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The Adult Who Was Once an Unwanted Child

Healing these old wounds.

Some people just don’t want to be parents. And that is certainly OK. But some people who don’t want to be parents end up, either by accident or by choice, having children. Before birth control was a thing, many more children who were unwanted were born into this world. But now we have birth control so the problem should be solved, right? Wrong.

People, especially young people, are often confused about what they really want. And women are still, all too often, pressured by family and friends to have babies. Further, there are still many accidental pregnancies, and then, of course, there is also the possibility of being impregnated by a rapist—and some, even some who don’t really want to, choose to carry this baby to term.

So, it is still happening. But what if you were one of the children born to a parent who did not want you? You are an adult now, so it shouldn’t really bother you anymore, right? Well, the impacts of being born to a parent who, for whatever reason, doesn’t really want you are still being researched and we do need more research. But the experience of being an unwanted child tends to teach the child that she is unlovable and/or that no one will ever love her.

The adult who was an unwanted child may, therefore, have a great deal of difficulty believing that he is loved—even when he is. Further, since the child was not attended to, often emotionally if not physically neglected, and not mirrored for his capacities, there may also be a great deal of insecurity or even fear about performing in the world.

Emotional neglect looks much like physical neglect in that basic needs are left unmet. Children come here with a deep-seated need to belong—but from the womb on this child has a certain knowing that she does not belong. This is often interpreted by the child as “something is wrong with me that I cannot belong.” Young children quite often believe that their parents can do no wrong—that if there is any wrong to be had, it is theirs. “If only I were _____, my parents would like me or love me.” But worse than that the child may grow up in a home where emotional neglect feels normal, even right. And so they come to expect this from others.

Andrea Mathews
Traversing the Inner Terrain
Source: Andrea Mathews

When we expect emotional neglect from others, we tend to be drawn only to those people who will emotionally neglect us. And so, as adults we tend to repeat, often without knowing it, the dramas and traumas of our childhoods. When we do not get the kind attention of parents, we may learn to expect that from the world—thus we are attracted to people who will not give us kind attention.

Mirroring a child is essential to her ability to see her own authentic Self. The child is looking for mirrors throughout childhood. They look for it in the faces of parents and siblings; they look for it in their actions and reactions. A child who is appropriately mirrored will be able to stand in her own authenticity. A child who is shown a false image of herself will often adopt that image as identity and live it out as a way of belonging to people to whom she senses she would not otherwise belong.

So, what is the adult who was unwanted to do? Finding and beginning to live from the authentic Self is extremely healing. It might feel like a guilty betrayal at first—because family didn’t approve of it—but coming to appreciate his own authenticity can give the adult who was once an unwanted child a sense of belonging to self, which can then be transmuted into belonging also to others.

I come to know my authentic Self by first recognizing that many of the ways I have been living are no longer working for me. Then I might need to ask some serious questions about what would work for me. What tasks do I enjoy? What relationships do I really trust, and which ones do I not trust? What do I really want to be doing with this moment and this moment and this moment? What would I like to remove from my life and what would I like to keep? What are my true emotions? Perhaps I’ve been trying to contrive certain emotions to please others or to meet some standard? Or, perhaps I’ve been repressing my true emotions. But if I can work to find my true emotions can they be utilized in any way to help me make appropriate decisions?

This may take some time, and you may even need to talk to a therapist about it. But the payoff for this work is a happier more genuine life. Just because one person didn’t want you, doesn’t mean that you can’t want yourself, or that you can’t be wanted by others.