Missing Love

Missing Love as a Child (4 Signs Your Parents’ Love Was Conditional)

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Do you feel like you are missing love in your life? Does it feel like the love you get is conditional love? Have you asked yourself, “Why am I hard to love?” Feel like you’ve never been loved unconditionally?

If your answers are “yes,” there is one reason for that. As with the majority of emotional struggles we have as adults, myself included, it is a result of our childhoods.

For anybody who feels he or she is missing love that is unconditional or has only known conditional love, you need to take a deep dive into understanding the emotional needs of a child. Yours were not met in the ways you needed.

Missing Love and Emotional Needs of a Child

Unconditional love is the most important of all the emotional needs of a child. Sadly, many children only feel love when they are doing what they’re “supposed” to do or pleasing their parents. If you think that might be you, then the love you received as a child was more than likely conditional most of the time, if not all of the time.

Take a minute to think about that. If you are struggling to believe that the love you received from your parents may have been conditional, then let’s look at how you might still be missing unconditional love as an adult because that can illustrate my point of it stemming from childhood.

As a psychotherapist, I often hear my clients tell me that they believe they are unlovable or that they don’t know what it’s like to truly be loved for who they are. Typically, they are missing love that is unconditional, which is an innate human need.

The minute I hear the cues that they are missing love that is unconditional, bells start going off in my mind. Immediately, I know that we need to talk about the emotional needs of a child and ways those needs weren’t met for them.

When I begin that work with my clients, I teach them to begin recognizing those signals for themselves. Before you can begin healing, you have to be aware of what healing is needed and where those injuries began that caused your need to heal.

Emotional Needs of a Child
Missing Love as a Child (4 Signs Your Parents' Love Was Conditional) 6

Never Been Loved Unconditionally

If you show me an adult who is missing love that is unconditional, I will show you his or her inner child who is also missing unconditional love. As humans, we recreate what we know, even if it’s uncomfortable or unhealthy.

So, if you grew up with conditional love, then you will know how to get that as you grow up and that’s what you’ll accept. If you grow up without unconditional love, then you will not know how to get that as an adult or how to accept it.

That is why so many people ask themselves, “Why am I hard to love.” They think there is something that they are doing wrong or that there is something wrong with them causing others not to love them unconditionally.

That is NEVER the case! The reason people starting pointing the finger at themselves and asking, “Why am I hard to love” is that they have either never or rarely received unconditional love.

Struggles in Receiving Unconditional Love

I’ll give you an example of how that works that is universally understood. My “baby” is three and a half years old. If I had never given him a high-five and somebody tried to give him one, he would be confused.

He wouldn’t know what to do with that outstretched hand in front of him. He would look to me for guidance in how he should respond. Let’s take this a step further.

Imagine that I had never been taught how to give a high-five either. My baby would be looking for me to show him what to do with that outstretched hand and I wouldn’t know what to tell him or show him.

So, he would probably just ignore the person and his or her outstretched hand. Let’s pretend the person attempting a high-five with my baby tried to give him a high-five another time.

That person would remember that my baby doesn’t know what to do with that and he or she probably wouldn’t attempt another high-five with him. Now, just replace the high-five with unconditional love.

If somebody was trying to give you unconditional love and you had never received it, you would either look for guidance on how to receive it, or you would reject it. If the person to whom you looked for guidance on how to receive unconditional love had never received it either, then no guidance could be given.

Just like with the high-five, people would stop trying to give unconditional love because you either rejected it or did not know what to do with it. When we don’t know what to do with something, we usually don’t try to learn if it’s hard, especially when there is no guide on how to do it.

Never Been Loved
Missing Love as a Child (4 Signs Your Parents' Love Was Conditional) 7

Conditional Love from Parents

By now, you may be thinking about whether or not your parents knew how to receive or give unconditional love because what I’m saying is hitting home. Unfortunately, many don’t and that is why so many people are missing love that is unconditional as adults.

Yes, parents should love their children unconditionally. However, that can be hard to do if they were never shown unconditional love from their own parents either. There are parents who learn this without having ever received it, but as I said previously, most people recreate what they know.

If you are seeing that you have been missing love that is unconditional, your first step in healing to learn how to receive it is to learn the signs of conditional love. Once you become aware that these signs are present, you can make a choice as to how to continue with that relationship and your life.

4 Signs Your Parents’ Love was Conditional:

  1. You spent a lot of time trying to meet the needs of your parents and others.
  2. You felt loved when you accomplished something that your parents could brag about.
  3. You felt unlovable when you disappointed your parents.
  4. You worked hard not to need anything from your parents.

Not getting unconditional love usually leaves you with only one thing, conditional love. If that’s the only love you’ve know, then you will do everything you possibly can to continue receiving it.

I’m sure there were times in my childhood where my mom showed me unconditional love. However, what I remember most was conditional love.

Children Meeting Needs of Parents for Love

There are two things I remember doing often for my mom so that I could feel love from her, even if it was conditional. The first was buying candy for her with my allowance.

I knew that when I got home from riding my bike to the store and gave her the Tootsie Rolls I bought for her, that she would show me love. Since I was missing love that was unconditional, I would do what I knew to get conditional love.

The second thing I would do for my mom was rearranging and organizing the kitchen cabinets. She was always complaining that she couldn’t find what she needed. That was a cue for me that I could solve that problem and be loved for solving it.

Are relating to me with this? Did you do things like that to try to please your parents often? If so, I’d be willing to bet that you do that with relationships as an adult as well.

I know I spent years doing that in relationships because I didn’t know what unconditional love was or how to receive it. I ran myself into the ground always doing for others and never doing for myself.

Love and Self-Worth Tied to Accomplishments

The next sign that your parents’ love was conditional is tied to accomplishments. Did you learn to connect love and self-worth to what you accomplish? If so, then you falsely learned that love is only conditional.

