The Long-Term Impact of Emotional Neglect

Most people are aware of the long-term harm caused by childhood sexual and physical abuse. People exposed to these kinds of traumatic experiences have lasting risks for a number of serious problems.

Unfortunately, less attention is often given to a more widespread problem: childhood neglect. This neglect can take a physical form. However, it can also be emotional in nature. 

Just like sexual and physical abuse, childhood neglect can have a long-term impact on adults. This is true not just for physical neglect. It applies to emotional neglect, as well.

Unless you get help recovering from childhood emotional neglect, you may never overcome its effects. But with proper treatment, you can recover from those lingering effects and restore your sense of health and well-being. 

What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect

What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood emotional neglect occurs when certain key emotional supports are withheld from a child. Examples of these vital supports include:

  • Affection
  • Comforting interactions
  • Physical closeness
  • Love

The term may also include the withholding of support for a child’s emotional development. 

Parents may become neglectful for a number of reasons, including such things as:

  • An inability to understand the importance of emotional support
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of meeting a child’s needs
  • Preoccupation with their own wants and needs
  • Resentment or jealousy regarding the amount of attention children receive

In most cases, emotional neglect is passed down from generation to generation. In other words, parents who were neglected are more likely to be neglectful.

However, some neglectful parents did not suffer from neglect themselves. Other factors that increase the likelihood of neglecting a child include:

  • Having children as a teenager
  • The presence of substance abuse
  • Earning income that falls below the poverty line

Emotional Neglect of Children Vs. Child Abuse

How is emotional neglect different from child abuse? While neglect involves withholding of needed things, abuse involves active violation of a child. This violation can take a physical form that includes things such as:

  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Slapping
  • Burning
  • Shaking

It can also take the form of such inappropriate sexual acts as:

  • Fondling of a child’s genitals or other body areas
  • Oral sex
  • Intercourse
  • Anal sex
  • Exposing a child to pornography

It is also possible to verbally abuse a child. Every year, roughly four million American child experience some form of abuse. In contrast, close to seven million children are physically or emotionally neglected.

Adverse Childhood Events Vs. Emotional Neglect

Emotional neglect is an example of something known as an adverse childhood event or experience. These kinds of events occur before you reach the age of 18.

In one way or another, they all have the ability to produce lasting, negative effects on your well-being. In addition to neglect, examples of adverse childhood events include:

  • Sexual and physical abuse
  • Witnessing the violent acts of other people
  • Suicide attempts or actual suicides within your family
  • Substance problems in your household
  • Mental health issues in your household
  • Parents who divorce or separate
  • Having a close loved one in prison or in jail

Well over half of all U.S. adults have been exposed to an adverse childhood event.

Trauma and Childhood Emotional Neglect

Trauma and Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood neglect is known for its ability to produce significant trauma. What is trauma? Experts use the term to describe any event that:

  • Is physically or emotionally threatening or harmful
  • Produces a long-term negative impact on some aspect of your well-being

Trauma and childhood emotional neglect can lead to a wide range of problems. Some of these problems can occur during childhood itself. Examples here include:

  • Feelings of depression
  • A general failure to thrive
  • Unusually aggressive behavior
  • Delayed emotional development
  • Early involvement in substance use
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Attempts to run away from home
  • Diagnosable child emotional disorders

Trauma linked to neglect during childhood can also affect you as an adult in numerous ways. Potential issues in adulthood include higher risks for things such as:

  • Major depression
  • An anxiety disorder
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Suicide attempts
  • Diagnosable substance problems
  • PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Certain forms of physical illness

Difficulty Forming Relationships and Child Emotional Neglect

There is a known link between difficulty forming relationships and child emotional neglect. Neglected children often lack any role models for healthy relationships. As a result, they may experience a variety of relationship-related issues as they grow older.

For example, neglected children might come to avoid anything more than basic social contact. They may also develop a fear of getting close to others on an emotional level.

In addition, as teens and adults, neglected children may steer clear of physical intimacy. 

Signs of Childhood Neglect in Adults

Can you recognize the signs of childhood neglect in adults? Potentially, yes. Adult survivors of neglect often continue to show the effects of their early-life experiences.

As noted earlier, many of these effects are rooted in trauma exposure. One extremely common issue is a serious problem with drugs or alcohol. Such problems may occur in as many as two out of every three adult survivors. 

Men with a history of emotional neglect have increased chances of committing criminal acts. This is true because neglected boys tend to react differently than neglected girls. Neglected girls often internalize their experiences.

In contrast, neglected boys often turn their reactions outward. The result can be a pattern of hostile, dominating or aggressive behaviors that make future criminal acts more likely.

In addition, as noted, adults who were neglected have higher chances of neglecting their own children. 

However, none of these signs are definitive. There are a multitude of reasons why someone might:

  • Start abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Develop serious mental health problems
  • Get involved in criminal behavior
  • Neglect their children

This means that specialists who treat adult survivors of neglect must proceed with caution. Oftentimes, they only know for sure that neglect has occurred when someone voluntarily reveals their history of exposure. 

Forms of Treatment for Childhood Emotional Neglect

Forms of Treatment for Childhood Emotional Neglect

There are multiple forms of treatment for childhood emotional neglect. Psychotherapy and counseling play major roles.

In the hands of a skilled therapist, these treatments can help you explore past neglectful events. They can also help you significantly decrease the impact of those events on your current life.

However, one factor is key in successful treatment: your desire to cope with what happened to you. This desire will help make you an active participant in your own recovery. It will also help you create the psychological conditions for continuing emotional health. 

Mutual self-help groups often have an important recovery impact, as well. However, survivors of childhood neglect tend to have some unique needs in this area.

Unlike people recovering from substance problems, they may not do well in traditional 12-step programs. Instead, they may need groups that do not put an emphasis on surrendering to a higher power. 

Healing and Recovery From Childhood Events at Emerald Isle

Healing and recovery from childhood events are achievable goals. That includes healing and recovery from childhood emotional neglect. This neglect can take a wide variety of forms.

It can also negatively impact your health in a variety of ways. Still, effective treatment will help you overcome the impact of virtually any neglectful events in your past. 

At Emerald Isle, we offer a range of treatments for people affected by childhood emotional neglect. These treatments allow you to come to grips with your past experiences in a safe, secure environment.

In addition, we can help you recover from problems sometimes associated with neglect. That includes cases of diagnosable mental illness. It also includes serious problems with drugs or alcohol. To learn more about our full range of programs, call us today.