Emotional neglect is not the same as emotional abuse, hence it is often not as apparent as abuse, and in its ability to camouflage lies its most long-lasting impact

When you hear about Emotional Neglect by a parent, it can immediately bring to mind wilful neglect or abuse on their part, but in actual fact an emotional neglectful parent is not necessarily a bad or unloving parent. Many try their best to raise their children the best they can. It may simply be the case they were raised by parents who failed to see their emotions, so they then passed the neglect down to their children, completely unaware they were doing so. This is because as a parent, you parent as you know, with what you are familiar with. Afterall you got there, you made it through… It’s when things start getting sticky you then look elsewhere for inspiration and help.

So, what is Emotional Neglect?

Emotional neglect is when a parent fails to see, understand or know their children as they really are (through lack of acknowledgement of their feelings), rather than through the lens of what they think they are or want them to be. It tends to be a pattern where a child’s need for affection is consistently disregarded, ignored, invalidated or more importantly underappreciated by the parent. These parents fail to see or may be too overwhelmed to meet their child’s need for love, affection and support. The children themselves, do not realise at the time they are being neglected and will internalise the pain, rejection and isolation they feel.


What kind of parents are more prone to be Emotional Neglectful?

Type 1: Are the parents who, while well meaning, were emotionally neglected themselves. These parents can fail to meet their children’s emotional needs through being

  •  Perfectionists – Whereby they overlook their child’s happiness in their quest for achievement and accomplishment ·
  • Permissive – These parents tend to be lax on setting limits or deliver enough consequences ·
  • Workaholics – Are just too darn busy and may introduce the notion of material wealth as a replacement for parental love.

Type 2: Are the struggling parents whose time is so taken up with coping they have little time, and mostly energy, to notice their child’s needs. These parents may be ·

  • Caring for a Special Needs, or sick family member ·
  • Bereaved, Divorced or Widowed ·
  • Depressed ·
  • Be financially struggling so their tentacles are spread wide in the ways they try to make ends meet

Type 3: Are the self-involved parents. This group differs from the above two because they are not necessarily motivated by what is best for their child. This group tends to be

  • Narcissistic – They want their child to help them feel special ·
  • Authoritarian – Tend to be focused on rules and raise their child with little flexibility and high demands. ·
  • Addicted – May not be selfish, but is driven by the need for her substance of choice ·
  • Sociopathic – Wants only two things … power and control

How children may present towards Emotionally Neglectful Parents

Children love their parentsand are surprised by the inexplicable anger they sometimes have toward them. (Needless to say, so does the adult as they are not generally aware of their neglect.) They can then feel guilty about their anger towards their parents and often feel confused about their feelings about their parents. Their confusion arises because they know their parents love them, but because of the emotional neglect they don’t necessarily feel it. This disconnect then fuels the belief that they don’t belong even when surrounded by parents and family. Their emptiness and numbness from want of feelings make it hard to express how they feel.

Children of Well- meant but neglected themselves parents generally grow into adulthood with heavy doses of confusion about where the symptoms came from, and a wagonload of self-blame and guilt. Whereas children of struggling parents often grow up to be self-sufficient to the extreme and to blame themselves for their adult struggles. They tend to judge themselves harshly, generally, much more harshly than they judge others and often feel disappointed or angry at themselves, sometimes for no reason at all

Highly Sensitive Children fare worse:

They tend to get negative judgements as their sensitivity becomes a joke and they are labelled as dreamers. · Siblings may tend to pick on the more sensitive child · They begin to internalise that their emotions don’t count and their feelings don’t matter · They begin to undervalue themselves and feel underconfident. This causes parents to then toughen and pressure children to be more confident. · They react strongly to criticism. · They tend to be overwhelmed by a noisy environment and need a quiet space, whereas the emotionally neglectful parent may tend to get angry with this child for overreacting. · They can feel isolated and extremely lonely · They learn in a world that doesn’t understand them to not ask for help · This all then leads to the child becoming anxious fuelled with the fear of always doing things wrong

As an adult signs you may have been emotionally neglected as a child, can reflect in the following ways.

An adult may have difficulty managing their emotions so that when they are upset, it’s hard to self-soothe. It is important to find ways to self-soothe because it can help you feel at ease when you are dealing with frustration, excitement or having intense emotions. It can also reduce the amount of worry and fear we carry around with us. · They can often feel confused about why people feel or act the way they do · They are fiercely independent and sometimes have trouble asking for or receiving help – and this may manifest as a fear of being dependant · People sometimes say they are cold or hard to connect with · They often feel sad, unhappy or blue but are unable to discern why they are feeling this way · They worry that they are unable to reach their potential, be it at work, or their personal life · Adults have difficulty accurately seeing themselves, their strengths, weaknesses and what they should strive for · Struggle with self-discipline, it’s either too much or too little · As adults, children raised by an authoritative parent may either rebel against authority or perhaps become overly submissive for fear of repercussion, shame, or abandonment, where as Children raised by permissive parents may have a tough time setting boundaries and limits for themselves or others in adulthood. · They may have feelings of emptiness (this may be felt in the tummy, chest or throat and come and go). Others may feel numb. · They may have no compassion for themselves, but plenty for others. Others may share their problems with you, but you don’t with others. · They feel guilt, shame, self-directed anger and blame and often have an over inflated shame over things that others reasonably wouldn’t.


Emotional neglect is not something that disappears. It is carried through into relationships, self-image and mental wellbeing. Fortunately, it is something that can be It is carried through into relationships, self-image and mental wellbeing. Fortunately, it is something that can be worked on as an adult, or an adult help their child resolve.

First Step: Get to know and accept yourself. If you can recognise you have been emotionally neglected, you can then help and identify patterns that need to be changed.

Second Step: Accept that your feelings, needs, and wants matter as much as anyone else’s. This may mean taking the initiative and doing more of the talking in a friendship, voicing your needs clearly to others, and drawing boundaries. Accept that this new found outspokenness may cause raised eyebrows, and rolling of eyes from those that may be less understanding, but have faith you are on the right track and doing the right thing.

Third Step: Start to express your needs. A highly sensitive person may communicate their needs in times they feel overwhelmed, but the time to do it is in normal times. People will then begin to see your personality emerge and will start to respond to you differently.

Fourth Step: Be kind to yourself. Think back to when you were a child and pick the healthy things that comforted you. Food and alcohol should never be regarded-. But some obvious ones could be to take a bubble bath, listen to your favourite music, spend time with your pet, exercise, sit quietly and look out the windows…the possibilities are endless.

Think of emotions as part of your arsenal, the more you have the more tools you have to help you survive and get ahead. Every emotion has a purpose and are the catalyst to change. They convey the message by which our behaviours act on. And if we don’t have control of our emotions how are we going to have control of our behaviour?

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