What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?
Almost everyone realizes that what happens to us in childhood has an effect upon who we become as adults. The good and the bad: awards, accomplishments, mistreatment or abuse. It all has an impact.
But there is another factor from childhood which has an equal or even greater effect than childhood events, like awards, mistreatment or abuse. This is a factor that people can’t see or remember. It’s invisible. I call it Emotional Neglect.
Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.
Emotional Neglect is, in some ways, the opposite of mistreatment and abuse. Whereas mistreatment and abuse are parental acts, Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to act. It’s a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Because it’s an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable. Emotional Neglect is the white space in the family picture; the background rather than the foreground. It is insidious and overlooked while it does its silent damage to people’s lives.
Children who are emotionally neglected then grow up to have a particular set of struggles. Because their emotions were not validated as children, they may have difficulty knowing and trusting their own emotions as adults. They may have difficulty understanding their own feelings, as well as others’. Because an important part of themselves (their emotional self) has been denied, they may find themselves feeling disconnected, unfulfilled or empty. They may have difficulty trusting or relying upon others. Many describe feeling that they are different from other people; like something is wrong with them, but they’re not sure what it is.
Another way that parents can unwittingly emotionally neglect their child is to fail to give him the structure and rules to live by, like consequences and discipline. As a result, the emotionally neglected often struggle with self-discipline as adults.
Whatever the level of parental failure, the emotionally neglected have no childhood memories to explain their difficulties. So, too often, they blame themselves.
To this day, Emotional Neglect has been overlooked. Because it’s invisible, unmemorable, and the absence of something (emotional validation), It has been greatly overshadowed by more visible, but also worthy topics, like childhood events, abuse, or trauma.
My goal is to shine a light on this powerful but invisible force. To give people a common language to talk about it, and to offer an explanation to the scores of people who are suffering in silence, wondering what is wrong with them.
You can read more about Emotional Neglect throughout this website. To learn even more, see a copy of my book, Running on Empty: Overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect. In it, I talk about the twelve types of parents who unknowingly emotionally neglect their children, and the ten issues that emotionally neglected children struggle with as adults. I offer six clear strategies to overcome emotional neglect. I also offer a chapter for parents, to help you make sure you don’t pass your own Emotional Neglect on to your children. There is also a separate chapter for therapists and mental health professionals.
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Watch my YouTube video, “What is Childhood Emotional Neglect,” ** then read on.