You Were Raised by Emotionally Unavailable Parents If You Experienced These 25 Things

Published by
Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

Does physical contact make you uncomfortable? Are you embarrassed by emotional outbursts? Do you wish you had more close relationships but you’re afraid of being abandoned?

If you can relate to this, you may have grown up with emotionally unavailable parents, but these are the consequences.

What are the signs?

25 signs you were raised by emotionally unavailable parents

  1. They are not interested in you as a person.
  2. They never tell you they love you.
  3. They don’t get involved in your life.
  4. They are not encouraging.
  5. They always criticize your actions.
  6. They focus on their needs, not yours.
  7. They are indifferent or impatient towards you.
  8. They don’t spend time with you.
  9. They don’t smile or hug you.
  10. They don’t set boundaries for you.
  11. They never praise or compliment you.
  12. They don’t comfort you when you are upset.
  13. They don’t make you feel secure.
  14. They never show you any affection.
  15. They don’t listen to you.
  16. They reject your attempts at affection.
  17. They’re not interested in your problems.
  18. They are not interested in your passions.
  19. They don’t validate your achievements.
  20. They appear more interested in their own happiness.
  21. They get defensive if you get emotional.
  22. They respond with anger or hostility to you.
  23. They always shut down emotional conversations.
  24. They don’t spend one-on-one time with you.
  25. They criticize your feelings.

Why is emotional availability so important?

Children grow up in a family setting, forming relationships with parents and siblings. These influence their psychological development. Children are hard-wired to attach to their parents.

Indeed, experts in child psychology highlight the importance of attachment, where the primary caregiver (usually the mother) forms a bond with the child.

Attachment and emotional availability

At first, a baby’s needs are physical; food, warmth and bodily functions, however, gradually, the emotional bond becomes more important. Good parents don’t just look after our physical needs, they reflect emotions back to us, allowing us to identify and process our feelings in a safe way.

As we grow, receptive parents help us co-regulate these emotions until we can manage them ourselves.

Emotional availability and development

Emotional availability refers to the quality of interactions between the parent and the child. These interactions affect how the child develops. Parents who are emotionally available are sensitive. They are responsive and engaged with their children.

For example, if a child is upset, and the parent reacts with compassion, meeting the child’s needs, in that moment, they feel secure. As the child learns its parents are safe and reliable, they become confident, well-adjusted, emotionally stable individuals.

Whereas attachment theory focuses on how the caregiver’s actions affect the child, emotional availability is slightly different. It examines a more co-responsive and transactional experience. Here, how the child responds to the parent is just as important as the parent’s response.

For example, a sullen or rude child may provoke a negative response from the parent.

Emotionally unavailable parents cannot connect to their child’s emotions. They don’t reflect their child’s emotions, are immune to their feelings and as such fail to co-regulate their emotions.

Characteristics of emotionally available parents

  • React promptly to support and comfort when their child is distressed.
  • Respond to their child’s needs.
  • Are present and engaged with their child.
  • Encourage their children and are interested in their lives.
  • Can talk to their children about anything.
  • Are not afraid of showing or witnessing emotions.

Emotionally available parents are:

  • Sensitive to their child’s emotional state. They are responsive when their child is stressed and react appropriately.
  • Engaged with their child and provide a structured approach which guides learning at the child’s level and encourages independence.
  • Have a non-intrusive attitude where they follow the child’s lead, avoid interfering or controlling the situation.
  • They can control hostility, such as their own negative emotions towards their child, whether this is overt hostility such as anger, or physical aggression, to covert types, including frustration or impatience.

Characteristics of emotionally unavailable parents

Emotionally unavailable parents might be physically present in their child’s life, but not emotionally. They do not provide support or guidance for the child’s emotional needs.

Examples of emotionally unavailable parent situations

  • The child passes an important exam at school and dashes home to tell her parents. Her mother is preparing dinner in the kitchen. The child is excited about her results and tells her mother the great news. However, the mother does not look up. Instead, she instructs the girl to wash up and lay the table.
  • The child falls over in the playground and suffers a nasty graze on his knee. When his father comes to collect him, he is still tearful and tells the father his knee hurts. The father does not comfort him. He tells him off for being so clumsy.

Long-term effects of emotionally unavailable parents

Children of emotionally unavailable parents can suffer from several long-term effects:

  • Lack of identity

The back-and-forth nature of interactions with our parents helps us develop our personality and identity. It provides a solid base for us to develop our ideals and morals. An absence of this during the most important time in our development creates a void.

  • Relationship problems

If our first and most important relationships are lacking, it is not surprising that children of emotionally unavailable parents struggle in adulthood to form healthy relationships.

  • Substance abuse

Many adults turn to substance abuse as a way of filling the void left from a traumatic childhood. Drugs that provide a feeling of euphoria or well-being are common amongst childhood abuse survivors as they try to forget or compensate.

  • Personality disorders

It is not unusual for children who grew up in an emotional vacuum to develop personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder or narcissism. These are two extreme examples.

On the less extreme end of the scale, children may have problems controlling their emotions, or shut them off altogether.

Final thoughts

Growing up with emotionally unavailable parents doesn’t have to mean you live with the consequences forever. In fact, it’s empowering to recognize your behavior has a cause. This new perspective allows you to identify your triggers objectively.

Now you can shed toxic habits, form healthy relationships, and heal yourself.

Featured image by freepik

View Comments

  • Thank you Janey. Hit home on many fronts. The key to ability is availability. This information is quite helpful. Thank you for sharing!

  • Yep, this was exactly how I was raised. At least now I understand why I am how I am and mostly feel too damaged to form meaningful, fulfilling relationships with other people. I have had dogs instrad

Published by
Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)