Childhood emotional neglect
None of us are born with the ability to name, notice, or regulate our emotions. The child-caregiver relationship provides developing children with critical emotional experiences that define their relationship to emotion, their relationship with themselves, and their relationship with others. It is through these early interactions with our caregivers that we develop an awareness of our own emotions and learn how to respond to emotion in both ourselves and others. Without these skills, individuals often face difficulties expressing emotions, developing healthy relationships, and maintaining self-esteem and a strong sense of self.

Childhood emotional neglect, broadly, refers to the absence of a securely attached and present caregiver. Emotional neglect, by nature, is an invisible experience for children. Because of this, even survivors of emotional neglect may have difficulty identifying the harmful impact of their experience. It is worth noting that emotional neglect may be intentional (e.g. as part of a larger pattern of emotional abuse) or unintentional (e.g. parents whose own caregivers were emotionally absent, caregivers who could not be emotionally present and connected due to physical or mental illness etc.). Regardless of intention, children who do not receive an adequate amount of emotional support, validation, and attention are often harmfully impacted by the absence of these critical emotional experiences.

Childhood emotional neglect can profoundly impact an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being. Research has found that individuals who have experienced childhood emotional neglect may struggle with:

It is clear that chronically unmet emotional needs in childhood can continue to impact us well into adulthood. So, what can you do if you are beginning to recognize that you may have experienced emotional neglect?

Develop emotional awareness and emotion regulation skills

We know that emotional neglect can deeply impact our relationship with emotion and our emotional skills. For many, healing from emotional neglect will involve learning how to feel their feelings. Check out this article for some ideas on how to begin building your emotional skills.

Identify your needs and boundaries

If your emotional needs and boundaries were chronically disregarded in childhood, it’s likely that you never got into the habit of looking internally to identify your needs and boundaries from moment to moment. Take stock of your current relationships and notice the areas where you feel respected and fulfilled, as well as the areas where you feel stretched thin, unappreciated, or unheard. Noticing how you feel in your relationships is a great way to begin to get to know your needs and boundaries.

Check in with your inner child

We all carry around our younger selves within us. Take a moment to connect with your inner child and acknowledge the emotions, needs, and experiences that were invalidated or overlooked in your childhood. As adults, we have the ability to provide our younger selves with the validation, comfort, and self-compassion that we may have missed out on and longed for in childhood.

Talk with a therapist

Therapy can offer a supportive and structured space to begin to explore past experiences, identify unhealthy relationship patterns, and develop healthier coping strategies. A therapist can offer guidance, validation, and emotional support as you begin healing from childhood experiences of emotional neglect.

maria dimachkie therapist sacramento california

Hi, I’m Maria Dimachkie, therapist for individuals and couples at Love Heal Grow Counseling.

I help​ individuals and couples who have overcome difficult, painful times that have left them feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and fearful of the future. You can experience more fulfillment in your life and relationships! I’m here to support you.

You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Maria

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