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Growing up cold

Community Member

I've mentioned in my other thread that my parents weren't the warmest of people. I'm not saying they didn't care at all, but they were so, so bad at it. They modelled a lot that made the rest of the world seem alien to me. It was only toward the end of their marriage that they were fighting a lot. Other than that, I have few memories of seeing the two of them together. When they were, there was no real love there or affection. One kiss I saw, or two, between them - and that perfunctory at best. Significant signs of any kind of emotion other than the odd burst of anger between themselves or toward my siblings and I were virtually non-existent.

I was talking to my sister today about our upbringing. Neither one of us could remember a single hug from our mother, or any kind of touch at all, really. Nor could I remember a hug from Dad, though my sister was less sure. He played with us on occasion, but was usually working. We saw a lot of his back, in essence.

When I think on it, I don't really feel much of anything about it. It's a curiosity, but I think something that did a lot to shape the way I am. It wasn't until well into adulthood that I really understood that affection was a thing of importance to people outside of courtship. It seemed weird and alien receiving a hug from a friend. Relationships seemed like the only appropriate place for touching, since the media loves shoving all that kissy goo goo stuff at us and a lot less of the apparently normal affection between friends and family on other levels, and I had no experience with that sort of thing myself. I only had a couple of friends at school when my folks were still together; sisters, and their parents were quite affectionate... I honestly thought that was the abnormal thing, and it wasn't how things happen for most of us.

It seems strange to say this, knowing I have clinical depression, but I detach from emotion very easily. Though my gut may be churning and my face wet with tears, my mind is in the middle of it saying "What the...? I didn't authorise this." I'm constantly analysing, calculating, observing, and separate from what's going on. I keep wondering if this is simply my personality or a product of my upbringing. Perhaps a mixture of the two. My siblings turned out so differently to me.

I'm not really sure of the point of my ramble, here, other than to say it's not a cry for sympathy. I guess I wonder if others have been through the same, and how they turned out as adults.

24 Replies 24

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Hi Blue,

Similar perhaps, but different too.

When I was 6 I figured out what gay was and that I probably was. I learned it from the news where there were all sorts of charming conversations about legalising homosexuality. It was a little scary, I was in a hospital waiting room on my own, my parents and brother were a little distracted so I couldn't get their attention.

My father had a brain haemorrhage and was in an induced coma for about 3 months, then after another 3 months he came home. The first thing he did was give my brother a hug, then he looked at my mother and asked her who I was and why I was in the house. Apart from the fact that I existed my father had also lost the ability to read understand emotions, both his own and ours were a bit of a mystery to him.

So all of that wasn't the best for my parents relationship, they didn't really fight, it was more of a cold war. Mum threw herself into work and the family followed living in church houses that were never really private or home.Generally when I got home from school mum had to go out to night meetings and wouldn't be back until rather late and she worked on the weekends. Dad got home from his work and shut himself away in his room. No noise was allowed because he got headaches.

My brother and I were not that talkative, we kept to our respective ends of the mansion, he wanted to be perfect and fit in with the popular kids, so having a queer little brother who had no friends, was a little fay, rocked a school dress, and watched too much of lateline, 4 corners, and foreign correspondent might have been an embarrassment back then.

I think it does shape in a way Blue. I definitely need the isolation from relationships to recharge, and find too much interaction tiresome. I also suspect that I became used to a level of depression through all those years and having it almost became a safety blanket, a way to fit into the household, which is not an easy habit to break.

Still, I do consider my life to be perfectly average.


I can relate to needing space from people to recharge. That may be in part due to the emotional distance we respectively grew up with, or it could just be a mark of introverted personalities. It's the chicken or the egg, really. Are we introverted because that's how we were going to be regardless, or because we were trained to be? Never mind everything else.

Do you find you dissociate with your own emotions, or with those of others, from the lack of contact with them early on? I am very much a thinker, not a feeler, and have always met my own emotions with detached curiosity or largely disregarded them as irrelevant. Something I can less afford to do with depression forcing emotion into my field of view and taking its toll on my body; I've had a lot of learning to do there. With others, I am likewise detached; not altogether uncaring but hardly emotionally engaged. I admit I raised an eyebrow when Paul said I speak from the heart. I relate my experience relative to a situation, take helping others as a mental exercise, and don't really feel anything as I'm typing except an alertness and analytical interest. That's where my clarity comes from. In this way I'd like to think the ways in which I am broken or something other are also the things that make me useful.

