Emotionally Unavailable Parents

Emotionally Unavailable Parents: 5 Steps to Heal

Many people lack the unconditional love they should receive from their parents. Emotionally unavailable parents are the reason.

When you were a child, did you see how loving and affectionate other parents were to their children? Did that make you wonder why your parents couldn’t show you the love you needed and deserved?

Most children create a damaging answer to that question and carry that wrong answer throughout their entire lives. Children who endure emotionally unavailable parents determine they are the reason their parents can’t show them love.

Something must be wrong with them or else their parents would love them in the ways they see other parents love their children. Subconsciously, a very harmful belief gets created at very young ages.

“I am unlovable” is that belief and it becomes the foundation of their Not Good Enough Stuff. Emotionally unavailable parents cause so much of the emotional damage I see as a therapist. Also, I can relate to that on a personal level, having spent many years trying to figure out why I believed I was unlovable.

Behavior of Children with Emotionally Unavailable Parents

It makes me sad now just thinking about that and the precious little redheaded girl who was begging to be shown unconditional love. If you can relate to that, what feelings do you have for your inner child who just wanted to be loved by his or her parents?

Some children will act out or do things to get negative attention. “Good attention is better than no attention” often becomes the motto for children who experience emotionally unavailable parents. Meanwhile, their subconscious pile of Not Good Enough Stuff grows larger and larger.

Other children try everything they can to make their emotionally unavailable parents show love or appreciation for them. As a child, I remember walking to the store to spend my allowance on Tootsie Rolls for one of my parents.

I knew that parent loved Tootsie Rolls. If I bought those for that parent, maybe I’d be shown a little sliver of love. Every once in a while I got a brief moment of appreciation for my attempt to be shown love.

That even translated into me taking candy to school to give other kids in an attempt to be liked or shown the slightest bit of love. If I did receive a little piece of love from giving people candy, it never lasted for long. So, I continued bringing candy to school to get those moments of love where I could.

Adult Children of Emotionally Unavailable Parents

As an adult, this translated into grand attempts of me doing anything and everything I possibly could to provide others with something they wanted. Doing so cost me financially, physically and emotionally. Can you relate to this?

Being a therapist, I often see people with depression, but they can’t figure out why they are depressed. For many of those people, we begin digging into the unhappiness in their lives. We discover relationship after relationship, both romantic and as friends, with people who are emotionally unavailable just as their parents were.

Obviously, the underlying Not Good Enough Stuff often reaches epic proportions for those of us with emotionally unavailable parents. One of our most basic needs as humans is to be loved by others, especially our parents. If we never get that basic need met, we will go to great and lengths in an attempt to get that love from others.

Unfortunately, those attempts fail. Why? Not Good Enough Stuff from emotionally unavailable parents leaves us with a subconscious and sometimes conscious belief that we are unlovable. If that is our belief, then we attract people to reinforce that belief for us.

Subconscious Beliefs Resulting from Emotionally Unavailable Parents

Are you thinking, I have never done anything to consciously try to find people who will not love me? Unless you have done a ton of work on yourself, then you’re right. It probably is not conscious. However, the energy attached to your belief that you are unlovable attracts those who will attempt to prove your belief.

In order to understand what I am referring to in terms of energy and attraction, I’ll explain something that I use for people I work with as a therapist. I don’t think there is anybody in the world who doesn’t know about bullying. So, bullying is a perfect example for me to use as an explanation.

Imagine walking into a third-grade classroom and just being able to observe the children. Quickly, you should be able to see who gets bullied and who does not get bullied. Why would you easily be able to see that? It’s the energy those children carry. They aren’t wearing signs that say, “Bully Me. I’m an easy target.”

Energy of Children with Emotionally Unavailable Parents

However, their invisible energy is wearing that sign for them. Those “signs” also tell others that they will not fight back if bullied, furthering the ability for others to bully them. Now, this is in no way the fault of the child who is bullied. Almost every time I explore this with my patients, I see the emotional trauma the adult endured from one or both emotionally unavailable parents.

What about the children I mentioned that you would be able to identify as the ones who would not get bullied? Well, their energy carries a very different, invisible sign. The message in their sign is, “I am confident and love myself, so others should and if they don’t, it won’t bother me.”

So, what does this have to do with emotionally unavailable parents? It may be very easy for you to make that connection. If not, think about the children I mentioned earlier that arrive at the belief that they are un-lovable as a result of emotionally unavailable parents.

Our parents and caregivers establish our self-worth for us as babies. To read more about that, click here to read my blog post about The Creation of Negative Self-Talk. If our parents don’t show us love, why would we think that anybody else would either?

