotional patterns and love life? Read on and see if you recognize any (or several) of the following common issues that I see in my coaching clients.
Specific Childhood Issues Playing Out In Your Love Life
1. Abandonment (Fear Of Loss Or Rejection)
Did you have neglectful parents? Did they abandon you once or frequently, either by physically leaving or by being emotionally unavailable due to their own issues? Did you rarely have a parental figure you felt like you could lean on?
You may cling to potential partners because you’re afraid of being left and you have been conditioned to have an underlying belief that the relationships that you need most deeply will not work out in the long run. While you desperately want love and affection more than anything else, you are also terrified of letting others in to love you deeply.
2. Defectiveness (Fear Of Being Unlovable)
Defectiveness is the feeling that you are unworthy or undeserving of being loved. The feeling that you are somehow defective as a person (also known as shame-based thinking).
A sense of defectiveness often comes from a mean or dismissive parent. Especially if you were a more sensitive or introverted child, a cruel familial relationship would weigh heavily on your self-esteem for many years to come.
Sit with this feeling and follow it down. If you feel that unique sense of shame when your heart feels rubbed the wrong way… listen to what your heart is telling you. What kinds of thoughts come up for you? And when you feel this way, what defense mechanisms do you employ? Do you keep people at arms distance emotionally? Do you shut down and become passive in your communication?
Your coping mechanism for not feeling worthy of being loved would be to distance yourself from loving relationships of any sort. You might be reluctant to let anyone see you for who you are because “who you are” doesn’t feel good enough to be loved.
It can be a scary endeavour to start to shift your behaviour, but small steps will start you on your journey. You don’t have to swing the pendulum from the mindset of “I’m not worthy of love and belonging” to walking around and being an open, vulnerable, exposed wound of a person. Who you choose to let in to your personal space (thoughts, feelings, etc.) is always up to you. And you can take it at your own pace.
3. Subjugation (People Pleasing)
Subjugators are passive people-pleasers in their relationships. The unconscious process being “If I’m extra nice to you and make you feel amazing with every bit of my being, then you will have to stay and love me. You won’t reject me like the people in my past did.”
By making yourself subservient to your partner and prioritizing their needs over yours, you might think you are doing them a favour by adding value to their life. But in reality, you are setting up a lose-lose dynamic that hurts both of you. You don’t get your emotional needs met, and your partner often feels like they bear the weight of being responsible for your mood (since your mood is so dependent on how they feel moment to moment).
When self-sacrificing subjugators do start to prioritize their emotional needs in the context of relationships, their mind resists it and they often feel guilty for giving themselves any time or attention.
4. Dependency (Being Overly Reliant On Others)
Were your parents overbearing? Did they make every little decision for you? Were you made to feel apprehensive about making decisions for yourself?
It’s natural that your parents would be making the majority of your decisions for you when you were very young (what you ate, what you spent your time doing), but after a certain age if you weren’t allowed or trusted to make choices for yourself then you will be often attracted to partners that make the majority of your decisions as well.
You might think it’s a good thing to let your partner choose every movie you see together or where you go for a vacation or how much you spend or save, but in reality, you will end up feeling resentful of having little choice, and your partner will not respect your lack of interest. In addition, over time your self-esteem will be eroded, and you may feel unable to leave an unhealthy relationship if you are overly dependent on your partner. In healthy adult partnerships, both people are comfortable expressing their desires, and they make decisions together.
5. Entitlement (Inflexible And Unrealistic Expectations)
If you were raised with parents who had weak personal boundaries (i.e. they found it difficult to say “no” to you) then you are at a higher risk of developing a sense of entitlement about the world and an unrealistic set of expectations for your intimate relationships.
As previously mentioned in this article, whatever role your family unit required you to fulfill, you learned to fill it. If your parents didn’t give you any structure growing up, you would push them further to see where their boundaries were. You would ask yourself “How much can I get away with? How many toys/vacations/gifts can I guilt out of them?”
Children need boundaries and they thrive when they have parents that have the ability to say no to them. Without these boundaries growing up, you will tend towards finding partners that are similarly passive and who have a difficult time saying no to you. When someone does have healthy boundaries, it may frustrate or repel you, because you can’t get what you want from them like you could from your parents. You may feel that they need to do what you want in order to prove their love, but this is a very unhealthy view of what love is.
What To Do About It?
Understand that everything your parents did for you they did from one of two places: their love for you, or their unconscious patterns that their parents put into them.
Even if the loving intention isn’t immediately apparent, dig for it. Think “how could their behaviour possibly have come from a place of love? I’ve had clients whose parents were incessantly challenging towards them because they recognized their child’s “weakness” or softness that they saw in themselves and they wanted to keep pushing their child to harden up so as to not let the world hurt them as much. They did it as a protective mechanism that they thought would benefit their child.
Another client told me her father was an alcoholic who was emotionally distant. Her father had the same relationship with his own father, so had thought it best to keep children at arms distance rather than “poison” them with his presence, or have his behaviour rub off on them.
If you keep digging far enough, you will find their actions rooted in love. If I can help shed some light on issues that keep you from finding healthy relationships, feel free to contact me.
Dedicated to your success,
Ps. This article will resonate with some very deeply, and others not at all. I’m not trying to say that every person necessarily has a huge amount of residual baggage from their childhood that affects their current love relationships. It is fully possible that you were a resilient child and you got out of the family home scot free. In which case, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky ones.