Childhood Emotional Neglect: How to Know and How to Heal

Children are like sponges. They quickly absorb everything they see and hear. Every word, act, reaction— all kinds of interaction with the people in their environment has an impact on their growth… and the absence of it. Emotional neglect is as damaging as negative interactions like abuse. Being neglected can cause traumas, resulting in various negative behavioral patterns growing up.


Emotional neglect is often done unintentionally. Unlike abuses that are seen and traced, emotional neglect, you can’t identify or point precisely when the wounding of the neglect started in life, making it challenging to overcome. Parents may have been loving and caring, but it is still possible that they may have neglected their children’s emotional needs.


Now, why does emotional neglect happen? Parents may have experienced being neglected by their parents themselves during their childhood, or they did not have good models to emulate, or they do not have an awareness of children’s emotional needs. Also, parents may think that all is well with the children as long as the family is provided for.


Parents must understand that their children’s emotions are as important as ours. Because of their authority and being the people who “know what’s best for their children,” they tend to parent in an imposing way. And when children feel things, parents and sometimes even teachers would invalidate such feelings, as though we are teaching them. When we say,

“That’s okay; that didn’t really hurt you.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“That wasn’t so bad.”


These responses dismiss the child rather than encourage them. If you have experienced this during childhood, or your feelings might have been questioned, you may have experienced emotional neglect. As a result, you might have learned to bottle up your feelings or choose to bury them to cope with them. Or probably, your feelings of anger were transformed into anxiety because it was impressed upon you that anger is an unacceptable emotion.


It is essential to determine if you suffered from emotional neglect during childhood. This can help you realize why you tend to be reactive or afraid to do things. Try thinking about the following:


  1. Are you afraid to rely on others? Do you tend to refuse offers of care, help, or support?
  2. Do you find it difficult to identify your strengths and weaknesses? Are you having a hard time figuring out your likes and dislikes or what your life goals are?
  3. Are you hard on yourself? Do you practice self-compassion?
  4. Do you often blame yourself for everything? Do you get angry with yourself or shift the guilt and shame to yourself concerning your feelings and needs?
  5. Do you find yourself feeling empty, numb, or cut off from your emotions? Do you feel like you are not allowed to express how you feel?
  6. Do you get easily overwhelmed? Do you tend to give up easily?
  7. How is your self-esteem? Do you feel like you are not good enough to do things?
  8. Are you afraid to be rejected or criticized?
  9. Do you believe that you are deeply flawed, that something is wrong with you, and that you can’t exactly pinpoint what that is?


If yes, then you may have experienced emotional neglect.


But do know this, though. It is in the toughest times that you shine. You cannot be an overcomer without being in unfortunate situations. It is time for you to heal and be kind to yourself. Here are some ways to start:


  1. Learn to recognize your emotions.


Your emotions help you to realize problems and difficulties. They drive our choices and treat others and ourselves. Recognize your emotions and remember that they are valid and essential. Emotions allow us to make decisions, feel our way in various scenarios, and even help decide who we want to be with, where to go, and even what food to eat. Emotions are inevitable when it comes to decision-making.


  1. Know your needs and ask others to meet them.


It is normal to need. And like others, you deserve to have your needs met as well. Train yourself to ask others to meet these needs. For instance, when you need a hug from your friend, your child, or a loved one, just ask for it. Or, if you need quiet time after a long day of work, ask for it.


  1. Find a therapist.


Having a therapist to help you sort things about your emotions is good. There is no shame in seeking help from an expert. They might not be able to correct the mistakes your parents might have made (or things that they should have done), but they do have ways to help you resolve some trust issues, gain self-confidence, handle rejections and criticism, and learn to love yourself, and more.


Childhood emotional neglect can significantly impact a person as they grow up. To heal from them, you must build the awareness that you have feelings, that people see and feel you, and that you are loved. Recognize those feelings and cope with them accordingly rather than deny them.

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