Skip to the main content.

4 min read

How Can Childhood Emotional Neglect Affect Us in Adulthood?

The effects of childhood emotional neglect don't just stop after childhood. Unfortunately, the trauma of neglectful parents can stay with us our whole lives in a number of ways. That's why it can be so important to recognize what emotional neglect looks like, so we can break the cycle and help heal the next generation despite what we may have experienced.

What is childhood emotional neglect?

Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Future Effects of Emotional Neglect in Childhood

Is childhood neglect considered trauma in developmental psychology?

Start the Healing Process: Overcoming Childhood Emotional Neglect by Understanding Your Emotions and Triggers

What is childhood emotional neglect?

Childhood emotional neglect is, at it's core, a failure to respond to a child's emotional needs. It is different (in many cases) from abuse in that emotionally neglectful parents often don't act intentionally, and they meet their children's needs in other ways. It's simply that they do not recognize or meet their children's emotional needs.

It's not always so easy to notice, as emotional neglect can be quite subtle. An example might be when a child mentions to their parent that they are feeling sad because of something that happened at school, and the parent says something like "oh, that's too bad" or "it happens", and moves on without helping their child process their feelings. As this happens over and over, the child may learn that their own emotions are not important, and they will stop reaching out for help.

Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Emotional neglect isn't always easy to see, especially in the less severe cases. Often, the parents don't realize that they're being emotionally neglectful, and outsiders may not notice certain signs.

There are, of course, far more severe cases that may include physical neglect or emotional abuse, and these cases may be easily spotted by professionals like pediatricians or teachers. Whether emotional neglect is mild or severe, it can affect a child's development and mental health. Some signs of childhood emotional neglect may include the following.

Difficulty Trusting New People

A child experiencing emotional neglect may demonstrate issues with trust. Because the people closest to them show indifference to their feelings, they may not seek help or trust from anyone else. In some cases, they may even withdraw from their friends or appear to be indifferent toward others feelings.

Low Self-Esteem

Childhood emotional neglect can cause low self-esteem in kids. This can manifest in a number of ways. They may tend to become emotional and show poor self-control. They have difficulty accepting either blame or criticism and avoid spending time with other children. Fear of failure may keep them from trying new things, and they may think or talk of themselves as not being as good as others. They may show depressive symptoms or have difficulty with mood regulation.

Developmental Delays

Emotional neglect can also cause developmental delays in children. They may not be hitting common markers for cognitive or emotional growth. They can even show signs of failure to thrive in some cases.

Future Effects of Emotional Neglect in Childhood

Those who have experienced childhood emotional neglect don't leave all of their issues in childhood. Emotional neglect in the formative years can lead to mental health issues that follow us into adulthood.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Other Mental Disorders

Common disorders that can be caused by childhood emotional neglect include PTSD, anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. They may have trouble building healthy relationships with others, including their own spouse or their own children.

Lower Self-Esteem and self-Compassion

In many cases of emotional neglect in childhood, emotional development is stunted, and an adult who is neglected will have poor self-compassion. They may feel less than, and have difficulties expressing their feelings to others. People who have experienced childhood emotional neglect often show the same symptoms they did in childhood: poor emotional regulation, difficulties making friends, and a tendency to blame others for their problems.

Poor Emotional Connection and Troubled Relationships

Experiencing childhood emotional neglect can lead to difficulty forming and maintaining healthy and stable adult relationships.

Is childhood neglect considered trauma in developmental psychology?

In some cases, yes, a parent's failure to meet the needs in their child's life can be considered trauma. It isn't universal, but in more severe cases, it can be difficult for emotionally neglected children to overcome emotional neglect without professional help.

Knowing the Difference: Emotional Neglect vs. Emotional Abuse

The difference between emotional abuse and emotional neglect is intent. Emotional neglect is most often unconscious by parents, who may not understand the importance of a child's emotional needs. Emotional abuse is intentional, targeted behavior that causes harm. This can include yelling at a child, telling them that they're worthless, or making other derogatory comments.

Emotional neglect is most often seen in parents who implement permissive or uninvolved parenting styles. Authoritarian parents are more likely to show emotional or physical abuse toward their children.

Understanding Parents Who Tend to Emotionally Neglect Children

Often, parents emotionally neglect their own children when they've been neglected in their own childhood. Perhaps they had absent parents or parents who downplayed their emotional needs. They may be uneducated on parenting styles and more modern theories on a child's emotional needs and experiences. In some cases, it can be regional; a child's feelings aren't considered important in some areas and cultures in the US. Shifting parenting approaches are catching on, but there are some holdouts.

Start the Healing Process: Overcoming Childhood Emotional Neglect by Understanding Your Emotions and Triggers

Many may ask, How do I know if I was emotionally neglected as a child? It's not always easy to tell from an adult perspective whether you were emotionally neglected. However, to break the cycle of emotional neglect, it can be important to understand this distinction. One of the best ways to do so is to focus on your own mental health through therapy.

Individual or Family Therapy

Mental health professionals, such as a licensed therapist, can help you identify potential signs of childhood neglect in your own life. What's more, they can offer coping skills and strategies for any potential psychiatric disorders, like substance misuse or depressive symptoms. Parents tend to continue the cycle of child neglect if they have experienced it themselves.

Therapy is a great way to address latent emotional issues as a result of childhood emotional neglect. Book an appointment with an Austin doctoral-level therapist today to start the process.

Knowing the Role of Emotions

Parenting skills are an important but neglected topic of study. Educate yourself on a child's emotional experiences, as well as child development and the signs of emotional neglect. Parenting classes can help you learn emotional support skills that can help your children.

Acknowledgement of the Child's Needs

Children are people who have the same emotional needs as adults. By acknowledging this, you are on the path to avoiding emotional neglect that can affect your child. Childhood neglect can be treated, and those who have experienced it need not pass it on to the next generation. Therapy can help you learn to build healthy relationships and build your own sense of worth in the bargain.

Break the cycle by getting professional help today.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

Finding the Right Childhood Trauma Therapist for Your Healing Journey

Many of us may understand intellectually what childhood trauma means, but many have difficulty identifying it in our own lives. We think childhood...

Read More
A couple in therapy

Couples Counseling Methods That Can Strengthen Your Relationship

Couples therapy, also known as couples counseling, is a form of talk therapy that helps romantic partners improve their relationship. The purpose of...

Read More
a dog

Can Pets Help with Stress?

We love our pets, and for many, they are true members of the family. But did you know that pet owners also receive a number of physical and mental...

Read More