Healing from Emotionally Unavailable Parents

My decision to do this work for myself came as a result of realizing that I wanted to learn that I could be loved because I was lovable for so many different reasons as I now know. Continuing with the belief that I was un-lovable meant continuing a miserable life in which I was severely depressed.

There is no magic solution to change your belief that you are un-lovable. Trust me here because if there were a magic solution, I’d be a billionaire. I could sell the magic solution for $19.99 and STILL be a billionaire because so many people were raised by emotionally unavailable parents.

One of the difficulties of recognizing that you had a parent who was emotionally unavailable is that it is very often invisible to the outside world. Due to the invisible nature of this, the damage becomes deeper and deeper. Nobody sees it except for the children, resulting in nobody being able to step in and provide love for those deserving children.

Emotionally unavailable parents usually look like every day, “normal” parents to the outsiders looking in. Their children appear to be well-cared for and involved in great activities.

5 Steps to Heal from Emotionally Unavailable Parents:
  1. Recognize that the root of your belief that you are un-lovable is wrong.
  2. Make a new, positive belief with an “I am” statement. If telling yourself “I am lovable” seems too hard, start with something like, “I am willing to believe I can be lovable.”
  3. Write your “I am” statement with a dry-erase marker on your bathroom mirror or use post-it notes or whatever you can come up with.
  4. Read your new statement as often as possible, EVEN IF YOU FEEL IT IS A LIE!
  5. Continue doing this until you find a little piece of yourself that is willing to believe what you wrote. Continue as long as you need it and feel your new belief become more and more true!
Working Through having Emotionally Unavailable Parents

An important thing to realize is that your parents did not consciously become emotionally unavailable parents. They learned it from their parents, who more than likely learned it from their parents and so on.

There are a few exceptions to this. I’ll give you one example and you can look at your own family to explore how your parents may have become emotionally unavailable.

 Consider a mother who loses a child at birth. I’d imagine that pain never goes away. That mother may shut down emotionally and still go on to have another child. Unfortunately, that poor child grows up with a very detached, emotionally unavailable mother. When that child has children of her own, she repeats what her mother taught her.

Are you thinking that the parents should’ve realized that they should do something different with their own kids? Do you have thoughts that the parents should want to give their children what they never got from their parents?

Yes, I agree that they should. However, if they were never taught better and never saw better, that makes it incredibly difficult to do. I’ve had to do my own work on realizing this and allowing forgiveness into my heart. That’s not an easy task.

Generational Patterns

Generational patterns are incredibly difficult to break. First, you have to know this is a generational pattern for your family. Then, you have to decide if you will be the one to break that generational pattern.

Breaking those generational patterns was hard and required a lot of my own personal work. My decision to do that was a result of realizing the damage from an emotionally unavailable parent. I never wanted to repeat that.

Due to that, I waited until I was 37 when I had my baby. Spending years healing allowed me peace in knowing I was ready to break the generation pattern of emotionally unavailable parents in my family.

Helping Your Children Heal if You Were Emotionally Unavailable

Yes, I am aware that many people have children before doing this work or realizing the generational patterns they were passing onto their children. Please understand that does not mean that you still don’t have an opportunity to break the generational pattern of emotionally unavailable parents.

Without a doubt, you still can. Not only that, you can still help your children heal if you were an emotionally unavailable parent. This can be done by seeing a licensed therapist to work through your own Not Good Enough Stuff that resulted from emotionally unavailable parents. Family therapy with a licensed therapist could also greatly benefit you and your children.

If you are sitting in shame and possibly realizing that you are or were an emotionally unavailable parent, there is still hope in mending your relationship with your children no matter how old they are now. Acknowledgment and an apology can go a long way.

Most children of emotionally unavailable parents never get either of those. Imagine if you had gotten acknowledgment of the harm your parents caused AND an apology!

Now, go practice some self-care and love towards yourself because this post could have brought up a lot of pain. Better yet, call your licensed therapist or find one if you don’t already have one. A licensed therapist can help guide you towards healing from emotionally unavailable parents.

“How ironic that our family should be a safe haven. Our parents and siblings are supposed to love us, accept us, and care for us. They should protect us and support us. Sometimes, our home is where we find the deepest heartaches.”
― Dana Arcuri


This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.

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Wow so true!! My parents lost their son when he was 12 (they had 2 girls as well) I was born a year later and well this article rings so true for me. I’ve always tried to please others in hopes they’ll love me and at 44 it’s still doesn’t work. I’m so far away from the I am… it’s sad 😔 Thank you for your articles. It helps me understand myself and others.