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How Can Unmet Needs in Childhood Affect Us as Adults?


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6 min


Published on:

Wed Apr 10 2024


Last updated:

Wed Apr 24 2024


Written by:

The Personal Development School

How can unmet needs affect us as adults?


Our experiences in childhood play a crucial role in shaping who we become as adults.

In this blog, we'll explore unmet needs, common examples like security and attachment, the impacts in adulthood, and how to finally meet those needs.

What is an Unmet Need?

Unmet needs refer to fundamental emotional, mental, and physical well-being "needs" not adequately fulfilled in childhood.

These needs include feeling safe, loved, supported, and free to express ourselves.

Children require these "needs" to help them develop healthy coping strategies, acceptance, and self-belief and form deep and loving relationships.

However, when these childhood needs are unmet, they impact how a person interacts and behaves as an adult, leading them to develop insecure attachment styles.

Now, let’s look at the most common unmet needs that impact people.

Common Unmet Needs

The most common unmet childhood needs include security, attachment, autonomy, and freedom of expression. Let’s break down each one of them in greater detail:


Security is about feeling safe, stable, and predictable in our environment. When children don’t experience consistent caregiving, structure, and a sense of belonging, they don’t develop the skills to trust others and be emotionally understood.

This usually comes in the form of neglect, childhood abuse (whether witnessing or experiencing domestic abuse), or instability (inconsistent parenting or divorce).

The child then develops anxieties, fears, and difficulties regulating or understanding their emotions, which continues into adulthood. This is most common in anxious preoccupied and fearful avoidant attachment styles.


Attachment is about forming healthy emotional bonds between the child and their parents.

When the child has a sense of safety, comfort, and support, they can develop the ability to trust themselves and form healthy relationships with other people. This is most commonly displayed in people with secure attachment styles.

However, when there is emotional deprivation, the child may develop insecure attachment patterns that can impact forming and maintaining close relationships and develop fear of abandonment and rejection.



Children need the time and space to cultivate a sense of self-control, self-reliance, and creating an identify while establishing their personal boundaries.

That’s what autonomy brings when children can explore their interests, make their own decisions, and learn from their experiences.

When parents exert excessive control over their children's lives without allowing them to explore it themselves, they struggle to develop confidence, self-awareness, and insufficient self-control.

Significantly, it can lead to codependency on others, such as parents or partners.

Freedom of Expression

Children must be allowed to express their thoughts, feelings, and creativity without fear of judgment or punishment. The more children are allowed to express themselves freely, the more likely they’ll develp a strong sense of self-esteem, emotional intelligence, and creativity.

Conversely, if expression is forbidden or denied, the child-turned-adults learn to suppress their true thoughts and emotions, leading to frustration, resentment, more assertive boundaries, and emotional disconnection. This can seen in dismissive avoidants who struggle to form genuine connections with others.

Some other unmet needs include:

  • Spontaneity and play
  • Eealistic limits and self-control
  • Fairness
  • Self-coherence
  • Connection to nature or nature relatedness
  • Self-esteem
  • Novelty and change
  • Self-comprehension
  • Meaning

How Unmet Needs Affect Adults

Now that we have highlighted the most common unmet needs in children, let’s take a look at how they impact people as adults:

Attachment Styles

Needs are central to attachment theory because all children must be close to important “attachment figures” to meet physical, mental, and core emotional needs. When those needs aren’t met, it results in challenges in self-belief, relationships, and love.

That comes out in attachment styles. As you know, attachment styles are the accumulation of childhood experiences and interactions that impact us as adults regarding beliefs and relationships.

So when these needs are unmet, it develops into insecure attachment with either anxious preoccupied, dismissive avoidant, or fearful avoidant patterns. These styles can lead to difficulties forming and maintaining healthy relationships, affecting communication, intimacy, and trust.


We’ve mentioned codependency many times before in our webinars, courses, and blogs, so here’s just a quick recap:

It’s when a person develops an unhealthy reliance on another person (such as a parent or partner). They become "dependent" on that person to live their life, taking the form of mental, physical, and emotional support.

