Physical abuse can leave physical scars, while emotional abuse leaves psychic ones, but what about emotional neglect? The absence of emotional support in childhood can be as damaging and long-lasting as other traumas. But, because you can’t point to exactly where and when the wounding happened, it can be hard to identify and overcome it. Emotional neglect is not the same as child abuse because it is often unintentional. While some parents might intentionally ignore their child’s emotions, others may fail to notice or respond to their child’s emotional needs. Your parents could have tried their best and loved you very much, but they may still have neglected your emotional needs, nonetheless.
Your parents may have been emotionally neglected by their own parents, and because they didn’t have good role models for how to treat a child’s emotions, they didn’t know how to treat yours. Even if they tried to correct for the mistakes their parents made, they might still have come up short. Illness, death, divorce, and job losses can all lead to emotional neglect because the parents may not have the ability to respond to their child’s emotional needs.
When parents treat children’s emotions as unimportant, not valid, excessive, or of lesser importance than other issues, they neglect the child emotionally. Some phrases that may be familiar to you if you were a victim of childhood emotional neglect include:
- “You don’t really feel that way.”
- “It wasn’t that bad.”
- “It’s not worth getting upset about.”
- “Stop being so dramatic.”