Emotional Neglect: A Quiet Abuse

Emotional Neglect is hard to articulate, and tricky to unravel. It’s a silent anguish that’s given no sympathy, for there are no bruises, no laws against it, no way for a child to protect them self against it, no commiserating for someone who cannot even explain whats wrong. If a blind person has never seen colours, could they explain what they’re missing? The same problem presents for unloved children, they often didn’t even realize what they were missing until they’re adults,…. if ever.

Love, nurturing and support, these are things we all need to be healthy. For children of emotionally neglectful parents, these are concepts only seen on TV. This isn’t how real people are, we tell ourselves. Then we grow up with anxiety, depression, a lack of security or confidence. We start to notice we don’t have the skills needed to succeed in life. We have a hard time with self-care and emotional regulation. With a trapped emotion of feeling unloved, we begin to manifest partners and friends who mirror our lack. Without a supportive kinship foundation, we manifest what we think we deserve, which isn’t much.

I remember when I was a child, I saw a mother pushing her son on the swing. With my own mother nowhere in sight, as usual, I thought there was something wrong with that kid. Is he disabled? Is his mother a weirdo or something? Why is she playing with her kid? I really thought it was weird. When I went home I told my mother about it, hoping she’d play with me too. Instead she called them “GayLords” It was typical in our home to make fun of functional families, when we weren’t making fun of each other, that is. I began to identify with this behaviour as well, calling people weak or lame, acting like I was proud of my tough up-bringing, and basically became hardened myself. I built a thick Heart-Wall.  Then I had my own children.

Here’s something I was never warned about when having my own kids: All your childhood trauma will become triggered when you are now the parent. I looked into my babies eyes and suddenly I knew what Love was. It wasn’t an easy decade. I spent my 20’s trying to understand why I was so damn sick. Post-partum with each child. Anxiety, fear, anger, self-harming, freaking out, an intense & irrational need to protect my kids. What should have been a beautiful time, was marred by emotional upheaval. And of coarse, eventual physical manifestations as well, I was always nursing an infection or virus. Therapist after therapist who couldn’t quite put their finger on it. No one ever said anything about neglect. Maybe it was a hormonal? Chemical imbalance? Self-esteem issues? Perhaps I had hidden memories?

Until I had my first Emotion Code session at 30, everything I did simply managed my distress. Nothing really healed me. Meditation calmed me, but it didn’t reveal any pointed subconscious pain. Reiki was wonderful, it increased my Ki, helped me feel Spirit, but it didn’t take away the trauma. Affirmations of self-love only went skin-deep, inside I still felt shaky. People who were neglected as children are notoriously slow to realize the source of the problem, as there’s no frame of reference for what a healthy attachment is. And denial is the coping mechanism used by abused children, hard to re-wire or break that pattern. The damage can also become biological. It literally changes your gene responses and neurotransmitters, so we’re often classified as chemically imbalanced or personality disordered. And what could we even do if we were to finally allow our self to realize? We inherently know that closure is futile, remember these people don’t actually care so good luck with that apology. Realizing that your parents will never be held accountable or feel remorse is a painful realization. They’re simply too self-centred to care, or too emotionally immature to understand anyways, and will probably end up belittling you or denying there was a problem, making the wound fresh again. The negative rhetoric inside our head traps us, and the guilt we’d feel bringing it up would be much to bear, after a lifetime of rejection.

Emotion Code unveiled my trapped emotional karma of feeling deeply unloved & abandoned (in my case, my mother kicked out or left each of her children by the time they were 15, however neglectful parents typically abandon their kids by this age even if they still live with them, they just completely stop being a parent) And there it was. Like a lightbulb went off in my head and I could finally understand why I was having issues, and all the appendages that went along with it (including the general neglect that typically occurs alongside emotional neglect ie no help getting into college, no help learning to drive, not being taught about how to treat a lady, not being taught life skills etc.) I was unprepared for life as an adult. We’ve been fed and clothed, but it takes so much more to be a successful human, doesn’t it?

Children need love, like they need food. It is nourishment for the soul. If you don’t give them enough food, their body will have a domino effect of health problems. The same goes when they don’t receive enough Love. It can lead to aggression, personality disorders, co-dependency, depression, anxiety, fear of asking for help, identity issues, harsh inner critic, shame, unworthiness, easily overwhelmed, sensitive to rejection, anxious or avoidant attachment, not feeling good enough, being okay with mistreatment and narcissist relationships and a general inability to unconditionally Love. Some people take issue with calling emotional neglect ‘abuse’, because it’s not intentional. As someone who’s lived it, I disagree. When a baby cries and the mom ignores him, that’s a choice.   When I begged my mom to stop going to bars every night, that was intentional. When a parent knows their teen is getting into trouble but turns a blind eye, that’s a choice.  When Dad decided to focus on his new girlfriend instead of his children, that was intentional.  When I needed help buying medicine for my ear and my dad made it so difficult I gave up asking him for help, he did that on purpose.  When a parent never asked how the child feels, that was intentional. When parents fail to take action on behalf of the child, that’s an intentional choice. When a kid wants to interact with a parent and the parent rejects them THAT IS INTENTIONAL. It IS intentional and they KNEW they were putting their wants before the child’s’ needs.

