7 Signs You Grew Up As An Overly Independent Child — And It's Affecting You Now

·6 min read
black woman with natural hair in a yellow sweater
black woman with natural hair in a yellow sweater

One of the most unmemorable childhood experiences is growing up too independent. Yet, as a psychologist, I know that this kind of childhood leaves its mark on unsuspecting children, silently undermining their happiness and health as adults.

As a child, with parents who weren’t paying enough attention, you learned how to take care of yourself. A problem with a friend? You handled it. A hard decision to make? You made it. Something you needed? You got it or you learned to live without it.

Now, you are strong and independent, yes. You may feel you can handle almost everything that comes your way, and you are likely right.

But you may not be enjoying enough of some vital things you deserve: The satisfaction and strength that comes from enjoying another person’s help and support, self-acceptance, self-love, and comfortable and rewarding emotional communication and connection.

RELATED: 7 Signs You Were Emotionally Neglected As A Child (And It's Affecting You Now)

7 signs you grew up too independent as a child and it's affecting you now in adulthood:

1. It’s not easy for you to ask for, or receive, help

Somehow, allowing someone to help you feels simply wrong. You’d rather just struggle through on your own.

2. You tend to be self-critical or hard on yourself

You hold yourself to higher standards than you would anyone else. You tend to direct your anger inward, at yourself.

3. You feel uncomfortable talking about yourself

It somehow feels better to listen to other people’s stories and problems. When it’s your turn to share, you get uncomfortable.

RELATED: 4 Signs You Were Emotionally Abandoned As A Kid (And It’s Affecting You Now)

4. You prefer to avoid emotional conversations or expressions

Strong feelings (maybe even positive ones) and conflicts feel awkward and you don’t know what to say or how to act. You’d rather escape the room when they arise.

5. You struggle with self-discipline

You get angry at yourself for not being able to make yourself do things you know you should do or to stop yourself from doing things you shouldn’t.

Deep down, you blame yourself.

6. You tend to ignore, hide, or discount your own feelings

If you’re angry, sad, hurt, or upset, you tend to talk yourself out of it, distract yourself away from it, or pretend you don’t feel it.

You assume these are the ways you’re supposed to deal with feelings.

7. You lack compassion for yourself even if you have plenty of compassion for others

It’s hard for you to forgive yourself for mistakes or accept that you are human and will naturally have human weaknesses and challenges.

RELATED: 11 Signs You Were Raised By A Bad Mother Or Father (And It's Affecting You Now)

Examples of what an overly independent child is like: 

  • Blair is the envy of some of her friends at age 15 because her parents are cool, easy, and breezy, almost more like friends than parents. Blair is allowed to do almost anything she wants, with a late curfew, few rules, and few punishments. Blair feels very lucky.

  • Daniel, age 8, is struggling socially at school, as he is a target of a kid in his class who loves to make fun of him. Daniel wishes he could tell his parents but he doesn’t feel they are available or able to help him. Daniel knows he must deal with this problem on his own.

  • Serena is graduating from high school in a few weeks. She hasn’t completed her college applications because she finds them very overwhelming. Secretly, she’s decided to get a job after graduation instead to avoid the fear of applying to college. Every day, she experiences waves of anxiety that she hasn’t told anyone about.

The overly independent child may be left to her own devices in a variety of different ways. It may be a lack of structure and consequences, like Blair's experience, a lack of protection and attention like Daniel is experiencing, or an emotional aloneness, like Serena, Daniel, and Blair all feel.

That is the hallmark of the overly independent child. They may seem fine and think everything is fine. But in reality they are growing up without enough limits or protection.

Deep down, they may sense that their feelings are not registering on their parents’ radar. Their child brains are adapting by essentially “hiding” or blocking off their feelings, as it’s their best way to cope.

This kind of upbringing is called Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. And the scary thing is that it can happen with even the best of parents.

RELATED: 6 Things People Don't Realize You Do Because You Were Raised By A Toxic Mother

The 3 types of parents who inadvertantly raise overly independent children: 

1. Well-meaning parents who were also raised this way 

These parents may do a good job in almost every other way, and they love their child. But they themselves were raised by parents who were not tuned in enough, so they’re simply not aware that they should be providing more attention, emotional awareness, and emotional support to their child.

It may not be their fault at all, they cannot give you what they never got.

2. Struggling parents

These parents may be working several jobs, struggling with depression or another mental or physical illness, dealing with divorce or loss, or otherwise taken up by something in their own lives that prevents them from being attuned to their child’s emotional needs.

3. Self-involved parents

These parents are so focused on themselves and their own needs that they don’t notice their child’s feelings and needs.

They may be narcissistic, addicted to alcohol, or drugs, work, or simply too self-focused to care enough about their child.

RELATED: 7 Signs You Grew Up With Immature Parents — And It's Affecting You Now

There’s a good reason that as an adult it’s hard to recall growing up too independent. It’s because it involves your parents’ failure to act.

They don’t often enough notice what you’re feeling and ask you about it. They don’t step in enough to help when you need it. They don’t validate your feelings enough by saying, “I understand.” As a child and as an adult, it’s much easier to remember things that happen to us. We tend not to notice what fails to happen for us.

But you can see the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in yourself by looking at yourself in your current life now.

Fortunately, all this can be reversed! Once you see it and own it, you can change it.

You can now give yourself what you never got by beginning to pay more attention to yourself, your own feelings, and your own needs. You can learn the rewards of accepting the help, support, and care that you've always deserved. This is the process of recovering from Childhood Emotional Neglect.

RELATED: The #1 Indicator You Were Emotionally Neglected As A Kid

Dr. Jonice Webb is a licensed psychologist recognized worldwide as the pioneer of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She is author of Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. She also offers an Emotional Neglect Questionnaire.

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