Childhood emotional neglect is something that we can possibly all relate to, but are perhaps unaware of. We have spoken many times that all a child really wants from their parent isn’t material but a meaningful relationship. Reading articles like this might induce parental anxiety, but it is really meant as a way to stop and reflect. A recent Instagram post by Dr. Lalitaa Suglani was picked up by a national newspaper today. Dr Suglani is a psychologist who has conducted extensive research on the effects of childhood emotional neglect. Her work has shown that emotional neglect in childhood can have long-lasting and severe consequences, including the development of mental health issues, difficulty in forming relationships, and difficulty in regulating emotions. It can also a massive impact on your own parenting and relationship with your children. Dr. Suglani argues that the effects of emotional neglect go beyond what is detectable by conventional methods of assessment, and that it is not enough to identify and treat the symptoms of emotional neglect; rather, she believes it is also important to actively try to address the underlying issues. It is often passed from generation to generation as how we are brought it seems like ‘the norm’ and also it is easy to be too busy to have those daily contact moments. If you experienced childhood emotional neglect yourself, it can also be an underlying cause for relationship issues you may have. The aim of this post is to give an introduction to the topic, and then, most importantly, give you the tools that you may need to break the cycle.
What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect?
Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) is a type of psychological abuse in which a child’s emotional needs are neglected or ignored by their primary caregiver. This type of neglect can take many forms, including unresponsiveness, indifference, or even outright rejection. CEN is often subtle and hard to recognize, as it does not involve physical or sexual abuse. It is important to note that CEN is not the same as abuse, though it can have similar long-term effects. It is often unintentional, but that does not mean that it’s effects are not significant.
The affects on a child’s development lead to a variety of mental health issues. In extreme cases, it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. It can also lead to difficulties in relationships and problems with self-esteem later in life.
Types of Emotional Neglect
For any of the below to characterise as neglect, they have to be regular and over a prolonged period of time. Not occasionally, that is called family life, and also it is ok to have to balance priorities occasionally.
There are several types of emotional neglect. They include:
- Unresponsiveness: This is when a parent or caregiver fails to respond to the emotional needs of a child. This type of neglect can be intentional or unintentional, and can lead to a feeling of abandonment or detachment.
- Neglectful parenting: This is when a parent or caregiver does not provide the emotional support and guidance a child needs. It can manifest in a variety of ways, such as not spending enough time with the child, failing to provide emotional support, or not providing guidance or discipline.
- Emotional abuse: This is when a parent or caregiver uses words or actions to manipulate or control a child. This can include verbal abuse, name-calling, or belittling or minimizing a child’s emotions or experiences.
- Unavailable parenting: This is when a parent or caregiver is physically or emotionally absent. This can include a parent who is rarely home, a parent who is emotionally distant or disengaged, or a parent who is too overwhelmed with work or other commitments to provide emotional support.
Signs of Emotional Neglect in Childhood
It can be difficult to recognize the signs of emotional neglect in children, as they are often subtle. They can also be seen as a ‘moody teenager’. It could also be that you recognize many of these in yourself. However, some common signs to look out for include:
- Withdrawal: If a child begins to withdraw from activities they previously enjoyed, it could be an indication of emotional neglect.
- Poor self-esteem: A child who struggles with self-esteem issues or has low self-confidence could be a sign of emotional neglect.
- Social isolation: If a child is not engaging with peers and avoiding social interactions, it could be a sign of emotional neglect.
- Difficulty making decisions: If a child is struggling to make decisions or is unable to think through the consequences of their actions, it could be a sign of emotional neglect.
- Extreme reactions: If a child is displaying extreme reactions, such as aggression or impulsivity, it could be a sign of emotional neglect.
Effects of Emotional Neglect in Childhood
The effects of emotional neglect in childhood can range from mild to severe. Some common effects include those below:
- Low self-esteem: Children who have experienced emotional neglect may struggle with self-esteem issues, such as low self-confidence and feelings of worthlessness. Here we look at building self-respect in a child.
- Fear of depending and trusting people: You may have felt that, as you were often let down before, that you can’t rely on anyone. This can make it difficult to rely on people or trust them in the future. We look at the importance of trust here.
- Poor emotional regulation: Children who have experienced emotional neglect may have difficulty regulating their emotions. This can lead to impulsivity, aggression, and difficulty forming relationships.
- Anxiety and depression: Anyone who has experienced emotional neglect may be more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. This can lead to difficulty functioning in everyday life. We give some more advice on anxiety here.
- Substance abuse: Children who have experienced emotional neglect may be more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their feelings of abandonment and neglect. Here we talk about alcohol and drug abuse in children.
- Poor decision-making: Due to the lack of trust that they have and fear of making mistakes may struggle with decision-making skills, as they may not have the emotional support and guidance necessary to make informed decisions.
Repercussions of Emotional Neglect in Adulthood
The effects of emotional neglect in childhood can have long-term repercussions. You might be able to relate to these in your own behavior:
- Difficulty forming relationships: Adults who have experienced emotional neglect in childhood may have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships. They may struggle with trust issues and have difficulty expressing their emotions.
- Difficulty regulating emotions: Adults who have experienced emotional neglect in childhood may have difficulty regulating their emotions. This can lead to impulsivity, aggression, and difficulty managing stress.
- Anxiety and depression: Adults who have experienced emotional neglect in childhood may be more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. They may also struggle with feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem.
- Substance abuse: Adults who have experienced emotional neglect in childhood may be more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their feelings of abandonment and neglect.
Strategies for Breaking the Cycle of Emotional Neglect
It is important to recognize and address the cycle of emotional neglect in order to prevent it from continuing into your relationship with your child. These below are very much a quick summary, we look at each in far more detail in other parts of the site:
- Education and awareness: It is important to educate ourselves about the importance of emotional support and the effects of emotional neglect. Many parents may not be aware of the impact their behavior is having on their children. It may be that you see these things as the norm. However, in the same way you might look with regret on the relationship you had with your parents due to their emotional absence, are you making the same errors. Or by spending so much time at work, or with your own pursuits, are you giving the impression to your own children that they are down the order of importance.
- Setting a framework: It is important to set boundaries with parents who are emotionally neglectful. This can help to create a healthier relationship and to prevent the cycle of emotional neglect from continuing. It can be simple things, such as no phones in the morning or at meal times. Or in the car. It can be coming home from work as soon as you can, and then picking up work again when the children have gone to bed. It can be turning the radio off in the car and talking. It can be making sure that there are events at the weekend which ensure you play together, no matter what the ages. We have some more advice about how try and juggle quality time with your children here.
- Seeking professional help: If necessary, it can be helpful to seek professional help to break the cycle of emotional neglect. A therapist can help to identify the root causes of the neglectful behavior and to develop strategies to address it.
Final Thoughts on Childhood Emotional Neglect
Childhood emotional neglect can have a lasting impact on mental health. It is important to be aware of the signs of emotional neglect in children and to recognize the cycle of emotional neglect in parents. If necessary, it is important to seek professional help to address the effects of emotional neglect.
By understanding childhood emotional neglect and its impact on mental health, we can work to break the cycle of emotional neglect and create healthier relationships. If you or someone you know is dealing with the effects of emotional neglect, please seek professional help.