Understanding Emotional Neglect

Emotional neglect drives children towards the path of numbness and void. Childhood emotional neglect has tragic effects when a person turns into an adult. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse may ruin a child’s self-esteem and affect their emotional health.

Childhood emotional neglect is the parent’s failure to respond to a child’s emotional needs. It is not something that a parent does for children, but it is something that a parent fails to do for a child.

1. Introduction to Emotional Neglect

Most of the emotional neglect that went unnoticed at an early age has gone unseen and has not been recognized. But, this emotional neglect has its impact at a later age.

Emotional neglect arises even in a family that appears to be normal. Children who deal with physically abusive parents have a high chance of becoming an abuser themselves when they become adults. Childhood trauma has its effects in adulthood too.

This catastrophe can be stopped if the person receives and seeks help when the damage can be repaired. A person can overcome childhood trauma only if he seeks help. Not only do some children face physical abuse but also emotional abuse as well.

Emotional Neglect is an invisible terror that terrorizes the child unconsciously. Families may appear to be completely normal, but still, the children would be suffering. Not identifying a child’s emotion and acknowledging it is the biggest contributor to emotional neglect.

2. Dr. Jonice Webb: Founder of Childhood Emotional Neglect

She is an author, therapist, and founder of childhood emotional neglect. She believes that there’s a large effect of childhood life on adulthood. She explores the relationships between parent and child. Emotional neglect affects emotional responsiveness, and the child may not be able to respond appropriately.

She explains that when parents emotionally neglect their children for any reason, the child may suffer from depression. She explains that childhood emotional neglect is something when parents are not available for their emotional needs.

Parents may be absent from their children’s important school functions or first sports day. These little incidents have a great impact on a child emotionally. Children need support and encouragement from their parents.

Parents sometimes fail to validate the feelings of sadness and anger in children. This sadness piles up and makes the child lonely, and they start suffering from depression1. Not only depression, but they have problems identifying their true feelings and dealing with their emotions.

“Running on Empty: Overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect”

Dr. Jonice Webb and Christine Musello wrote this book. This book talks about how a major chunk of the population feels disconnected from their feelings, and childhood emotional neglect is one of the major reasons.  This book talks about how child abuse is dangerous, and children need emotional support.

3. Symptoms of Emotionally Neglected Children

emotional neglect
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3.1 Feeling Void

At times you feel hollow inside, and the reason is for such kind of feeling. This is felt when the person has no one to talk to, and the neglected child feels this because he has no one to share their feelings. They start to feel emptiness from the inside.

3.2 Having Low Self-Esteem

These children may be seen as very less participating in ongoing class activities. They may have a constant fear of speaking, which may be because there’s no one to encourage in this child’s life continuously.

3.3 Feeling Overwhelmed

Emotionally neglected children start feeling overwhelmed and are discouraged very soon as they are not given moral support in their homes. Physical Neglect affects the child too much. A child’s emotional well-being is affected.

3.4 Can’t Handle Rejection

The child’s emotions are very sensitive. They feel continuously rejected, so rejection in any competition or anything makes them feel more vulnerable to pain. They are sensitive to rejection. Their inner critic makes them lack self-compassion.

3.5 Search for Perfection

There is a high chance that these children in their adult life are in constant search of perfection. This perfection or expectation they set for themselves is unrealistic.

4. Types of Parenting Styles that May Raise Neglected Child

Your parenting style has an unavoidable relation with how mentally peaceful your children will be. Tinctures of emotional neglect can leave a never-disappearing patch on their emotional conduct. You must ensure that you have a parenting style that helps your child grow and develop a healthy mind.

Emotional Neglect
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4.1 Authoritarian Parents

In the case of your child, have you been following “it’s my way or the highway”? Then you are an authoritarian parent. Authoritarian parents are strict with their children.

Authoritarian parents have no respect or time to consider their child’s feelings. Authoritarian parents are of the view that rules should be followed without any question or discussion.

Authoritarian parents believe in imposing their rules and decisions on their children. To consider how their child is feeling is not in their book of parenting.