I can't say I share your sense of depression being a safety blanket. I gather it has been with you far longer than mine has been with me? I was always kind of melancholy in a passive and non-clinical kind of way, and that has been comfortable, I suppose. Depression came to me later, about seven years ago, and is far too dramatic for my tastes. I'm quite fed up with it.

Champion Alumni
Champion Alumni
dear Blue's Clues and Rob, both your comments really upset me, because I grew up with parents who showed their affection all the time, not only between each other but especially Mum to my twin and I, as our eldest brother was 9 years older, sister 7 1/2 years older and our other brother 2 years older, who incidently he and I are identical much more than my twin, the wonders of genes, so I can't remember Mum showing affection to the others so much when we were young.
Dad was a doctor who worked long hours and back in those days he delivered babies as well as mild operations, was on call at night so he worked hard supporting us 5 kids.
All their friends were also affectinate so it was a common occurrence with our aunties giving us those slobbery kisses that we just dreaded, so I'm an affectionate type person and commonly show it when I can, but what does affectionate mean.
Well everyone would have a different meaning to the word, so for me it ranges from a feeling for someone or what they have to say, because I am affected by their comment, I can feel their joy or their hurt in them and this goes up giving these people hugs, cuddles to show that I care for them, to where I show and give affection to my 2 sons, daughter in law, my 2 little grandaughters and my dog Moo-Moo.
It's been a part of my life and that's why I feel so sorry for the both of you. Geoff.

Community Member

Hi Blue's clue,

As I read your post I can relate in a lot of ways, my parents showed no affectation towards each other or ever gave me/siblings a hug(that I can really remember) yet I do and always did feel loved by them. I never to this day have ever seen either of them cry, not even at their own parents funerals. I cry at everything, I am vdry emotional. They never said a negative thing to us. Gave us everything they could. I think its their personality and up bringing, which effects how they brought us up.

The interest part is now myself and siblings are no married with our own families it is interesting how we interact with our families. Myself I hug my children and husband Every single day. Yet don't like to be touched by anyone else. My brother is very affectionate with his family. Yet my sister I hardly see hug her partner.

Sorry rambling a bit now I honestly think our personality, up bringing and our environent all play apart in how we react in life and situations.

Community Member

Hi M.M. I grew up in a similar situation, little or no affection between my parents. My dad was a soldier during the 2nd world war which made mum a war bride. My dad's parents were very stoic people who believed affection was 'behind closed doors'. My dad was also deeply affected by the loss of his identical twin brother at the age of 7. The twin brother was accidentally killed, dad witnessed it, wow. His father wouldn't allow dad to show any emotion. Then dad lost his first wife and children during their birth, so he was what I refer to as 'damaged emotionally'. Mum wasn't 'damaged' in that way, but she was starved affection-wise. Her and dad were very ill-matched, consequently we (kids) suffered. My parents become narc's due to their upbringing, it was their way or no way, no negotiation. I do not remember my parents hugging, kissing, ever. I would see other families inter-acting and wonder what we (kids) had done wrong. I am a very warm, loving person who loves without reservation. The total opposite to the way I was raised. I accepted my home life as 'norm' till I grew up, left home and mixed with other close-knit families.


My parents were mostly angry. That's what they had in common, and when they got into a rage together, against someone, you could see they were a team. As for affection? I don't know. Maybe when we were little. But as my brother and I grew up there was less and less of it. Both parents worked so we didn't really see much of them. I actually got really affectionate toward my grandmother instead, I felt loved and safe with her. Unfortunately, she passed away when I was 4. And that kind of affection wasn't replaced. I felt the deprivation, I felt like I was being treated differently to my brother. I would always ask with the greatest sincerity why everyone hated me (youngest I can remember was7-8 years old, and that feeling never much changed a decade later). The more I think about it, the more I think I grew up with a form of depression, to a lesser degree until it got too much at 16. I did see affection ( a little) between my parents, I just chose to distance myself from them more and more growing up, be less affectionate with them. It got to a point where my skin would physically crawl anytime mum touched me. As for me, I know how good emotion can be, how good affection can be, but I also know how bad it can be. So, it essentially takes me a hell of a long time to trust someone for me to give out my emotions. I didn't choose to be depressed, but I chose to be more clinical/logical about other aspects.

