28 thoughts on “The 5 Greatest Myths About Emotional Neglect

  • July 17, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Isn’t this just another silly first world problem? “Waah, waah, my parents didn’t give me enough hugs and attention now I’m broken emotionally”. Meanwhile people experience real, life-threatening abuse or circumstances so harrowing they barely survive day to day. You don’t hear third world kids complaining about not being “emotionally acknowledged”; they have problems like getting enough food or water.

    • July 17, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      Dear Sci, it is this way of thinking that continues to motivate me to write about Childhood Emotional Neglect. Thank you for your comment and take care.

      • July 21, 2016 at 2:30 pm

        Thank you. I just turned 64 years old and not to blame my mommy and whine, I am standing on the outside & looking at the adult I am and seeing a little child that breaks my heart. As a mom, I’ve been in both roles and with maturity I can empathize with the little me. In perspective, I also see my mom as her mama’s child and see where it impacted her. I am talking about people who adored their moms/who thought they were the greatest. And then as life unfolds , the truth becomes apparent in one’s own relationships and personality. Too often we mimic what we learn because if someone treated us in that manner but loved us then that must be the way to do it. Since I raised four kids and no doubt repeated some of those very same patterns, I’d like if nothing else to try to pass on some wisdom to them to rethink the norm and to also know that omission as well as commission can do harm without malice. Every child is different/some are more resilient than others. For the first world/third world problem people, why is it that everyone who thinks differently than you is a narcissist? Geez, it’s become the favorite dialog stopper after”racist”.

    • July 18, 2016 at 6:31 am

      this could have been written by my mother who has no empathy or compassion for anyone who is not mentally robust and focused. At age 17 I had anorexia and was given a plate of toast by her and told to just eat it.
      Do you not compute that brushing away people with emotional issues can lead to their depression. Then look at the actions of some people with depression that can impact very badly on a wider spectrum.

    • July 18, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      You made a comprehension mistake in your comment bud. Even those kids you speak of in your comment ( the third world kids)are experiencing NEGLECT of food and water. ITS NEGLECT. Did the light bulb turn on yet and you realize it’s the same concept you explained. NEGLECT is NEGLECT with the same results no matter what the medium is that gets neglected. IT NEGLECT. No water = NEGLECT No food = NEGLECT No love = NEGLECT So you contradicted yourself in your own comment. Your comment is a classic statement from a full blown Narcissist. This is not a complex idea or concept, SCI. It is very simple and logical, SCI. I would recommend you look up the word NEGLECT then voice your opinion…Just looking out for ya, bud πŸ˜‰ lol

    • July 18, 2016 at 5:07 pm

      Sci. A very ill informed response. A child needs shelter, food, clothing. The psysical basics provided. But expensive toys etc can only be half the story.
      A child also needs love, warmth, hugs, cuddles, needs to be ‘seen’
      Take a baby. New neurons developing every day responding to touch,cuddles, eye contact. Learning stability, how to respond, being taught how to socialise with others.
      Consider those Romanian orphans, the material basics provided, but no love. The lack of loving contact has a devastating effect on their mental health. A emotionally neglected child has a different brain from one who has been loved. It shows on brain scans.

    • July 20, 2016 at 10:36 am

      First Worlders have NO excuse for ignoring their children.
      If First World children fail to develop healthy psychology, woe unto the rest of the planet.

      • July 20, 2016 at 10:48 am

        ‘No excuse’ unless they were deprived themselves..and then it takes years to figure out what’s ‘wrong’, then years to attempt to ‘reparent’ yourself, before/during which time the trauma of faulty decision-making and self-destructive habits take additional toll… Eventually we can become caring, functional human beings, even great successes (i.e. Robin Williams).

      • July 20, 2016 at 12:11 pm

        Robin Williams also killed himself after years of suffocating depression.

      • July 20, 2016 at 3:48 pm

        That is what was first released, and I greatly related to Robin. However, since then it has been revealed that he was just prior to his death diagnosed with a progressive degenerative illness, and that is believed to be the main reason why he sought a way out. Very sad, indeed.

    • July 20, 2016 at 1:39 pm

      We are not a third world country. And how are those kids in Sudan doing?

    • July 20, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      Sci, amen….

