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The Search For Mother Or Father Figures Resulting From Childhood Trauma – Childhood Trauma Recovery

The Search For Mother Or Father Figures Resulting From Childhood Trauma

The experience of chronic and severe childhood trauma can result in profound emotional hurt being inflicted upon our ‘inner child.’

The term ‘inner child, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: .’the childlike usually hidden part of a person’s personality that is characterized by playfulness, spontaneity, and creativity usually accompanied by anger, hurt, and fear attributable to childhood experiences.’

The ‘inner child’ continues to ‘inhabit’ us, as it were, throughout our adulthood and will, often on an unconscious level, continue to want to satisfy the emotional needs that were not met during childhood. (In relation to this, you may wish to read my previously published article: Changing Your False Self To Your True Self With ‘Inner Child’ Therapy).

For the emotionally abused or deprived individual, such needs are likely to include the needs to:

  • feel protected
  • feel safe
  • feel loved
  • feel nurtured
  • feel valued
  • feel acceptable as one is

Such unmet needs may lead the adult survivor of childhood emotional maltreatment to seek partners who are mother-figures or father-figures in the hope that they will meet these hitherto unmet needs.

This search for a mother-figure or a father-figure may also be linked to an individual’s constantly having fantasized as a child about being released from his/her emotional suffering by a ‘rescuer.’ This is because this yearning to be rescued can persist long after the childhood traumatic events themselves (though of course not their effects) are over.

It is unfortunate, however, that the search for mother and father figures as partners can lead to relationships that do not work out and can, instead, have the effect of re-traumatizing the childhood trauma survivor.

Some individuals who crave a mother figure or father figure in their lives may also be suffering from dependent personality disorder.


Dependent personality disorder (DPD) affects about 0.5% of the population and is more commonly found in women than in men. Those who suffer from it greatly fear separation and abandonment by those who look after them; also, they have an excessive reliance upon others, constantly seeking reassurance, advice, and care from them. In everyday language, such people are often described as being ‘clingy’.

The person suffering from DPD feels a deeply pervasive sense of being essentially helpless and of being utterly unable to cope with life’s demands on their own, rather as if they were still a young child.


Because of such beliefs and feelings, the DPD sufferer will very much tend to avoid any responsibility – domestically, socially, or professionally. If s/he is unexpectedly faced with responsibilities, s/he is likely to feel anxious, panicked, and overwhelmed.


Symptoms of DPD will also affect the individual’s approach to relationships. S/he will tend to only form relationships with those who are caring, nurturing, and protective towards him/her, and attempt, desperately, to hold on to such relationships.


The causes of DPD are not fully understood. However, the current state of scientific knowledge suggests that those who suffer from DPD might have inherited a neurological predisposition towards ANXIETY and PESSIMISM which makes them vulnerable to developing DPD or other psychiatric conditions. It has been hypothesized that if, in addition, the person grows up in an environment that maintains or increases this tendency to feel anxiety and pessimism, and stifles the development of independence and self-reliance, the risk of the later development of DPD is significantly increased.

DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) LIST OF SYMPTOMS OF DPD :

– difficulty making decisions and excessive need for advice and reassurance from others

– needs others to take responsibility for major areas of their life

– difficulty disagreeing with others due to fear of abandonment or cessation of support

– problems undertaking tasks under own initiative due to lack of confidence and self-belief

– will go to extreme lengths in order to elicit the support of others

– fears being alone as has believes won’t be able to cope on own

– if there is a loss of a supportive relationship, will desperately seek to replace it with a similar relationship

– excessive fear of abandonment

Above list of symptoms adapted from DSM 


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one treatment option that can be effective at treating DPD (click here to read my article on CBT). Also, it is sometimes treated with anti-depressants and sedatives to help address the negative thinking and anxiety connected to the condition. The two treatments of CBT and medication may be used in conjunction with one another.

DISCLAIMER: Always consult an appropriate professional regarding the diagnosis of a psychiatric condition, as well as for advice as to the best treatment options for the particular individual.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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