Things we experience as children and adolescents help to shape the people we become in our adult life. These experiences may be physical, like a sudden change in the home environment, being a victim of sexual abuse by a family member, or feeling a sense of neglect from caregivers who were never home. Psychological distress also impacts who you become. Traumatic events like the death of a close family member, mental illness in the family, or the pain of your parents’ divorce can significantly impact your mental health going forward — so can the types of relationships you formed with your parents and friends.
These past experiences and feelings can leave you with emotional needs that, even after decades, have never been met. Here are some broad categories of unmet needs that often begin in the lives of adolescents or young adults. Each of these can most certainly cause psychological issues and mental health problems as you grow into adulthood.
People feel secure when they perceive that they are safe and protected from emotional and physical danger. If a person grows up without protectors like parents or other older adults, they might seek out relationships with partners who can take on that role. When they find that person, they immediately and desperately fear losing them. They might become uncomfortably controlling, clingy, and insecure. Others who grew up feeling abandoned by adults may seriously struggle to feel secure with anyone. They may also develop personality traits and behaviours that push away or alienate potential partners.
Symptoms of abandonment or attachment issues may manifest in young people as low self-esteem, eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia, or unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse. As adults, the fear of abandonment or loss of an attachment may result in an anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, mood disorder, or other mental health disorders.
Children — whose parents or caregivers were detached, critical, or perhaps didn’t know how to adequately express feelings due to their mental health impairments — may grow up with an unmet and growing need for the approval and appreciation of others in personal, professional, and social relationships. To compensate, they have a compulsion to please others, hoping that these others will reciprocate with kind words or copious appreciation.
This behavior can be exhausting, though. The stress of working harder and harder just to achieve success in someone else’s eyes leads to fatigue and fear of failure. You may develop the impulse to remove the word “no” from your vocabulary. Overwhelming schedules and the constant need to do more —and do it better — leads to depressive symptoms, stress, worry, or even anxiety disorders. This could lead to the onset of other mental health issues or an overreliance on coping mechanisms like alcohol use or drug use.
There are several reasons why an adult develops a need for control. Many stem from traumatic events in which they were unable to control the situation. For example, victims of rape or childhood abuse can develop control issues because they fear losing control again. Even witnessing a traumatic event during childhood can have long-lasting effects on a person, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as the constant need to control the environment around them.
Someone struggling with a need to control particular situations may micromanage others or suffer from constant agitation or irritability. They may also develop compulsions like binge eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), or substance abuse. Anxiety disorders, severe stress, major depression, and other mental health issues may also arise.
The need for validation is similar to the need for approval and appreciation in that it manifests as a compulsion to make others feel good. However, a person who seeks validation usually wants more than just approval. They feel a strong desire to receive praise, compliments, attention, and adoration for their looks, talents, or accomplishments. As the need grows, it might manifest as wanting others to envy or be jealous of them.
Addiction. The person craves social interaction and positive feedback from others, even strangers. These personality traits are prevalent on social media, especially among young adults. A person who posts photo after photo of themselves hoping to garner “likes” and comments about how great they look could be seeking validation.
An underlying unfulfilled need for love could be the basis of many of the four broad categories of unmet needs. Parents or caregivers who neglect, abandon, criticize, or abuse instil in their children the feeling that they’re not good enough to be loved, or that they are, indeed, unloved. Sigmund Freud even posited that an adult person’s attitudes toward and capacity for love are formed when they are infants.
A real or perceived lack of love as a child can manifest in adults as an attraction to unhealthy relationships or mental health issues, including major depression, low self-esteem, or substance abuse. This is due to the individual attempting to fill the void where love should be instead. It could also result in severe mental illness.
Veli Ndaba is a NeuroEngineering Leadership Effect Speaker and Trainer, Brain Coach and Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!) and Newspaper Columnist. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org, www.velindaba.com or +27 83 304 9773