How Unmet Childhood Needs Affect Adult Relationships

Posted on March 9, 2023

As human beings, we are made to connect. From the time a child is born, there is an innate need for safety and connection with his or her caregiver. These connections, experiences, and relationships can have a significant impact on our adult relationships. The way we were treated as children, especially by our primary caregivers, can shape how we view ourselves, others, and the world around us.

For some, these unmet needs stemmed from unconscious patterns that were passed down from generation to generation. For others, their unmet needs came from experiencing family dynamics such as violence, constant fighting, abandonment, betrayal, or poverty.

According to research, a warm, positive relationship with our parents or caregivers can foster positive self-esteem, psychological well-being, and successful relationships later in life. This is known as a “secure attachment” in childhood.

On the contrary, If our childhood needs for love, support, validation, and affection were not met, we may struggle with feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and a lack of trust in others. This can lead to difficulty forming healthy relationships, as we may seek out partners who validate our negative beliefs about ourselves or who mimic the negative behaviors we experienced in childhood.

For example, if we grew up in a household where emotional expression was discouraged, we may struggle to communicate our feelings in our adult relationships, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. Or if we experienced neglect or abandonment as children, we may struggle with fear of intimacy or feelings of unworthiness in our romantic relationships.

Regardless of the family dynamic, these experiences result in what research calls attachment styles of relating.

There are four main attachment styles:

  1. Secure attachment
  2. Anxious-ambivalent attachment
  3. Avoidant or dismissive attachment
  4. Disorganized attachment

1. Secure Attachment

Children with secure attachment styles are active and demonstrate confidence in their interactions with others. 

Those who develop secure attachment styles in childhood are likely to carry this healthy way of bonding into adulthood and have no problem building long-term relationships without fear of abandonment.

2. Anxious-Ambivalent attachment

Those who developed under the ‘anxious-ambivalent’ attachment style, tend to carry what they have learned into adulthood, and very often feel unloved by their partners while finding it difficult to express love and connection themselves. 

People who developed attachments under this style are usually emotionally dependent in adult relationships.

3. Avoidant or Dismissive Attachment

Children who have developed under the ‘avoidant’ style have learned to accept that their emotional needs are likely to remain unmet and continue to grow up feeling unloved and insignificant in romantic relationships.

They often struggle with expressing their feelings and find it hard understanding emotions – in adulthood; they tend to avoid intimate relationships.

4. Disorganized Attachment

Disorganised attachment is a combination of avoidant and anxious attachment, and children that fit into this group often display intense anger and rage. They may break toys and behave in other volatile ways – they also have difficult relationships with caregivers. 

Children developed under the ‘disorganised’ attachment style, tend to avoid intimate relationships as adults and can very easily explode and have a difficult time controlling their emotions. 

To addres these needs, it is important to first identify them and recognize how they are impacting our current relationships. Therapy can be helpful in providing a safe space to explore these issues and learn healthy coping mechanisms. Additionally, practicing self-love and self-care, setting boundaries, and communicating openly with our partner can also contribute to healing and growth in this area. Finally, educating ourselves on healthy relationship skills and actively working with a therapist to implement them can help us build stronger and more fulfilling connections with others.



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