Childhood Emotional Neglect – PART 1

This is PART 1 of Childhood Emotional Neglect – What are the symptoms – the legacy of coping mechanisms? (PART 1)

PART 2 – What has caused those symptoms or coping mechanisms?

PART 3 – How does it impact adult relationships? Is healing even possible? 

People who suffered emotional neglect in their childhood, often develop some, if not all, of the following coping mechanisms, as a way to protect themselves, to manage their hurt feelings or to simply try and get their needs met. These behaviours are learned adaptive responses from where a parent or care giver wasn’t emotionally available or attuned to the child, their feelings and needs. 

I’m writing the list using the ‘we’ pronoun, because I’m assuming you already sense something is a bit different in how you feel and respond – some intuition or feedback brought you to this blog. I also hope that using the collective pronoun will help you feel a little less alone in it all.

However, If you’re wondering about someone else – maybe that collective pronoun, ‘we’  might help you step into their shoes a little better, to really feel just how difficult life can be when someone has suffered emotional neglect and have some coping mechanisms that can seem a bit counter intuitive – like, ‘pushing people away because they desperately want them there’!

So here are some of the symptoms of childhood emotional neglect that adults tell me about in my counselling room … and which I once experienced too. (yes, spoiler alert – healing is possible!)

We doubt ourselves.

We agonise over what we should do or should have done! We will rehash it, overthinking it in the hope we can magically rewrite history or avoid a disaster in the future (or what feels like a disaster to us), or we need to talk about it … A LOT … in trying to reassure ourselves, or to find the ‘truth’ in it! 

We’ve learnt to keep busy. 

It’s a way to manage those racing thoughts and any uncomfortable feelings or memories when they come up. 

Saying ‘no’ to others can feel impossible. 

Being needed by others can allow us to feel a little important, if not quite loved. Besides, it helps maintain that busy-ness that keeps feelings at bay!  

We are people pleasers.

We can feel so ‘bad’, guilty or even shamed if others are upset or angry. We immediately wonder what we have done wrong?



Despite all this doing things for others, we never quite feel enough. 

We can feel really inadequate in fact ,and that can make us want to hide behind roles and masks … or just simply hide out, because we are sure we must be unacceptable, unloveable, unworthy, not deserving, or just plain ‘bad’.

We feel criticism keenly. 

Of course we can also really be reactive to that criticism. It can make us try harder or, conversely, just give up trying, feeling like, ‘What’s the point of trying and just getting knocked down for it?’

We can be fiercely independent. 

We can find it hard to ask for help. We prefer to cry alone. Closeness can feel really uncomfortable to us.

We can really struggle to trust people and often feel lonely or alone. 

Rejection can really hurt, and we’ll often reject pre-emptively to avoid being hurt! 

We suffer anxiety a lot of the time.

It’s just a common undertone of our life as we are constantly on the look out for what others might think about us, how they might judge us. That fear can be crippling – unless we can be perfect, it’s not worth risking.

We can feel flat from all this anxiety and hyper vigilance. 

We feel empty, down, depressed, even numb, all used up, without really knowing why?

We scroll and binge watch – anything that avoids being present.

That’s how we distract from all those uncomfortable feelings that we have no idea how to deal with.

We can over eat, or drink too much. 

Any over-indulgence, is a way to fill that emptiness.

We can self harm as a way to actually feel. 

Yes, we can dance between feeling too keenly the needs of others, and switching that all off, to feel nothing.

It’s really hard for us to see and own our talents. 

We can have imposter syndrome and sometimes don’t know who we really are. Boundaries are just plain confusing – we can allow people to walk all over them, and at other times we create impenetrable ones.



We can silently feel so envious and jealous of others. 

We wonder how they get the accolades or the attention so easily? 

We say sorry a lot and feel bad when we actually try to speak up. 

There’s a regret that we finally did, and a dread of what’s to come.

We often say to ourselves (or others) “Why couldn’t I …?” 

Because we are really good at beating ourselves up. We have rampant internal critics in our brains. 

Yes, we can definitely have PTSD. 

It can appear to others that our responses are over reactions to what just happened, but they are not seeing, let alone re-experiencing, all the trauma incidences from our past, that fuelled our fear-filled response in that moment. So please don’t call us ‘drama-queens’.

We can desperately hang onto a relationship, clinging to crumbs of love. 

Inside, we don’t quite feel enough or worthy of love, so a crumb is better than nothing, right?

Deep inside we feel, “something’s wrong with me!” 

We often develop gut and digestive issues, that then lead onto other chronic diseases, such as autoimmune disease. These physical ailments prove that deeply internalised childhood narrative – ‘there IS something wrong with me’! But the only thing ‘wrong with us’, is that we simply ache to have a voice, and to be loved and accepted, as we do so.

Obviously this a spectrum of behaviours – from those of us desperately trying to gain approval, to those who have given up and withdrawn from the possibility of further disapproval. 

What caused you to be like this, you wonder? 

Of course you beat yourself up about that too! Self compassion – what is that? It is so hard for us to be as kind and forgiving of ourselves as we often are of others so self compassion is not our strong point, and that is another common symptom of those who suffered emotional neglect in their childhood. 

So read on to learn more about …. 

What has caused those symptoms or coping mechanisms? (PART 2)

How does it impact adult relationships? Is healing even possible? (PART 3)

Just know that I have experienced every one of those symptoms above, and I have healed.

So if I can – you can! 

Because this is not a life sentence, but just the beginning of your life!