Emotional Neglect: What is it? How do you deal with it?

Updated: Sep 28

There is no doubt that physical abuse will leave physical scars, but emotional abuse will leave psychological ones, but what about neglect of the emotional kind? Unlike other types of trauma, emotional neglect can also cause long-term and significant effects on children. When a wound cannot be pinpointed exactly when and where it occurred, it can be difficult to identify it and overcome it. Rather than being intentionally abused, children often suffer from unintentional emotional neglect. Parental ignoring or not recognizing or responding to a child's emotional needs may be possible in some cases.

Emotional Neglect: What is it?

Essentially, it occurs when a child is not adequately responded to at his or her emotional needs by his or her parents. As a relational pattern defined by emotional neglect, it is when a significant other constantly disregards, ignores, invalidates, or fails to appreciate a person's needs.

Emotional neglect occurs when parents don't respond adequately to their children's feelings and emotional needs, according to Dr. Jonice Webb, a therapist who specializes in CEN and the author of the acclaimed book Running on Empty.

Children who are upset may be told by emotionally neglectful parents that it isn't that bad, that they're fine, and that they have no time to deal with it. Eventually, the child learns to bury their feelings and take their feelings for granted. A parent who neglects a child's emotions by treating them as unimportant, invalid, excessive, or less important than other issues, acts destructively to the child.

Emotional Neglect Signs

Dr. Jonice Webb writes in her book Running On Empty that childhood emotional neglect (CEN) leaves a definite mark on a person's life. Children who have been neglected emotionally may exhibit the following signs:

  1. They reject offers of support, care, or assistance from others if they're afraid they will become dependent on them.

  2. They often struggle to determine their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, as well as future goals.

  3. Self-compassion and understanding are lacking as they are harder on themselves than a stranger would be.

  4. There is a low sense of self-worth in them.

  5. Rejection is extremely painful for them.

  6. While they are unable to pinpoint the specific fault that makes them flawed, they believe there is something deeply flawed about them.

  7. They almost exclusively blame themselves, concentrate their anger on themselves, or feel guilty about their needs or feelings.

  8. Their emotions, or their ability to manage them, feel numb, empty, or cut off from them.

  9. It is easy for them to become overwhelmed, and they give up easily.

You may be an emotional neglect victim if you recognize these signs.

Child Emotional Neglect's Consequences

The consequences of being neglected emotionally as a child are felt by adults. When they become adults, they may not have been taught how to handle emotions, as their emotional needs weren't recognized as children. In the early stages of emotional neglect, much damage is silent.

Childhood neglect has the following effects in adulthood: Psychological symptoms of anxiety disorders caused by trauma: feeling depressed, feeling unavailable, eating disorders becoming more common, avoiding intimacy, feeling of emptiness, shame and guilt, aggression, anger, and lack of trust in others or inability to rely on others.

Those whose parents have experienced abuse as children are more likely to neglect their own children emotionally later in life. It is likely that they won't be able to teach their children how to foster their emotions if they did not learn how to do it for themselves. Understanding one's own experiences can help individuals of all ages overcome the effects of emotional neglect and prevent further complications in the future.

Increase your emotional intelligence by healing your own emotional neglect

An important part of your healing process can be identifying how you have been affected by emotional neglect. Every survivor deserves to heal the wounds of emotional neglect.

Emotional Intelligence: What is it?

By recognizing and learning how to manage one's emotions, a person can heal from emotional neglect. Developing emotional intelligence involves being able to identify, manage, and control your own emotions, as well as those of others. There are a few skills that are generally regarded as crucial to emotional intelligence: namely, identifying and naming one's own emotions.

A person's emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, understand, and use their own emotions in order to overcome challenges, communicate effectively, empathize with others, and gain a competitive edge. If you are emotionally intelligent, your professional and personal goals can be realized as you build stronger relationships, succeed academically and at work.

In Dr. Jonice's opinion, emotional intelligence comprises five skills.

Self Management - Managing your own emotions effectively means adapting to changing circumstances, taking initiative, following through on commitments, and controlling impulsive feelings and behaviors.

Self-awareness – Understanding how emotions affect you and how they affect your behaviour. Having self-confidence and knowledge about your strengths and weaknesses is important.

Social awareness – You show empathy for others. Understands how others feel, how they need and what they want, recognizes emotional cues, feels comfortable socially, and can grasp organizational power dynamics.

Relationship management – You have skills in developing personal and professional connections, communicating clearly, inspiring and influencing others, and managing conflict.

Motivation: Ability to follow your true passions is what motivates you. Your energy and direction will be more directed and energized if you are driven by passion rather than external requirements. As well as inspiring and motivating others, you have the most potential.

Bible and Emotional Intelligence

What is the role of spirituality and religion in emotional intelligence? Theology and EI are readily compatible in the Christian worldview. According to the Bible, emotional intelligence encompasses all skills.

  • Self Awareness

Phil 4:13 “All things are possible through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Col 1:9 “ We ask God to give you a complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives.”

  • Social Awareness

Mark 12:31 “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Prov 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”

  • Self Management

Gal 5:22 “ the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness”

Prov 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Phil 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

  • Social Skills and Relationship

Matt 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A sense of self-awareness, a positive outlook (optimism, forgiveness, mercy...), as well as empathy, compassion, service and social awareness can be found in scripture. This is evident throughout the Old Testament. Emotions and God can both be illustrated in many ways.


Conclusion: Being raised in a family that doesn't understand your feelings or doesn't listen to them. The care and concern given to their children by even loving families is often underestimated. CEN impacted adults in multiple ways, but the hallmark challenge of CEN is that they lacked access to their feelings. Due to the subliminal encouragement to avoid feeling emotions as children, they are unable to recognize, listen to, or connect to their feelings. They also cannot identify their feelings. Hence, emotional neglect may be overcome with the help of emotional intelligence.

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