When you think back on your childhood, what do you remember about your emotions? Were you able to express how you felt to your parents without feeling ignored or embarrassed? Did you feel like they listened to you and took you seriously?
Or did you feel unimportant and like no one cared about your feelings and thoughts?
Childhood emotional neglect is different than childhood physical neglect or emotional abuse. When a child is emotionally neglected, it means that their parents aren’t able to meet their emotional needs. It can happen for many reasons: working long hours, divorce, illness, or a parent’s psychological issues. It’s often an unintentional act.
Even if a child’s physical needs are met in abundance, that doesn’t mean their emotional needs are. No amount of food, clothing, and toys can fill a child’s emotional needs.
Children still need their parents’ affection, warmth, reassurance, and undivided love to grow up into secure, confident adults. When this doesn’t happen, the effects ripple out into the future.
Adult Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect
When children’s feelings aren’t validated or downplayed or dismissed, they are told that they don’t matter to the adults in their lives. This impact is devastating.
Essentially, childhood emotional neglect is a type of trauma. Children are helpless and at the mercy of the adults in their lives. When they seek reassurance or try to express themselves, only to be shot down, they are emotionally traumatized.
Those who have experienced emotional neglect as children often grow into insecure and uncertain adults. They didn’t receive the positive reinforcement they needed when they were young to learn to trust themselves and their instincts.
Early efforts to gain their parents’ attention may have caused a child to become a perfectionist or display people-pleasing tendencies. They’ve become so accustomed to trying to make others happy that they aren’t even aware of their wants and needs. Even if they are aware of their individual needs, they may not think they’re nearly as important as others.
Trauma, such as childhood emotional neglect, can create ongoing effects in your brain. It affects the parts of the brain that regulate memory and how well you can withstand stress.
When you experience any trauma long term, it’s easy to see how your brain has a harder and harder time operating the way it should in response to stressors.
For example, the brain may not have the resiliency to maintain the motivation and optimism to keep going. As a result, you become quickly discouraged.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Childhood emotional neglect can also play a factor in a condition called complex PTSD (CPTSD). Indeed, any ongoing, long term abuse and neglect can lead to this condition.
People who struggle with CPTSD have many classic symptoms of PTSD (flashbacks, avoiding people and places that remind them of the traumatic event, anxiety, etc.). Along with the typical symptoms, however, are layers of other symptoms. These include having a hard time forming and maintaining relationships, feeling numb or detached from your emotions, and feeling like your behavior and mood are out of your control.
Fortunately, there are treatment options for those who’ve suffered from childhood emotional neglect. This approach is valid whether or not someone also has CPTSD.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you learn to build positive, healthy ways of thinking about yourself and meeting your needs. Anxiety-specific treatment approaches are also helpful. It’s important not to become discouraged; healing and growth are always possible.
If you think that you’re experiencing negative fallout from childhood emotional neglect, I encourage you to reach out to my office. Together, we can find a way to guide you toward healing.