This can result in unhealthy relationship dynamics and a constant desire for emotional validation, hindering personal growth.

Codependency can happen when children don’t develop the skills to fend for themselves, learn from their mistakes, and express themselves. That comes in the two unmet needs of autonomy and freedon of expression.

Healthly Coping Mechanisms

In response to unmet needs, people may develop destructive coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, avoidance, or compulsive behaviors.

While these coping strategies offer temporary relief, they ultimately lead to a lack of self-compassion, distress, and a cycle of negative emotions and dysfunction.

Communication Habits

By having your emotions and thoughts repressed and not understanding social norms and communication patterns, as adults, people may have trouble communicating to others on a healthy and concise level.

That’s why the needs of freedom of expression and attachment are so important; it helps individuals develop the right way to communicate with others. This can include expressing emotions, asserting boundaries, and managing relationship conflicts.

Emotional Intimacy

Without security and attachment needs, children struggle to develop emotional intimacy with others. That’s because they cannot trust others, express vulnerability, and establish deep emotional connections.

Not only does this impact relationships with family, friends, and partners, but it can also lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness despite being in relationships.


How people perceive themselves is vital to how they interact with others. A child's development can be hindered if they are dismissed and neglected.

As adults, this is seen as impaired self-esteem, low levels of self-worth, acts of self-sabotage to in relationships or promising positions, and difficulty setting boundaries.

How to Meet Your Needs

Healing from the past and doing grieving work is how you can meet your unmet needs as an adult. It might sound like a challenge, but there are a couple of steps you can take to help you:

1—Understand your parent’s parenting style

You must go back to the beginning and learn how your parents parented to see what happened to you. Take the time to think about your parent's approach to relationships and child-raising.

There are four distinct parenting types: Authoritarian, Uninvolved, Permissive, and Narcissistic.

Once you have an idea of how your parents treated you, you’ll be able to pinpoint where your needs didn’t get met.

2— Make a list of your unmet needs

Ask yourself what need is not being met in your current life and relationship.

Do you feel like you need affection or love? Or do you need the self-belief to express yourself authoritatively?

Take the time to list down your unmet needs as a child.

3—Become your own parent

Your goal is to become your own parent to get the needs your parents didn’t give you. This is referred to as “reparenting”.

You have to do the opposite of what your parents did so you can get your needs met. For example, if your parents were critical, you must be self-empowering.

More information is available as part of our Reparenting Your Inner Child to Transcend Attachment Trauma Behaviors course.

This will create a baseline of what you need to do to reach and meet those needs you missed out on.

4—Reprogram your beliefs

Your beliefs are generated from childhood and acquired from your parents. It will vary depending on the person’s attachment styles, with some examples including “I will be abandoned,” “I am bad,” or “I will be unloved”.

By reprogramming these beliefs, you’ll be able to meet your needs more easily as you’ll rewire your thoughts and beliefs about yourself. We offer various tools that can help you reprogram your beliefs, all available as part of our Emotional Mastery & Beliefs program.

By identifying your beliefs, neutralizing them, and then fulfilling your unmet needs, you can build a better relationship with yourself.


  • Gibson, T. (2023). Learning Love: Build the Best Relationships of Your Life Using Integrated Attachment Theory
  • Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and Loss: Volume I: Attachment
  • Lockwood, G., & Perris, P. (2012). A new look at core emotional needs.
  • Lockwood, G., & Samson, R. (2020). Understanding and meeting core emotional needs.
  • Young, J. E., Klosko, J. S., & Weishaar, M. E. (2003). Schema therapy: A practitioner’s guide.
  • Arntz, A., Rijkeboer, M., Chan, E., Fassbinder, E., Karaosmanoglu, A., Lee, C. W., & Panzeri, M. (2021). Towards a reformulated theory underlying schema therapy: Position paper of an international workgroup.

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