9 Hard To Miss Signs Of Childhood Emotional Neglect

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As a parent, you’re always trying your best to make ends meet as gracefully as you can. Whether it’s a successful academic career, stable health, or amazing home life, you probably want to help your kid in attaining it all. Yet, certain grey areas still can’t be fulfilled with any monetary compensation. Your kids, no matter how small they still are, possess emotional intelligence. The way you respond or not respond to their emotional needs tends to have a huge impact on their psyche and overall demeanor.

Childhood emotional neglect is a parent or guardian’s inability to respond properly towards a child’s emotional needs. It’s a parenting failure that arises when a child’s sensitive feelings often get disregarded. Childhood emotional neglect is often contributed to a parent’s absence or busy schedule but the problem can arise due to many other reasons too.

Childhood emotional neglect can both be active and passive. It can be considered passive when a child’s needs unintentionally get neglected as a result of a parent’s actions. For instance; a parent’s inadequate attention towards what their child is saying, due to a busy routine. On the contrary, active childhood neglect involves an active action on the parent’s part showing disregard towards their child’s feelings. For instance; calling your son a sensitive sissy after he falls from a see-saw.

Before we proceed towards the reasons behind childhood emotional neglect, we should first learn how this issue can be spotted.

7 Signs Of Childhood Emotional Neglect

  • Kids dealing with childhood emotional neglect can face complications related to their development. A common example would be complications related to speech, social skills cognitive or motor skills, etc.
  • Children facing childhood emotional neglect can find it harder to bond with other kids in the classroom. Making friends can be slightly harder for them and they generally don’t open up that easily.
  • Lack of emotional fulfillment can disrupt a child’s life in every way. Consequently, he/she might fail to thrive academically as a result of the baggage they’re carrying.
  • Kids facing similar circumstances can be slightly more aggressive or violent. That’s one of the many ways they exhibit their anger towards their parents or the situation they are in.  It can also be an indicator of jealousy towards other kids that are receiving emotional support from their parents.
  • Another red flag could be the abundance of apathy or general lack of interest in anything. In this particular context, children don’t really develop hobbies like other kids living in healthy circumstances. They might also show a lack of interest in studies or any other co-curricular activities.
  • The lack of healthy emotional responses from their parents end can also make a child cranky in general.
  • Another huge symptom of childhood emotional neglect is a child’s inability to be emotionally intimate with others. Such children don’t respond to warm greetings the way other kids do.
  • One can often notice low self-esteem among children who are encountering childhood emotional abuse. Due to a lack of self-confidence, they fail to appear more comfortable in public gatherings and might also exhibit antisocial tendencies. Additionally, such kids do not participate in the exhibition of any talents such as dancing, debating, singing, etc.
  • Every case of childhood emotional neglect can be different. We’ve already stated that encountering such behavior can make kids more reclusive. On the contrary, some kids turn extremely hyperactive as a result of childhood emotional neglect. One can always find them boosted with an energetic rush to stay ahead in sports, studies, etc. This can often be mistaken for ADHD or a general sugar rush.

5 Possible Reasons Behind Childhood Emotional Neglect

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse impacts the way we behave, act, talk and perceive. While staying in a continuous drunken haze, a parent has zero chances of responding to a child’s emotional needs. Staying sober can give an individual the mental capacity to understand what a child wants in a particular situation and how a matter can be resolved without emotionally tarnishing one’s own kids. On the contrary, recreational drug use or irregular amounts of alcohol consumption can destroy this healthy pattern of proper parenting.

Mental Illness

The presence of a mental illness can also be a huge source behind childhood emotional neglect.  If one or more parental figures are already fighting personal demons, they are less likely to pay attention to their child’s emotional needs. Neglecting a mental illness doesn’t only affect you but it also affects the close relationships you share with others.  Thus the lack of treatment for depression, anxiety, a personality disorder, etc. directly impacts your parenting skills and can contribute to childhood emotional neglect.  What can make matters worse is the fact that in their initial stages of life children aren’t really mentally compliant to understand the whole situation. Thus they are unaware of the fact that why one or more parents isn’t fulfilling their emotional needs the way they should.

The Continuation Of Cycle

The things that we’re introduced to in our own childhood tend to stay with us even in the future.  The habits we witness in our parents can become a part of our own long list of traits.  If a parental figure was raised in a household where emotional support was always provided then they are more likely to behave identically.  On the contrary, being raised in a household where showing emotions was never considered appropriate,  can make anyone a little stingy in this regard. An individual like that struggles with a lack of emotional fulfillment on their own. This is a continuation of a cycle where childhood emotional neglect passes on through generations.

Overcrowded Household

Most parents try their best to cater to every child’s needs but at the end of the day, anyone can make slight errors. When there are a lot of kids on the receiving end, things can get a little messy. While catering to 3 or more kids parents can unconsciously neglect another child in particular moments. The basic reason behind emotional neglect, in this case, could be the abundance of receivers and the lack of givers.

