What I’ve found in more than 2 decades of being a psychotherapist is that those who experience childhood neglect often minimize the impact of this kind of abuse. There can be confusion around the symptoms survivors carry into adulthood and how they can negatively affect relationships with ourselves and others. 

Neglect and its repercussions aren’t as clear-cut as other forms of abuse, but one thing is clear: healing is a long process, but it is possible. It starts with understanding the truth of your experience and raising your awareness of the behavioral and emotional indicators of childhood neglect that may still be impacting your life. 

I hope this episode gives you some clarity and tools to help you get on your own healing path. I see you, you aren’t alone and I got you. 

Prefer the audio version? You can listen to it right here. 

When you suffer emotional neglect, you are not seen. Your emotional needs are left unfulfilled. As a child, if your parents were not emotionally attuned to you, and did not or were not capable of validating your feelings and experiences, you might be carrying the scars of emotional neglect. 

Neglect falls under the category of many different behaviors, there is a wide spectrum of experiences, and it can happen in many different kinds of family systems and family dynamics. And because neglect does not tend to leave the same obvious evidence that physical abuse tends to it goes unidentified more often.

Here are some of the most common dynamics in which emotional neglect can take place:

  • Overly authoritarian or perfectionist parental impactors. This can create emotional neglect because their desire for you to succeed and obey their wishes might supersede their ability to connect with you. 
  • Emotionally and/or physically unavailable parental impactors. This could be because of work, mental health issues, addiction, abandonment, or death. 
  • Parental impactors who are too lenient or easy-going and have a lack of structure in your childhood can leave you feeling unsafe, unseen, and alone. 
  • Dismissive parental impactors. If your feelings as a child were minimized, ignored or you were told you shouldn’t feel the way you did, this can all contribute to emotional neglect. 

This is in no way an exhaustive list of what can cause emotional neglect in childhood, and I encourage you to do your own research because understanding the truth of your own experience is essential to your healing. 

How do the seeds of emotional neglect planted in childhood come to fruition in adulthood? Here are some of the most common symptoms:

1. Being hyper-independent. If you experienced emotional neglect in childhood, what you learned was people aren’t trustworthy. You might carry these trust issues into adulthood and trust no one but yourself. You might feel most comfortable doing everything on your own. 

2. Disordered and unhealthy boundaries. It can be very difficult to set healthy boundaries if you experienced emotional neglect when you were young because it impacts your self-esteem, self-worth, and identity. If you didn’t get the time or attention you wanted and needed; if you were made to feel “wrong” as a kid- it can be challenging to say no or set a limit as an adult. 

3. Intense fear of rejection and abandonment. If there was no consistency in the way people related to you when you were a child and you were abandoned emotionally, it makes sense you would feel very dialed into the possibility of rejection. You might be hypersensitive and get activated even when someone in your life just needs space (and is not going to abandon you).

4. Being highly self-critical. This is having a loud and mean inner voice. For survivors of childhood emotional neglect, harsh criticism of yourself might feel natural. When you don’t receive effective and consistent attunement and validation, it can deeply impact the way you view yourself and how you talk to yourself. This constant self-doubt and a highly critical inner voice can be debilitating. 

5. Emotional illiteracy. This looks like struggling with your feelings and having difficulty communicating your emotions. You might not even be sure what you’re feeling at times. If your feelings in childhood were not validated, if no one cared about how you felt, or if you were told you shouldn’t feel what you were feeling or that your feelings were wrong, it makes sense you would have confusion around your emotions in adulthood. 

6. Low self-esteem. Neglect in childhood can create a sense of not being valuable. If you grew up without feeling that you were inherently valuable just for being you, this can create a lifelong battle with low-self esteem, constant seeking of external validation, or perfectionist tendencies if your worth was and is tied to your achievements. 

7. Shame, blame, and guilt. If you are a survivor of emotional neglect you may consistently feel guilt, blame, and shame. You might feel ashamed for having needs, overly guilty, and take on the blame for your own and other people’s feelings. The form of emotional neglect will dictate the triggers for guilt and shame.

If this is you, I see you and you are not alone. I think it’s time we stopped minimizing what we experienced in childhood. Abuse takes many different forms and emotional neglect can be a silent killer of joy. 

And there are steps you can take to increase your emotional intelligence and self-esteem. All healing is a process, so please go slowly, be patient and have compassion for yourself. 

Here are some steps you can take to get on a path to healing from emotional neglect:

  • Be gentle with yourself. 

If you have had an inner-mean committee going to town for decades, try to raise your awareness and shift your lens. Think about yourself, treat yourself, and talk to yourself the way you would a child you adore. You are that lovable. You are that deserving. 

