“Relational (childhood) patterning from early childhood stays with us for a lifetime. If our parents told us they loved us (or presumed we knew it), without consistent acts of affection, nurturing and support that backed-up those words, we were left with mixed messages that made us doubt our lovability and worth. The in-congruency between what we heard versus what we felt, programmed us to feel confusion, insecurity and longing, in reference to attachment. This lack of emotional safety in childhood could have been subtle, and you adapted–but it’s helped you accept the lack of it now, in your present relationship. The inconsistent patterns of affection or attention that you experienced as a kid, set you up to accommodate these inconsistencies as an adult.”
I don’t know where I read that insight about childhood patterning, but it resonated with me so strongly that I wrote it down in my journal so as not to forget. In short, the paragraph explains that if your parents told you they loved you, but their actions didn’t consistently back up those words, your childhood patterning taught you to accept this inconsistency is being ‘normal’ and what love feels like, and you learned to accommodate this same type of inconsistency in a partner.
As an adult, this childhood patterning means that you are more likely to tolerate and make excuses for what feels like unloving or contradictory behavior from your partner. You likely will ignore or stifle that voice inside of you that is nudging you that “something isn’t right”, and put your own needs to the side to accommodate the needs of your partner.
Children seem to possess an intuitive sense of what love feels like and when this isn’t the type of love they receive, it creates a sort of cognitive dissonance that they lack the emotional maturity to navigate through. Instead of understanding that the mixed messages or outright abuse they suffer has everything to do with their parents’ issues and nothing to do with their own personal value or worth, children internalize their parents’ behavior and reach the conclusion that they, themselves must be doing something wrong. This creates an environment where the child is continually trying to please their parent(s) in an effort to remain on their ‘good side’ where things are safe and calm. Not surprisingly, as adults they do the same in their love relationships.
As adults, they are often unconsciously drawn to partners who emit the same type of energy as their emotionally distant parent(s) and find themselves in relationships where they feel they need to tiptoe around the emotional landscape of their partner or minimize their own emotional needs to accommodate the lack of emotion or conversely, the explosive emotions of their partner.
The confusing part is that the conflicting messages received from parents might have been so subtle that the adult child doesn’t even realize that this was their childhood patterning. We think of emotional neglect or abuse as something obvious and overt, but quite often, it is just under the radar or attributed to outside factors.
For example, imagine a child raised by a single mother who struggles financially. She tells him she loves him but work and income are sporadic, so he often goes hungry and when he has a medical issue, it is ignored because there is no money for a doctor visit. Although we can rationally excuse this neglect of basic care as being due to lack of money, the child may grow up feeling that if his mother really loved him, she would have worked two jobs or taken any job to make sure he was fed and had proper medical care. This is how cognitive dissonance comes into play – from a rational perspective, the child understands the lack of money and of course his mother loves him because she tells him so, but from an emotional perspective, he feels unloved due to the lack of actual care and concern for his welfare that he received from her. Kind of like an ‘actions speak louder than words’ scenario.
In relationships, this man may be drawn to women who are unable to show a deep level of care, but he will likely find some rational excuse in order to convince himself that his partner loves him, even though it doesn’t always feel that way.
This is a simplified example, but f you find yourself in relationships where you put your own needs to the side in order to accommodate the needs of your partner, or you make excuses for behavior that doesn’t feel loving or caring, or you rationalize behavior and ‘talk’ yourself out of your own feelings then you may have grown up in a home where you felt that your needs were not high on the priority list and your childhood patterning reflects this.
Your needs matter, and it’s important that you are in a relationship with someone who makes you feel as though they matter.
As a child, your parents were responsible for meeting all of your needs and nurturing your development so that eventually you would be emotionally and physically mature enough to meet your own needs, but this is not the role of your partner. Your partner cannot be expected to meet all of your needs, but they do have a responsibility to meet some of them. It’s crucial that as an adult, you learn how to meet your own needs and take some of that pressure off of your partner. At that point, you will decide which of your needs you will meet and which you expect your partner to meet and if you find yourself in a relationship with a partner who is unable or unwilling to meet those needs with love and care, you move on instead of making excuses for them. This is how you break that childhood patterning and attract healthier relationships, but this will likely require a lot of self-exploration, self-love, and boundary setting.