When someone goes through physical abuse, it is identifiable through physical scars. Similarly, when someone suffers emotional abuse, it leaves emotional scars in their mind. But what about emotional neglect? Emotional neglect is that phenomenon which is often overlooked, because it is silent, invisible and most of the times unintentional. Childhood emotional neglect can be as traumatizing as any other emotional wounds. However, since it is not possible to recognize the exact emotional hurt caused by it or when it happened, it is hard to overcome it.
Unlike physical abuse which is easily identifiable by visible bruises or physical alteration, emotional neglect is difficult to identify as there are no particular observable signs. Mostly, a child cannot recognize a childhood emotional neglect until the symptoms start to appear in their adulthood.
Emotional abuse and emotional neglect are not similar. Because one is done consciously while the other one is often unintentional. Some parents might intentionally ignore their child’s emotions, but often parents aren’t aware of such things. They often fail to notice or respond to their child’s emotional needs. Parents love their child unconditionally, but when it comes to a child’s emotional or mental health, they are often clueless about that.
Some parents try their best to love their child very much, but they still neglect a child’s emotional needs because they might’ve also never received such emotional support from their parents, which is why they come up short. As they didn’t have any role models to follow, they never learned how to treat their children emotionally. There are various circumstances where a child might need emotional support, but due to lack of knowledge and awareness in the parents, they often become the victim of emotional negligence. A few of the reasons include divorce, illness, death, financial problems etc. can interfere with a child’s emotional needs.
Often, to parents, a child’s emotions are invalid, unimportant or undesirable. Some parents consider their child’s emotional needs to be excessive or of lesser importance than other issues. So, they neglect them unceremoniously. Sometimes, they set high expectations from their children, overlooking their children’s emotions and feelings. Sometimes, parents don’t want to listen to their children, invalidating their emotions causing the children to self-doubt. Sometimes, parents are too attentive to make the right choices for their children that it often leads the children to attend to meet those demands by forgetting their own needs.
Related read: Why Parents Deny Children Depression and Mental Illness?
Some of the most common phrases used by them are:
- Stop being dramatic.
- You don’t need that.
- It isn’t that bad.
- My pick is much better than yours.
- Don’t act so upset when you can’t do anything about it.
A childhood emotional neglect is often the result of parents ignoring a child’s feelings and making them feel like their emotions and feelings don’t matter. As a child they adopt these thoughts from their parents and often bury their feelings as invalid ones. Mostly, children acquire two emotions to cope with such situations to deal with their emotional neglect. One is anger, another one is anxiety, and when they grow up, that’s how they develop several mental health issues like anxiety disorder, anger issues, depression, bipolar syndrome, mood disorder, etc.
Symptoms of childhood emotional neglect:
As a child, you cannot often realize that you’re being emotionally neglected. Symptoms of childhood emotional neglect often show up in adulthood. Some of the symptoms included,
- You feel numb and empty often. There’s an unexplainable hollow inside you.
- You can’t rely on others, and often reject their offers. You are squeamish about asking help from others.
- You often cannot identify your strengths and weaknesses. You cannot differentiate between your likes and dislikes.
- It is difficult for you to set life goals.
- You are hard on yourself. You lack self-compassion and have difficulty understanding your inner voice.
- You blame yourself almost always. You are often angry with yourself, your life, and everything you do.
- You feel guilt or shame about your needs or feelings.
- You don’t like to acknowledge your emotions and often cut them off. You find it difficult to express your emotions.
- You give up quickly.
- You have low self-esteem.
- You cannot handle rejection well. You’re sensitive about any kind of rejection.
- In your own eyes, you are deeply flawed. Although you cannot explain exactly why, you self-loath yourself and your actions, and that there’s something about you that is wrong even though you can’t specifically name what it is.
- You are obsessed with perfectionism.
- You get easily overwhelmed or discouraged over little to littlest failures.
- You don’t have clarity regarding others and your own expectations.
These are the signs which can tell you if you’re a victim of childhood emotional neglect. However, having any of these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean that you were emotionally neglected as a child. But you if you can relate most of these symptoms, it is recommended that you see a therapist.
Why parents tend to emotionally neglect their children?
First of all, not all parents tend to emotionally neglect their child intentionally. Most parents love their children and do their best as they can. However, there might be cases where they do, not because they are intentional, but because they themselves aren’t aware of it. Some parents may not have a good upbringing and have experienced emotional neglect themselves as children. So, they may not have a lot to give emotionally. Whatever the reason is, there are some specific parenting styles and characteristics which lead them to emotionally neglect their child.
- Some parents are authoritative. They just want their children to follow the rules without listening to their feelings and needs. So, when these children reach adulthood, they either rebel against authority or become submissive.
- Some parents are permissive. They let their children do pretty much anything. So, when they reach their adulthood, they experience difficulty in setting boundaries and limit themselves.
- Parents who are narcissistic don’t even think of their child’s needs. They feel the whole world revolves around them and it’s all about their own needs. As adults, these children can’t decide their needs and ensure that they’re met. These people may even feel that they don’t deserve good things and there’s no point in having their needs met.
- Perfectionist parents want their children to do everything perfectly. They want their children to do more and better. They tend to get upset and start criticizing when a child brings home a report card with all A’s and one B. These children grow up to be perfectionists, and set unrealistically high expectations for themselves as well as others around them. This results in feeling anxiety and the feeling of never being good enough.
- Some parents are absent, both physically and emotionally for their children. There may be a variety of reasons, such as divorce, illness, death, long working hours, or frequent travel for work. If there are younger siblings, the older child has to take care of them as well. They raise their younger siblings as their parents aren’t available. These children tend to be overly responsible and overburdened with worry about their families. They tend to act like adults from a very young age.
How to recover from childhood emotional neglect?
If you can relate to these signs, and have identified yourself as emotionally neglected as a child, here’s some of the ways you can heal yourself.
1. Be aware.
If you experience these symptoms, then perhaps you were emotionally neglected as a child. Your parents might have ignored your emotions intentionally or unintentionally. As a child you might have developed this idea of your emotions and needs as invalid or unimportant. But as an adult, if you want to heal your emotional wounds, you need to be aware of emotional needs and acknowledge them consciously. Without acknowledging your emotions and feelings, it is impossible to make any decision. If you can’t make any decision, you can’t even decide what you want to do, how to do it.
2. Identify your needs.
Second important step is identifying your needs. You deserve your needs to be fulfilled just like anyone else does. Start small. Ask people to acknowledge your needs which are easy to achieve. It could be as small as a hug when you’re sad or an hour of silence after you get home from a busy day at work.
3. Be gentle with yourself.
Stop being hard on yourself. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. You need to take baby steps towards your healing. Research for emotions and needs online and find what are the areas where your needs aren’t met. Start acknowledging them and take actions. Cut the old beliefs that you don’t have personal emotional needs. Like everyone in this planet, you too have emotional needs that deserve to be met. Take care of yourself. Treat yourself with gentleness, tender and compassion which you would use to treat others. Be easy on yourself if you’re self-critical or judgmental. No matter what you’ve experience as a child, as an adult you can heal your childhood emotional neglect.
4. Find a therapist.
A therapist provides that emotional support which you didn’t receive from your parents. A therapist cannot undo your childhood or erase mistakes your parents made, but they can help you identify your emotions, build self-love, ask for what you need, build self-esteem, learn to trust others, handle rejection, and more.
Healing emotional wounds isn’t an overnight process. You need to be patience with yourself and your healing process. Be consistent and considerate. You might not heal tomorrow, but you’ll heal surely.