If you find yourself in a spiral of negative self-talk, try to counter it with positive, loving affirmations like, “You did the best you could,” “You’re a work in progress,” “I love you anyway,” and “You’re allowed to make mistakes”. 

  • Raise your emotional literacy. 

You can start small, but it’s time to start identifying your emotions. It’s not just enough to know you are upset. Learning how to tune into what you really feel lays the groundwork for so many other essential relationship skills. You can’t set or communicate a boundary unless you know how you truly feel. 

Create a new practice where you take time each day to review and get specific about how you felt throughout the day, including the positive and the negative. 

Inside this week’s downloadable guide, I’ve included a list of positive and negative emotions so you can work to understand the nuances of what you are feeling. You can download it here now. 

  • Take a satisfaction inventory. 

When you are a survivor of neglect or abuse, you can get really good at going along to get along and accepting the bare minimum from your life and your relationships to just keep on keepin’ on. You don’t have to do that anymore. 

Let’s dial into your needs. What needs in your life are going unmet? What are your desires? How satisfied are you? What steps can you take to meet your own needs to feel more fulfilled, more nurtured, and more satisfied? You deserve exceptional love and care. 

I would love to know what you think about this so please drop me a comment or question here or connect with me over on Instagram @terricole. 

And if you’re ready to fall wildly in love with yourself, raise your self-esteem, and learn how to take impeccable care of yourself, my 12-week virtual coaching course, Real Love Revolution, is coming in January!!! It’s a 3 month deep dive into real self-love and self-mastery based on both practical and positive psychology. I would love to personally guide you through this work. Here’s where you can learn more about RLR! 

I hope you have a beautiful week being gentle with yourself and as always take care of you.

 

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  1. Thank you for this post. It has helped me realize all the ways I was neglected during my childhood. And how it has affected me throughout the years. I know my mother loved me dearly. I have no doubt about that. She tried the best she could. But, with that said, because of her own depression and other issues, I can see just how deeply I was neglected in multiple ways throughout my entire childhood. Your post, along with suggestions on how to work on these issues, is incredibly helpful. You have no idea how much I appreciate, in general, all of the information you provide on a regular basis. It is very validating, especially in ways that I haven’t been doing for myself but need to.

    1. Hi Cindy,
      I’m so glad this resonated for you and validated your experiences – you’re not alone and the healing can continue to take place ❤️❤️

  2. Terri,
    This is one of the most impactful blogs I’ve read and resonates so deeply with me . I’ve been working in therapy for the past year and have felt that I wasn’t making progress …. While reading your article , I reminded myself to be gentle and loving with myself and saw the steps /progress I’ve made … thank you for your insight and inspiration !?

    1. Hi Donna,
      I’m so glad this resonated! I love that you’re being gentle with yourself and acknowledging your progress ?❤️

  3. I really identify with the shame, blame, and guilt. I still continue to have guilty feelings for having certain feelings and I’m 71 years old and have done a lot of self work.

  4. Hi Terri,

    I’m so grateful for your wisdom and validation!

    This definitely names what I’ve lived and how I’ve healed.

    Thank you!

  5. I am the person you speak of – the child in an adult body still struggling to heal from what I never knew was severe neglect. I had all the material things I needed, and my parents were successful in all the right ways – so why was I in so much confusion and inner pain? It must have been me. I must have been born missing pieces. My child-mind couldn’t understand what it was dealing with. It has taken me a lifetime to come into focus. The process of healing has been layered and complex, and I’ve given up many times, only to conclude that I’ve no choice but to keep on keeping on.
    I’ve missed out on a lot in life. I’ve struggled just to be present. And on top of that, the culture doesn’t allow “self-pity.” No exploration of one’s inner pain allowed. Or, blame someone outside yourself and ride the high horse of self-righteous ego. I believe the combination of unhealthy family plus unhealthy culture equals a very tough road to recovery. I thank you hugely for this topic, as well as for all your service over the years. You are a beautiful addition to my life.

    1. Hi Louise,
      I’m holding space for you with so much compassion as you navigate your emotional inner child and the neglect you experienced ❤️ Thank you so much for sharing and for being here ?

  6. A few years ago i wouldn’t have related to this, but after listening to your podcast episode on narcissistic mothers things began to make sense. It was an earth shattering revelation to me that an ignoring patent could be a narcissist. I felt It to my core. This topic of childhood emotional neglect resonates with me. I’ve got pretty good at naming my emotions. Love the ‘satisfaction inventory’ suggestion. I’m definitely a bare minimum type of gal. Work to be done! Thanks for the post Teri x

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