    • July 21, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      Sci, you missed the point. It’s not hugs and attention or the lack thereof…..
      It’s the issue of recognizing the need of any child to be respected/to not have their reactions or thoughts invalidated. It’s a fine line/often parents dismiss things as silly when the child really needs someone to listen to what they are saying. Not necessarily endorse but listen. And react in a manner that shows the child they were heard. In many ways, it is mentoring a developing human being by taking them seriously. Good way to help your child deal with situations that arise in life as well as problem-solve for themselves on things that they will encounter again. If adults just dismissed the thoughts or emotions of their peers in the way we can inadvertently do to our kids, we would have no friends. The effect on the child as an adult are regrettable.

    • August 1, 2016 at 2:56 am

      Dear Sci,
      It is not a contest. Unfortunately, there is more than enough suffering in this world for all. No child should every have to grow up lacking any basic nesesity. Along w/ food, water, and shelter, CARE is also one of basic human needs. I child who’s mind grows up with lack of care is just as malnurished as one who grows up with lack of proper physical nutrition…both will have about the same probability of not developing into a healthy adult.
      Also both childhood hunger and CEN are silent atrocities. If you read the article, you would noticed that there is no mention of “whining” involved.. In fact it clearly states that one of the hallmark symptoms of CEN is “silent suffering”. Our future generations need to be heard, not judged.

  • July 17, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    This is so true!! I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Both my parents were emotionally absent. I was alone alot. Even though there were 6 siblings. Clothing, dinners, Christmas Easter were all celebrated together. But Dad was quite, didn’t chat with us, mom was too busy with relatives, terminally ill parents and her hobbies. I was extremely intelligent, bright alert yet not any interest in my education. I thought I was just an independent kid! There was absolutely no interest in me as a person. They never contributed to my accomplishments nor admired them. I was totally on my own. Well dressed, groomed, good nutrition, vacation to cottage country, part of a large family with love, but I was thinking and problem solving.as an adult when I was 12.

  • July 18, 2016 at 11:03 am

    My dad was a violent alcoholic and the physical abuse from him was traumatising. I was kicked down stairs, punched on the head and hit with such violence that my little body was covered in bruises… this went on throughout the whole of my childhood until I was 18.

    Mum wasn’t a hitter, but she hit me with her words on a deep level and left me feeling bad inside. Her lack of empathy, and affection, as well as chronic invalidation ( her normal respnse) of my feelings was equally, if not, more damaging than the physical abuse. As a young girl/woman I struggled to identify with my feelings. I’ve gone through the biggest part of my life not realising what had happened to me and struggling with depressions and failed relationships.

    My ex husband said that I wouldn’t know affection if it came along and kicked me on the butt… hard words, yet other’s said I was a very affectionate and giving person. Very confusing! Sad also that I needed other’s to approve of me and to tell me who I was. I can say that I know a great many people on an aquaintance level but, I’ve never been able to form close relationships. I’m a chatty, friendly and caring person, but some have said that they can only get so far with me and then they feel a block. I couldn’t share deeper issues because I didn’t know how to or, indeed, what I was feeling in the first place. In fact it was alien to me. If someone said that I needed to open up I wouldn’t have a clue what they were talking about. Emotions to me were as elusive as a butterfly. Neither did I have any sense of who I am as a person.

    It’s been a very painful life for me feeling so confused and living life on the outside and not fitting in and deep withing I felt flawed and bad. When I began to get in touch with my deeper emotions and open up, I was met with scorn and judgements from those I trusted. Now I’m very wary of people. A therapist once said that I need to marry up emotions with my head. What? I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. There are too many traumas that are buried deep withing my soul and psyche. A clinical psychologist told me that it’s better not to start unearthing the deep traumas because she felt that I’d have a complete breakdown. I think she was right.

    So here I stand; a senoir citizen who can now relate and embrace myself with a sense of understanding and knowing. I’ve learned so much but it’s taken a lifetime to get there. I thank you all for sharing and thank you too Dr. Webb for posting your very informative and enlightening article which each help me to understand more each day. Bless You!

    Finally, in response to the posting at the top by SCI …. You haven’t a clue!!!

