Emotions can be challenging. Learn how to embrace yours. Pick up a copy of my book Emotional Advantage today!

Dealing with Emotional Neglect?

Emotional neglect is a topic that can easily go under the radar. But it's pervasive, and knowing about it can empower you life. Have you ever had trouble expressing your needs; or worried that they wouldn’t be well-received, or that your feelings might not even matter.


Maybe you’ve been worried about what other people think of you, or you just don’t trust what you feel, if you can even identify it. And of course, let’s not forget pleasing people, ignoring your needs to maintain a relationship with others. If any of these resonate, you are not alone. Chances are that you’ve experienced emotional neglect, either recently or as a child. 


The good news is thatemotional neglect is not a permanent situation - you can reclaim your emotions, your confidence and learn to set healthy boundaries. It’s so important to be aware of what you’re dealing with, so you can get through it.  Here, we'll talk about  how to know if you are or have been exposed to emotional neglect, what caused it, and how to course correct so you can live your best life.


What is emotional neglect? It’s often the cause of feelings of self-doubt, not trusting your intuition, worrying about how others see you, or that their feelings matter more than your own. It usually stems from the early years and the quality of how you were seen and treated by your parents or caregivers. It’s delves not only into what did happen in the past; this focuses on what didn’t happen (what emotional needs were not met) - that’s really important too.


Some of the signs of emotional neglect are feelings of not being enough, overly compromising with others. Maybe you were told as a child that you were too sensitive, or too much, or that it was rude to share your emotions, as everyone is dealing with stuff.  You didn’t have a warm presence to comfort you when you were sad or upset, and your emotions were not validated, perhaps so much that you even lost touch with what you were feeling - it was safer to disconnect with what you were feeling.


You may have had to become very self-reliant at an early age, or you had to take care of others when your own needs were not being met. It can be a variety of things - do any of these resonate with you?


The causes of emotional neglect are when caregivers did not have the capacity or awareness to be there for you. Sometimes, it can be intentional, but not always. Some parents may have been too preoccupied with their jobs, or tuned out because of their own emotional issues. They may have been overwhelmed, depressed, dealing with their own mental trauma or a physical illness.


Some parents would give their kids all the latest gadgets and live a very affluent lifestyle, so it looked on the outside that they were giving their kids a great childhood, great schools etc., except they were checked out and not involved with their kids' emotional life. That’s emotional neglect too.


The effects of emotional neglect are that you may feel you are not seen or heard, so you feel basically alone. You feel that your needs do not matter, and may even seem to be a burden to those around you. You may have been busy pleasing others as a way of ensuring that you get love and attention.


If you had a parent or caregiver that had mental or physical challenges, you may have had to jump in and become the parent to younger siblings, or the confidante to you parent. This is called being parentified, when in an ideal world, you should have had the conditions to be a nurtured child. 


How to identify emotional neglect in your own life

Some clues are: 

  • If you find yourself constantly taking care of others and ignoring your own needs 
  • If you set up relationships where you have most of the burdens on your shoulders, that’s a sign that you are repeating old patterns
  • If you choose partners who say you are too much, or too needy, or not enough
  • If you worry about triggering other people’s emotions, better not to ask and just handle things on your own. You may be ultra-independant as a result, and it’s difficult to ask for help, even when you need it.
  • If you can't relate to your emotions or find it hard to even identify them - you may not even know how you feel.
  • If you have no idea of your needs, or what is really important to YOU in life
  • If you neglect your own needs like self-care, sleep, good food, supportive friends
  • If you don’t trust yourself or your decisions, and constantly second guess yourself
  • If it’s challenging to say no and set healthy boundaries, for fear of rejection or abandonment


How to Get Through Emotional Neglect

1. Noticing your feelings. Though you are not used to relating to your feelings, and may have ignored them as a coping strategy, it’s now important to get familiar with them, what they mean, and what they are trying to tell you.  There are 3 ways:

  • Look at an emotions wheel to detect what you are feeling
  • Tune into your body - does it feel expanded or contracted? What is it trying to tell you?
  • Come back to your emotions - what are they trying to tell you - what is the message in the emotion? For example: anxiety - something has to shift


2. Honoring your intuition or gut sense. What is your inner compass trying to tell you? Listen to that first, then gather more information if you want, then check back in with your own intuition to make a final decision.


3.Introduce more activities that you like and enjoy into your life. An interesting study done at Duke University reports that emotionally neglected children come into adolescence with a part of their brain called the ventral striatum underdeveloped. This is correlated with the ability to feel a sense of reward. That has been stunted. The antidote is to bring in more activities that give you pleasure of joy, and savor them, take them in. Over time, this will change the neural pathways of your brain. 


4.Manage your impulses. When you are disconnected from your feelings, they can run the show. You may make impulsive decisions or put yourself in risky situations. Instead, calm yourself down, through breath or movement or another tool in your toolbox, so you can reconnect with the prefrontal cortex part of your brain. This will make it easier to make decisions that will help you live the life you truly desire.


5. Self-Talk. This is a way of talking yourself through an upsetting situation. Imagine there is an inner wise self coaching you to a happier place. In your self-talk, you are telling your inner critic to back down; you will take it from here. Try repeating a mantra like “You got this, and I’ve got you.” “Everything will work out - it always does.” Or choose another encouraging and soothing phrase that works for you.


6. Say No: boundaries matter.  This new pattern gets easier with practice. It can be simple - “No, I’m not available.” “No, that doesn’t feel right.” This allows you to take care of your needs and have agency in your own life.


Remember, you are not alone. It’s a very empowering thing to surround yourself with a support team: real friends that you can be vulnerable with, a trusted therapist, somatic therapy, books  (like the classic “Running on Empty” by Dr. Jonice Webb) to help you understand and work through this faster.


As you identify and understand your emotions, you can work with them to connect to yourself and others in a deeper and more fulfilling way. What you are struggling with is not your fault, nor is it a weakness. You simply did not receive what you needed growing up. The good news is that now you can be the parent to yourself that you never had; you can take actions to discover and meet your needs, and as never before, you have the power to make positive change. 


50% Complete

Comfortable in Our Own Skin Challenge

Elevate your confidence and peace, as we realign with our core Self & inner strengths. Time to claim a definition of beauty/vibrancy thatโ€™s on our own terms.