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Signs of emotional neglect in childhood

It’s likely not a mystery to you whether you were neglected as a child or not, but it may come as a surprise to you, just how it may still be shaping your choices now as an adult. In this article we’ll discuss some of the signs of childhood neglect and the ways it presents itself. In understanding this, we not only can gain understanding of ourselves, but the people around us who may be reacting to old childhood trauma.

Easily overwhelmed or discouraged

People who experienced childhood neglect can grow up to be adults who struggle to identify and accept their emotions. The automatic reaction is often to stuff the feelings down or try to ignore them. When feelings inevitably do try to make themselves known, it can feel hard to deal with them and result in overwhelm or explosive feelings.

Children that are emotionally neglected are often not encouraged to explore and understand their emotions, so emotion can feel foreign or uncomfortable. This not only results in trying to shutdown the emotions, but also attempting to avoid any situations that might cause upset. This can lead to dissociation, shutting down, explosive feelings, not trying new things, and a desire to avoid interaction with others.

Overly independant

Children who learn that they can’t count on anyone else, tend to grow up to be adults who feel they can’t rely on others. They have a hard time asking for help, or allowing people to help them. They learned at a sensitive age that the only person they can rely on is themselves, that people are going to let them down, so they make the decision to never ask for anything.

This results in giving more than you get. Not surprisingly, this can contribute to anxiety and a desire to self-isolate. If on some level a person believes that people let you down and can’t be relied on, then the picture that’s being made in their mind isn’t a very good one. In fact, it can make social interactions seem incredibly tiring. Learning where this came from, and feeling safe to ask for help can greatly improve many aspects of life, including stress, anxiety and self-isolating behaviour.

Struggle with self-compassion

Those that grew up never having been shown compassion, or rarely experienced a nurturing relationship often struggle to feel compassionate for themselves. After all, if someone doesn’t learn how to give it or do it, how can they mirror that?

Growing up without nurturing or compassion can cause us to question our self worth. It may result in feeling undeserving, and that our needs aren’t important. Some people may even feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, or that they’re broken. Someone who experienced this type of neglect may grow up believing that they need to earn love and affection. They may become a perfectionist or display people pleasing behaviour. Putting others needs above their own, or feeling pressure to be perfect in order to feel worthy. With the RTT method, we can find the root of this behaviour, and transform it entirely.

Feeling empty or numb

We talked about stuffing feelings down, and that can absolutely lead to a sense of emptiness and numbness. If we didn’t have people in our lives that were interested in us, never checked in or listened, we start to struggle to fully experience our emotions. They didn’t check-in with us, or make us feel heard or interesting, and we don’t learn to check-in with ourselves.

Learning and realizing at a young age that no one is there to listen, we’re set up with a lower level of understanding of what’s going on internally. It can seem like no emotion is okay to feel, so we don’t. Fortunately, emotional intelligence can absolutely be learned. In fact, you can become even more emotionally intelligent than someone who hasn’t had to look at what’s going on inside. This can create great insight into what might be going on psychologically in others.

Feeling safe with other people  is probably the single most important aspect of mental health.

-Bessel A. Van Der Kolk


As humans, we need connection to survive. Children especially need connection and a feeling of social safety. On a natural level, we are programmed to seek out connection. This can be hindered when you have a guardian that doesn’t provide that safe and healthy space that we all need. Knowing and seeking that connection, but being in an environment that makes it feel unsafe causes a disconnect.

Those that experiences childhood neglect can struggle to let others in. Feeling like no one really knows or understand them. The disconnect of needing connection and feeling that it’s dangerous can lead to self-isolation, loneliness, depression and anxiety. Even when you’re able to make connections with others, you may struggle to really believe it or feel it.

Unhealthy relationships

A childhood where you are treated as unimportant. Anything you say is unheard or appears to be uninteresting. Maybe everyone was too busy, or shooed you away when you tried to talk to them. There used to be a saying ‘children should be seen and not heard.’ Of coarse this in incredibly damaging. If our need for connection isn’t met, then the reaction can be to do anything and everything possible to get that attention and connection.

Learning that you need to please others in order to get the connection you so desperately needed as a child is detrimental as an adult. Failing to set proper boundaries and putting others needs above our own attracts the wrong kind of people. People that are more than happy to take too much and give back the bare minimum. If the bare minimum is still better than the nothing you received as a child, you’ll accept situations, relationships and behaviours that are unacceptable. In learning why you do this, and letting it go, you can start to naturally repel those that would take advantage of others, and attract healthy relationships.


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