6 Ways in Which Your Ability to Love Was Affected by Your Childhood Abuse
People who were abused by their parents while growing up often express that their parents didn’t show them love or affection. It’s not uncommon for those who were verbally and emotionally abused by their parents to have experiences like the following: “love and affection was food on the table, shelter, and clothes on my back. I have never been told I love you. I can count on one hand the number of times I was told I love you. There were no hugs or no kisses. There was never any interest in how I felt. I couldn’t go to my parents and tell them how I felt, or even if I was hurting.” Lack of closeness and affection has a long-lasting impact, well after you have left the home of your abusive family of origin. This is displayed in a comical way in the Will Ferrell movie, Stepbrothers. In the movie, he had trouble connecting with people and did not like to be touched by as an adult. When it came time for him to hug someone, Will’s character frequently blocked and fumbled to avoid being touched. In your life, you may experience some of the same feelings of not wanting to connect with others, but without the humor. Here are some of the ways in which you may have been impacted by not being shown love and affection as a child.
1) Don’t show love to yourself. If you were never shown love, the odds are typically greater that you don’t know how to love yourself, or put your needs first. Most likely, you may put other’s needs ahead of your own, and you may even be self-destructive. In fact, self-love for you may be so far down at the bottom of the totem pole, you may not even know what your likes/dislikes are, how to date yourself, acknowledge your own feelings, and acknowledge your own accomplishments.
2) Have difficulty showing or expressing affection or emotion in your adult relationships. As with the Will Ferrell example stated above, you may find that as an adult, you have difficulty hugging others, allowing people in your personal space, kissing, giving and receiving appropriate touching, or even saying I love you to your family. Showing intimacy or affection can seem to be weird, make you feel as though you are participating in a weak or foreign act, or it can feel as if people are too clingy. If you weren’t exposed to it regularly, the idea of you touching someone or telling you love them can be uncomfortable, because intimacy is not a feeling that you are familiar with.
3) Try to overcompensate in other areas to show love. It’s not uncommon for people to try and make up for their perceived weaknesses. Although you may not know exactly why you are unable to express affection towards your loved one, you are aware that there is an issue, and that causes you to feel guilty. Thus, you may overcompensate in other areas such as being lax on boundaries, buying gifts, or giving up power in your relationships and being overly agreeable. Your hope is that although you can’t express love and affection in the way that your loved ones want and need you to, you have given them an excess in other areas and therefore they should know that you love them.
4) Have low self-esteem. When our parents fail to show us that they love or care about us, people will often wonder “what was wrong with me? Was I unlovable?” Thus, you may have an internal battle with wondering whether you are worth loving. Those with low self-esteem who feel unloved may try to earn love from others in different ways by engaging in sexual activity, being overly giving, or being in a relationship with someone who was like their parent so that they can “re-write their life script” and get love from someone who is very similar.
5. You may be abused by others, or become abusive towards others. Typically, those who are never shown love by their parents, don’t really have a clear idea of what healthy love is. In fact, their view of love is often skewed. Abuse is often normalized, and thought of as “love.” In fact, in my work with battered women, they will often say “I thought my husband hit me because he loved me. He wanted me to do the right thing.” Parents who abuse their children often attempt to rationalize their behavior in a similar fashion.
6) Try to become the extreme opposite of your parents. If your parents never showed you love and affection, then you may do the opposite with your own family or loved ones. Thus, you may try to smother your partner or your children with love by being overly clingy, excessive hugging and kissing, or wanting to be involved in every aspect of their life all the time. You do your best to always be present, because you remember and strongly dislike the feeling of someone that you care about never being present for you.
While these signs indicate that you may struggle with lack of love and affection as a child; it does not mean that you are not capable of being loved or learning how to love others. In therapy with my clients, I help them to retrace patterns of unhealthy behaviors in their childhood and process the affect that had on them. With my support, I can help you learn how to love, starting with yourself.
© 2017 Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD, LPCC