Childhood Emotional Neglect – PART 2

This is PART 2 of Childhood Emotional Neglect – What has caused those symptoms or coping mechanisms? 

Also in this series …

PART 1 : What are the symptoms – the legacy of coping mechanisms?

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


So obviously, childhood emotional neglect, begins in one’s childhood!

I can almost hear you saying –

 but my childhood was good – I didn’t get abused

(Being extremely loyal and protective of our parents is another symptom I should really add to PART 1!)

Not feeling abused, but carrying traits that are similar to those who have been abused, is exactly where the difference lies – abuse is seen to have intent, neglect is more often, an absence of intent, however, it can be just as limiting of a child’s potential.

This section is not aimed at blaming parents or care givers – most parents try and do the best they can, with the resources they have, and in the circumstances they find themselves. That’s what neglect is – it’s a lack of awareness, it’s a lack of resources, and it’s a lack of supportive circumstances. 

It’s a LACK. 

It’s an adult who lacks the awareness, resources or circumstances to truly be there for the child, allowing  and validating their feelings. 

A lack of physical and/or emotional presence that provides nurture and compassion when the child feels hurt, overwhelmed, challenged, frightened, lost or alone. 

A lack of ability to truly celebrate and validate the child’s achievements with them. 

An emotionally attuned parent helps the child interpret their feelings, and guides them as how best to manage those feelings, in a way that will efficiently get their needs met. 

If this emotional support and guidance is missing, the child can experience an attachment trauma, or numerous small attachment traumas, that force them to develop abnormal attachment coping mechanisms for the less than optimal world that they find themselves in.

There can be lots of reasons why a parent isn’t there for the child -They don’t really ‘see’ the child and their emotional needs, but few of these reasons are intentionally abusive. However that lack of intent doesn’t mean they don’t leave an indelible mark on the child. Marks that the experienced therapist recognises as the coping mechanisms developed to withstand emotional abuse and/or neglect.

Here’s a brief description of some of the situations that may create a sense of emotional neglect – but of course, it’s more often, a complex nuance of many factors:

Physical Absence –

If the parent isn’t present with the child, of course it is more likely, they will be challenged to be emotionally available to support the child. There are a myriad of reasons why parents are unable to be with their child and most of these are beyond the parent’s ability to change. They may be physically or mentally unwell, need to work away to provide for the child, have family break down, need to send the child away for education, perhaps the child is unwell and needs to seek medical services away from home, or the parent is permanently absent through abandonment or death. 

Obviously other adults stepping in to provide for the nurture and welfare of the child may mitigate the loss, but the circumstances leave the child vulnerable to emotional neglect.

Lack of Awareness – 

Often the adult will unquestioningly follow the model of parenting that they received, with no mindful insight into its negative impact on their own emotional development, which now limits their emotional availability to their child. They may lack the ability to talk about feelings or apply harsh punitive discipline, believing that ‘toughening up’ the child will protect them from life’s challenges and disappointments. It’s simply a lack of emotional care, echoing down through the generations.



Perfectionist or Authoritarian Family Dynamic – 

A parent can really believe they are doing the child a service in pushing them to excel. Perhaps top education marks are a way out of poverty. Perhaps the parent feels they wasted their opportunities and don’t want that for the child. 

Or perhaps perfectionism has been passed down through the generations as the only acceptable way to be, and if the child isn’t perfect, that tells the parent they are a ‘not good enough’ parent. It can be hard for the parent to see where the child ends and they themselves begin, because their boundaries are so confused from their own childhood attachment traumas. 

Whatever the reason, the child develops believing their worth, and the love they receive, is dependent on what they do. They can internalise their parent’s harsh criticism as an unrelenting internal critic.

Challenging Circumstances – 

Emotional neglect can occur as the result of stressful circumstances, where the parent is forced into survival mode – perhaps as a refugee, as an immigrant, as a parent stranded in poverty, as a result of domestic violence, or where the parent has lost a partner through death or abandonment, or another child is chronically ill or has died and the parent is consumed by grief. It’s the stress on the parent, that taxes their ability to provide all that the child needs – there’s just not enough of the parent left over to do the emotional work because their resources are simply all used up.

Substance Abuse or Addictions – 

Emotional neglect will occur where a parent, though they may love their child, is consumed by their own battles with substance abuse and addiction. They aren’t aware of their child’s emotional needs, let alone available to tend to them. If the parent can’t tend to their own emotional needs in a healthy way, how can they do so for their child? 

It can really be confusing for the child of an addict, as the parent can unpredictably turn from loving and kind one minute, to neglectful or even cruel the next, leaving the child hyper vigilant to the mood of the parent. Oft times, the child needs to care for the parent, or protect other younger children, leaving their childhood prematurely, to take on the burdens and worries of adulthood.

Mental Illness and Personality Disorders – 

Bouts of mental illness in a parent, obviously jeopardise their ability to parent and provide for both the physical and emotional needs of the child. Again, in this situation the child may be parentified, forced into the role of parenting.

Parents with personality disorder, (Narcissistic PD, Border Line PD, Sociopathic etc) may go under the radar of society, with teachers and other parents only seeing the charming side, and not the confusing, painful covert manipulations that the child has to manage.

The lack of societal awareness and acknowledgment can confirm the child’s belief, that it must be them that is ‘flawed’ or ‘bad’, not the parent’s inability to see and meet the emotional needs of the child. The child learns an echoist or codependent way of gaining any parental attention, by desperately trying to tend to the endless emotional needs of their parent.


It’s easy to see how every parenting description above, could have a trans-generational trauma story attached to it, where trauma is not able to be processed or healed in that generation, so is unconsciously passed onto the next generation, and the next …

So it’s a shame – but not a reason to shame the parent, who is also most likely traumatised.

Recognising your childhood in any of these scenarios? 

All of these parenting styles, and any mix of them, can create attachment traumas. Attachment traumas that mean making safe loving connection in adult life becomes a lot more confusing and challenging.

So read on to learn more about …. 

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

and PART 1 if you haven’t already read it. What are the symptoms – the legacy of coping mechanisms? 

Childhood emotional neglect might have brought you to this space … but it is from this space … that you can begin to free yourself.