Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood emotional neglect is largely overlooked . Unlike physical neglect or abuse, where there are observable signs, such as bruises or emaciation, emotional neglect is difficult to identify. Furthermore, emotional neglect is generally unrecognized by the child until symptoms begin to appear in adulthood.

Emotional neglect can take many forms, from a parent not listening attentively or setting unrealistic high expectations, to lack of validation of a child’s emotional experiences to the point he or she begins to feel self-doubt. When a child fails to receive emotional attunement from a parent, an important experience of mirroring is missing, as no positive reflection is being shared with the child. Developing a positive sense of self, then, becomes more challenging for the child.


Symptoms of Emotional Neglect

Symptoms of childhood emotional neglect that show up in adults may include (but are not limited to):

  • Low self-esteem
  • Being cut off from one’s feelings
  • Feeling hollow inside
  • Being easily overwhelmed or discouraged
  • Perfectionism
  • Heightened sensitivity to rejection
  • Difficulty setting boundaries and feeling depleted by others consequently
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Inability to ask for or accept help or support from others
  • Lack of language for describing feelings
  • Dissociative tendencies
  • Shame or guilt around emotions


How Therapy Can Help:

If you have experienced emotional neglect, therapy can be an opportunity to nurture yourself in ways that were not provided to you in childhood or in current relationships. You can develop a positive sense of self, confidence, and know you are worthy of love and belonging. Through therapy, you will learn how your early childhood experiences influence your current thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. These ways of coping used to be essential for your emotional survival when you were a child, but they are no longer helpful in the present. Connecting deeply with a stable, consistent, reliable person and feeling seen and understood by that person, would allow you to develop compassion towards that little child you used to be.  You will also develop acceptance and gentleness towards who you are and struggles in your life. When you are able to feel that your experience does matter, you will be able to embrace yourself in new ways. Through a safe and meaningful connection with the therapist, resilience will develop and growth will occur.


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