And it can take many forms, I wont get into too much, but it looks a little like this:

*Failing to notice or respond to a child’s emotional needs

*Using phrases like “It wasn’t that bad” “Ill give you something to cry about” “Too bad, we’re going” “Quit being drama” laughing at the child for crying or expressing how they feel, or other messages that let you know your feelings don’t matter.

*Meeting a child’s request for help with hostility or negativity.

*Not knowing whats going on in their child’s life. When I hear a parent say “I didn’t know!” I let them know “That’s even worse” There’s a reason your kid stopped telling you things. If you gave your kid the time of day, acted like you enjoyed their company and showed compassion or understanding, they’d know you care and tell you about their troubles. Instead, they’ve already learned not to bug you.

*Failure to give a child what they need to thrive in society. This includes homework help, social guidance, life-skills, structure, predictability and a calm home

*Emotional outbursts by the parent. Any parent who is in tune with their child’s emotional needs surely feels the fear in the child when a parent is out of control. Neglectful parents are often childish in that their feelings are the only ones that matter.

*A parentified child. Often one of the kids will become nurturing to the others. This is not okay and a sign that the parent is not meeting the needs of the children. No, little Sally doesn’t love being a helper, it’s an identity she took on so the home feels safe.

*Teasing or shaming the kids. Its never okay to humiliate your own kid. A parent is supposed to be the childs safe-person.  If you didn’t realize how much it hurt them, I can only assume they didn’t feel safe telling you.

*Being generally disconnected to the child’s life. Not putting them into clubs or giving them experiences. Not being involved in their school or events. Not knowing what they’re hopes or fears or likes and dislikes are.

*Using TV, electronics and even new toys to fulfill the child’s need for fun and emotionally enriching experiences. These things aren’t bad by them-self, but relying on them to keep your kid occupied is neglect.

Emotional neglect is often abuse by omission. The parent may say “Well, I never did this, or do that so consider yourself lucky! My parents used to beat me!” Physical abuse and emotional neglect are not synonymous. Your parents may have beat you, but they may have also been very invested in your future and didn’t know how to parent or motivate. Neither one is okay.

Of coarse, we as parents cant be there for our kids in every situation. Sometimes parents have hardships and need to put their own emotions as priority for a short time. Maybe there’s a new baby in the home and so we’ll rely on the IPad to keep little Johnny quiet until baby starts sleeping more. Maybe the parents get divorced and cant do any more than the minimum parent stuff while they get them self straightened out. Its also good for kids to learn resiliency. But this is different than childhood neglect. It’s temporary, situational, it is the exception not the norm.

Some fear that coddled kids are whats wrong with “kids these days” Think about the adults you know who are having a hard time in life. Were they spoiled? More likely they were neglected. (Perhaps confusing involved parenting with helicopter parenting or permissive parenting. Helicopter parents are controlling but invested.  Permissive parents are loving but don’t provide guidelines or enforce rules. Remember “Nanny 911”? Not great and different outcomes, but this isn’t “emotional neglect”)   The majority of people having relationship, self esteem or self-sufficiency issues are adults who were neglected as children.  Its a serious issue that causes a lot more pain & problems in life than overly-invested helicopter parents.

Involved parents teach their kids natural life consequences. Involved parents give their kids the tools needed to build resiliency. They guide, nurture and talk to their kids. Involved parents put time and energy into the kids. They use their brains and figure out remedies. They don’t just look away when the kids having a fit and hope they grow out of it. They don’t expect the school system to do a parents job. They are both loving and instructing, they praise and discipline. They help them develop their identity and show them what healthy love and fun is. They equip the child with a sense of self-esteem and worthiness. They are well rounded in their Love and Guidance. And remember, if you didn’t come from a good family, you can still make sure a good family comes from you. If you find yourself needing help achieving that, reach out for help. It’s there if you want it.


“Toxic parents and absent parents are one in the same.  Neither equips the child with the tools necessary to tackle adulthood.  This conversation is not to point a finger at our parents, who could also point the finger at their own

Truth be told, there are no best among the worst, there are only those who choose to do better.  Children inherit the work their parents didn’t do.

The last thing we need are excuses or deflection

Parenting is an elected occupation.  We may have had to suffer through our parents unpreparedness, but our children shouldn’t have to”                                                                    _Arah Iloabugichukwo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s