Emotional neglect is when a person’s emotional needs are disregarded, ignored or invalidated by someone significant in their life.
The perpetrator of emotional neglect can be anyone who's important in the victim’s life, such as a partner, close friend or family member.
When neglect is experienced during childhood, it’s usually the main caregivers (parent or sole carers) who do not meet the child's emotional needs.
For many people who experience emotional neglect, it’s not until they enter adulthood that they realised their emotional care needs were not met as a child.
Trauma is Trauma
There’s sometimes a misconception that to experience trauma, there must be a catastrophic event or a definitive moment where the trauma happened.
In fact, trauma that occurs over a prolonged period of time is now referred to as complex trauma.
For adults who endured this type of complex trauma, it might not be until much later that they start to make comparisons between themselves and others around them.
They might find it difficult to sustain healthy relationships and rely on unhelpful behaviors or strategies to get what they want/need.
Alternatively, they might feel they have to please everyone and experience anxiety at the fear of not pleasing significant people in their life.
Importantly, experiencing childhood emotional neglect can also change how a person views themselves and the world around them, referred to as our ‘core beliefs’.
How Childhood Emotional Neglect Impacts Core Beliefs
Core beliefs are our most deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the world around us, and they influence our thinking and behaviour patterns.
Based on our experiences and environment, these beliefs form during childhood and follow us into adulthood.
If you grew up in a home where you felt loved, valued and safe, then you may develop positive views about yourself and your world.
You may have a good helping of self-esteem and confidence because you were brought up in an environment where you were not punished for failure, but praised for trying and encouraged to try again.
On the other hand, if your childhood was spent in a home where you did not feel loved, valued or safe, then your views about yourself and the world will be very different.
You may be untrusting of other people and their intentions, feeling like you have to keep people at arm’s length because it’s likely they’ll hurt you.
You may sabotage healthy relationships because you expect them to end badly.
If you were punished for failures or for trying, then you may not see yourself worthy of success or another person’s love and affection.
How to Heal Childhood Emotional Neglect
The biggest step is first recognising that the emotional neglect has happened and understanding how it impacts us.
Many people begin to see differences in how they and others around them view the world and behave.
Dr Mari Kovanen lists the signs of childhood emotional neglect in adulthood as:
- Feelings of emptiness
- Fear of being dependent
- Feeling like you’re flawed in some way
- Difficulty with self-compassion, but plenty of compassion for others
- Guilt, shame and self-blame
- Difficulty nurturing self and others
- Poor self-discipline
- Poor awareness and understanding of emotions
If you feel that you’ve experienced childhood emotional neglect, it’s always recommended to seek and follow help and guidance from a professional.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is specifically designed to help people work through trauma.
You can read about seven more types of therapies for trauma survivors here.
Three strategies for healing childhood emotional neglect outside of therapy are:
Better understanding ourselves and our trauma is a crucial first step in healing trauma. As one of our respondents said in our book Understanding and Healing Trauma:
"For me, it’s been knowledge. Books and conversations and classes. It’s led to understanding of why things happened, why I am the way I am, and it gave me great advice on different things to do at different times that have been really helpful - like identifying cycles or triggers."
- Practice Positive Emotions Journaling
Start training your mind to focus on the positive. Either at the beginning or end of the day, note down three things that gave you feelings of gratitude, joy or hope. By doing this every day, you begin to train your brain to seek out the positive instead of focusing on the negative. If you’re interested in this, check out The Positive Emotions Journal in The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit – it contains 298 journal prompts which help keep the activity fresh and engaging for you.
Mindfulness is about learning how to be present in the moment, not distracted by what might happen or what has happened. It’s a way of building awareness of your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Click here to access our Online Guide to Mindfulness and Meditation Resources for Beginners.
Unless identified while growing up, childhood emotional neglect might not be recognised until adulthood.
Growing up without emotional needs being met can negatively influence core beliefs, which is how we view ourselves and the world behind us.
The experience can have wide ranging effects which vary from person to person.
To start overcoming childhood emotional neglect, it’s highly recommended to seek professional support.
Outside of therapy, you can focus on:
- Positive emotions journaling
About SimoneI am a mental health nurse and owner of The Wandering Mind. Through The Wandering Mind I create copy, resources and articles on mental health. I also offer 1:1 wellbeing sessions to improve mood, mental wellness and reach goals/aspirations.
My credentials: Registered Mental Health Nurse, ATP Level 2 in CBT Essentials, Licensed Trainer in Outcome Star (goal and progression key working tool).
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My website is: www.thewanderingmind.co.uk