- Childhood Emotional Neglect – Overview
- What constitutes childhood emotional neglect?
- How does it play a role in your adult life?
- Inability to trust others
- Chronic people pleasing
- Low self-esteem
- Quick to get defensive
- Sabotaging relationships
- Unrealistic expectations of self
- Dependent on others to make you happy
Childhood Emotional Neglect – Overview
Do you struggle with hyper-independence? Maybe you deal with low self-esteem? Are you trying to make others happy to feel fulfilled in life? These are all signs you are an adult experiencing symptoms of childhood emotional neglect.
The more mental health is brought into the limelight, the more people in this generation learn how to break generational curses. You could have had a “perfectly normal” childhood growing up. Both parents at home, they loved you, you wanted for nothing…but you still struggle with the symptoms of emotional neglect.
This is because, even though your parents did everything they could to make you feel loved and safe, they were learning as they went along and made mistakes. It is possible they were also emotionally neglected as a child too. With each passing generation, we become more in touch with our feelings. It becomes less “children are seen and not heard” and more “family is the most important thing in life.” With this in mind, millennials are becoming increasingly aware of their mental health and how their past impacted it.
What constitutes childhood emotional neglect?
If your parent or guardian failed to meet your emotional needs growing up, you might fall into this category. Even if they were the most loving of parents and provided you with everything you could want and more, you still could be struggling with symptoms from this.
Abuse and neglect are not the same things. Abuse is done with malicious intent, while neglect sometimes is done unconsciously. Both have damaging and lasting effects, but many times parents do not mean to purposely neglect the needs of their child.
From a parent’s perspective, life gets in the way, work gets stressful, and they have their own issues going on. They have never been a parent before and they are figuring it out as they go. What they see is how they were raised and they wanted to be better for you than their parents were for them. They are starting to acknowledge the generational trauma, but the curse has not yet been broken before it gets to you.
Maybe they invalidated your feelings growing up. They called you a drama queen or too sensitive when you tried to express how you felt. When you needed help, you were ignored or told: “not now” and brushed away. It could be they were working two jobs to make ends meet and were never around to spend time with you. Emotional neglect can form in many ways, but what it means is that you did not get your needs met.
How does it play a role in your adult life?
Inability to trust others
Hyper-independence is real when it comes to emotional neglect. You refuse to ask for help because you subconsciously worry they will let you down. You did a lot of fending for yourself growing up, so you learned it was you and only you who was going to be there to help you or comfort you when you need it.
Until you address the issue, you will always have a wall up waiting for the person to hurt you. Trust is a very finicky thing. Many people do not know how to trust others when they have been hurt before. It is a protective mechanism designed by our brains.
You learned early on that trusting someone (your parents) to meet your emotional needs was something that would lead to being let down. That is not how healthy relationships are supposed to go. You deserve to feel safe and loved.
Chronic people pleasing
You might struggle to tell people no when you want to. Maybe you experience wanting to make everyone else happy. Your self-worth tends to come from others needing you.
Whether it is as simple as getting them coffee or as large as doing all the work for them, the feeling of being needed is reassuring to you as a person. People-pleasing is a hard habit to break, but it can be done!
Many people in life are going to continue to take from you until you finally say no. It is draining and causes burnout very quickly.
Tim Ferriss once said something that changed the way I approach people-pleasing tasks:
If it isn’t a hell yeah, it’s a no.
If the task someone is asking you to do is not something you can find yourself absolutely loving and getting excited over, it is not worth your time.
It feels weird and “icky” at first and will cause you anxiety, but you get used to it quickly when you feel how exhilarating it is to put yourself first.
Given that you may have never felt cared for or loved growing up, due to the emotional neglect, you probably struggle with low self-esteem. You may have learned quickly that you only mattered when you were needed and not for who you were as a person.
It is a heartbreaking thing for a child to experience, but know it was not necessarily done on purpose. Now that you are grown, it is time for you to parent yourself. It is time you give yourself the love you deserved and wanted growing up.
It is weird and hard to do at first but start by reacting to yourself how you wanted your parents to when you needed them. Give yourself all the love you wanted from them and then some. It will eventually force your brain into positive and meaningful thoughts about yourself versus negative and degrading.
Quick to get defensive
Constructive criticism or others telling you that you are wrong is a trigger to you. It brings about negative feelings about yourself. This is not your fault, but this is your ego coming into play. Remember Sigmund Freud? Your ego sticks around as an adult to protect you from statements that are triggering your inner child.
It helps to sit back and separate yourself from the statement. Is this person making the statement out of love? Are they doing it helpfully?
No one can do everything perfectly. You will have moments in life all the time when you are wrong. You just have to bring yourself to realize it is okay to mess up, it is okay to be critiqued, and it is okay to admit you failed. Failing is healthy and teaches you so many lessons.
Failing is just finding a way it didn’t work.
Whether you believe it or not, your self-worth does not depend on how successful you are.
As a protective mechanism, humans tend to sabotage relationships before they get too far into them. This is a way to protect yourself from getting hurt. You are not broken, there is nothing wrong with you. You are doing this because of emotional neglect experienced as a child.
This is a completely normal reaction to anyone who has been hurt by others in the past. The only way to fix this is to do enough work with yourself to understand that you are enough without that person. If they leave or hurt you, you are still worthy because you now know how to love yourself.
Unrealistic expectations of self
When you grow up with emotional neglect in your life, accomplishments tend to be one of the only things that get you the attention you want and need. This leads to you believing your self-worth is based on how good you do something.
Perfectionism tends to grow from a little bit of nitpicking and critiquing of your work to anxiety so overwhelming you feel empty and struggle to finish tasks. This kind of pressure on yourself will cause you to never reach your goals. In turn, you feel even worse about yourself due to not reaching your goals. It is a vicious cycle.
Dependent on others to make you happy
No one in life will be able to make you fully happy except for you. You are responsible for your happiness each day. If you depend on others to make you happy, you will always be let down. Yet, we tend to do that quite a bit. Why? Because you were not taught how to love yourself or make yourself happy. You now lean on others to do that for you.
You are constantly depending on them to fill a void in your heart that only you can fill. The longer you rely on them to fill it, the more you will hurt your relationship and the worse you will feel.
Fill this void will positive affirmations, doing things you love, trying something new…all different things that may fill your heart with joy. These are the things that will fill that void and help you find happiness.
A great person to follow on Instagram to help with learning about healing your inner child and emotional neglect wounds is The Holistic Psychologist.
While you may have experienced emotional neglect in your childhood, you are not responsible for the pain and trauma it caused. You are responsible for how you react to it though.
Will you teach yourself how to love and be there for yourself? Or will you allow yourself to stay in this vicious cycle? My dad always said that anything worth having in life is hard to achieve, but it is so worth it. And he was right.