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Adults who grew up in unhappy families

Community Member


I have a question about how adults who have grown up in unhappy families can have a balanced life.
After a lot of reflection and reading I think a lot of my anxieties, depression and feelings of inadequacy and not belonging stem from having grown up in a dysfunctional family.
My parents were loving and caring but had gone through traumatic childhoods themselves and didn’t know how to do better.
Overall, there was a joyless, hypercritical and lonely atmosphere.
Movies often show how people who had terrible childhoods went on to have a lovely family life years later but I always wonder how likely that is.
I myself have always struggled with personal relationships and now wonder if it’s just impossible for me to have a happy family life and should just accept that.
I think the main ways in which I’m ‘messed up’ are the following:
Unsure about what is normal to be angry or upset about, leading, to being unsure about how to deal with situations and when to move away from someone or to try to work things out.
Ambivalence ++: need for love and affection but difficulty engaging in loving relationships.
Having used sex in the past as a way of getting that love. I didn’t know how to make friends but knew how to get romantically involved with someone. Is this a sex addiction? Self-harm?
I have a fear of losing my children once they’re old enough to realise how I am. Would they be better off if I divorced their father and let him raise them (so being involved in their upbringing from a distance.)?
I guess I’d like to know from people who have experienced something similar or from a professional who’s dealt with this kind of situation.
I should say I also take antidepressants.
Thanks to all.

6 Replies 6

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

HI Riva,

I cant say I had a unhappy upbringing, but I do know that it is never impossible from seeing other friends and family pick themselves up. All I can really say is it does take hard work and effort to get though, but it is all worth it in the end.

You asked if you should leave the father of your children, that depends much on how much you care for the father, how much a good person he is to you.

That is about all I can say here as I dont have much experience in this area, you can call the help lines as they might be able to help you more.


Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi Riva,

It sounds as though I had a similar upbringing to yours, growing up in a hypercritical environment, with a somewhat volatile mother. I have seen a professional about this as I unfortunately found myself in an abusive relationship as an adult. She said that the problem is that I’ve been surrounded by people who’s emotions “take up a lot of space”, when they are unhappy, it’s projected on those around them with little thought or regard, which is definitely true. The problem was, when I started dating and encountered people who were the same, this type of behavior felt familiar. That being said, I believe myself to be a good person, I am a loving partner, I’m not abusive and respect people with different opinions. So I think I have turned out to be a decent, kind human being despite this. I don’t know what the statistics are, but I like to think our chances of finding happiness are the same as everyone else. I think being aware of the ways you are ‘messed up’ at least shows you are aware of your issues and hopefully means you can keep an eye out for them when they raise their head.

Community Champion
Community Champion

Dear Riva~

I'm not sure I can answer your question as everyone is so different. I grew up in a loveless household full of criticism and expectations and was, apart from grandparents, very much thrown on my own resources. It ended up in my being disinherited.

It's had an opposite effect on me, I've used my pargets pretty much as examples of what not to do, and if I say so myself by and large it has worked out. I've been in two wonderful relationships and have offspring with whom I get on. This all sounds very much as me blowing my own trumpet. I'm saying all this so you know one is not entirely governed by one's childhood though of course there are aftereffects.

If I might say so leaving your kids because you might later on lose them is downright silly. Kids need parents and love them. They do not see faults in the same way adults do. That's even if you have faults to worry about.

All the so called deficiencies you have listed are realy normal human traits. Sex and affection are inextricably linked. Knowing how to handle people in unhappy situations is something most people will always struggle to master. Feeling the right to be angry or upset is not something everyone can do.

Accepting you can be loved is probably the hardest of the lot for many.

Reading your words I would suspect the legacy of your childhood (and mine) is a lack of self-worth and a tendency to think you are at fault more than you should. Not deal-breakers with kids, or any loving person either.

OK I've said a fair it, I've no real pathway to wisdom and often get things wrong, so what do you think?

Croix (who takes meds too)

Community Member

Hi Riva,

I grew up with my mother who was a single parent until I was about 12, she had a few relationships before she met my stepfather. We moved around a bit. I used to get myself to and from school from the age of 7 and spent a lot of time alone. She smoked a lot of weed, everyday. I saw my father once a fortnight and half the school holidays, I always enjoyed visiting with him more than I enjoyed my time with my mother.

