Understanding Childhood Emotional Neglect
Childhood emotional neglect refers to the failure of caregivers adequately meet a child’s emotional needs, such as providing love, support, and validation. This can lead to experiencing trauma at a very young age, which has long-lasting effects on one’s life. Most importantly, childhood emotional neglect can disrupt the relationship with oneself at a very young age, instilling beliefs such as, “I’m not enough” or “I don’t deserve love” (to name just a few of many), while also instilling low confidence and low self-esteem. When the relationship with oneself is disrupted and broken, we become vulnerable to developing mental disorders later in adulthood. According to a 2023 study, these vulnerabilities can include PTSD, anxiety, depressive disorders, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, and personality disorders.
The Impact on Relationships
Childhood emotional neglect shows up through adulthood in many different ways. The most common one is their relationships with others, romantically and/ or platonically. When a child does not receive appropriate care, love, or validation, they may struggle with trust, intimacy, and vulnerability, as they may have learned to keep their emotions suppressed or to not rely on others for support. This becomes a learned behavior, affecting how they interact with others later in life. As an adult, this can look like not easily relating to others, believing false concepts about oneself, feeling out of place socially, or making and keeping friends or romantic partners. The effects show up differently for each person, but these are just a few common ways it might appear in everyday life.
The Role in Self-Perception
Emotional neglect can contribute to low self-esteem, feelings of worthiness, and hopelessness in children. Kids, as well as adolescents, need emotional support and validation while they are navigating this world as an individual. When this is lacking, so is their confidence, and they will often form a negative self-perception, leading to the adoption of negative core beliefs about themselves and the world. Children may internalize the message that their emotions are unimportant or burdensome, leading to negative self-beliefs. These beliefs become ingrained and stick with them into adulthood, which come into play in their decisions and actions.
Steps Toward Healing from Childhood Emotional Neglect
Healing from childhood emotional neglect can be a complex and deeply personal journey. There are steps to heal from emotional neglect, such as acknowledging and validating your feelings. Recognize and accept the impact of emotional neglect on your life. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that arise from this acknowledgment and validate them as valid and important. Journaling is a great tool to help process these emotions. The second step is to seek support through a counselor. Our therapists can provide you with guidance, tools, and a safe space to explore and work through your emotions. Together, we can help build self-compassion, engage in inner child work, and help build self-care tools. Above all, be patient with yourself and celebrate small steps of progress along the way.
Jianjian Cai, Jia Li, Dong Liu, Sikang Gao, Yunyun Zhao, Jiaxuan Zhang, & Qin Liu. (2023). Long‐term effects of childhood trauma subtypes on adult brain function. Brain and Behavior, 13(5). https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.2981