Emotional neglect can be as damaging to psychological development as emotional abuse. Despite this, childhood emotional neglect is nowhere near as obvious as one might imagine. First, there’s the reality that a child may not recognize maltreatment unless it has something to contrast it with. As that child grows into adulthood, the fallout from earlier neglect can be misidentified. You can end up struggling as an adult and not know why.

All of the above can hamper any attempt at healing. Unless underlying causes can be found and resolved, it is tricky to experience a deep recovery. Therefore, it can be immensely important to first learn how to recognize when the emotional neglect you suffered as a child is rearing its ugly head.

What is Emotional Neglect?

Emotional neglect is the experience of having your needs for affection, attention and loving guidance overlooked. At it’s root its being left to fend for yourself. Our everyday expressions describe this. It’s common to hear about:

  • Latchkey kids
  • Kids who were loners.
  • “Checked out” parents
  • Emotionally distant families

7 Signs You Were Emotionally Neglected As A Child

When you were little you experienced the following:

  1. Little or No Emotional Support: Emotional neglect often involves a chronic failure to provide emotional support, validation, skillful guidance and empathy. Caregivers or partners may be physically present but emotionally distant or unavailable.
  2. Disregard for Feelings: Adults who were emotionally neglected may have their feelings dismissed, minimized, or invalidated. They may be told that their emotions are unimportant or wrong.
  3. Inconsistent Affection: Every human child needs affection. Emotional neglect can manifest as a lack of affection, physical touch, or positive attention. This leaves an individuals feeling unloved or unwanted.
  4. No or Shallow Communication: Effective communication is essential for emotional connection. Emotional neglect may involve minimal or ineffective communication. This is painful way for a little person to grow up, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  5. Emotional Self-Neglect: Many adults who grew up emotionally neglected as children ignore their feelings. In some cases, individuals who have experienced emotional neglect in their formative years may  struggle with self-care and self-compassion, leading to a pattern of self-neglect.
  6. Damaged Self-Esteem: Over time, emotional neglect erodes self-esteem and self-worth. This leads to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
  7. Psychological Consequences: Emotional neglect contributes to various psychological and emotional issues, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, difficulty forming healthy relationships, and an increased risk of developing mental health disorders.

Remember, emotional neglect is often unintentional. Those responsible may not realize the harm they are causing. However, the impact on the adult who experienced emotional neglect  as a child can be significant.


Healing From Emotional Neglect Involves:

  1. Recognizing the effects
  2. Seeking therapeutic support
  3. Developing emotional awareness and self-care skills.

Therapy and counseling are essential resources for individuals who have experienced emotional neglect and want to address its effects on their emotional well-being


The Key Sign of Childhood Emotional Neglect in Adults

Perhaps the most pervasive sign of emotional neglect is a frequent sense of numbness or emptiness. This can impact you in a variety of ways, e.g. you experience detachment from your feelings and the feelings of others. Here are some examples of how this detachment may manifest:

  • It could be a literal physical sensation, e.g. a knot in the stomach or a tightness in their throat.
  • You feel difficulty when attempting to discern what people expect from you in terms of social interactions and emotions. You also may find it impossible to understand why people behave as they do.
  • Expressing your feelings is a major challenge to the point of being tongue-tied. You often don’t even know how you feel, or your emotions are absent
  • The fear of missing out is present but you truly do not know what it is you’re missing out on. This can lead to a perception that you are uniquely flawed.
  • Your a fiercely self-reliant person

Other Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect in Adults

  • Perfectionism and a profound fear of rejection
  • Judging yourself too harshly and then experiencing low self-esteem
  • You’ll do anything to avoid a sense of being dependent on anyone else
  • Never asking for help
  • Being easily overwhelmed
You feel chronic guilt and shame
  • When you’re angry, it is usually self-directed
  • You’re a people pleaser
  • You easily aim compassion at others — even strangers — but are always very hard on yourself

Of course, each person is different and it’s not unusual for signs and symptoms to overlap. Regardless, it is absolutely essential that put in the work to seek help while practicing as much self-care as possible.

How to Start Healing From Childhood Emotional Neglect

1. Acceptance

It can be incredibly difficult to acknowledge abuse or neglect at the hands of a loved one. But accepting that this happened is crucial for healing. In addition, you must work toward accepting how this childhood experience is still impacting you. There is no shame in being affected by something that was completely out of your control. What is under your control now is getting the help you need.

2. Self-Awareness

The next step after embracing acceptance is to increase your self-awareness. As mentioned above, childhood emotional neglect can result in victims losing touch with their emotions. This makes it doubly important to pay close attention to whatever you do feel. Your parents and caregivers did not attend to what you felt. This is now your chance to re-parent and nature yourself. A good therapist can help you reconnect with your emotional self.

3. Self-Compassion

A big part of re-parenting yourself is learning self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same compassion and empathy you would have for a loved one or close friend. Keep track of what you like so you can give yourself a steady supply of that!

Ask For the Kind of Help You Want and Need

If you were emotionally neglected, you may have struggle to even name your own feelings, thought and wishes. To avoid neglecting your own needs, connect with a skilled professional who will definitely prioritize them. Trauma therapy is a proven path toward recovery from childhood emotional neglect. I’d love to talk more with you about all  of this in a safe and confidential consultation.