Lost Love: 5 Things We Do to Try and Obtain Love When We Were Abused by Our Parents

When we are children we look up to our parents as our role models. We want to do everything we can to please them; so, that they will love, accept, and validate us.  When we don’t have a healthy relationship with our parent, the message of being loved can be skewed. Examples of unhealthy dynamics where our parents don’t show love and affection include when they abandon us, are struggling with addiction or mental health issues, use or manipulate us, are narcissistic, or are abusive in other ways. Thus, we can spend years; maybe a lifetime seeking that approval and affection from our parents who were never able to love us back. By spending so much time searching love, we lose sight of what is happening in the here and now, and often look for love in the wrong places. Here are some ways in which you can be trying to rewrite the painful story of your parent’s inability to love you.

1) Allowing yourself to be used and manipulated by your parents. Because you are seeking their love and acceptance, you may find that you do anything that your parents want you to do. You have difficulty setting limits or telling them no, because you want to be accepted by them so badly, and you don’t want to risk the chance that they will be disappointed in you, leave, or never speak to you again. Thus, you may allow yourself to be emotionally, physically, mentally, verbally, and financially abused. Some ways in which you allow yourself to be used include: allowing your parents to borrow copious amounts of money from you, be intrusive in your life, allow them to come in and out of your life when they want to, verbally abuse you or anyone else in your life, make unrealistic or endless demands, speak to you in a derogatory manner, or allow them to be in your space even though you don’t like the person that they are.

2) Do things that you believe that your parents will approve of. When we are looking for acceptance from our parents, we try to do the things that we believe will make them happy, and hopefully make us shine like a star in their eyes. Thus, we try to mold ourselves into the people that we believe they want us to become. This could involve going into a career that they suggested or admire, dress the way that they want you too, dating or marrying someone that they approve of, or following their orders well into adulthood. If you can bend yourself, and do the things that they believe you should do – then surely, they will want to be a part of your life…. right?

3) Have a lot of sex partners. Sex can often be confused with intimacy, closeness, or love. Thus, if we are craving love from a long-lost parent; then we may be more likely to engage in having sex with multiple partners to find the love that we were missing out on. The idea would behind this is that you want love, and you don’t want to be alone. In your mind, sex may feel like the best way to connect with anyone who can fill that void.

4) Date the parent that you crave affection and attention from. Often what people will do when they feel like they have missed out on a relationship with their parent, is date someone who is almost exactly like that parent. In other words, the partner that they choose will be a replica of the parent that they want closeness with. The reason that one may do this is because they are unconsciously hoping to write a similar story with a different ending. You are trying to prove to yourself, that you can fix this person, so that they can see that they have no choice but to love you. And if you can make it work with this person, then perhaps you can go back and make it work with your parents. Typically, in a relationship like this, we will do everything that our partners want us to do to keep this relationship alive. We may allow ourselves to be used and abused, because deep down we want to be loved.

5) Internalize blame for your parent not loving you the way that you deserve to be loved. When our relationships with our parents fall short, sometimes we feel like it’s easier to blame ourselves than to blame our parents. Over time, we romanticize our parents and put them on a pedestal; thus, believing that they can do no wrong. It is easier to believe that something is wrong with you, as opposed to believing that your parent doesn’t love or want a relationship with you. The reality can be too painful and overwhelming to believe that someone can be that cold or cruel.

These are ways in which we put ourselves through the wringer to try and find the love and affection that we were robbed of, and we long for. We put in a lot of work to try and maintain the fantasy that parents who were hurtful and abusive to us, are good people who do love and care for us in their own way. This requires that we live in a fantasy, and block painful emotions to keep the fantasy alive. We put our immediate needs on the backburner with the hopes that someday we will be loved and accepted by this parent. If you need assistance to stop doing these things that are hurtful to and want support, then you should consider counseling. Exploring these issues and developing a deeper awareness of how you can move past your pain, can help you to heal.

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This blog was written by Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD, LPCC. This blog is meant to be educational and not meant to diagnose anyone or to be used in place of therapy or treatment with a licensed mental health professional.

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