When we are born we have no sense of self. We can’t tell ourselves as being different from our mothers. As infants, our sense of self is totally enmeshed with our parents.
As we grow up, we gradually realize that we are a separate individual and it is around the age of two or three that we start developing a separate sense of self or “Ego”.
It is during these initial years (birth to six years) of our life that we start developing our ego/sense of self and our interaction with our parents during this time plays a pivotal role in the quality of ego/sense of self we develop.
If we receive consistent love and support during our childhood, we grow up with a feeling that we are valuable and loved; we have an increased ability to solve our problems, to form healthy and meaningful relationships and an overall sense of well being and security.
If we receive inconsistent love or face excessive humiliation or trauma during our childhood, we grow up with a poor sense of self, fear of failure, lack of trust and a tendency to enter into toxic relationships.
This is because as an infant we are totally helpless and dependent on our parents for sustenance, love, and care and abandonment by parents is as painful as death.
If a child notices that his parents do not have time for him or are inconsistent in their ways towards his needs, he develops a feeling that he must be worthless and good for nothing. If the sense of self is distorted at this age, a person carries that into adulthood and it reflects into his behavior even as an adult.
Here are some of the behaviors of people who were unloved as children display as adults:
1). Fear of abandonment, Unhealthy attachment styles and toxic relationships
A child who gets consistent love and support during his childhood grows up with a healthy attachment style. He has a deep internal sense of his value and the deep sense of security. He knows that he is worthy of being loved and cared for, relationships are stable and that this world is a safe place to explore and learn.
But if a child receives inconsistent love and support during his childhood, he grows up with an insecure attachment style.
They either become anxiously attached or totally avoidant in their relationships.
Anxious attachment style
If a child gets love and support that is inconsistent, sometimes there and sometimes not there, he will grow up with an anxious attachment style. He will cling to people for attention and will be perennially scared that they will leave him sometime or the other.
Avoidant attachment style
If a child grows up with parents who are not there to take care of the child, he learns to take care of himself and grows with an avoidant attachment style.
He will try to be as self-reliant as possible and will evade any intensity in relationships and will avoid sharing himself at deeper and intimate levels in relationships to avoid possible hurt.
The basis of both anxious and avoidant attachment style is Fear of abandonment that stems from lack of parental love in the childhood.
The partners we choose in adult relationships are subconsciously a replica of our parents because we seek the familiar.
Also if we have a poor sense of self and fear of abandonment due to lack of parental love in the childhood, we will either have an anxious or avoidant attachment style and we will unconsciously get into toxic relationships.
It is important to take out time to acknowledge our unhealthy patterns and understand where they stem from so that we can consciously work towards healing them and form healthy relationships instead of toxic ones.
2). Operating in extremes in emotional space
It is during childhood, that the child gets the help from his parents to learn to recognize and express his emotions in a safe environment.
If the parents are not available during this time, the child will have a hard time recognizing his emotions and expressing them in an optimum manner.
As he becomes an adult, he will operate in extremes in emotional space, he will either shut himself off to his emotions completely or he will express them in an exaggerated and uncontrolled manner.
3). Unhealthy ego
Like we discussed, a child starts to develop his ego/sense of self around two years of age. The time and quality the parents devote to the child indicate to him the degree to which he is valued by his parents.
If he is provided love and support consistently during this time, he will begin to internalize the feeling that he is a valuable and a worthy person and will mature into an adult with a confident and healthy ego.
However, if a child does not get consistent love and support during his growing years, he begins to feel that there is something wrong with him and grows up to be adult with a poor and unhealthy ego.
4). Trust issues and Inability to create healthy boundaries
A child begins to form his self-image and worldview pretty early on in the life and most of this is based on his interactions with his parents.
If his parents stand by him and provide loving care and support, he grows up with a deep belief that this world is a safe place and that his needs will be provided for. He grows up with an ability to trust people and believes in the general goodness in the world.
But if he has faced abandonment by his parents or if they were not there to provide him consistent love and support during his growing years, he grows up with a feeling that this world is a threatening and dangerous place and that anything can leave him at any time.
He has trouble trusting people even in close relationships and friendships due to his fear of loss and abandonment.
Boundary systems are invisible and symbolic “force fields” that have three purposes: (1) to keep people from coming into our space and abusing us, (2) to keep us from going into the space of others and abusing them, and (3) to give each of us a way to embody our sense of “who we are.” – Pia Mellody, Facing Codependence.
Boundaries are very important functional tools for us to survive healthily in the world. As the infant we have no boundaries, we are totally enmeshed with our parent, but as we grow up and start developing a separate sense of self, we also start to learn what boundaries are by observing how our parents operate.
We will take on whatever boundaries we saw most frequently in our childhood. If our families had non-existent or dysfunctional boundaries, we will take on that behavior in our adulthood.
If a parent is too intrusive or unreliable, the child will grow up to be avoidant and will grow walls instead of boundaries in his relationships.
If a parent is inconsistent in his love then the child will grow up to be too anxious and will try to dissolve all boundaries and merge with others totally. He will view healthy boundaries created by friends as rejection and abandonment and will take it personally.
The major difference between a child who is loved and who is unloved in childhood is that the one who gets consistent love is aware of his intrinsic value even with all the flaws and imperfections he might have. As a result, he is not scared of failure because of him failure does not define his self-worth. He is very resilient and can overcome challenges easily. He wants to explore life and grab new opportunities and is high on risk-taking abilities.
But the one, who receives inconsistent love, grows to believe that he is not good enough and he tries hard to avoid failure at any cost because he thinks that the failure is a reflection of him being not good enough.
He then becomes too scared to step out of his comfort zone and risk anything in which he might fail and has very little risk abilities in life and often becomes an underachiever in life.
However, we can’t go back and change the parenting style our parents adopted, by recognizing the basis of our healthy behavior; we can start to take positive steps to adopt healthy behaviors.
Here are few practical tips that we can adopt to adopt healthy behaviors:
1). Re -Parent the Inner child
Your inner child looks for love and validation that it didn’t get. It longs to be cared for by someone who has its genuine well being at heart and that’s you.
2). Seek Therapy
If you didn’t get love and affection as a child, you grow up feeling a constant void that you always seek to fill, with no time left to focus on your dreams, goals or life, because you’re preoccupied with thoughts of how incomplete you are.
It is essential to create a solid internal sense of self to fill this void; therapy helps you to do that.
3). Self Discipline and healthy boundaries
Create healthy boundaries in work and relationships. Learn to discern when to put you first and when to extend yourself to others. Schedule work and fun, my time and relationship time and avoid the tendency to operate in extremes.
Featuring picture: Night road by I-Gorda on DeviantArt
Source: the mind journal