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Emotional Neglect: What It Is and Why It Matters

It’s often easy to spot physical neglect. When someone’s basic needs aren’t met, they can experience severe health consequences as a result. Things like food, water, and shelter are required throughout childhood for a little one to thrive and grow. If those things aren’t provided, it’s considered neglect. 

But, there’s another side of neglect that can be just as harmful — emotional neglect. 

Emotional neglect refers to the deprivation of basic emotional needs, including ignoring someone, offering inappropriate independence, or ignoring the need for affection and love. 

We often look at emotional neglect in parent-child relationships. It’s something that can create life-long issues and influence the way you look at relationships and connections as an adult. However, it can also occur in adult relationships, including romantic ones.

Let’s take a closer look at emotional neglect, and why understanding the signs, no matter your age, can make a difference in your well-being. 

Spotting Emotional Neglect

As an adult, it can be difficult to remember if you were emotionally neglected as a child. You might have worked hard to repress those memories as a defense mechanism. 

You might also have experienced emotional neglect but weren’t sure at the time that you were being neglected. Some common examples of childhood emotional neglect include: 

  • Being punished for expressing your emotions
  • Having your feelings ignored or dismissed
  • Failure to intervene when you were experiencing distress

Emotional neglect can also occur when someone makes you feel like your emotions don’t matter. This is more common in adult relationships. Your partner might try to belittle whatever you’re feeling, so you start to push down your emotions. Unfortunately, that will almost always do more harm than good. It can make the relationship feel very one-sided and is often a form of emotional abuse. 

silhouette of a woman sitting at a windowSigns of Emotional Neglect 

The aftermath of emotional neglect can impact you in a variety of ways, as an adult. One of the most common signs is having difficulty expressing your emotions. You might find it hard to fully understand or process your feelings, which makes it even more difficult to express them to anyone else. 

Some people who experience emotional neglect might also start to feel “numb” about their emotions. This is another defense mechanism, but can lead to problems like withdrawal and isolation. 

Another sign of emotional neglect is being a people-pleaser. Focusing on other people’s emotions and taking care of them can give you a sense of purpose and make you feel loved. But, when you start to prioritize other people’s feelings over your own, your sense of self-worth can plummet. Again, that can take a toll on romantic relationships, and you might start to feel like you don’t matter to your partner. 

Finally, it might be difficult for you to trust or get close to people. If you didn’t have the emotional care you needed as a child, it can be hard to open up now, because you have a fear of getting hurt or rejected. Obviously, that can have a negative impact on your relationships, and you might even end up self-sabotaging things before allowing anyone to get too close. 

Why Does it Matter?

Understanding what emotional neglect is and what it can look like can help you realize that you’ve experienced a form of trauma. That’s not always an easy thing to swallow. But, it’s the first step in recognizing that your struggles stem from somewhere, and you don’t have to live with the aftermath forever. 

Dealing With Emotional Neglect

No matter how long ago you experienced emotional neglect, it’s never too late to get the help you need and deserve. 

One of the best ways to start healing is to work with a therapist. Therapy can help to improve your communication skills. It can also promote self-care that improves your sense of purpose and self-worth. You’ll also learn healthier coping strategies so you don’t have to rely on defensive strategies that might be harmful to your well-being.  

If you’re concerned that you might have been a victim of emotional neglect, don’t wait to reach out for help for trauma therapy.