We all know what it means when a child has been neglected. Ideas about physical neglect come up and often accompany thoughts of not being bathed, attended to, fed properly, or protected. While these instances are observable and such experiences can have detrimental impacts on a child, there is another form of neglect that is not so easily seen and identified: Emotional Neglect and Emotional Coaching Deficits. Childhood emotional neglect occurs when a child grows up without their emotional needs being attended to or met in a sufficient way. This leaves the child to handle emotional parts of their lives without guidance from an adult caretaker and can happen when children’s emotions go missed, unacknowledged, invalidated, dismissed, minimized, or ignored. While most parents are well meaning, emotional neglect towards children can inadvertently occur in families where there are limited resources and greater influences of stress, such as when a family member has an addiction, a serious mental or physical health diagnosis, divorce, unexpected death, trauma, and tragedy or in parents who didn’t have emotionally supportive parents themselves. Some examples of childhood emotional neglect include parentification, when a child must grow up too fast and acts like or assumes the role of a parent or adult in the family; when vulnerable emotions are discouraged and not accepted or discussed in a family; when a child is frequently criticized or made to feel “bad”; or when a parent is often emotionally absent.
If you are an adult child of a parent(s) with an addiction or high conflict marriage or divorce, or if you identify with any of these situations when you were growing up, you may be experiencing some struggles resulting from inadvertent childhood emotional neglect or emotion coaching deficits. Resulting behaviors in adults may include self-dismissal, low self – esteem, difficulty understanding and expressing feelings, over functioning, people pleasing, struggling with boundaries, or experiencing depression or anxiety. Relationship struggles and insecure attachments may also be experienced.
One avenue to begin healing from emotional coaching deficits involves furthering self-understanding, developing self-compassion, challenging and re-narrating the stories we make up about ourselves and learning to set healthy boundaries with ourselves and others. We can start these processes in the safe space of a good therapeutic relationship with a trusted professional who can guide this process. Many types of therapy can be used to achieve these goals including EMDR, emotionally focused therapy, internal family systems therapy and attachment-based approaches. Recovering from childhood emotional neglect to a place of joy and fulfillment is possible and is well worth the work it may take to get there. Follow my next blog post to learn about over-functoning as a symptom of childhood emotional neglect.