What are the signs of emotional neglect

9 signs of emotional neglect in childhood

Physical abuse can leave physical scars. Emotional abuse leaves psychological ones, but what about emotional neglect? The lack of emotional support in childhood can be as damaging and long-lasting as other trauma. However, because you cannot pinpoint exactly where and when the injury occurred, it can be difficult to identify and overcome. Emotional neglect is not the same as child abuse because it is often unintentional. While some parents purposely ignore their child's emotions, others may not notice or respond to their child's emotional needs. Your parents could have done their best and loved you very much, but they still neglected your emotional needs.

Your parents may have been emotionally neglected by their own parents, and because they didn't have good role models for dealing with a child's emotions, they didn't know how to deal with yours. Even if they had tried to correct their parents' mistakes, they might have missed out. Illness, death, divorce, and job loss can all lead to emotional neglect as parents may not be able to respond to their child's emotional needs.

When parents treat children's feelings as unimportant, invalid, exaggerated, or of lesser importance than other issues, they are emotionally neglecting the child. Some phrases you may be familiar with if you were a victim of emotional neglect in your childhood are:

  • "You don't really feel that way."
  • "It was not so bad."
  • "It's not worth getting upset about."
  • "Stop being so dramatic."

If your parents fail to notice, value, or respond to your feelings, or if they question your feelings when you express them, they are inadvertently sending you a message that your feelings don't matter or that something is wrong with your nature. To deal with this, you have learned to bury your feelings or to transform an "unacceptable" emotion like anger into an "acceptable" one like fear.

Does this sound like describing your childhood? Here are 9 signs that you suffered from emotional neglect in your childhood:

  1. They are afraid of relying on others and turn down offers for help, support, or care.
  2. You have a hard time identifying your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, as well as your life goals.
  3. You are tougher on yourself than you are on a stranger, and you lack self-compassion and understanding.
  4. You almost exclusively blame yourself, channel your anger inward, or feel guilt or shame about your needs or feelings.
  5. You feel numb, empty, or cut off from your emotions, or you feel unable to manage or express them.
  6. They are easily overwhelmed and give up quickly.
  7. You have low self esteem.
  8. You are particularly sensitive to rejection.
  9. You believe that you are deeply flawed and that there is something wrong with you, even though you cannot tell exactly what it is.

If these signs seem familiar to you and you believe you may have been a victim of emotional neglect in your childhood, there are steps you can take to heal.

1. Learn to recognize your feelings. If your parents treated your feelings as if they were not valid or essential, you as an adult may have trouble realizing what to feel or how to act when difficult feelings arise. Without feelings, making a decision is almost impossible. How we feel determines our decisions. What we do, where we go, who we spend time with, and what we eat are decisions made by emotions. They tell us how we feel about our world, others, and ourselves.

2. Identify your needs and ask others to meet them. You deserve your needs met just like everyone else. Start small by asking about things that should be easy to achieve. For example, ask your best friend or partner for a hug when you're sad, or for a few moments of calm when you get home from a busy day.

3. Find a therapist. A therapist can't undo your childhood or erase your parents' mistakes, but they can provide you with the emotional toolkit your parents didn't. A good therapist can help you identify your emotions, ask about what you need, trust others, build self-esteem, deal with rejection, build self-love, and much more.

Emotional neglect in childhood may not leave scars, but it really harms the children and the adults they become. In order to heal, you have to make the invisible visible. Name it, explore, learn from it, and relax.

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