8 Signs Of Emotional Childhood Neglect

Hey there Psych2Goers, this is a disclaimer that this article is for informative purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any conditions. If you feel that you’re struggling, please reach out to a qualified healthcare provider or mental health professional. If you suspect you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, please contact the child abuse hotline.

Childhood is commonly a period of our lives associated with blissfulness, fun, and most importantly, development. Not only do we grow physically, but also mentally and emotionally. While we’re told to “eat those greens” and “study hard” to grow into big, strong, and intelligent adults, our emotional development works the same way. Unfortunately, not all of us are fortunate to grow up in great households. We can pick up on unhealthy behaviors that follow us throughout adulthood and impact the way we feel about ourselves and others. To better understand our emotional health and development, in this article, we’ll be looking at eight signs of emotional childhood neglect. 

Illustration by: Sid Thompson

Overview of Emotional Neglect

To preface, it is important to understand what emotional neglect is. Children have emotional needs that are just as important as their other essentials like food and clothing. When a parent neglects these needs, there’s a potential for dire consequences that are just as bad as neglecting their other necessities. This neglect can come in several forms and differs from abuse; it can be more indirect and unintentional (Brandt 2020). Perhaps a parent is extremely strict on their child’s achievements: punishing children over less than perfect grades. Others may minimize their child’s feelings by saying: “suck it up,” or “it could be worse.” In other cases, it could be ignoring a child’s feelings to simply being absent in their life. There’s many ways – more than listed previously – that are equally as detrimental in the short and long term (Summers 2016).

Now that we discussed emotional neglect, here are eight signs. Please note that everyone is affected differently. Some people may relate to all, some, or different signs than what’s on this list. 

1. You Bottle Your Emotions

One of the biggest signs of emotional neglect is the inability to identify, manage, and express your emotions. Depending on your situation, you may not have been allowed to express how you feel. Similarly, you may have been reprimanded or invalidated for feeling a certain way. Perhaps expressing how you felt created conflict with others so you resort to keeping them hidden. This can be tremendously problematic later in life as keeping important emotions bottled up may take a toll on your mental health (Webb 2018).

2. You Put Others First 

Do you feel that your needs always come second to others? As if you always have to make sure everyone else is happy, even if it means settling for less? You may feel that this is the way to be. If you grew up learning that your feelings are invalid, it’s easy to start neglecting yourself. You try hard to please others at your own expense which overtime, can harm your mental wellbeing. You try whatever you can to avoid conflict, even if it means sacrificing what you truly want (Fergen 2020).

3. You Struggle to Identify Your Emotions 

If you grew up in a household where your feelings were neglected by your family, it can be hard for you to do so yourself. You were reinforced that your feelings aren’t important by the people close to you, therefore picking up the behavior yourself. If someone asks how you’re doing, you may find it difficult to find the words to respond. After all, expressing emotions only caused conflict therefore you find it difficult to open up. This can be especially difficult as we depend on our emotions for much of our decisions. Not knowing where you stand on certain ideas and situations can make it difficult to navigate through them (Fergen 2020). 

4. You Feel Broken

We rely on our emotions a lot. They help guide us in making decisions, we use them to formulate opinions, and they influence how we interact with others. When you’re cut off from your emotions, it’s easy to feel that there’s something inherently wrong with you. This feeling can arise from many other scenarios as well. Perhaps you feel that you lack importance or that your emotions are out of control. When we don’t have our feelings validated, and when we don’t learn the necessary skills to identify, manage, and express our emotions, it’s easy to feel alienated from everyone else. Good parenting teaches us the necessary skills to manage our emotions – which get especially chaotic throughout our adolescence. Without this, our emotions can overwhelm us to a point where we lose control of them causing you to feel broken. (Webb 2018). 

5. You’re Hard on Yourself

Sometimes we can get caught up in the little details and prioritize perfection. You may fear rejection far more than what it’s worth. Part of this can be reinforced by childhood experiences, with them sticking to you in adulthood. It’s possible to not know the correct way to handle failure and imperfection, simply because you haven’t been offered a healthy way to learn those skills. We all have our failures and shortcomings. It’s a natural part of life! However, our parents have an influence on our ability to handle these feelings. Parents should be supportive and encouraging when you feel disappointed over a shortcoming. However, that’s not always the case. You may be berated or ignored
by your parents in the past, which you learn to do to yourself. This can cause you to be harder on yourself
beyond rationality (Brandt 2020).

6. You Fear Dependency

Do you find it difficult to ask for help when you really need it? Maybe you find yourself continuing to struggle when you know asking someone else would make it much easier. If your emotional needs have been neglected, you may feel that asking for help is a source of conflict. Maybe in the past you asked for help and were berated for it, making it difficult to do so presently. It may seem easier to simply “do it yourself” for every situation, however, the reality is that humans thrive on our ability to work together. Fearing dependency takes away a valuable skill; our ability to collaborate (Webb 2018). 

7. You Lack Self-Esteem

Having your emotional needs neglected may lead to serious consequences regarding how you perceive yourself. You may compare yourself to others more, feel less important, and/or feel isolated. You may have grown up in a situation where you’re constantly pitted up against others with these feelings lingering into adulthood. In any case, if your feelings have been neglected, it can be difficult to know your worth (Holland 2019). 

8. You’re Empty on the Inside

Being able to regulate your emotions is a highly important skill. However, it is a learned skill. It’s easy to feel helpless if you’ve been in a situation where you weren’t allowed to develop these skills. You’re not sure how to manage your emotions, or what to feel and when. These are troubling feelings that make it everyday functioning difficult (Webb 2018). 

Emotional neglect in childhood has its consequences. These consequences make it difficult to regulate and express our emotions later on. Fortunately, there’s always help available and it often takes getting in touch with the right professional to get back on track. If you are a child, or know of one experiencing any kind of neglect, know that your feelings and struggles are valid and that resources are available. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is a great resource to reach out to. Do you relate to any of these signs? What are some tips and strategies to help? Let us know in the comments, and as always, take care.

References:

  • Brandt, A. (2020, January 3). 9 Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect, and 3 Ways to Heal. PsychologyToday. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/202001/9-signs-childhood-emotional-neglect-and-3-ways-heal
  • Summers, D. MA, LMFT, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert. (2016, February 18). How to Recognize and Overcome Childhood Emotional Neglect. GoodTherapy.Org Therapy Blog. www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-recognize-overcome-childhood-emotional-neglect-0218165
  • Fergen, J. (2020, January 28). 5 Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect. Jadi Fergen. altitudecounseling.com/5-signs-of-childhood-emotional-neglect/
  • Holland, K. (2019, November 25). Childhood Emotional Neglect: How It Can Impact You Now and Later. Healthline. www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/childhood-emotional-neglect
  • Webb, J. (2018, July 15). 7 Signs You Grew Up With Childhood Emotional Neglect. PsychCentral. blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-neglect/2017/07/7-signs-you-grew-up-with-childhood-emotional-neglect/

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