Anger or Resentment

Parents are generally regarded as the main caregivers. Thus, the fact that they can hold any anger or resentment towards their own kid can shock a whole lot of people. Believe it or not, some people do resent their own kids.  There can be various reasons behind that i.e divorce,  accidental death of a family member, economical loss, etc.  This particular context can be further elaborated on with the help of an example. Parents can hold resentment against their own child and fail at providing emotional support because they never wanted the custody of that particular child yet were mandated to have it.  Another reason why parents might hold resentment against their own child could be because they remind them of their ex-partner or were the product of sexual abuse or unplanned pregnancy.

7 ways childhood emotional neglect can impact your adult life

As stated earlier childhood emotional neglect can have long-lasting consequences.  Thus one can witness its results even  in the later stages of their life if treatment was never on the table as an option:

Fear Of Intimacy

Adults who have faced childhood emotional neglect tend to build invisible walls around themselves. They’ve never encountered emotional intimacy in the past thus they’re not prepared to be intimate even as adults. When such individuals get a chance to be romantically involved with someone they like; they might find ways to avoid. That’s because they’re not comfortable with this new healthy pattern of getting emotionally invested in someone. Some might even exhibit self-destructive behavior; breaking up for no reason, avoiding dates, etc. Even when such adults get into a committed relationship, they tend to be more secretive with personal information.

Fear Of Dependency

This particular aspect is very similar to the one discussed earlier. When you’ve been raised as your own ride or die since childhood, you’re less likely to be reliant on someone else. Self-reliance can be an amazing thing if it’s not chronic. When you’re a one-man army, you have no one else to support you emotionally under dire circumstances. The fear of being abandoned emotionally by someone new can stop the victims of emotional neglect from finding someone new. They’re constantly scared that a new partner, spouse, guardian, or friend might not understand their emotional needs. Thus they fail to establish and avoid any chances of establishing a concrete bond. Their general lack of distrust stops them from sharing emotional responses publically or making a large group of trusted friends.

Identity Crisis

The lack of emotional fulfillment in the earlier stages of life can make anyone feel like they’re incomplete. Such adults struggle with a constant feeling of emptiness and it seems like there’s something wrong with the way things are. Their inability to come to terms with a dysfunctional childhood stops them from feeling like the best version of themselves. Additionally, it can result in an identity crisis where they almost feel like they’re not aligned with their own mind.

Guilt & Fear

Some adults tend to blame themselves for the lack of parental involvement in their life. It’s a negative thinking pattern that is fueled by guilt and fear. Such individuals wholeheartedly believe that there’s something wrong with them that’s why their parents used to neglect their emotional needs. This can promote self-hatred and result in a lack of self-esteem. Another commonly noticed pattern would be the general lack of self-compassion. Such individuals tend to be kinder to others than they are to themselves.

Emotional Mismanagement

Adults with a history of childhood emotional neglect tend to have zero flexibility when it comes to managing their emotions. Some common behavioral patterns may include; sudden changes in emotions, angry outbursts, etc.

Photo by Davor Denkovski on Unsplash

Childhood Emotional Neglect: Why Is Therapy So Essential?

The treatment options for both adults and children dealing with emotional neglect can be fairly similar. With proper counseling and therapy, children and adults can learn how to manage their emotions healthily. If your child has started suppressing his/her emotions, a counselor can help them in managing it all in a much healthier way. Similarly, if a child’s coping through unhealthy means such as; starvation, overeating, oversleeping, drug consumption then therapy can provide relief from those issues.

Family counseling is another option that can open closed wounds in a less tacky manner. To end the matter for good, parents will first have to recognize their own mistakes. Through family counseling, parents can recognize where it all went wrong and how it can be improved. Your family counselor can also recommend parenting classes depending upon the extent of the problem. These classes are specifically arranged for parents that don’t know how to recognize signs of emotional neglect or lack any proper parenting skills.

If you’re attending therapy as an adult then it can benefit you in multiple ways as well. Attending therapy for the emotional neglect you experienced in childhood can once again open doors for trust, intimacy, and better relationships. If any traumatic memories are stopping you from living your best life or living as a complete person then going over your childhood can be a great solution. Adults struggling to maintain relationships with their parents as a result of childhood emotional neglect can also benefit from therapy.

Final Words

Once you’ve recognized the symptoms in your own child it’s time to make amends. Parents that finally understand that they might be emotionally neglecting their kids can find some comfort in the form of therapy. It’s a part of every caregiver, pediatrician, teacher, and school counselors’ job to look for signs in the kids around them. If you spot any of these signs, talk to that particular child’s parents and share what you have observed. Perhaps creating a dialogue might be the first step towards improving a kid’s life.




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