Every child deserves parental love. If your parent emotionally neglects you, it’s not your fault.
Teens and parents have been at odds for all of history. Though it’s typical for a teen to push boundaries and end up grounded, these are consequences that come from a place of love and concern for their overall well-being.
But when a parent routinely deprives their child of emotional needs, this is not a consequence. It’s emotional neglect.
Feeling unloved and unwanted by a parent can be incredibly difficult. Leaning on healthy coping tools can help keep your sense of self intact until you can become more independent.
There are no perfect parents, and every teen goes through periods of disagreement with their parents. Even in conflict, though, love is present in healthy parent-child relationships.
Feeling consistently unwanted by your parents is not a typical childhood experience. It likely indicates dysfunction in the family.
What happens when you don’t feel loved as a child?
A parent’s love builds the foundation for how their child views and navigates the world. According to research from 2012 and 2017, when parents emotionally neglect a child, the child is more at risk of experiencing:
- low self-worth
- difficulty trusting others
- low academic achievement
- emotional dysregulation
- substance use
- running away from home
- misbehaving at school
- post-traumatic stress disorder
The impact of feeling unwanted by parents lasts far past childhood. A 2016 study found that adults who were unloved as children may be more likely to develop an emotional disorder or substance use disorder, for example.
It’s never the child or teen’s job to “fix” emotional abuse enacted by a parent. But there are ways teens can cope with an emotionally distant parent that can also help minimize long-term impact.
Take their treatment of you seriously … but not personally
Your parent was supposed to build the foundation of your confidence and self-esteem, but emotionally unavailable parents do the opposite. It’s crucial to know that, at your core, you are a worthy person.
No matter what an emotionally abusive parent might say, you can see the harsh words for what they are — a projection of a deficit within the parent.
You’re worthy of love and support. However, sometimes due to their own childhood trauma, mental health condition, or substance use, some parents are not capable of meeting those needs. This has nothing to do with you.
Avoid emotionally and physically self-abusive behaviors
Negative self-talk can be an extension of critical or verbally abusive parenting. Be encouraged: You can replace emotionally self-abusive habits.
If you’re feeling unloved and unwanted at home, it could be tempting to think that self-harm could finally get your parent to care about your needs. Or, maybe the self-harm stems from a feeling of insignificance — a seed that was planted by an abusive parent.
But self-harm can only lead to more pain and doesn’t resolve any unmet emotional needs. If you’re feeling tempted to hurt yourself, it’s vital to reach out to a trusted adult or school counselor right away.
Leave the drama behind
As much as it hurts, sometimes detachment from a loved one is the wisest way to preserve yourself and your sanity.
You don’t have to engage with their hurtful language. It’s best to keep communication down to the necessities. Avoid getting roped into a parent’s dramatic episodes as much as possible. You’re not obligated to respond to their drama in kind.
Try having the conversational personality of a literal grey rock. The grey rocking technique can often take the wind out of the sails of someone trying to manipulate or hurt you with their words.
Be open to other loving mentors or therapists
The one person you should be able to trust is your parent. And when that relationship is severely damaged, it can be hard to fathom that anyone at all is trustworthy.
But there are still people out there who have your best interests at heart.
Opening up to those who offer to help and being honest are key. A trusted uncle or aunt, a coach, or an adult sibling can all be mentors. Therapists or high school counselors can also help you rebuild your confidence and validate your experience.
Create a fulfilling life outside the home
What makes you feel like the best version of yourself? Painting, TikTok dancing, making people laugh, whatever sparks your light — throw some fuel on it.
Chances are when you lean into the activities that make life fulfilling for you, you’ll surround yourself with positive, like-minded people. This can help you create a healthier and more emotionally satisfying world.
Plan for and practice independence
If you’re nearing independence soon, like heading to college or moving out on your own, you can aim to give yourself the best start possible.
For example, it can help to collect your essential documents in advance (like your birth certificate, Social Security card, passport, etc.), open your own bank account, find a job, and research affordable and safe places to live.
The more you plan your “out,” the less likely you’ll need to have damaging interactions with your parents once you leave. If you need to, there are mindful ways to go no contact, too.
Having a trusted adult on speed dial to ask questions about utilities, taxes, and other new adult ventures can be incredibly helpful too.
Report physical or sexual abuse
Family secrets are not your burden to bear, especially any forms of physical or sexual abuse.
If you’ve experienced or witnessed any abuse in your home, you can reach out to these resources for help:
If you’re under 18, you likely still depend on your parents in many ways, even if their emotional neglect causes harm to your self-image and well-being. Simply being aware that feeling unloved by parents is not your fault is key to maintaining healthy self-esteem and setting healthy boundaries.
Until you can set firmer boundaries, these coping strategies may help build a healthy support system and worldview separate from a toxic home life.
Remember, even if your parents don’t say it, you’re absolutely wanted and needed in this world.