WHAT is emotional neglect?

Emotional neglect is a form of abuse or neglect in which a caregiver fails to provide a child with the emotional support, attention, and affection they need to thrive. Emotional neglect can be just as harmful as physical abuse, as it can have a significant impact on a child’s emotional and psychological development.

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Some common signs of emotional neglect in children may include:

  • Lack of emotional expression or difficulty expressing emotions
  • Lack of empathy or difficulty understanding others’ emotions
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Difficulty regulating emotions or managing stress
  • Inability to trust or difficulty forming attachments
  • Low self-esteem or self-worth

Emotional neglect can have long-term consequences for a child, including increased risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health problems. It is important for caregivers to provide children with the emotional support and attention they need to develop healthy emotional and social skills. If you suspect that a child is experiencing emotional neglect, it is important to seek support from a mental health professional or child protective services.


Children who have experienced emotional neglect may face a number of challenges as they grow up and transition into adulthood. Some common challenges that neglected children may face as adults may include:

  • Difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships: Children who have experienced emotional neglect may struggle with forming and maintaining healthy relationships with others, as they may have difficulty trusting others or expressing their own needs and emotions.
  • Difficulty regulating emotions or managing stress: Children who have experienced emotional neglect may have difficulty managing their emotions and may struggle with managing stress or handling challenges.
  • Difficulty developing a sense of self-worth or self-esteem: Children who have not received adequate emotional support and attention may struggle with developing a sense of self-worth or self-esteem.
  • Increased risk of mental health problems: Children who have experienced emotional neglect may be at increased risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is important to remember that every individual is unique, and the challenges that neglected children may face as adults will vary depending on a number of factors, including the severity and duration of the neglect, the child’s resiliency and coping skills, and the presence of other supportive relationships in their life. With the right support and resources, neglected children can overcome these challenges and go on to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

Psychotherapy can be a helpful treatment for adults who were neglected as children and are struggling with the effects of their experiences. In psychotherapy, the therapist provides a safe and supportive space for the client to process and explore their feelings and experiences related to the neglect they experienced as a child.

The therapist may help the client identify any negative thought patterns or behaviors that may be related to the neglect they experienced and work with the client to develop healthier coping strategies. The therapist may also help the client develop a stronger sense of self-worth and self-esteem and learn how to form and maintain healthy relationships.

The therapist may use a variety of therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based therapy, or psychodynamic focused therapy, to help the client process and cope with their emotions. The therapist may also encourage the client to set goals for themselves and track their progress. The therapist may also provide the client with homework assignments to complete between sessions, such as practicing relaxation techniques or journaling about their experiences.

One feature we focus on is that of identifying repetition of patterns. In attachment theory, repetition compulsion refers to the idea that individuals may be drawn to repeating patterns of behavior and relationships that are familiar to them, even if these patterns are unhealthy or cause them distress.

Since early experiences with caregivers shape an individual’s expectations and behaviors in relationships, and these experiences can influence their relationships throughout their life.

For example, if an individual had a caregiver who was unreliable or inconsistent in their caregiving, they may be drawn to relationships with similarly unreliable partners as an adult, even if these relationships cause them distress.

Repetition compulsion can be a way for individuals to feel a sense of familiarity and comfort, as it allows them to avoid the uncertainty and vulnerability that can come with trying new things or forming new relationships. However, repetition compulsion can also lead to negative outcomes, such as difficulty forming healthy relationships or experiencing ongoing emotional distress.

Another feature our practice focuses on heavily is that of Mentalization. Mentalization is the process of understanding and interpreting one’s own and others’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and how they are related to behavior. Mentalization involves the ability to understand and reflect that one’s own and others’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are shaped by internal mental states, rather than being determined by external circumstances or other people’s actions.

It also involves being able to take others’ perspectives into account and to consider how one’s own actions may affect others.

Mentalization is a key component of emotional intelligence and is important for developing healthy relationships and managing one’s own and others’ emotions.

Overall, psychotherapy can help adults who were neglected as children to heal from the effects of their experiences and develop healthier coping strategies to manage their emotions.

Your therapist will work with you to support you applying a blend of modalities based on the context. We occasionally suggest adjunct workbooks to help. Everyone’s experience of neglect is unique and that’s why Psychotherapy has to be tailored to the individual.

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Childhood Emotional Neglect disrupts the emotional training crucial during upbringing. When parents under-respond to a child’s emotions, it hinders the development of emotional skills vital for healthy relationships. This sets individuals at a disadvantage in family dynamics, intimate relationships, and parenting. Adults with CEN may struggle to identify, express, and manage emotions, leading to confusion in relationships. Providing emotional attunement becomes challenging, affecting conflict resolution and responsive parenting. The impact of CEN resonates, making it difficult to navigate the emotional intricacies of adult relationships, perpetuating a cycle of emotional neglect across generations.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is the absence of adequate emotional attention, attuned responses, and validation from caregivers. It’s not a singular event but an ongoing failure to receive ongoing emotional support during upbringing. Therapists attuned to the dynamic effects of CEN often identify it in clients by noting clients’ difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions, challenges in forming and maintaining deep connections, and struggles in navigating emotional aspects of relationships.

Certainly. While not a simple or easy process, persistent effort over time can lead to healing from Childhood Emotional Neglect. Engaging in the necessary steps and doing the work brings about noticeable and felt changes for the individual with CEN. This process consists of attending to different parts of the self, self-compassion, tolerating dysregulation, and working through fears of abandonment and rejection. This transformation is often observed not only by the individual themselves but also by those close to them. Consistent commitment to the healing process can result in a meaningful shift towards emotional well-being and improved relational dynamics.

Parentification occurs when a parent is compromised or unavailable, leading a child to assume a parental role. For instance, a child may care for younger siblings or take on responsibilities for the parent, especially in cases of parental struggles or extreme busyness. This dynamic, while born out of necessity, can set the stage for Childhood Emotional Neglect. The child’s focus on caregiving often results in their own emotional needs being overlooked, contributing to a pattern where emotional attention and validation are lacking, impacting the child’s emotional development and well-being.