I ended up a bitter and resentful teenager. I had little care for anyone else. I abused drugs and alcohol and partied a lot. I was terrible to my parents for many years. I then ended up in an abusive 12 yr relationship which brought my beautiful son into my life.

Although I do not abuse drugs and alcohol anymore I feel that the effects of my upbringing, and my relationship with my mother lacking, has moulded me in some ways. I feel as though I am starving for attention and reassurance from my loved ones all the time. I find it hard to reach out and talk to people when I am feeling down because I fear they will laugh at me.

I have found that finding a good counsellor/psychologist/psychiatrist helps a lot. But it's better if you feel connected and understood rather than just talking to a blank person. Your children will be better off with you. I sometimes think my son would be better living somewhere else but his love for me is so great that I know it's not th he right choice. Your children will grow to understand the difficulties of being an adult and they will still love you the same.

As with your relationship you need to ask yourself, do you love this man? What do you love about him? Do you still want to have a relationship with this man? Or is it that you are struggling to love yourself and acknowledge your self worth so you think he feels the same as you think? I do that one a lot in my relationship.

Hope your days are looking better and youare seeing some light ahead of you.

We are our own people and we can be whoever we want to be.

Community Member

Hi Riva

My parents were both raised in foster care homes and both were treated like a paycheck rather than a human beings. My mother  was abused mentally and physically by the father and his sons.

My parents were only married for a year after i was born. My father became an alcoholic and physically abusive. He left my mum for another woman who already had kids. It was tough to see my father happy with another family especially when my step mum and step brothers would basically torture me during my once a year visit. I'd be black and blue from daily beatings and when I yelled for help the step mum would tell me to shut the F up, she also like to give me these things called hard talks (like she was giving me life advice) but just sat me down telling me how much better her kids were, that i was a piece of shit that would never amount to anything.

This was only a small problem tho compared to everything else that happend in my childhood. Because i cant write a small book on my childhood here i will try an minimize it in dot points. Me and my sister were sexually abused by an uncle. My sister's father comit suicide. My mum had such bad depression she would always be asleep. Me and my sister raised each other. One day me and my sister fought over the front seat for a trip to the video store, i won but we were hit by a drunk driver where my sister was sitting (it should have been me sitting there). My sister was in a coma for 6 months and in hospital for another year after that. My sister had brain damage and was never the same (she past away 6 months ago from a seizure as a result of the brain damage).

All this is still just the tip of the iceberg. Going through so much i became a loner. In my highschool years i had plenty of people who you could call friends but never felt like anyone could understand me. I felt so alone in a place crowd with people. All I wanted was a girlfriend so i wasn't lonely, i was pathetic and asked out nearly every girl in my year 10 class mates. Spoilers lol everyone i asked said no. I ended up moving to Queensland where I made up a fake personality got on roids and became very violent (I've never hit or threaten any girl or child in my life.) I hated every guy i saw probably because i was raised by mum n sister. I saw how rotten the male gender was by how mum n sis were treated.

I need to continue in another comment sorry plz bare with me

Community Member

I was going down a dark path when a girl from my year 12 biology class reached out to me. She cared about me and eventually made me open up to her. Before i knew it she knew me inside and out but this is when my dad broke up with his missus and became suicidal. She left me but wanted to remain friends ( i don't blame her tho. Its one thing to understand what someone has been through but to be dragged through the mud with me its understandable she would leave.) I helped my father for the last 10 years and saved him from suicide so many times I've lost count. (He past away a week ago from a heart attack)

But despite all this and more i decided to learn from this. I believe I'm a loving person and eventually I'll meet someone who i love and who loves me for me. I know it will be hard work but that's normal for everyone. Its just a lil harder to find someone i conect with.

so my advice is talk with your partner about how you feel, when explaining your feelings be careful how you word what you want to say (stick with i feel, i believe or i think sentences) part of a healthy relationship involves trust and openness. It is hard work and scary but worth it in the long run. After talking if you feel like things won't improve then maybe separating is the right answer.

Kids are very smart and take in their surroundings. If your unhappy because your in a loveless marriage they will see it. If you do split put your kids before your love life. It's better you are there for them fully devoted to their needs rather than trying to find a random guy to become a new father figure.

It's quite easy to be a good parent, just be there for them. Don't try and buy thier love, instead nurture thier talents.