Emotional neglect in childhood is incredibly harmful, and the effects last well into adulthood. As an adult, you might experience negativity for seemingly no reason. However, many adults feel this way because of childhood neglect.
As children develop emotionally, they need kindness, love, and nurturing. When they receive anything other than these, it causes severe problems that affect them long-term. Then, as adults, they continue struggling because of the neglect they experienced as a child.
Most children that experience neglect do not realize it is happening because they view it as a shared experience. When they learn to block, ignore, or minimize emotions, it causes immediate and long-lasting effects. Anytime parents display a consistent pattern of not taking care of their child’s emotional needs, it’s considered neglect.
No parent is perfect, and everyone will mess up sometimes. It only becomes neglectful behavior when a parent repeatedly fails to respond to their child’s needs. Understanding emotional neglect, the problems it causes, and how to overcome them can make all the difference.
What is Emotional Neglect?
While you have likely heard of emotional neglect, it can be a bit complicated. When parents don’t respond to their child’s emotions, it is neglect. This type of neglect isn’t something that parents do, but it describes what they don’t do.
In this neglectful situation, the child will miss out on emotional awareness, emotional validation, and meaningful discussion. It’s often difficult for a child to recognize that the experience isn’t healthy because they’re used to it.
Children don’t always know that their parents should notice and identify their emotions. Additionally, kids don’t always know that their parents should be interested and concerned about their child’s feelings, either. What’s more, kids that experience neglect don’t even know that their parents should talk with them about their emotions.
When parents regularly do these things, it teaches their children to acknowledge when they feel something. Plus, it teaches their child to identify their emotions and show interest and concern for them.
Parents that talk to kids about emotions teach the child to express themselves. This vital life skill sets the child on the right path for being emotionally aware, enriched, and connected.
However, it is severely detrimental if a parent doesn’t notice, show interest, name, or talk with a child about emotions. The child misses essential emotional development, and it leads to harmful consequences. Eventually, the child becomes an adult who continues to ignore their feelings.
Examples of Emotional Neglect
One example of neglect is when a child tells their parent that they are sad, dismissing the situation. Anytime the parent fails to listen and help the child cope, it’s an instance of neglect. After a while, the child believes that their emotional needs are unimportant and stop looking for support.
Another example is when a parent demeans their child for having emotions. When a parent calls their child a cry baby or tells them to stop acting like a baby, it’s neglectful behavior. Other phrases that harm a child include things like these:
- “You don’t believe that.”
- “It didn’t happen that way.”
- “You don’t feel that way, so stop saying it.”
- “Stop being so sensitive.”
The effects of emotional neglect are often subtle, but they intensely affect the person. Failing to notice when your child does something well is another form of negligence that severely affects them.
What Causes Neglect
The causes of neglect are hard to understand and often multifaceted. Most parents try their best, and even those who emotionally neglect their children usually don’t mean to do it. Adults who emotionally neglect their children commonly experience some of the following:
- Mental health disorders
- Personal lack of emotional fulfillment
- Lack of healthy parenting skills
- Substance misuse or abuse
- Anger or resentment
- History of neglect from their parents
Problems Caused by Emotional Neglect in Childhood
What damage does this abuse cause? Take a look at these potential outcomes.
1. Discomfort with the Expression of Emotions
Neglected children become adults who have a hard time expressing emotions. They’ll also feel uncomfortable or awkward when other people express themselves. Even expressions of happiness and positivity will make them uncomfortable.
Children who are ridiculed for their emotions grow up being uncomfortable about them. They might have been put down, ignored, or punished because of their feelings. Eventually, these kids believe that emotions are unimportant, wrong, or unacceptable.
2. An Overwhelming Sense of Emptiness or Emotional Numbness
Children experience emptiness when they grow up with their emotions ignored. This feeling lasts throughout the person’s life because they learn that their sensations don’t matter. Unfortunately, the child learns to push their emotions away from those closest to them, even themselves.
When they push their emotions away, it leaves them feeling empty inside. They won’t process or experience their feelings, and they will assume no one else understands them. As adults, these people will always feel like something is missing because they don’t experience emotions.
3. Negative Self Thoughts and a Lack of Self Esteem Come from Emotional Neglect
Neglect in childhood will cause the person to believe they are inexplicably flawed. They will feel inadequate or ashamed of their inferior state because they never learned how to cope. Plus, they likely never received praise when they did something well, so they have low self-esteem and negative thinking.
These people lack self-esteem and experience intense negative thinking. They often feel disappointed in themselves and angry for unexplainable reasons. As adults, they will think back on social situations and beat themselves up for what they said, even if everything was okay.
Additionally, they judge themselves more harshly than they judge others. They hold themselves to a higher standard and assume they aren’t good enough when they don’t live up to their unrealistic expectations.
4. The Feeling That They are Different from Others in a Strange Way
When a child experiences neglect, they grow up thinking they are different from others. While everyone is different somehow, these children believe that they are different. It leaves them feeling bad about themselves, and the sensation lasts throughout their lives.
The neglected person will feel like they don’t belong anywhere, even with their closest friends and family. They might seem distant or aloof and want to be left alone. They’ll often feel uncomfortable in social situations because of their disjointed mindset.
Their sensation of being different in a strange way causes a lack of emotional connections. They won’t have an easy time letting their guard down or sharing what’s important to them. It can cause tension and turmoil in current relationships and make it hard to form new ones.
5. Frequently Feeling Guilt and Shame
Any child who experiences neglect is likely to feel guilt and shame throughout life. Part of the reason they experience these emotions is that they grew up with parents who emphasized materialistic things. When a child feels like their parent isn’t paying attention to their feelings, they’ll feel guilty for the thought because of all their parent does for them.
Their sensations of guilt and shame can lead to an inability to ask for help. They feel like it makes them appear weak, and they’ll avoid that feeling at all costs. Additionally, they won’t speak up for their needs as often because they feel like no one understands them.
6. Not Understanding Emotions and How They Work
People who were victims of neglect don’t understand emotions or how they work. Their parents never taught them to identify and handle their feelings, so they don’t know what to do. They might often feel upset or angry without reason, and they’ll struggle to calm down.
Because of this, they’ll struggle to participate in social situations. Since they can’t understand emotions, it always seems like something holds them back, and they feel empty inside. Children who learn to suppress their feelings become adults who don’t understand them at all.
Additionally, their lack of understanding can create issues with implementing boundaries. They won’t know how to establish boundaries for themselves or respect boundaries in others.
How to Undo the Damage Caused by Emotional Neglect
While the problems caused by neglect can last throughout the person’s life, there is a way to overcome them. Overcoming the damage can make all the difference in living a healthy, meaningful life. These tips will help you undo the damage caused by childhood neglect.
Talk to a Therapist
A therapist or psychologist can help people of any age learn to cope with their emotions. Therapists can help overcome long-lasting damage caused by neglect. A therapist can help with recognizing and experiencing emotions.
Be Curious Rather Than Judging
Whenever you judge yourself, switch your mindset and be curious about yourself instead. If you’re hard on yourself, try thinking of where your behaviors originated.