These parents believe in having children under their control and abiding by the rules they have set. Emotional neglect that these kinds of parents are practicing leads to trouble in the future.

4.2 Narcissistic Parents

Narcissistic parents want their dreams to be fulfilled through their children. They are more leaning towards giving their character trait rather than building children’s individuality.

They are more concerned about their image. Narcissistic parents will not think about meeting the emotional needs of their children rather; they will focus on their needs.

When you express your emotions of sadness, anger, or moodiness in front of them, then you will be belittled by them.

They use these emotions in their later stories as funny anecdotes and mock their child.  Children of narcissistic 2parents suffer from emotional neglect, which leaves them lonely and sad.

4.3 Perfectionist Parents

They may raise a child who turns out to be a perfectionist but may set unrealistic high expectations for themselves, which wouldn’t end well. These are the kind of parents who may ignore every positive aspect of a report card but will keep their eye on one B grade instead of all other A grades.

They are those parents who believe that their child can do much better, which increases the pressure on children. The child runs behind becoming perfect, and in this process, the emotional stability is ruined. In the race to achieve success mental success is left behind.

4.4 Absent Parent

These parents can be absent from their child’s life for many reasons. They may be absent from their child’s life due to various reasons like divorce, illness, busy working hours, or maybe death. In this case, the child raises them by themself.

If the child is the eldest, they may even have to raise their younger siblings. These children turn out to be over-responsible and burdened with their emotions, and this is emotional abuse.

4.5 Permissive Parents

This type of parent responds to their child’s low demands with high responsiveness. They appear more like a best friend rather than parental figures.

They give freedom to their child, but as it is said excess of anything is bad. Children often choose the wrong path. They consider their children to act childish and always cover up for their mistakes.

5. How to Recover from Emotional Neglect

emotional neglect
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5.1 Be Kind to Yourself

It is humane not to be a perfectionist, and don’t be harsh on yourself for not being one. You deserve kindness and not competition that is ruining your mental health. Children who face emotional neglect often don’t know how to take care of themselves as an adult.

It is recommended to an adult who has faced emotional neglect with taking their care as they will take care of a child who couldn’t take care of themselves.

Be kind and tender to yourself, especially if you have a continuous fear of people judging you.

5.2 Meet Mental Health Professionals

Always remember people are there to help you only if you take one little step to help yourself. If things get complicated and you feel void always then you should visit a mental health professional.

There’s nothing wrong with confronting your feelings. This little step now can save you from various emotional pains coming in the future.

5.3 Learn to Recognise the Positive and Negative Feelings

It’s okay not to be okay, and one must acknowledge the true feelings they are feeling. Emotionally neglected children in their adult life too, feel disconnected from their true emotions.

This should be the first step, and they must start feeling what they are feeling.

emotional neglect
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Symptoms of emotional neglect should be examined, and in case of matching symptoms, one must visit mental health3 professionals. There is no problem in reaching out for help as this may help you turn out to a better future.

Childhood is a tender age in this age, and the child needs the parent’s emotional support. Most parents can be emotionally available for their children and fulfill their emotional needs.

6. Last Note on Childhood Emotional Neglect

Parents must acknowledge and talk to their children about their school activities. These small deeds make your child trust you, and they will share their fear with you, which is important for their growth.

Emotionally neglected children in adult life may suffer from a particular set of struggles. They have this set of problems in their adult lives as their emotions weren’t validated in childhood. They suffer from the problem of trusting their own emotions.

Emotional neglect has a great impact on human trust. People who have suffered from it have a problem trusting people as they fear that other people may abandon their feelings.

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  1. Thapar, Anita, et al. “Depression in young people.” The Lancet 400.10352 (2022): 617-631. ↩︎
  2. Ornstein, Paul H. “Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage.” The search for the self. Routledge, 2022. 615-658. ↩︎
  3. Moreno, Carmen, et al. “How mental health care should change as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The lancet psychiatry 7.9 (2020): 813-824. ↩︎

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Shreyanshi Jha

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