Ask any therapist, and chances are they’ll tell you the same thing: the majority of a client’s issues, even their dating style can be traced back to their parents.
The Role of the Parent In Your Dating Style
Parenting is undeniably a challenging job. Probably one of the hardest out there, in fact, because there is no 100% effective, tried-and-true parenting strategy that will work for every child. Unfortunately, no matter how good a parent’s actions and intentions are, they are bound to make mistakes somewhere along the line. It’s natural: no one is perfect!
Most children will experience some sort of emotional fallout from the words and actions of their parents. But, unfortunately, some children get a much larger helping of that emotional fallout than others, which can ultimately affect mental and emotional development. These issues can manifest later on in life—in careers, friendships, and perhaps most egregiously, in romantic relationships.Check out these tips for helping overcome your parental imprint on your dating style:
Parenting & Nervous Attachment
I’ve talked before about Nervous Noras and Nicks—titles I use to categorize individuals with an anxious attachment style. In my 20 years as a psychiatrist and counseling professional, I’ve found that everyone has their own love style, an attitude that informs and affects the way they bond with others. There are four general categories. One of these is the anxious dater: this describes a person who is insecure in their relationships, is a chronic overthinker, likely overcompensates, and basks in outside validation. These are the Nervous Noras and Nicks.
So, where does this nervous attachment style come from? Well, at least part of it can be attributed to their parent’s emotional behaviors and parenting strategies. Without us even realizing it, maladaptive emotional attachments are developed early on in life. It’s completely unconscious, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a Nervous Nora. Still, if you find it’s causing you grief in your romantic relationships, you may be seeking some guidance.
Below, we’ll talk about different parental behaviors and how they may still be affecting you, even years later.
The Anxious Parent
These days, we’re becoming much more attuned to mental health needs, and therapy is becoming more normalized. But, unfortunately, many parents of older generations probably weren’t afforded the same luxury and may have lived with undiagnosed mental health issues. These can include a range of anxiety disorders, from generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorder to agoraphobia, OCD, and even PTSD.
An anxious parent can intentionally or unintentionally instill many of the same fears and foibles in their children. This can encourage extreme thought processes in kids, where their minds are tuned to ‘worst case’ thinking. In addition, it can lead to negative assumptions about the world: that change is to be feared, that no one is trustworthy, that seclusion or isolation is preferable to risk, and that control over one’s surroundings can keep one from getting hurt.
An anxious parent may frame these learned childhood traits as positive or even necessary. But, unfortunately, they can cause major issues for kids down the line, and adults may struggle to let go of these tendencies as they start to enter the world of dating. The result? A Nervous Nora or Nick who can’t let their guard down and has trouble forming healthy connections. This can negatively affect your dating style.
Emotionally Unavailable Parent
Many Nervous Noras or Nicks may have grown up with an emotionally unavailable parent. This can wreak havoc on a child’s emotional development, as learning how to form healthy attachments starts at a very early age. Emotionally unavailable parents may be insecure or psychologically affected, the latter of which can manifest in several different traits. These traits include low stress tolerance, emotional instability, aggression, inflexibility, poor boundaries, and attention-seeking.
Much like the anxious parent, most emotionally unavailable parents are dealing with their own issues and may be suffering from undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t still do real and lasting damage to their children, who may grow up insecure, fearful, and self-conscious. They may struggle with mental health disorders, anger management, emotional detachment, or conversely, may desperately crave emotional fulfillment. Effectively, growing up with an emotionally unavailable parent can take a toll on children, even when they grow into adults.
If you recognize yourself or a parent in either of these descriptions, understand that these experiences don’t define or determine your future. It is possible to grow and work through the emotional trauma and become more secure and confident in yourself. For support and insight into overcoming anxious attachment, check out my course for Nervous Daters and learn how to unpack your past and redirect your future.
Dating is hard! But if you are a Nervous Nora or Nick, it’s easy to question and second-guess every little thing. Just know that you’re not alone. If you feel that your attachment style is giving you grief, there are strategies you can apply that will open up new doors to happiness.
Take our Love Styles Quiz to find out more about what makes you tick. And when you are ready to break up with anxiety and move on from overthinking, try one of our online courses and break out of the cycle.