    • July 18, 2016 at 3:58 pm

      Hi, Sally
      I didn’t get the physical abuse, until I married at 16. I also have Social Phobia. All my life I have pushed myself to do what was expected and “normal”, because I thought that was the only way to conquer my fears. I am almost 54 now, and 5 times during my life I have felt like I was making progress, then it was ripped away with another catastrophe, making my life a constant rollercoaster. I’m glad you have finally figured it out, I hope someday I will get peace. And SCI, to be so flippant about the answer to raising less troubled kids, and a better society as a whole isn’t important enough for you, (Oh my gosh you didn’t think of that!) Then keep your trap closed!

    • July 18, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      Me too Sally. My basic needs were met, but I was never ‘seen’. I learnt to be invisible———- my very exsitance irritated mother. I was a ‘burden’ ‘If it wasn’t for you, we’d be happy, you’re the one that ruins everything’I was told regularly. I hated myself. Bit myself till I bled. I was five.
      I see things clearly now I’m 50. All those wasted years thinking I was faulty. Gee. Thanks mommy dearest.

    • July 20, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Wow what a powerful story I can’t beleive you are sane. I wish I knew you. I am a therapist because my life was like yours full of abuse. My mother was calm and unemotional and would not validate my emotional pain with my father she was afraid too. Keep on loving yourself sandy brooke

  • July 19, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    My experience as a therapist with clients for whom emotional neglect is a major theme of childhood is that they often feel half or all invisible…like the Cheshire cat in Alice and Wonderland (without the malevolent smile). Of course, the worst pattern is one that alternates neglect and intense attention. (“What must I do to get more attention?? What can I do to get away far enough to breathe??) Neglect, as with overt abuse, does tremendous damage to the sense of self-worth: “I can’t be worth much if I am ignored all the time.” That is compounded if there is a doted upon sibling. Neglect is a form of rejection, and we are (as a primate) social creatures. Safety is being in the group; rejection is tantamount to death, emotionally speaking. The work of Allan Schore (the neuroscience of the attachment period) shows what happens with things go wrong (e.g., the development of the infant’s brain is driven by the interactions with the mother and later the father). Darcia Narvaez and her colleagues have assembled a great deal of information about childcare for the small band hunter gatherer groups. The first three years is functionally an external womb because human infants have to be born with the brain only 25% developed in order to be born at all. Three years + of close, attentive, nurturing, physical connection. That is a lot to give up.

    • July 20, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Thank you soulfulpsy! As a therapist, do you find those who experience CEN tend to re-cast it as “normal” and then approach parenting/caregiving via the same dysfunctional tools?

      • July 22, 2016 at 2:41 am

        I would say that virtually everyone I’ve had the privilege to work with has normalized their childhood, usually until a real contrast is available. Early in life, we have no comparison; this is how life is. It may not feel good, but it is “normal.” Normal is a statistical term and it actually means the average; it is often equated with healthy. But what is “normal” in an alcoholic family is far from healthy. When children (or adults) start to recognize that what was done (or not done) to and for them was abusive, this is the time that change can start (or, if already started, accelerate). I also believe we must be born with the need to see our parents as wanting to do good, to love and care for us, despite the reality of what actually happens. My experience is that those people who are too frightened to be critical of their parent’s treatment, who want to hold on to the belief that they deserved their treatment, are more likely to do the same thing to their children. But people also can be surprising, so I would never suggest that it was inevitable.

