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Childhood Emotional Neglect — What It Is and How To Deal With It

Every child deserves to be loved, cared for, and safeguarded. 

In some cases, however, a parent may unintentionally fail to provide love, care, and safety to their child. When the inability to meet a child's basic needs continues for some time, it may lead to child neglect. 

When parents fail to fulfill a child's basic emotional needs, we are speaking about childhood emotional neglect.

Most children are unaware of their emotional deprivation before signs emerge in adulthood. They fail to understand and recognize the emotional neglect at an early age since it’s an act of omission and there is nothing specific to remember. 

You might have vague memories of your parent or guardian not paying attention to you, invalidating your feelings, and having unattainable expectations.  

If this sounds familiar, you might have experienced childhood emotional neglect

Learning about childhood emotional neglect can help you address your needs better and take steps to make amends with your wellbeing.

It is also critical for parents, teachers, guardians, and others to understand and recognize when children are emotionally neglected. It is vital to know how emotional neglect manifests in a child undergoing it and the actions that can be taken to assist a child in handling it. 

You will learn: 

What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

So, what is considered emotional neglect? Here’s a simple answer:

Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) refers to the absence of emotional support and validation in a child’s life. It is caused by the failure of parents to respond adequately to their child’s needs. 

So, what does childhood emotional neglect look like?

Here’s an example:

Imagine yourself as a child fighting with a friend at school. It can make you feel bad. 

Later, you go home and tell your parents about the incident with your friend and say that you are feeling sad about it. 

Instead of listening and helping you cope, they brush it off as “kid stuff” or say to you, “It’s okay, it’s not a big deal.” 

In some situations like this, downplaying or ignoring a child’s explicit call for emotional support can lead them to learn that their emotional needs are not important and stop seeking support altogether.

Emotional neglect includes ignoring a child’s needs, inappropriate responses to their emotions, and invalidation of their feelings.

However, childhood emotional neglect should not be misattributed as abuse. Child abuse is an act performed with malicious intentions, while emotional neglect is usually unintentional. 

Emotional abuse or psychological abuse, for example, is when a parent tells their child that it’s their fault that they got bullied, belittling them and harassing them verbally. On the other hand, emotional neglect is when parents fail to acknowledge the child's experience altogether. 

Emotional neglect is by far the most difficult type of neglect to understand and identify. 

Signs and effects of childhood emotional neglect are most often unmemorable and unnoticeable. This leads many people to live their entire lives without knowing that their emotions were neglected during their childhoods.

Is emotional neglect traumatic?

It can be hard to recall specific events or experiences of childhood emotional neglect. 

Additionally, emotionally neglected children often exhibit a passive response to trauma, which is why it can easily be overlooked. However, it can be just as serious as other types of trauma.

Childhood emotional neglect is a form of trauma that is based on a series of events or a single prolonged event involving a guardian or another adult in the child’s life. 

For a child, the absence of empathy, validation, nurture, and concern can be severely detrimental to their wellbeing and can have-long lasting consequences throughout their life.

For example, this type of trauma can affect a child’s coping mechanisms, cause complex post-traumatic stress disorder lasting for several years, as well as lead to emotional numbness.

What Are the Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect?

What are signs of emotional neglect?

Symptoms of childhood emotional neglect can range from mild to severe

For example, if you didn't receive proper stimulation, attention, and respect as a child, you might internalize the trauma and have difficulty comprehending your feelings. You may also develop trust issues, feel lonely, and have difficulty building social relationships throughout your life.

If you observe any of these symptoms, you might have been emotionally neglected as a child.

Signs of emotional neglect in children

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Problems with brain development
  • Withdrawal from emotional intimacy
  • Increase in aggressive behavior
  • Increase in hyperactive behavior
  • General lack of interest 

Effects of emotional neglect can also be observed in adulthood.

Signs of emotional neglect in adults

Main Causes of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Is emotional neglect trauma?

In most cases, parents who emotionally neglect their children were neglected as children themselves. The absence of healthy role models in their own childhood is the reason why they lack basic parenting skills. 

Because childhood emotional neglect is difficult to tie to any one specific event, as adults, they may believe that the way they grew up was normal. Therefore, they feel that it’s okay to use the same parenting strategy with their own children. 

On the other hand, other heavy burdens such as the death of loved ones, chronic illnesses, divorce, and unemployment can also provoke caregivers to pay less attention to their children. 

Finally, adults suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia, substance use disorders, anger management issues, and lack of personal fulfillment, also tend to focus on themselves and neglect their children.

Kinds of parents that tend to emotionally neglect their children:

  • Permissive parents who don’t provide guidance on what is appropriate behavior. This leads children to not know how to set healthy limits and boundaries for themselves later on in life. 
  • Authoritarian parents who crave respect and implement a rigid system of control and harsh punishments.
  • Inattentive parents who tend to be absent either overworking or dealing with illnesses. This leads the child to fend for themselves.  
  • Narcissistic parents who are self-involved and use the child to further their own needs, often ignoring the child’s needs.
  • Perfectionist parents who are too focused on their child’s accomplishments. While putting unrealistic expectations on them, they also neglect other aspects of the child’s personality, such as having fun or making friends.
  • Uninvolved parents who are detached and so their ability to show love and nurture to their child is severely limited.

How do you stop emotionally neglecting your children?