I hope that made sense, I'm sleep deprived and in study mode

The whole nature vs nurture argument is an ongoing thing in academic circles, and I have found myself leaning a little to the side of nature being the stronger force of the two. It may just be confirmation bias, but this thread coupled with my own experience are, anecdotally at least, pointing in the same direction. Some of you swung for logic like I did, and some of you are still sweet and soft, like my sister.

I don't envy you, Joelle, having that affection and then losing it. I guess it was kind of advantageous to me that it was just never there to begin with. Initially for me running with logic just seemed... logical. When I was old enough to make sense of that I chose to hold onto my natural talent with it, and develop it into the useful tool it is now. The only emotion that came easily to me as a youngster (as it was the only one modelled at home, and also won me some respite from the social problems I had at school) was anger. Something I later had to stifle as well due to other circumstances.

Lynda, what you've said of your father reminds me a lot of my mother. Their experience was vastly different, but I can say where Dad is genuinely a cold and largely indifferent sort of person, my mother held back because she was so damaged. She was brought up in an abusive environment and has faced a lot of rejection in her life, has been punished repeatedly for showing emotion. She also suffers pretty severe OCD re germs, so the whole mess wouldn't really make for a very affectionate person, no matter what she felt. She's still that way, but we have a good relationship as adults and discuss such things often and very frankly.

Maggie Mae, I'm glad you find affection within your family unit. I am lucky enough to have a very affectionate partner and it's a safe space with him for me to be vulnerable and affectionate as well. He is the one person for whom love and empathy come both easily and deeply for me.

It's taken me some years to get comfortable with hugs from friends and such, but I have made a lot of progress in that area as I have gathered more genuine and pleasant people into my life. I don't care for hugs and such from people I am not decently close to. Are you close with your siblings? My sister kind of floated off in her own direction for a time, but has returned to the fold and though she has suffered a lot she brings a lot of warmth to the family in contrast to my logic. She is a much more emotional and affectionate person than I. My brother, somewhere in between. I'm not sure when it started, but in recent years they have both been making a lot more effort to be affectionate toward me and each other. We are all very conscious of the missing components in our upbringing, and we are learning together to turn that sort of conditioning around.

Geoff, I'm sorry it upsets you to read of my experience, and Rob's. It honestly didn't occur to me my post would upset anybody, as I just don't really think that way about my own history. It doesn't upset me personally, so I guess there's a disconnect there with the idea it would bother others. I see you are a caring person with high empathy, and I am glad you had the upbringing you did with a lot of affection. I was well suited to what I had, and I believe it made me stronger, but it would be hell for a more gentle soul, as it was for my sister.

My post was not there to upset either, sorry if that happened. My childhood had everything I needed and the love was sufficient. We are stereotypically British or perhaps Edwardian with emotions and the touchy stuff in our family. Mother and I get along very well and I am ever so lucky to have her as a friend and a mother. Dad and I have figured things out over the years too.

I am unlike you Blue in that I have quite strong emotions and don't mind them as long as they happen out of sight. I think of them as being like a compass for my thoughts and are a form of understanding that works in parallel (but not in sync) with the intellectual side.

It is true that I mostly don't like others hugging or touching me, all the more reason to avoid massage and things like that. I have no intention of any change in that area, it really isn't a problem and if you are desperate to hug there are plenty of other people on the planet.

I wouldn't change my childhood or my family, it's my life and there is nothing wrong with it. Like Blue started the thread with, I didn't write here for sympathy, I wrote out of curiosity because the original premise of this thread interests.

Nature or nurture - I still think it is both things, there is a strong family culture, and like it or not I am turning into my mother.