The effects of physical abuse are fairly obvious – a bruising, cuts, burns, scrapes, etc., however, the effects of emotional abuse may be more difficult to identify. Emotional abuse can affect self-esteem, emotional dysregulation, decreased self-worth, anxiety, depression, cognition and processing challenges, and trust issues. Emotional neglect and abuse can be just as damaging as physical and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, some people that are emotionally neglected begin to think they are not worthy of being loved, blame themselves for the neglect, or minimize their parents/caregivers neglect. Children learn how to love, emotionally respond, attend the needs of himself/herself and the needs of others by watching the emotional responses and behaviors of parents/caregivers.
Emotional neglect is defined as failing to provide adequate emotional support to the needs and desires of children, those we are entrusted to care for, and persons we are in a relationship with. Emotional neglect is considered a caregiver’s failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Emotional neglect is an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable, making it difficult for individuals on the outside looking in to detect.
Emotional Neglect: Short-Term Effects
- Confusion and uncertainty
- Person pleasing behaviors
- Aggressive behavior
- Difficulty establishing and maintaining eye contact
- Feeling unworthy or undesirable
- Passive behavior
- Questioning or challenging of one’s perception of what is seen, heard, felt, etc.
- Feelings of powerlessness
Emotional Neglect: Long-Term Effects
- Self-isolating behaviors
- Decreased self-worth and desirability
- Disturbances in sleeping or eating patterns
- Increased depressed thought
- Suicidal ideations and thoughts
- Self-harming behaviors, i.e., cutting, burning, picking, etc.
- Challenges with building and maintaining social and romantic relationships
- Self-isolating behaviors
- Physical pain without cause
- Difficulty establishing and building trust
- Co-dependency issues
- Increased risk for substance and alcohol abuse/dependency
- Emotional unavailability to others
- Difficulty accepting and advocating for personal needs
Children who are emotionally neglected during childhood tend to grow up with a unique set of struggles. Emotionally neglected children tend to require more appraisal and validation of their personal selves, than children that were raised in an emotionally supportive home. Children that do not receive emotional support during childhood are often more likely to struggle with identifying and trusting their own feeling and emotions once they reach adulthood. Children that do not develop a healthy sense of self, have been denied the opportunity to identify and develop their emotional selves may find themselves feeling disconnected, unfulfilled or empty. They may have difficulty trusting or relying on others. Many describe feeling that they are different from other people; feeling like something is wrong with them, however, they are unable to identify or say what is “wrong with them”.