    • July 20, 2016 at 11:23 am

      Not sure of age but probably about 6 or 7. I was in the back yard. It was summer and I had shorts on. My mom came out hollering, broke a branch off something and by the time she finished hitting my legs, they were bleeding. I never knew what I did or didn’t do to set her off. She told me to get in the bathroom and get that red out of my face before my dad came home and saw it (or else I would get worse). She opened the bathroom door, threw in a pair of slacks and told me to cover those legs. I asked myself how someone could do this to someone they loved. I thought moms love kids and can’t do this to someone they loved. Then the “light bulb” went off. Of course, that meant I wasn’t lovable because moms love kids. There was more. As a young teen, when my dad was away fishing, she slapped me across the face, scratched my face and arms, ending up with smashing a dining room chair over my head. Then told me to go to bed. I had been out front talking to a friend and did not see that she was turning the porch light on and off as a signal for me to get in the house. Guess, I don’t have to talk about how that affected me. Sadly, I married young (ran away to do do) to an alcoholic who was abusive when I did not do just what he wanted and said. Once threw a pot of hot stew at me while I was feeding a son his bottle. He was mad because he wanted my kids cleaned up, fed, etc. before he got home and wanted only his wife at the dinner table. And yes, I finally divorced him too many years later and one more child, my fifth. Sad, because now, I can see where at times, I emotionally neglected my kids in that I didn’t dig into what they were feeling. My youngest daughter (who was 4 at the time of the divorce) said I did things (such as putting a sachet under her pillow on hot nights so that she could sleep), that I said I loved my kids but never said I loved her. My oldest daughter once told me that she told a psychologist that she wished she had a different kind of mother. I was not brave enough to ask her what kind she wanted. While I have hugged and kissed my kids, I have never been the touch, feely type of person. I joke that I missed the “gush” gene. Wish I could go back and change things. Going back to school, then working full time took me more away from them. My second job after graduation had me working 11 to 15 hours a day setting up a department and my two youngest were in high school. I know I neglected them.

  • July 20, 2016 at 10:59 am

    I was married to a spouse whom I suspect experienced CEN. She was good a superficial relationships and the platitudes and false praise that come with such relationships. But in her relationships with other adults and children/step-children she appeared to be unable to attain any type of emotional intimacy. As others have experienced; no empathy or compassion, and strange as it seems; no happiness or (significant) sadness. The primary/guiding “feelings” were fear, bitterness, and disappointment/intolerance. Family members were seen generically (my husband, my boyfriend, my daughter), as opposed to unique individuals with feelings of (including fears), of their own.

  • July 20, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Wow This is so eye opening. I’m now 66 and just figuring out why I am the way I am. I also know I did this to my kids, especially my first born daughter. Makes me feel sick. I am trying to make up for it while trying to get past feeling bitter about feeling so alone as a kid. My generation was raised by parents who thought children were to be seen and not heard.

  • July 20, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    After reading Soulfulpsy’s professional response, I sat for a while thinking about what was said and the affects of CEN along with overt abuse. Also, I thought about Sandybrook’s comment, ‘I can’t believe you are sane.’ The following is part of my life story.

    I believe deeply that if a neglected and overtly abused child, such as myself, is shown love from another source then, that is the one factor that may prevent the child from going insane….

    I was blessed to have a grandfather who loved me with all his heart and soul; I loved him equally as much, too. I was nine when he died and I was grief stricken! I went to his grave every week with flowers and the time spent there with him was in the beginning painful and yet a great comfort to me too. I did this for at least the first two years or more after his death when, I then believe that I had come to terms with his loss and had healed. I was able to move on.

    I was blessed to have a grandad like mine and to hold such beautiful childhood memories of the many times shared with him. Every time we saw each other he fussed over me and held me in the most loving of ways. Every moment spent in his company were the best moments of my childhood. Grandad made me feel loved and wanted. He made me feel special and whole. We delighted in each other’s company. He had a cheeky side to his nature and we had fun together… we were both silly and sometimes naughty together. To this very day when I think of him I feel a warm glow inside and I still smile at those memories… they’re like flowers that blossom in my mind

    Things at home were not good, but at the same time and for the first nine years of my life, I did know love and acceptance. I believe that my brain was being wired in a positive way thoughout those vital and tender years because of my grandad. In essence it helped counter balance the damaging affects of ongoing abuse that was going on at home. Although I have some awful memories of my past and have struggled for the best part of my life, I did know love.

    Love is powerful!

    Bless you grandad… you were simply the best x

  • July 25, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you all for sharing your stories, it’s like a mirror into my own life. Feels like I have grown up into an adult robot due to being raised CEN. Like Sally, I have acquaintances, but no true friends. I don’t feel lonely, but I know I should. I’ve been told over and over by romantic partners that I’m cold, aloof, unemotional, even during times when I was trying my hardest to be a good partner. At work, it’s like I’m invisible. Etc.