Children that were neglected emotionally can grow to be parents who do the same.

In order to put an end to the vicious cycle of childhood emotional neglect, the parent needs to:

  • Acknowledge and validate the child’s emotions 

For instance, if your child is crying, ask them why they are crying and tell them that it’s okay to cry.

  • Instill trust

Your child should learn to trust you, so focus on forming a bond where they feel like they can share their emotions with you.

  • Allow the child to be emotionally expressive

If your child is having an emotional outburst, don’t stop them in the middle of it; let them express their feelings, and only then confront them.

  • Hold children accountable for their behavior

If your child has done something wrong, don’t be carefree and let it pass; hold them accountable for their behavior and not their emotions.

  • Remain supportive and encouraging

Convey to your child that you will always have their back and they can talk to you about anything.

Ask an expert for help

If you notice some of the early symptoms of emotional neglect in your child, there is no shame in asking for help. 

Rapid Transformational Therapy®  (RTT®)  is known to be effective when used with children

Rapid Transformational Therapy® is a therapeutic approach that combines the most powerful elements of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and neuroscience. 

RTT® was developed by Marisa Peer, the UK’s #1 therapist and a best-selling author, over her three decades of experience. It is designed to address mental and behavioral issues by working directly with the subconscious mind—where the roots of all the issues lie.

A trained RTT® therapist can help you, as well as your child, to let go of the symptoms of childhood emotional neglect and learn how to form healthy relationships. 

Book a call with an RTT® therapist and learn how to regulate emotions and relationships with yourself, your child, your loved ones, and more.

It is especially crucial to work with a professional to help your child treat symptoms of emotional neglect early on so they can grow into a well-adjusted adult. 

How To Heal From Emotional Neglect

Childhood emotional neglect is like an invisible scar, and just like all scars, it can heal too.

Get help

RTT Marisa Peer

Years of suppressed feelings can make understanding and controlling your emotions difficult. Additionally, It can be challenging to go through the healing process alone since a minor mishap can potentially set back your wellbeing. 

However, seeking help from a mental health professional will accelerate the healing process, which can otherwise take decades. 

No one can undo the mistakes made by your parents. However, a therapist can help you identify specific traumatic events and overcome your trauma. They can effectively guide you to acknowledge, understand, and express your emotions. 

The award-winning revolutionary technique Rapid Transformational Therapy® (RTT®) was created by Marisa Peer, a celebrity therapist who has helped thousands of people all over the world overcome issues such as childhood emotional neglect. 

RTT® is designed to tap into your subconscious, find the root of your trauma, and release it. This is why it is especially valuable in cases where you cannot recall the trauma and have buried it in your subconscious.

RTT® therapists are highly skilled as each of them was handpicked and trained by Marisa Peer herself. Therefore, multiple people report getting results in less than two or three sessions.

Contact an RTT® therapist to overcome symptoms of emotional childhood neglect and heal the emotional pain associated with it. 

Although childhood emotional neglect can be traumatic, with enough time and attention, you can be on the road to recovery. Below are other means to overcome emotional neglect, which you can implement by yourself.

Validate your trauma

It is easier said than done, but the first step in the self-healing process is to acknowledge that you were neglected emotionally as a child. Externalizing the problem can help you validate your situation. 

You might want to downplay the trauma and say that it isn’t “actual abuse” since it was not physical. However, imagine that this was happening to your best friend; would you invalidate their trauma because there was nothing physical? 

When in doubt, try to treat yourself with the same compassion that you would extend to a friend.

Acknowledge your needs

What does childhood emotional neglect look like?

People who experienced emotional neglect as children don’t fully understand their emotional needs even in adulthood. They might feel that they are undeserving of having their needs fulfilled or that it’s wrong to have them in the first place. 

Learning to acknowledge and accept your own needs can help you feel that they are important and have a right to be met in the external world. 

Even simple needs, such as a few moments of silence to collect your thoughts or a hug, are valid and have a right to be voiced and met.

Practice self-care

Most adults who have experienced childhood emotional neglect have trouble taking care of themselves. An easy place to start an emotional healing process is by noticing where you are ignoring or neglecting your physical and mental wellbeing, and working on addressing those needs. 

For example, if you are not eating or sleeping well, you can make a timetable to ensure you give enough time for these tasks. 

Maintain healthy boundaries

People that experienced childhood emotional neglect, often have issues maintaining boundaries. Therefore, they struggle to be assertive and end up saying, “Yes,” to activities that cause them discomfort or displeasure. 

Work on building and maintaining healthy boundaries where you can say, “No, this makes me uncomfortable,” and don’t succumb to peer pressure.

You now know that the effects of emotional neglect don’t have to govern you for your entire life, you can overcome them and learn to truly be yourself. Although it isn’t an overnight process, you can slowly learn to trust others, appreciate yourself, build your self-esteem, and more. To begin your process of recovery, get in touch with an RTT® therapist today.

Marisa Peer

World-Class Therapist Marisa Peer is a world renowned speaker, Rapid Transformational Therapy trainer and best-selling author. She is the creator of RTT, the new method that is transforming the face of therapy.

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Marisa Peer

World-Class Therapist Marisa Peer is a world renowned speaker, Rapid Transformational Therapy trainer and best-selling author. She is the creator of RTT, the new method that is transforming the face of therapy.

Find out More
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