The children of parents who were emotionally unavailable eventually grow up into adults. In adulthood, those people may have difficulty pinpointing exactly what went wrong in their childhood. It’s only through observation of behaviors that therapists and psychologists can reveal what happens to children who emotionally unavailable parents. Here are some of the most common adult behaviors of someone with emotionally unavailable parents.

“People THRIVE on positive reinforcement. They wither with criticism.” – Patti Henry

Here Are 9 Behaviors Of Someone Who Had Emotionally Unavailable Parents


1. Difficulty with attachments

Adults who had emotionally unavailable parents may have difficulty with commitment and attachments in their lives. “Unstable people first have to get themselves stable before they can truly commit to a relationship—and that could take a long time,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Neil Rosenthal.

Adults raised by emotionally unavailable parents are unstable and, hence, struggle with relationships. They tend to have a fear of both attachment and love. Adults with attachment issues may not notice that they sabotage their relationships or become distant when attachment seems probable.

2. Children of emotionally unavailable parents may have identity issues

Children learn a lot about their identity through their parents. Emotionally unavailable parents tend to have less of an impact on their children, which means that the children don’t grasp their identities as well. When growing into adulthood, these people tend to have identity issues and tend to have a loss of direction in life. They don’t know where to go or what to do in life.

3. Difficulty accepting change

Adults who were raised by emotionally distant parents tend to have issues with change. They’re not very adaptable and often prefer that things stay the same. This is because their parents never taught them to handle their emotions appropriately. Change can be difficult for children. When they don’t have good guidance on how to deal with it, these children tend to grow up into adults who still can’t handle change.

4. Children of emotionally unavailable parents may have low self-esteem

For much of their life, children rely on their parents to meet their emotional needs. When those emotional needs aren’t getting met, children develop low self-esteem. This low self-esteem doesn’t end when the children grow into adulthood, either.

Often the roots of low self- esteem lie deep in a wounded child within us who feels “not good enough.” As children we feel accepted only to the extent we feel unconditionally loved and supported by our parents,” says Dr. Sonera Jhaveri.

Thus, adults with emotionally absent parents often think poorly of themselves and characterize themselves as “not good enough”.

5. Doesn’t understand emotions

When children are raised with emotionally unavailable parents, they never learn how to communicate their emotions. This leads to children carrying this misunderstanding of emotions into adulthood. One of the most common behaviors of an adult with emotionally unavailable parents is a lack of understanding about their emotions. They may be unable to identify their feelings, even if you ask.

6. Sensitivity to rejection

Adults with emotionally unavailable parents may be extremely sensitive to rejection or even perceived rejection. For example, an adult with emotionally unavailable parents may become distressed at the idea that someone at their workplace that they admire didn’t like their presentation. This is commonly known as “rejection sensitive dysphoria” and can cause extreme distress at even the perception of rejection, such as a neutral response over an enthusiastic one.

7. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is highly likely for those carrying the weight of an emotionally unavailable parent into adulthood. Due to the sensitivity of rejection and the deep-seated drive for acceptance and affirmation, adults whose parents were emotionally unavailable need everything they do to be perfect. This can carry over into their workplace, relationships, and hobbies.

8. Trouble setting boundaries

Adults who had emotionally unavailable parents were never taught how to set healthy boundaries. This results in these adults now trying to replicate a parental relationship with other people in their lives. This often involves men or women seeking out romantic partners who can fill the role of a parental figure – which inevitably causes upset in the relationship.

9. Lying

Lying is often a behavior that we consider manipulative, but sometimes lying can result from emotionally absent parents. Most often, adults who have emotionally absent parents tend to lie because they’re trying to get a specific reaction out of the people that they’re lying to. While this is a manipulative tactic, these people are doing it to receive some affirmation, which they didn’t receive as children.

emotionally unavailable partners

Final Thoughts on Growing Up With Emotionally Unavailable Parents

Knowing the adult behaviors of an emotionally absent parent is important for therapists and people trying to move on from their past. While the idea of an adult still suffering from absent parents is saddening, it isn’t the end of the road. Mental health experts have long been figuring out the best way to lead people onto the road of recovery when it comes to emotionally unavailable parents. It’s never too late for someone to get help and address maladaptive behaviors.