What happens to us if we weren't loved during our childhood?

Feeling loved in childhood is a basic ingredient of emotional development. But what happens when what prevails is the lack of affection? What consequences can occur?
What happens to us if we weren't loved during our childhood?

Written by Lorena González

Last update: 26 May, 2022

Attachment is the basis of our development and an undoubted source of satisfaction with life. But what happens when we weren’t loved in our childhood? This seems to be the source of some behavioral problems.

When were are born, the protection and security we need is based on the love that only parents can give us. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. This is reflected years later in a person’s behavior and the way they relate to others.

Consequences of being unloved as a child

Being unloved as a child can lead to certain consequences in adolescence and adulthood. Here we list a few of them.

1. Indifference to the suffering of others

Given the little affection received in childhood, it’s possible that some people show difficulty in connecting with what others feel. This trait is what is known as “insensitive behavior” or “limited prosocial emotions”.

In this sense, studies such as the one carried out by the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan have explored how the lack of affection in the first years of life has effects at 10–12 years of age and even at 20 years of age.

Specifically, these authors observe that this deficiency is later related to less empathy in children and adolescents whose parents haven’t been very close to or were even aggressive in their upbringing.

More recent reviews also highlight how the quality of parent-child interactions is associated with a greater understanding of the feelings of others. This makes it easy to establish positive relationships with others. This is pointed out by a study led by several researchers from the Dutch universities of Tilburg and Utrecht.

Such results, therefore, put the focus of attention on the consequences that are experienced if, for different reasons, we weren’t loved during childhood.

However, early intervention is feasible in many cases. There are programs aimed at helping parents deal with certain problems (financial, personal, etc.) and teaching them healthier communication styles.

Furthermore, as the last cited publication points out, relationships with peers represent strong support. These also constitute a clear opportunity with which to train empathy and generate positive interpersonal bonds.

healing emotionally

2. Trouble relating and expressing feelings

Based on the above, we see that insufficient love in childhood sometimes constitutes the beginning of a chain of future generations with problems.

A person that didn’t receive affection from their parents may repeat the same pattern with their children. In other words, if we didn’t feel loved during our childhood, we run the risk of replicating our parent’s behavior without even realizing it.

And it’s that affection in childhood that’s the motor that drives the altruistic capacities of the human being. As we grow up, these are the result of the quality of love that we experienced in our early years.

Therefore, it seems difficult to ignore how these unmet needs in childhood later manifest in adulthood. Unconsciously, the protagonists of this situation yearn to fill that void, which determines their behavior and way of relating to others.

In fact, Professor Adam J. Rock and his team’s research provides relevant evidence in this direction. These authors find how the different attachment styles (secure, anxious, or avoidant) have a lot to do with the behavior we have in social interactions.


The importance of showing love to children

As we’ve discussed, showing children love is extremely important for several reasons. It’s important to consider that the humanization of people happens through showing affection during childhood.

The affection experienced in the first years comes to be related to a great extent with the development of future interpersonal skills. So if we want to prevent children from growing up with such deficiencies, it’s necessary to give them the affection they deserve.

If at any time as parents we need help, let’s not stop asking for it. Early intervention, social support, and psychological counseling in these cases are, of course, useful strategies to consider.

sad lady

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Boele, S., Van der Graaff, J., de Wied, M., Van der Valk, I. E., Crocetti, E., & Branje, S. (2019). Linking Parent-Child and Peer Relationship Quality to Empathy in Adolescence: A Multilevel Meta-Analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence48(6), 1033–1055. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-019-00993-5
  • Lai, Y. H., & Carr, S. (2018). A Critical Exploration of Child-Parent Attachment as a Contextual Construct. Behavioral Sciences (Basel, Switzerland)8(12), 112. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8120112
  • McAdams, T. A., Rijsdijk, F. V., Narusyte, J., Ganiban, J. M., Reiss, D., Spotts, E., Neiderhiser, J. M., Lichtenstein, P., & Eley, T. C. (2017). Associations between the parent-child relationship and adolescent self-worth: a genetically informed study of twin parents and their adolescent children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines58(1), 46–54. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12600
  • Qu, Y., Fuligni, A. J., Galvan, A., & Telzer, E. H. (2015). Buffering effect of positive parent-child relationships on adolescent risk taking: A longitudinal neuroimaging investigation. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience15, 26–34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2015.08.005
  • Read, D. L., Clark, G. I., Rock, A. J., & Coventry, W. L. (2018). Adult attachment and social anxiety: The mediating role of emotion regulation strategies. PLoS One, 13(12), e0207514. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207514
  • Ren, Z., Zhou, G., Wang, Q., Xiong, W., Ma, J., He, M., Shen, Y., Fan, X., Guo, X., Gong, P., Liu, M., Yang, X., Liu, H., & Zhang, X. (2019). Associations of family relationships and negative life events with depressive symptoms among Chinese adolescents: A cross-sectional study. PloS One14(7), e0219939. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0219939
  • Waller, R., Shaw, D. S., Forbes, E. E., & Hyde, L. W. (2014). Understanding Early Contextual and Parental Risk Factors for the Development of Limited Prosocial Emotions. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43(6), 1025–1039. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-014-9965-7
  • Waller, R., Gardner, F., & Hyde, L. W. (2013). What are the associations between parenting, callous–unemotional traits, and antisocial behavior in youth? A systematic review of evidence. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(4), 593–608. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2013.03.001
  • Walsh, E., Blake, Y., Donati, A., Stoop, R., & von Gunten, A. (2019). Early Secure Attachment as a Protective Factor Against Later Cognitive Decline and Dementia. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience11, 161. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2019.00161

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.