That was what it was like for me as a child, but the most vivid memories of that for me are in my teenage years. I used to sing and when I would sing, I would get a lot of attention because I had a beautiful voice.

The first time I sang at church, my mom and I got so much attention afterwards. Everybody raved about my voice. I can remember how happy my mom looked when people in the church were telling her how proud she should be of me.

That changed when I got a solo in a song for a concert in high school. There was an incredibly high note that I had to hit. Well, guess what happened. I cracked on the high note. However, the rest of the solo was still beautiful.

Conditional Love
Missing Love as a Child (4 Signs Your Parents' Love Was Conditional) 8

After the concert, my mom never said a word about my solo and seemed very cold towards me for a few days. I still got a lot of praise about my solo from others, but it was clear that my mom was ashamed of me for my voice cracking on the high note.

This was a clear memory for me illustrating that I was missing unconditional love. My having cracked on the high note was an example of the third sign that can determine if your parents’ love was conditional. You felt unlovable when you disappointed your parents.

Can you think of times when you felt unlovable because you disappointed your parents? Did you feel like your parents didn’t love you because you “failed” at something?

Experiences like that are some of the ways our feelings of not being good enough show up and haunt us in adulthood. If you want to learn more about how those feelings of not being good enough get created, click here.

Not Having Needs from Others

The last sign that you were missing love that was unconditional in your childhood is that you worked hard not to need anything from your parents. This is something I see incredibly often with my psychotherapy clients, which means it is very common for many people.

This sign indicates that if a parent has to spend additional time doing something for a child, then he or she is harder to love. Now, of course that sounds horrible.

It is horrible, but that is what a child decides when a parent shows annoyance or withholds love because time and energy for a child takes away from what the parent wants or needs to do. Children will do almost anything to keep a parent from being angry at them.

They begin to learn that when they need something from their parents and their parents are annoyed by the need, then they are a bother. This is where a child will often go to extremes to meet his or her own needs so that he or she is not a bother. As with the other signs, this follows the child into adulthood and gets repeated in other relationships.

We Repeat What We Learned from Our Parents

Now that you know the signs that you received conditional love more than unconditional from your parents, we need to look at how those have shown up in your adult relationships. What we don’t heal from childhood ALWAYS shows up in adulthood, until and if we heal it.

If you were always trying to meet the needs of your parents, I can guarantee that you do that with relationships as an adult. What does that look like for adults? Well… do you consider yourself incredibly intuitive or really thoughtful?

Neither of those are a bad thing, but I’d be willing to bet that those gifts of intuition and thoughtfulness resulted from not having unconditional love. Of course, it is good to be intuitive and thoughtful, but never to the detriment of yourself. If this sounds like you, I encourage you to read my post Over-worked Rescuer.

Be honest with yourself. Are you always predicting the needs of others and meeting their needs without them having asked? Do you feel intense love from others when you do that? Does it feel like you aren’t loved if you’re not doing for others? If so, you probably were the recipient of conditional love.

Why Am I Hard To Love
Missing Love as a Child (4 Signs Your Parents' Love Was Conditional) 9
Disappointing Others

Another thing I often hear from my clients is that they are disappointed in what they have done or not done in their lives. I trace that disappointment back to childhood. If a child only feels love when he or she is accomplishing something, that child becomes the adult who still attaches self-worth to accomplishments.

That goes right back to the child who grows up feeling as if he or she will not be loved or that something bad will happen if he or she disappoints somebody. Have you ever feared the end of a relationship or job because you didn’t do something the best way or something didn’t work out?

Did you later look back and see that whatever it was may not have been a major ordeal, but your response to it was? That is probably because you were taught conditional love. If you are not perfect, then you are not deserving of love or anything good.

We Need Others and That’s Okay

The final sign that you were missing love that was unconditional as a child is being the adult who thinks he or she has to be totally independent. Every time I have a client who tells me that needing others is weak, I help them explore where that message was created.

It is ALWAYS created in childhood. If a child sees that needing his or her parents pushes them away, then the child learns that having needs is bad. Again, this follows a child into adulthood.

It turns into an adult who will not allow partners, friends, and co-workers to help when needed. The subconscious thought behind that is typically, “I am weak if I need others. Nobody likes a weak person.”

We all have needs from others, but if the love we received in childhood was often conditional that makes it hard to let others meet our needs. The first step in healing this false belief that you shouldn’t need others is to allow yourself to recognize that allowing others to meet some of your needs actually shows strength. Just let yourself sit with that for a bit.

Recognizing and Healing from Conditional Love

If you are recognizing that you have some or all of the signs that your parents’ love was conditional, please know that you can heal. You can learn how to receive unconditional love, which I believe is the best gift one could ever give or receive.

There are no quick one, two, three steps for healing when you were missing love that was unconditional as a child. I recommend you find a licensed therapist to help guide you in that. If you don’t know where to start with that, read my post 5 Steps for Finding a Good Therapist.

My goal in writing this post was just for you to be able to recognize the signs that your parents’ love may have been conditional and to explore the ways that has affected you as an adult. As I always say, you can’t heal something that you don’t acknowledge exists.

If you have any questions, comments, or thoughts please comment below. I will always respond back to you. What you have to say is important and just might be the thing that somebody else needs to read! Not only that, but I love hearing from all of you! Peace and love to you on your healing journey.


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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Every single item in your list hits home. I’ve been in therapy off-and-on for decades, but somehow this specific topic never got addressed. Now I’m 40 years old, navigating the end stages of a very bad breakup, and trying not to accidentally destroy a new relationship at the same time. It feels incredibly perilous. My skin feels like it’s on fire on a daily basis.