Emotional childhood neglect can have long lasting impacts. It occurs when your caregivers don’t adequately respond to your emotional needs.

If you grew up in a family where your emotional needs weren’t getting met, this could have lasting impacts on your relationships with others.

You may be hyperindependent because you had to take care of your emotional needs or grow up before you were ready to. You may also experience mental health challenges like anxiety or depression.

Emotional neglect in childhood can have long lasting impacts. Knowing how to cope with it as an adult can help you move past the hurdles of your caregivers not meeting your emotional needs.

Childhood emotional neglect occurs when caregivers or parents are absent from the child’s life emotionally. It can happen when a child’s basic emotional needs aren’t being met.

Emotional neglect can be classified as child abuse in many situations, though it isn’t always done intentionally.

There are some signs you should look for that can signal emotional neglect in children.

1. Depression

Depression can occur in children as a sign of emotional neglect, especially for peers who also don’t have positive peer support in adolescence, according to a 2021 study.

Depression is a mental health condition that is characterized by a low mood and a variety of other symptoms that affect the way you think, feel, and behave.

Children may also exhibit suicidal thoughts, which can be associated with depression.

Consider visiting Psych Central’s resource page to learn more about signs of depression in children.

2. Difficulties with emotional regulation

When emotional neglect occurs in childhood, the child may have trouble regulating their own emotions. Because their parents don’t recognize emotions, they may not have healthy outlets for expressing them.

2023 research supports this notion, as there is a link between childhood emotional neglect and the inability to regulate emotions. The authors also suggest that childhood emotional neglect can change the functional activity of the brain that is linked to emotional regulation.

3. Fear and avoidance of social situations

A child who’s experiencing emotional neglect may be fearful of others and avoid social situations. They may avoid others because they don’t trust anyone to provide emotional safety or support.

Children may have insecure attachments with others and have difficulty interacting with others in social situations, as 2019 research suggests. Fear of others can continue to perpetuate avoidance.

4. Low self-esteem

Children who experience emotional neglect may be unable to perceive themselves and their worth accurately.

A 2021 study that examined the impact of child maltreatment and neglect found a link between maltreatment and neglect and low self-esteem and depressive symptoms.

The effects of childhood emotional neglect can last well into adulthood and have significant impacts on an individual’s mental health. Some signs in adulthood can signify childhood emotional neglect.

1. Feeling empty or numb

Feeling hollow, empty, or numb can be a common experience for people who have experienced childhood emotional neglect.

Sometimes, this can be associated with depressive symptoms in adulthood, and other times, it can stem from not knowing what you’re feeling or being able to express emotions.

2. Mental health challenges

Just as children may experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, the mental health challenges faced in childhood may continue well into adulthood.

A 2020 study found that adults can face various mental health challenges as a result of childhood emotional neglect, including:

If you’re experiencing any mental health challenges, you may consider speaking with a mental health professional who can help treat mental health disorders.

3. Difficulty relying on others

If your caregivers didn’t provide you with a safe space to be yourself or you knew you couldn’t count on them, you may have trouble trusting and relying on others. You may be hyperindependent and have difficulty asking for help.

Hyperindependence isn’t always a bad sign, but when you try to handle everything alone, you can become easily overwhelmed and isolated from others.

4. Problems in relationships

Emotional neglect in childhood can cause problems in relationships. For example, 2021 research indicates those who have faced emotional abuse or neglect in childhood tend to have dysfunctional romantic relationships in adulthood.

The authors also found that people who had experienced childhood emotional maltreatment tend to feel less safe, have difficulty trusting their romantic partner, and be reluctant to enter adult romantic relationships.

Coping with childhood emotional neglect

If you need help coping with childhood emotional neglect, here are some things you can do:

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Childhood emotional neglect is linked with many mental health conditions and problems in relationships. There are a variety of ways you can effectively cope with childhood emotional neglect and work to overcome the long lasting impact it can have.

If you find that your mental health is tanking and need outside support to cope, consider using the FindCare tool to locate a mental health professional in your area.

A mental health professional can help you learn better ways to cope with the emotional neglect you experienced.