Overcoming Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Path to Resiliency

Childhood emotional neglect is frequently overlooked by American society, and in recent years studies increasingly show the psychological and physical effects of emotional neglect. Emotional neglect is defined as failing to provide adequate nurturing and attention whether by refusal or ignorance. The definition of emotional neglect may seem broad, but emotional neglect has serious consequences in the brain, social, and emotional development.

Children are not able to fend for themselves and need attention from present caregivers to help them develop into healthy adults. We are what we see, and behavior modeling is one of the most predictable forms of parenting. With that said, if children are not provided healthy examples of how to manage their emotions they are likely to enter adulthood without these essential skills. Although emotional neglect does not receive the same awareness as other types of abuse it can still leave lifelong psychological scars.

Our individualistic culture that prides itself on independence often reflects these ideas onto children who innately depend on their parents. Emotional neglect takes many forms such as having parents who have perfectionistic standards, are absent, or invalidate their child’s emotional experience. Children have no ways of protecting themselves from these experiences, which causes them to struggle as adults personally, occupationally, and socially.

Adult survivors of emotional neglect may experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Trauma
  • Social Anxiety
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Struggles with perfectionism
  • Feelings of low self-worth
  • Sensitivity to rejection
  • Codependent relationships
  • Fear of being a burden
  • Feelings of guilt and shame, such as, “There is something wrong with me.”

While these symptoms are present in emotional neglect, not all who experience these symptoms have been emotionally neglected. If you notice you are experiencing any of these symptoms it could be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional.

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. Just because these skills were not given to you in adolescence does not mean that you cannot develop them in adulthood with the help of a trusted professional. Through therapy, you will learn about how your early childhood experiences influence your current thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Although these ways of coping are no longer helpful they were at one point important for emotional survival. By going back and tending these wounds with loving-kindness and compassion you can develop resilience. You will also develop acceptance and gentleness towards who you are and struggles in your life. When you are able to make space that says, “My experience matters,” you will be able to embrace yourself in new ways.