    My parents were both physically/emotionally/verbally abusive and also completely aloof. I can’t remember one time receiving a hug or an “I love you” unless there was an audience. “Bad” behavior was swiftly and often violently reacted to, and everything else ignored. Like someone said above, sometimes I wasn’t sure what i was being punished for. But unlike others, I have never mistaken their behavior as “normal” love. I knew I wasn’t loved. I also know that I’ve never developed the capacity to love others. If parents were in a bad mood, there was punishment regardless of behavior, if they were in good moods, we were ignored. I was a straight A student but never received any praise for that. If I got a B, I was lambasted until all hours of the night. I actually preferred, while growing up, to be ignored because at least there was some peace in that.

    You may be saying, this is just abuse, not CEN, but I was raised to be seen and not heard. My parents often ate their big meal during the day at work (their employer provided a huge cafeteria at night) and weren’t hungry at dinnertime. If they weren’t hungry, in their minds, my brother and I didn’t need to eat b/c we must not be hungry either. My birthday was often ignored. My mother had a hysterectomy when I was 10, so that by the time I got my first period, she was “over” that part of her life and left me to deal with it on my own. It never occurred to her that I might need guidance b/c it was over for her. She actually resented when I asked for her help, so I only asked one time, then felt too guilty to ask anymore. I had to procure my own feminine supplies at age 12, without an allowance or transportation into the city, which meant mostly stealing them out of the houses of friends/relatives. Not my proudest moments, but otherwise i had to stuff paper towels in my pants. These are just 2, but by far not the only 2, examples off the top of my head where I didn’t feel like a real person with real needs. My father told me when I was 25 that he didn’t consider me a real person until I turned 18. He seemed surprised when I told him that little kids have feelings and needs just like adults. At least that was some validation that it wasn’t all in my head.

    I was not allowed to ask for things b/c that was a sign that I was selfish and stingy. Hungry? Keep it to yourself. Need hygiene products? Go without. Have a bad day? No one cares, who do you think you are? Having an issue in school? Deal with it on your own. Angry about something? You must have mental issues. Happy about something? It got taken away. I learned to keep all issues and emotions to myself, which eventually led to violent outbursting as an adult. It had to come out sometime, some way. Again, not proud of that behavior, but I didn’t know what was going on.

    In the end, the only thing to do was withdraw as much as possible, keep a low profile to avoid punishments or abuse, and wait to turn 18. Am I still messed up at 40? Yes. But I know none of it was my fault, and I’m better able to deal with “this is what it was, and this is how it is.” They were raised exactly the same, developed zero empathy, were expected to have multiple children by society at the time, but without the capability to reflect on how to be a better parent than their parents were. What is the point of being mad at people who don’t even know they’ve done anything wrong? They ruined the first 2 decades of my life, I refuse to let them take the next 30 or 40. I don’t feel depressed or unhappy so maybe I’m one of the lucky ones? I do feel like I can’t tether a partner into my personal dysfunction, though, I have chosen not to bring children into this mess, and for the most part, not be involved in romantic relationships, seeing as how I just hurt the other people over and over. I’m healthy, strong, independent and living life how I want to at this moment, so at least something good came from all of the chaos.

    Sorry so long, just needed to vent.

    • September 2, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      KT, I had the same experience with my mother when I was 12 and began menstruating. I told her and all she said was ‘how cute’ and that was it. No help from her, no offer of products. I went on to have many embarrassing episodes for the next year or so until my PE teachers at school became involved. My dad was quiet, as me and my brothers are now, which for me is excruciating, and my mother was the one who handed out the discipline. I have problems of being way too over sensitive now and it gets worse as I get older. To the point now of my having trouble keeping a job because of being an introvert and being over sensitive about it. I do have a daughter and I fear that I have done some damage to her but I was always involved when that ‘time’ began when she turned 12. I always said my kid or kids were going to be raised differently than I was but I wasn’t touchy feely and my daughter has acknowledged this because I have mentioned that there was none of that while I was growing up. Glad you are healthy and strong and living the life the way you want it. Me? I’m flailing..not doing well.


Join the Conversation!

We invite you to share your thoughts and tell us what you think in this public forum. Before posting, please read our blog moderation guidelines. A first name or pseudonym is required and will be displayed with your comment. Your email address is also required, but will be kept private. (Please note that we use gravatars here, which are tied to your email address.) A website/blog/twitter address is optional.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *